Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Stop defending rapists

I have lost what little respect I had for Michael Moore. Yes, he is a champion of progressive causes. Yes, I’ve enjoyed his “documentaries.”

Yes, he’s a rape apologist and traitor to every survivor of sexual assault.

In case you hadn’t heard, Moore has offered to post $20,000 bail for Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who was recently released from jail in London while awaiting extradition to Sweden on rape charges.

Not “sex by surprise” (which sounds a lot like a euphemism for rape). Not a “minor crime,” as Andrew Sullivan termed it. Not because a condom broke. Rape. Sexual assault. Of two different women.

Jessica Valenti writes:

The allegations against Assange are rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. He’s accused of pinning one woman’s arms and using his body weight to hold her down during one alleged assault, and of raping a woman while she was sleeping. In both cases, according to the allegations, Assange did not use a condom. But the controversy seems to center on the fact that both encounters started off consensually. One of his accusers was quoted by the Guardian newspaper in August as saying, “What started out as voluntary sex subsequently developed into an assault.” Whether consent was withdrawn because of the lack of a condom is unclear, but also beside the point. In Sweden, it’s a crime to continue to have sex after your partner withdraws consent.

Moore disagrees and thinks the charges against Assange are politically motivated:

For those of you who think it’s wrong to support Julian Assange because of the sexual assault allegations he’s being held for, all I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey. Please — never, ever believe the “official story.”

In other words, don’t believe women who accuse powerful men of committing rape. This bears a striking resemblance to the Roman Polanski case that was big in the news last year. He fought extradition to the United States, where he was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1978. Some in Hollywood who have worked with Polanski signed a petition stating he should be freed, as if his status as a famous director absolves him of a heinous crime he committed 30 years ago.

It should go without saying, but just because a man is a hero to progressives or an “artist” or a powerful politician doesn’t mean sexual assault victims should be thrown under the bus if they accuse those men of rape. Yes, the timing of Assange’s arrest is suspicious, but these aren’t made up charges. In fact, the charges have nothing to do with WikiLeaks. And I have no idea if the charges are true or not, but we cannot automatically assume that they aren’t. Contrary to what the Duke lacrosse debacle might have you believe, the number of women who report a false rape is vanishingly small. The number of women who report any rape at all is incredibly small, and of the ones that are reported, only 16% result in a jail sentence. SIXTEEN PERCENT.

Women don’t gain anything by reporting a false rape. The only benefit to reporting a real rape is making sure the rapist is held accountable, because society sure isn’t throwing parades for sexual assault survivors. It is a physically, emotionally, mentally grueling process to prosecute a rape. Women who do have their names (which are supposed to remain hidden under rape shield laws but often leak out) dragged through the mud, their pasts investigated with a fine-tooth comb, their sex lives bandied about for the whole world to see. It’s not something many women have the strength to go through.

One who started the process was Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old student at Saint Mary’s College who was assaulted by a Notre Dame football player on Aug. 31. She had the strength and presence of mind to write down everything that had happened, then report it to the police. She underwent a medical evaluation and counseling. What happened? Authorities fell short of doing their job. The player was never arrested or even suspended from the team. Lizzy, however, who had a history of depression, committed suicide just days after the attack.

It is not surprising that an accusation against someone playing for a school as football-crazy as Notre Dame was not handled well. The accused was in a position of importance and power in the school, and so his playing time was deemed more important than Lizzy and any future victims–because it’s rare that a man rapes only once. If there is one victim, there’s almost certainly more out there that we don’t know about.

Contrast the treatment of Lizzy and Assange’s accusers with the deference given Elizabeth Smart. It makes me sick to even say this, because what Elizabeth went through is a lot of women’s worst nightmare, but she was lucky when it came to the prosecution of her rapist. She was young, white, and religious when she was kidnapped from her bedroom. When she returned to her family, no one (rightly) questioned her story. Lawyers didn’t ask what she was wearing when she was kidnapped, what she’d been drinking, if she’d been flirting or sending the “wrong signals” (whatever those are), what her past relationships had been like. Her rapist wasn’t a rich white man with lots of connections; he was a poor mentally ill man who got what he deserved when the jury found him guilty after little deliberation.

Like Lizzy, Elizabeth has shown extraordinary courage in the face of horrors most of us can’t even imagine. I am in awe at her strength. I only wish every rape case could be so open and shut–the woman’s experience taken at face value and the support of her family and community behind her.

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