“When Law Blames Victims for Rape”

[Trigger Warning for discussions about rape and victim blaming]

This is a screen shot I just took over at CNN.  It is a picture of a woman, Zeinebou Mint Taleb Moussa, looking directly at the camera and holding a plaque.  Under the image are the words: “Where law blames victims for rape.”  The smaller lead type under the headline says, “Mahjouba was raped in March on the nighttime streets of Mauritania’s capital, but she will not bring charges against the man she says did it because she may be the one who ends up in prison.”  Then it links to the larger story.

It is a good article about the realities of being a woman in Mauritania and the reasons that reporting rape are so difficult.

But the reason I felt like writing about this today is the timing of CNN’s release of this article.  As someone who is reading this blog, you have probably heard plenty about the allegations that Julian Assange raped and sexually assaulted two women.  There has a been a huge response on Twitter and in the blogosphere to the way in which supporters of Assange’s Wikileaks website, like Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, and Naomi Wolf (!), have fought back against the allegations by trying to discredit the women making the allegations, claim that the police accounts of the assaults don’t show that they weren’t consenting, and have twisted the little that we know about the allegations to make it seem like these rape claims are simply creations by a government to punish an otherwise innocent man.  The response by these progressives has been to use and abuse the rape apologia that they reportedly fight against in all other cases.

The #Mooreandme hash tag campaign, started by Sady Doyle and Jaclyn Freedman, has been going strong for over a week in the hopes that they could convince Moore (and maybe Olbermann) to apologize for using rape apology tropes and to announce that they, in fact, take rape allegations seriously.  The people behind the #Mooreandme hash tags want a better conversation about rape.  They, unlike Moore, Olbermann, and Wolf, are willing to say that rape allegations and questions about the overreach of powerful governments can happen at the same time, even (and perhaps especially) in the cases in powerful men.  Assange could possibly be both a moral crusader and a rapist.  He could both be set up by his government and be a man who doesn’t care about legal and personal boundaries.  These allegations could be pursued for political reasons (rape allegations are so rarely followed up) but still be true.  Hell, Assange could be innocent or found innocent or charges never arise (he hasn’t yet been charged) and that still doesn’t mean that we should automatically assume the claims or stories are false or that we should so thoroughly deny these women and their allegations simply because of who Assange is.

That is all the #Mooreandme hash tag is about.  It’s about responsibility in how the story is told, the alleged rape victims are treated, and what we say to all the women (and some men) who will be or have been raped that think about pressing charges but are too scared to do so.

For more on all of this, see Sady Doyle’s website, Tiger Beatdown, where she has posted Michael Moore’s direct message to her today.  Also, see this amazing (and completely triggering – TW!) of Jaclyn Freedman going up against the vomit-inducing Naomi Wolf at Democracy Now! (Just FYI: there is a second, longer video where they debate these same issues).  You should also check out Moore’s interview with the amazing and brilliant, thank-god-we-have-her Rachel Maddow last night (her comments about the rape allegations before having Moore come out on stage are about as on point as you can get).  Feministing has had some great coverage of this whole thing, including Maya’s response to Olbermann’s condescension and generally asshole behavior this last week.  Also, this post by Andrea Grimes.  Finally, there is a ton of stuff about this at Shakesville, but specifically I want to point you to the Rape Culture 101 post that everyone should read at least once.

All of this is to say that when I clicked on CNN a bit ago and this was the story that I was met with, I couldn’t help but see it as part of the larger rape conversation going on in this country.  And the title, “When Law Blames Victims for Rape” seems to function as a way to say, “See, what you western ladies have going for you isn’t so bad because you could be like those Mauritania ladies, not only raped and not believed but jailed for it, too.”

These Mauritanian women are being used by CNN, not to show how women fight against the patriarchal, rape culture shit that affects us all everywhere (which is the intent of the author of the piece and why it was written in the first place, I think).  Instead, this story of these brave women who are fighting the crusade against such terrible legal and cultural practices is being used in this way as a story of the “other” set up as a corollary to us, as a reminder that we, at least in theory, have the law behind us.

Because this title is begging for us to think of the other times, “when the law doesn’t blame the victims for rape.”

Oh wait.  That does still happen in the West, over here where we whine and complain about rape even though our laws aren’t so harsh as the ones CNN is spotlighting today.

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