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Lara Logan, Julian Assange: Two cases of rape culture

Last week, journalist Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by a group of protesters in Egypt. Details of the assault emerged over time: She was forcibly isolated from her crew. She was beaten; some of her assailants used flagpoles. Some of her hair was pulled out. Red marks, originally thought to be bite marks, were found near “sensitive” parts of her body; they were deemed the result of “aggressive pinching.” She was saved by a group of women, who threw themselves on top of her, physically shielding her from the crowd. One assumes those women were assaulted as well, although no details about this have emerged, and not many people reporting on the story have paused to note the probable cost for a woman who places herself physically between a sexual assailant and his target; next to the story of (white, South African born, American-based) Logan, the heroic actions of those Egyptian women have become all but invisible. The details are harsh, they are graphic, and they are terrifying.

They are also, as high-profile sexual assault cases go, atypical. For one, Logan’s name was made public almost immediately, with her consent. Her assailants have not been named, and probably won’t be named in the future, which is why the assault can legally be reported as fact. Logan is also more famous and socially powerful than her assailants; in the vast majority of high-profile sexual assault cases, that power dynamic is reversed. And then, there was the nature of the assault itself: Public, hugely and brutally violent, carried out by a gang of strangers. It’s nightmarish to contemplate. It’s also very hard to minimize or deny.

If you were looking for a sexual assault case to contrast with Logan’s, you’d… well, you’d find a lot of them. But one illustrative case, which seems to differ from Logan’s in almost every significant detail, is that of Miss A and Miss W, the two Swedish women who accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of rape. We should be clear: The stories of Miss A and Miss W cannot be printed as fact. This is because, until Assange goes to trial, there is no way for the public to know whether they are true. A judge will rule this week whether Assange will be extradited from Britain to Sweden, but we are a long way from a trial at present.

What matters here are the dynamics of power, and the specifics of the case.  For starters, Assange is famous and powerful; his accusers are not. His name has been attached to the case publicly; responsible media outlets have avoided printing the names of the two women, which is standard in sexual assault cases. But their names have been so widely leaked that avoiding them has become impossible, and they have been the subject of a rabid smear campaign. One blog post asserted (on no evidence) that Miss A was affiliated with the CIA. This blog post was embraced and promoted widely, sometimes by people with a great deal of reach, such as Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann. However, the love for the post died down when it was discovered that the author, Israel Shamir, was both a Holocaust denier and (what is more relevant) a freelancer for WikiLeaks. His son, too, was a WikiLeaks representative. In — wait for it — Sweden.

Then, there are the allegations themselves, and the fact that no-one seems to know whether they constitute “rape.” The relevant information has been available for months. Assange is accused of tearing Miss A’s clothing off while she resisted him, and of forcibly holding her down to prevent her from reaching for a condom, while she struggled to free herself. (He later put on a condom, which broke; Miss A suspected that he tore it.) These allegations qualify as sexual assault. Miss W’s account is even simpler: She says that she had consensual sex with Assange, that he stayed overnight at her place, and that she awoke the next morning to find him penetrating her. If this is true, Miss W was definitively raped by Julian Assange; despite arguments to the contrary, put forth by Assange’s defense at his extradition hearings, penetrating an unconscious person is regarded as rape in Sweden, in Great Britain, in Australia, and several other countries.

But the contrast is clear. In Logan’s case, all is fact. We believe her, as we have every reason to do. In the Assange case, nothing can be definitively known. In Logan’s case, the violence is clear and visible; in the Assange case, the alleged violence has widely been trivialized and dismissed. (In response to the allegation that Assange forcibly pinned a struggling woman and forced her legs open, Assange’s defender Geoffrey Robinson said that it was “what is usually termed the missionary position.”) In Logan’s case, the assailants were strangers, and they had multiple witnesses; in the Assange case, the alleged assaults took place privately, between acquaintances, which is also the case with most actual rapes.

We don’t need to play ranking games here. What happened to Logan was horrific; if the allegations against Assange are true, those assaults were also horrific. But one might assume — I did — that Logan would not be subject to the same sort of defamation or victim-blaming that Miss A or Miss W have been. We know it happened; there’s no way to dismiss it. We know that she was outnumbered and overpowered; there’s no way to blame her for what happened. Right?

