Posted on February 12, 2011
There’s always a risk when you hold other people up as icons that at some point they’ll do or say something to shatter all your previously held illusions about them. I know for instance that a lot of women, particularly younger women, have felt betrayed by the quite odious position Naomi Wolf has chosen to take on the Assange case (I made my own view clear on that in this comment on her recent CiF piece), but as I’ve never held Wolf up as any great feminist icon, I couldn’t really share in that disappointment.
With Helena Kennedy though it’s a different matter. Because I’ve long been a fan of hers. And now I just feel let down.
When I first saw that Kennedy was on Assange’s defence team I consoled myself with the thought that at least if she was involved there’d be less chance of the defence resorting to victim blaming or any other rape apologist shite. This is after all the woman who penned the epic “Eve Was Framed“, a book that focused on “the treatment of women in our courts – at the prejudices of judges, the misconceptions of jurors, the labyrinths of court procedures and the influence of the media.”
And she’s also the woman who wrote this in the Independent back in 2001:
“The most controversial aspect of the law on rape is the defence of “honest belief in consent”. It was established in the case of Morgan (1974) that if a defendant had an honest but mistaken belief that the woman was consenting, then he was not guilty of rape.
In most rape cases the judge explains to the jury that even if they are satisfied that the woman did not consent to sex, the accused should be acquitted if he honestly thought she was consenting. It makes securing a conviction very difficult in rape trials…..
….However, all is not lost. The law does not require that the reasonableness of a defendant’s belief is tested. The defence is easy to use and difficult to disprove. It perpetuates stereotypes about women and whether “no” means “no”. But the Home Office consultation paper “Setting the Boundaries” recommends that the doctrine of honest belief in consent should be maintained but with the addition of circumstances where the defence could not be used: for example, “where there was self-induced intoxication, recklessness as to consent, or if the accused did not take reasonable steps to ascertain free agreement at the time.” The substitution of the language of “free agreement” for consent forces a rethink of what sex is about – not passive women consenting to penetration but a couple engaged in intimacy.“
I told myself that Kennedy was a human rights lawyer; that she may well believe Assange to be innocent (and I reiterate, I don’t know and neither does anyone else know whether he’s innocent or guilty, and that’s not what this piece is about), and that she may well be convinced that his human rights are in danger of being breached in some way: so there are probably valid reasons for her to take up his cause. Well that’s how I justified it all anyway.
I also reminded myself that Kennedy has long been an advocate for rape survivors, that she’s a patron of the South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre, that all in all she’s a good woman, a sound feminist, and damn it all, someone I have for many many years looked up to.
And then this week happened.
Ok, so I flinched a bit when I saw this photo of her and Assange embracing each other all over the media, but then I went through my list of possible justifications for her involvement in the case all over again until I felt a bit better about it. And then I reminded myself again that if she was on his defence at least she’d make sure they steered clear of any naff rape apologism.
Until yesterday that is, when this happened:
“Geoffrey Robertson QC told the extradition hearing, at Belmarsh magistrate’s court in south London, that any resistance had been “unarticulated” on the part of Miss A, who has accused the WikiLeaks founder of ripping off her clothes, snapping a necklace, pinning her down and trying to force himself on her without wearing a condom.
“In so far as Mr Assange held her arms and there was a forceful spreading of her legs, there’s no allegation that this was without her consent,” he said.
“Sexual encounters have their ups and downs, their ebbs and flows. What may be unwanted one moment can with further empathy become desired. These complex human interactions are not criminal in this country.”
The argument that Assange used the weight of his body to pin her down “describes what is usually termed the missionary position,” he said.”
And yes, I know it was Geoffrey Robertson QC spouting all that guff, but Helena Kennedy’s on his team ffs! And now she will always, in my mind at least, be associated with one of the worst, naffest, most enraging bloody rape defence arguments ever.
Ohhh Helena. Why? Just why?