Sunday, 13 February 2011
The definition of rape
The current trial in the UK against Wikileak's Julian Assange has cast the light on cultural attitudes to rape. The Swedish prosecutor is demanding that Julian Assange is returned to Sweden to face two counts of rape. His UK defense lawyer is trying to ridicule the Swedish definition of rape in order to prevent this from happening. In other words,saying what he did is not counted as rape in the UK and therefore he shouldn't be extradited.
One of the women accusing Assange of rape has alleges that he used his body weight to pin her down. In the UK, the lawyer refered to this as simply 'the missionary position'.
The other women accuses Assange of penetrating her when she was asleep/semi asleep and without a condom. The UK lawyer interpreted this as 'half awake' and if you're 'half awake' you are consenting apparently.
The Swedish rape laws are amongst the toughest in the world, and I think that's a good thing. In a country that believes in equality and integrity, I would expect nothing less. The attitude towards rape in Sweden - informed by a strong sense of women's rights - means that it is more likely to be reported to police.
Some 53 rape offences are reported per 100,000 people in Sweden, the highest rate in Europe according to European jutice statistics.
The figures may reflect a higher number of actual rapes committed but it seems more likely that tough attitudes and a broader definition of the crime are more significant factors
Under Swedish law, there are legal gradations of the definition of rape.
There is the most serious kind, involving major violence.
But below that there is the concept of 'regular rape', still involving violence but not violence of the utmost horror.
And below that there is the idea of 'unlawful coercion'. Talking generally, and not about the Assange case, this might involve putting emotional pressure on someone.
The three categories involve prison sentences of 10, six and four years respectively.
So, whatever Mr Assange did, it is in Sweden that he should face the courts. If it is a conspiracy, and he is innocent, it is terrible. But if he is guilty and protected by the UK lawyers, it is even more terrible.
No rapist should walk free. Ever.