Wrong. Just as Miss A and Miss W were subject to nasty insinuations about their sexuality and lifestyle — the Daily Mail found the time to tell the world that Miss A was “an attractive blonde” and “a well-known ‘radical feminist,’” and to assert that the case had negative implications for both women’s “values” — the coverage of Logan’s assault often focused on her sexuality or attractiveness. Simone Wilson of LA Weekly described her as a “blonde reporter” who was “known for her shocking good looks,” and whose “sex life famously came under fire” two years before the (completely unrelated) attack. Just as people insinuated that Miss A and Miss W somehow invited an attack, they said the same about Logan. A poll asking whether Logan was “to blame for her sexual assault” was created; in the comment section, there were posters such as the (female) Brianne, who wrote, “you walk into a place full of crazy barbarians and you’re a vulnerable girl dressed like a slut with no protection, of course she should have seen it coming. I don’t feel sorry in the least fucking bit.” Which, of course, is another factor in the Logan case: Good old-fashioned racism.Reliably loathsome right-wing commentator Debbie Schlussel is of the opinion that Logan was “sexually assaulted by Muslims because that’s what they do to women (and young boys and livestock).” Charming.

But what stands out here is how very similar the reactions have been, in two such different cases. One popular theory, of course, is that Assange’s accusers are lying to exact some complicated revenge upon him. They may be; again, we can’t know what happened unless Assange goes to trial. But no-one is calling Lara Logan a liar. What they are calling her is a sexy slutty-dressing blonde who should have seen it coming. What they are doing is asserting that the assault was her fault; what they are doing is refusing her any human sympathy. The feminist thesis of “rape culture” is pretty heavily contested; many people don’t seem to know what it actually means. But what it means is this: As Logan’s case shows, whether or not we believe women who press rape charges, we treat them much the same. And the way we treat them often amounts to a second, more public assault.

26 thoughts on “Lara Logan, Julian Assange: Two cases of rape culture

  1. Thank you for this article. It never ceases to amaze me how much hate there is against women (by both men and women) and so much tolerance towards violence against women.
    I can even see that tolerance sometimes in myself, which scares me most.
    Again, thank you.

  2. Responsible media outlets have avoided discussing the details of the Assange case at all – for fear of conducting trial by media – and restricted themselves to discussing the merits, or otherwise, of the investigation and the behaviour of the prosecution, how the European Arrest Warrant operates, etc. Adding your OPINION to the media firestorm helps no one.

  3. I appreciate this is a emotionally charged topic and agree that sexual assault, as well as assault, on anyone (male or female) should not be tolerated.

    However I think you have wandered into opinion in a great deal of this article thereby making largely without credibility and integrity.

    “One assumes those women were assaulted as well” Where are you getting your facts from in this article? There has been no official statement from Logan on what happened and ALLEGED eye witness accounts state that there where no women defending Logan but actually young men. (As per ALLEGED eye witness article: http://temorisblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/rape-women-stripped-what-really-happened-to-lara-logan/ )

    I cannot consider this article as journalism for the above reasons and would deem it more as opinion.


