My respect for independent media’s endless pursuit to enhance the democratic flow of information goes without question. That being said, I’ve recently been torn when trying to articulate how I feel about the rape accusations against Julian Assange, WikiLeaks leader and journalist-in-question.
Julian Assange has been arrested under charges of rape in Sweden. The Australian media rebel was responsible for the release of secret cables, discrediting the U.S. for its diplomatic faux pas, support of corrupt regimes and other embarrassing mistakes. His work is absolutely commendable insofar as it, again, contributes to this notion of democratic fluidity — information that is available, protected by the First Amendment, and like all online media, available to most of the American public without charge.
That being said, Assange’s equally embarrassing comments on consent and rape undermine his position as an indy journalist and pull back the curtain on patriarchal narratives.
Ironically enough, Feministing.com, an independent site devoted to feminist issues and founded by Yes Means Yes author Jessica Valenti, has committed to the same behavior Assange promotes as an anti-establishment journalist: critique those who everyone else is afraid of critiquing!
Assange wants democracy and military information abroad to be taken seriously, but as feminist, we want rape to be taken seriously. Whether the charges turn out to be true is besides the point: in a rape culture such as ours that repeatedly denies survivors the opportunity to be taken seriously as victims of ruthless violence, we cannot allow an important moment like Assange’s work to be privileged and overshadow the reality of rape. As a result, the site has worked tirelessly to report on Assange’s questionable statements and the mainstream media’s collective, implied assumption that the girls’ rape accusation is meant in the name of besmirching Assange.
As a feminist and supporter of independent journalism, particularly when it creates spaces for democratic dialogue to end wars or readjust foreign policy, I am torn between these two facets of empowerment.
The people of the U.S. need to feel empowered to fight back — to realize they have every right to know what our country pursues in the name of diplomacy, and to realize that they are not barred from access just because nobody consideres them an “expert.”
At the same time, rape dominates as a passively accepted tool of power, one that still remains the the most unreported crime on college campuses and is used as a weapon in war.
Let’s take both rape and Assange’s work on Wikileaks seriously, but not compromise our values regarding either!