Crime and Public Perception
16 August 2012
"I had half a dozen pints last night, drove home and the police stopped me. They chucked me in the nick for the night and say I'll lose my license."
If you'd told your friends this in the 1960s they'd have sympathised, and been shocked at the heavy-handedness of the police. Tell them nowadays and you might find yourself shunned by them, horrified by your stupidity.
The campaign against drink-driving hasn't just been a case of changing the law - it's been successful because it has taken the public with it, making the act of driving drunk socially unnacceptable. A conviction for drink-driving is something most people would be very ashamed of.
I'm not in favour of keeping cutting the drink-driving limit or taking a 'zero-tolerance' view, not because I think these are bad things, but because the changes risk losing the support of the public. If convicted drink-drivers can say "I had two pints on Saturday afternoon watching the football, and got pulled over on Monday morning" then the public may start to change its sympathies; the hard work of the last few decades might be lost.
This applies to other crimes too. Julian Assange is known throughout the world as a rapist. True, he hasn't been charged or convicted, and the two women involved haven't made complaints of rape against him, but if you search for '"julian assange" rape' you'll find 3,190,000 results. Entirely unscientifically, a search for '"garve scott-lodge" rape' finds 29.
@eyeedinburgh, in this article makes the point that the events described by Julian Assange's lawyer (assuming they correctly put forward his views) **[note followup below] do constitute an admission of rape, even if the word is not used. The logic is fairly difficult to argue with.
The admissions of Assange's lawyer are:
- He had sex without a condom with woman A, who had only consented to sex with a condom. Woman A indicated she did not wish this by trying to turn and squeeze her legs together, and reach for a condom.
- He initiated sex with woman B whilst she was asleep, without using a condom. They were in bed together, having had consensual sex using a condom twice previously in that session.
In neither case is it indicated that the woman verbally asked him to stop. If it turns out that they did, then that will change everything. Neither does either woman claim that she was frightened to speak out.
If you define rape as sex in absence of consent, then both of these cases would meet that criteria.
However, someone in a long-term, loving relationship of whatever gender mix, who has been woken up by their partner initiating sexual contact might find it surprising to have this behaviour defined as rape. If you don't want to have sex you can say so, though you might decide to continue in order to please your partner.
I don't want to get into the definition of rape - I'd lose any argument to the large number of activists who know the subject far better than I. My point is, by being so keen to brand Assange a rapist for the above allegations, activists risk losing the sympathy of the public for their cause.
As I've said before, I do wish Julian Assange had returned to Sweden to face the allegations long ago - this sideshow has made Wikileaks' work far more difficult.
Update, added, 20th Aug, 2012.
I've spent some time looking for a full transcript of what Assange's lawyer, Ben Emmerson said at this hearing, but without success. However, a couple of excerpts from reports need to be taken into account.
"Even assuming that Emmerson is not vouching for the accuracy of these accounts but merely offering them as summaries of the charges against his client..."
"The case does not hinge on whether Assange accepts this version of events and others relating to other incidents because there are no charges against him, but whether the arrest warrant in connection with them is valid on "strict and narrow" legal grounds, Emmerson said"
My reading of this is that Emmerson was not making any admissions on Assange's behalf. He was taking the allegations made as they were provided by the Swedish authorities, and arguing that they did not constitute allegations which were valid under the European Arrest Warrant.
My reading could very well be wrong - if the full statement exists it would be very interesting to see it. However, it seems to me unlikely that a lawyer would ever make such admissions, as they would prejudice future proceedings.