    A. Braithwaite

  4. Sexual assault is a very serious crime, and there should be serious jail time for it. No woman should ever have to experience sexual assault. However, most cases of sexual assault in Sweden in my opinion is a tool of revenge or control by women. We shall never know the true, because the trial is behind closed doors.
    Sweden lawyer Montgomery described Assange as violent and abusive toward the women, using force in one case to pin one down as he tried to penetrate her against her will. Anna Ardin told the first time that Assange was not violent. I think a sexual relation ship with new partners is risky, because man and woman don’t know each other and makes mistakes. The question is can you repair these mistakes without to many consequences. I suppose that the most of the Swedish people think that Assange has been crossed the allowed boundaries of the law. He said that his box of rape after the trial shall be empty. I think that he has been lied a little bit and did something in the grey zone. His lie is necessary because Sweden has terrible laws about sexual assaults for man against woman. In Sweden it’s always a he which is arrested for rape , waited sometimes a long time in jail before he go to court. The he would not get a fair trial. Hearing of rape cases are behind closed doors and they believe the woman first and there is also a political influence. Sweden makes the law for rape very complicate. If the woman go to the police than they make the arrest warrant without risk for the woman. Sweden thinks that they are one of the best guys of Europe and have a modern state with modern laws. I think that’s wrong if I look how they handle crimes of sexual assaults. On this moment with Marianne Ny as prosecutor for rape cases I think that Sweden is a kind of Saoedi Arab with as victim men. If I look to the black pages in the history of sexual crime in Sweden against women I think the government must look good to her own history of the twentieth century before she makes such inhumane strong laws against men. Sweden has a terrible sexual crime history, because they sterilized in the twentieth century a lot of Swedish women. This group in the North of Sweden was unwanted and must be limited. So Sweden be careful if you make and use laws against sexual assaults and suppose that you make and use the laws better than in the beginning of this century. Normal people and governments are not without any crime. What the Swedish prosecutor do with the foreigner Assange is unfair. In my opinion a rape-process with prosecutor Marianne Ny and unsympathetic woman Anna Ardin is barbarian. After Anna Ardin thought that Assange damaged the condom it’s normal in that kind of situations that she directly try to stop the sex action and ask Assange to leave her flat. She did not. Witnesses also confirm that Anna Ardin behaved like nothing had happened after the alleged rape. The witnesses it also appears as if Anna Ardin was not having any issues with Assange until she found out that Sofia Wilen had had sex with Assange . The second case with Sofia Wilen is more complicate.
    May be it is rape of the lowest degree. Can you repair this mistake without to many consequences? I think if she is not infected than compassion with Assange after a letter of regret and a financial compensation of Assange is better than a trial.

  5. This article is really poorly written and consists od badly thought-out and blindly feminist arguments.

  6. You have got to be careful the way you write. “they used flag poles”. For WHAT? read around it. THAT’s how it will be read. Stop shocking people to get readers. Also, what the hell does “American based” mean?

  7. ‘sMy opinion is that feminist should not write articles on political issues or accusing someone with who got smeared by a rape charge so the powerfull war bodies could take the beamlights off themselves by getting 2 women to cry out rape
    Laura’s case is cannot be mentioned injunction with Assanges case there is no simularity at all so why bring up at all ?
    Is this artical the last hope for the war mangros to shadow our respect towards the person who highlighted injustice ,corruption by politician who represent justice ,the mean towards the real Democracy ?
    So why mention and compare Laura and those two women onto one page ??
    Laura and Assange are victims it looks like they both got set up thats how normal people see it .

  8. Add to my comment:
    a) I call Anna Ardin unsympathetic because for example she wrote of the 7 Steps to Legal Revenge
    b) Assange process is barbarian because Marianne Ny is based against men and the Swedish lawyer Claes Borgstrom has political connections.

  9. Thanks for this article. As somebody has linked above, there is at least one person, claiming to be an eye witness, who claims that the attack was far less severe than reported. (I believe Logan; I’m only stating that your claim that “no one is calling Lara Logan a liar” is not, in fact, true.)

    Here’s the link again to that one account: http://temorisblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/rape-women-stripped-what-really-happened-to-lara-logan/

    Sad that even when one steps forward and breaks the silence surrounding sexual assault, they are still assaulted all over again…

  10. How great of many of the commenters to prove the author’s point by minimizing and denying and pretty much telling the author to shut up because she is expressing — can you believe it? — an opinion. And in an opinion piece! “Normal people” disapprove of that! What will those pesky women do next?

    Excellent analysis. The juxtaposition of these two different situations and the common reactions is very revealing. Thanks!

  11. @ Jackie: Deal with the facts rather than inflammatory opinion (as the author of this article also needed to). No-0ne is telling the author to ‘basically shut up’ or ‘wondering what those pesky women will do next'(!) as you put it, and to say they are is not only farcical put potentially inflammatory and therefore detracting from this intelligent discussion you have chosen to make your contribution to. The issue is that this opinion piece is VERY poorly researched and the opinion seemingly rather biased so therefore it is difficult to give the opinion much credence at all. The site (globalcomment.com) also seems to be in somewhat of a grey area between journalism and opinion (calling the pieces submitted ‘articles’ and the people that submitted them ‘Feature Writers’ for example). With apparently such poorly researched articles and poorly argued opinions I would not consider this site credible either.

    @emr. I don’t think in this case anyone is being assaulted all over again as you say. A number of people have simply highlighted the patently obvious flaws in this piece, and Lara Logan is getting an enormous amount of international support and condolences for the situation she has believed to have been in. This is one of the cruxes: we do not know exactly what happened to Logan but the submitter has taken unofficial and alleged reports in the days following the alleged assault on Logan and treated them as facts. Again this is all before there has been an official statement from Logan herself on the matter. To pontificate or imply that any women who are ALLEGED to have protected Logan MIGHT have been victims of assault also does not serve any purpose to further the submitter’s opinion and actually detracts from it by their inclusion of such statements. (‘The details are harsh, they are graphic, and they are terrifying’ Original Piece above) these kind of statements are the domain of tabloid newspapers, not intelligent debate.

    As I said before sexual and actual assault on ANYONE is unacceptable. The issue here is that the article’s research and argument came across as so poor that it was difficult to give the opinion in the article any credence (regardless of the person who wrote it’s gender; I couldn’t care less if it was a man or woman; it’s the points being made that are being discussed!)

    Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion (which as this site does not advertise clearly is a largely all that is provided here). But those opinions should be based on facts. Stick to the facts poeple, stick to the facts. Even if that fact is itself that not enough information is available on a subject to allow fair and balanced comment on it currently and may not be for a period of time.

    I’ve said all I need to say here but please bear in mind the points made in my posts.

  12. That’s amazing. A balanced, articulate article discussing the media and public reaction to two dissimilar rape cases and the comments are already full of men screaming about FACTS OMG!!!11 because anything that makes them the least bit uncomfortable is just an opinion and if they scream and stamp their feet like toddlers, they can shout it down.

    And bonus trolls insisting women can’t be objective about rape because… they’re usually the ones getting raped, but that’s not important, what’s important is that they’re crazy hysterical bitches who can’t be objective so they shouldn’t talk about it. By which token, men should not be allowed to write about football since they’re the ones who mostly play it.

    Oh but I forgot. When men have first hand experience, they’re experts. When women have first hand experience, we lose objectivity. *eyeroll*

  13. A. Braithwaite: Whether or not the other women were assaulted was an extremely minor point in the piece, with the qualifying statement “although no details about this have emerged” – Doyle is openly stating it hasn’t been confirmed yet, and it has very little to do with the point of the text in the first place – the details barely pertain to the comparison. On top of that you want to call it an “opinion piece” – well, join the club, this site is called GLOBAL COMMENT. For god’s sake, man.

    Benson: “However, most cases of sexual assault in Sweden in my opinion is a tool of revenge or control by women.”

    Really? Could you back that opinion up please? And honestly, it’s not that goddamn hard to decide whether or not sex is consensual – a “mistake” ends at the point where one part says “no” and the other keeps going. At that point, it’s rape. The “unsympathetic woman Anna Ardin” may or may not be a rape victim, for you to say she’s “unsympathetic” for TAKING A CASE OF RAPE TO COURT (!) is reprehensible in ways I can’t even find words to express.

    Tim Smothers: what arguments are poorly thought-out?

    Juan Carlos: It reads with perfect clarity. Some of her assailants used flagpoles to beat her with, and “American-based” means “based in America”, i.e. that’s where she lives. What part of that was difficult to parse? Your inability to read isn’t really Doyle’s fault.

    dreamcatcher: Doyle made it clear several times that the allegations against Assange are just that: allegations. Here, I’ll show you:

    ” We should be clear: The stories of Miss A and Miss W cannot be printed as fact.”

    “[…] In the Assange case, nothing can be definitively known.”

    “They may be; again, we can’t know what happened unless Assange goes to trial.”

    Those are the most obvious ones, add to that the fact that she never assumes Assange is guilty throughout the entire article – what bits of it seem like a “smear” to you?

    “Laura’s case is cannot be mentioned injunction with Assanges case there is no simularity at all so why bring up at all ?”

    If you read the article, it’s made perfectly clear. The comparison is interesting and valid and the comments here, including your own, only exasterbate the main point – people will go to absurd lengths to cast doubt or blame on the victim in rape cases.

    Reread your own posts, and try to glean some insight about yourselves from them. What does it say about you when you disregard qualifying statements in the piece in order to be able to denounce Sady Doyle as an emotionally clouded feminist, letting you pretend that she isn’t contributing to intelligent discussion? Maybe YOU’RE in the wrong when you use a minor side note in the article as justification for completely regarding the interesting main points and comparisons?

    Maybe you’re not as fundamentally opposed to a rape culture as you no doubt believe you are!


  14. You are attempting to simplify an extremely complex case with respect to Assange. Typically, in doing so you have left out a great deal of detail which ironically does not support your conclusion. Like the majority of “journalists” today all you have done here is cherry pick evidence to bolster your own opinion.

    If you feel there is nothing left to say about the Assange case that hasn’t already been reported then report on something else (god knows there are enough under-reported issues in this world) don’t just make stuff up, we already have enough of that..

  15. Mr Braithwaite, sir:

    Your comments exhibit the same flaws that you have deemed unacceptable in Sady Doyle’s opinion piece.

    Do you understand the meaning of the word ‘allegation’ and its use? It does not appear that you do.

  16. Typical misogyny fuelled comments attempting to shut a female writer up.
    The crux of this opinion piece is a very successful comparison of public and media reactions to both cases- and how they highlight our nasty victim-blaming rape culture. Thanks for this, Sady.

  17. Wow, this is a really sad comments section so far. I do think that it is interesting that regardless of the circumstances, the instant conclusion is that there’s something wrong with a women if she got herself raped, or if she believes what happened to her was rape.

    I’ve never understood the argument that women somehow use fake accusations of rape to sully a man’s image and bolster their own. It seems like any public accusation leads to a sullying of the woman’s image and making her private life public in the most painful way.

    The discussion of Logan’s looks is really disturbing. The trolling on how she deserved it/should have seen it coming and kept to safe lady-journalism/got herself assaulted for attention is REALLY DISTURBING.

    I agree with the author than extremely disturbing and insensitive coverage of sexual assault seems to be a pattern in the media. I think this pattern is rightly titled “rape culture” in that I think it makes rape a “soft crime.”

    Also, in Saudi Arabia women are treated WAY worse than men in Scandinavia, that whole argument really confuses me.

  18. Braithwaite:

    From the link you provided:

    Oh, okay. Because for a second there I thought this was an alleged eyewitness account, not an alleged account of second-hand accounts of something that happened to someone else, plus commentary. It seems like your inclusion of this source while mischaracterizing it as an “eyewitness” account is disingenuous. But of course the standards of fact and journalistic responsibility never extend past the end of the article! We should stick to topics for “intelligent discussion” like pretending that the idea that a group of women protecting a woman from assault from a group of men might be assaulted themselves is preposterous or is not worth noting.

    Clearly you came to this piece without an agenda. Clearly.

  19. An article loaded with assumptions of a deviant character for Assange and an starkly differing standard of assumed innocence afforded the two women Assange lived with, both before and after the events over which police have laid charges in retrospect, despite the women having no initial complaint of sexual abuse by their own admissions.

    Lara Logan gets the full support of the corporate media because she belongs to them and she and they are not about anything more then perpetuating and benefiting from the status quo. Assange is energetically vilified not because he’s particularly powerful or rich, and he isn’t, but precisely because he doesn’t belong to the corporate media and the plutocracy it serves, and his relative integrity exposes the habitual dishonesty of both west “democratic” governments and complicit corporate media.

    I cant pretend to know enough or have the time to properly counter your article, however I hope I have successfully alluded to a couple of valid points or concerns with your arguments and their framing. And I would urge readers to be mindful of vested interests and not be niave in the degree of trust they assign to corporations, their journalists and government.

  20. @ Benson

    Are you even Swedish? It doesn’t sound like you are, based on how uneducated you are on the Swedish legal system. Then again, I’ve heard a lot of stupid shit come out of the mouts of Swedish men when it comes to rape and sexual assault.
    I am Swedish and I can tell you that whether you are or not, you’re definitely full of shit. You really just sound like some crazed conspiracy theorist.

    To Sady Doyle, I love Tiger Beatdown, I love you and I love this article. Thank you for being awesome.

  21. A Braithwaite:
    Your way of dismissing the entire issue of the article by criticizing the objectivity and facts regarding the particular cases is very typical for people who refuse to acknowledge that the underlying problem exists. Whether or not these facts are true can always be debated and only known by the people involved but that is NOT the point of this article. The point is that our society automatically and systematically puts suspicion, blame and shame on women who are subjected to sexual abuse (ask any rape victim). If she in any way is sexually available to men she is “a slut that has it coming” and if she complains she is “a malicious, bitter bitch out to get the poor guy.”

    This sort of thing happens all the time, even in a relatively emancipated country like Sweden.
    Only this last year there was a very famous case in Sweden were an entire small town had shunned and harassed a young girl who was raped by a schoolmate. Of course the rapist was a popular “good boy” and hailed as a hero and a victim of a jealous girls revenge. Apparently it was easier to believe the girl was lying than the truth. Later the same boy was charged with similar crimes to other girls. It never ceases to amaze me how white middleclass men see themselves as victims from rabid feminist man haters. Kind of reminds me of how certain dictators and politicians try to come of like persecuted victims and misunderstood martyrs.

  22. Mr./Ms. Benson

    I don’t know what your insight is into swedish legislation and process regarding rape victims, but the statistics seem to show that it is very difficult to get rapist convicted because the criteria for solid evidence is very highly set.

    Use google transle to read this: http://www.dn.se/debatt/hd-dom-gor-det-omojligt-att-falla-for-sexovergrepp

    (JK = Attorney General or Chancellor of Justice)

    I guess there is a reason for negotiations to take place behind closed doors, i.e. to protect both the accused and the defendant. Why we still have leaked names in this trial is better answered by Mr Assange himself, I suppose.

    Also, from what I’ve heard the two women did not accuse Mr Assange of rape, they simply turned to the police to force him to be tested for HIV (because of the unwanted unprotected sex). As this falls under the regulation of public prosecution, an arrest warrant was issued despite no one immediately claimed to be a victim of rape, simply because the actions described by the vomen is considered rape according to law (and commen sense too, I suppose).

    It’s very strange to hear the swedish legislative system compared to tha of Saudi Arabia. I find that there is no real comparison and myself I’d be much more afraid of going to trial there, where I could get convicted for celebrating christmas with a christmas tree (as friends of mine have).

  23. @Jens A.
    You are right. I make a correction in my comment: Sexual assault is a very serious crime. No woman should ever have to experience sexual assault. However, a number of cases of sexual assault in Sweden in my opinion is a tool of revenge or control by women.
    I call Anna Ardin unsympathetic, because
    a) she wrote the 7 Steps to Legal Revenge.
    For example Step 7
    Get to work. And remember what your goals are while you are operating, ensure that your victim will suffer the same way as he made you suffer.
    b) after Anna Ardin thought that Assange damaged the condom it’s normal in that kind of situations that she directly try to stop the sex action and ask Assange to leave her flat. She did not. Witnesses also confirm that Anna Ardin behaved like nothing had happened after the alleged rape. The witnesses it also appears as if Anna Ardin was not having any issues with Assange until she found out that Sofia Wilen had had sex with Assange .
    c) Anna Ardin told the first time that Assange was not violent.
    You wrote:you’re definitely full of shit. You really just sound like some crazed conspiracy theorist.
    Comment: In Sweden it’s always a he which is arrested for rape , waited sometimes a long time in jail before he go to court. The he would not get a fair trial. Hearing of rape cases are behind closed doors and they believe the woman first and there is also a political influence. Assange process is not fair, because Marianne Ny is biased against men, the revenge rules of Anna Ardin, the Swedish lawyer Claes Borgstrom has political connections and Assange cannot understand Swedish.. Therefore I call Assange process barbarian.

  24. Rape cases are always a sensitive subject, especially high-profile ones such as this, but this case is like a piece of swiss cheese. Too many holes exist that would be helpful to the prosecution. Further information regarding this side of the argument are available at http://bit.ly/hGMQg6 for review. Check it out.

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