Revolutionaries and rape….


The article, Left Behind, was originally written in 2003. I wrote it mainly from my own personal perspective of the revolutionary Left mainly for therapeutic reasons and also a friend at the time encouraged me to write it. It languished on my PC for another two years before I suggested an article like this to Cath Redfern, then editor of the F Word. She agreed. Once it was published I kinda forgot about it then I got an email from Cath telling me it was causing a bit of a buzz in the feminist blogosphere… funnily enough, not a peep from the Left (though Leftie blogs were in their infancy unlike feminist blogs!).

Many women were discussing their own personal experiences and unfortunately the negatives outweighed the positives. I was glad in some way I wrote that article and that it initiated a discussion in the feminist blogosphere as it highlighted just how crap things were. Story after story disheartened me and some I could truly relate to. Simultaneously, I read an article by an American leftie woman trade unionist who wrote passionately and very powerfully about the number of women she had encountered on the Left who had experienced violence by a Left-wing man. I contacted her and we had an email exchange discussing our own personal experiences of violence, and again how the labour movement had a tendency to cover-up acts of violence, minimise or just ignore it. In my own experience I believed that the man I was with knew better, a consciousness raised about oppression, how very wrong I was. It was a real head fuck when you listen to the comrade spout about the importance of liberation and fighting oppression, yet once within the sanctity of the home get thumped in the face  …. my “misdemeanor” was because I set on the edge of his bed.

I endured constant put downs, was undermined, my confidence was broken, identity shattered, thumped and raped. Yet I never told anyone, it took some time to admit the truth to myself and to others. Even as a socialist feminist I internalised my own oppression and blamed myself (even writing this my anger comes to the forefront remembering the past and who I was back then, a broken and damaged person who blamed herself… Well, no more!). Writing about this to the woman trade unionist helped me come to terms with the experience but it also depressed me as so many other women were going through similar experiences and that made me angry. Many sought out similar minded people who they could trust with their experiences but it’s more of a problem to talk about this in the wider movement as experience tells you, as reality tells you, you are not encouraged to open up and talk about the realities, the awkward realities (for some) of violence against women on the Left. Still the same vilification, minimisation, disbelief and excuse after excuse is trotted off to defend the shameful behaviour. Any allegation is usually shot down in flames.

So when I read the DC report on SU regarding SWP dealing with an allegation of rape I felt physically sick, unbelievably angry and shocked. It just felt like groundhog day! Reading about individuals who have not the expertise, nor legal knowledge or experience to deal with a crime of a serious magnitude like rape. No organisation has the systems in place to deal with this, nor should they. How was the approach taken? What formulation was used? How were the statements taken? How was evidence gathered? How did they interpret the legal definition of rape? How was similar fact evidence taken into account? How were the individuals questioned? How was the evidence weighed-up? The criminal law is based on the certainty that the person committed the crime. Do you need such a high standard of proof when the worst sanction is expulsion from a political group? Who carries the burden/standard of proof? A fair hearing would imply that you know what rules to follow but in this instance, regarding the SWP kangaroo court anything goes. Is an internal disciplinary body an appropriate place to deal with an allegation of sexual assault in the first place? No, it’s not.

We may have moved on historically and made political gains but the myths surrounding rape still exist and pervade this society overall. Only 5% of rapes ever end in conviction. Do we even know the true figure of how many women experience sexual violence? Women have an uphill struggle in being believed. Whether she is described as “asking for it”, her sexual history being brought into the equation, the clothes she was wearing, leading the man on,demonisation(including internal minimisation including self-blame), that “no” really means “yes”, cuts in rape crisis services, patchy/inconsistent police responses, sexist criminal justice system.

At the centre of this allegation of rape was a woman, who needed support and solidarity yet given the apparent atmosphere she didn’t get that at all. Far from it. A travesty of justice. Instead this case highlights a privileging of men. It highlights inherent sexist dynamics within an organisation that reflects society overall.

Any of the various left-wing organisations exist at least on the face of it to oppose oppression and to bring about a society that is not based on the oppression of the majority of human beings by those in positions of power. Once any such organisation that covers sexually oppressive behaviour up or fails to deal with it in a transparent and fair way it undermines its whole reason for being.

Finally on inviting the bourgeois state into the revolutionary party. If a woman who is not in a left group accused a man who was also not a member of a revolutionary group no one on the left would have an issue with saying that she should receive support to go to rape crisis, the police or anyone else that she wished to go to for help. Suddenly if we are talking about two members of a revolutionary group then the woman loses this right. She goes from being a second class citizen as a result of the way that society treats women to being a 4th or 5th class citizen who cannot complain to any proper body when she is sexually abused. In the SWP she is stuck with explaining her self to the friends of the person who has abused her. If this is true then we are not talking about a revolutionary party that will lead the oppressed and wretched of the world to liberation. Sorry comrades your faith in your party is misplaced.

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13 thoughts on “Revolutionaries and rape….

  1. The woman should have gone to the police.

    The SWP should have said to the woman, we are not the place to deal with something like this, go to the police. But if you feel the culture of this organisation causes rape to be more likely then we have to look at the culture.

    Finally, no rape may have occurred. The woman is not always right and sometimes the man is the victim. Look at the female prison officer who said a prisoner raped her just so she would get off a disciplinary. Yes she risked labeling this man a rapist rather than face trouble herself!

    I think the left are falling into hysteria around this issue, rather than sober thought.

    • It is not for anyone to tell a victim of rape what they “should have” done – an attitude of “police or it didn’t happen” is unacceptable.

      ‘As Sam points out there are many good reasons why she might not have gone to the police – most victims dont. But the party should have been grateful for her courage in informing them that they had a sexual preditor in their midst and taken steps to protect other women from him.

  2. Steve, there are many understandable reasons why a victim of sexual or domestic violence does not report their abuser to the police (shame, blaming self, fear of retribution, fear of consequences, dependence on abuser, love for their abuser, the list is as long as the list of countless victims). When you add to the that the trust that comrades of different organisations have in their respective party structures and processes, I do not blame this victim one bit for not going to the police. That said I totally agree that the SWP was not in any way competent to carry out an investigation into an allegation of this nature given the intimate and different nature of rape to any other crime and they should have encouraged the victim to seek out the independent support that a rape crisis centre or similar can offer, trusting that these services are confidential and your average rape crisis counsellor is not going to be a police spy. The other thing to always remember is that victims are far more likely to lie about it NOT happening rather than lie about it taking place. Proven false accusations are actually very rare and that flies in the face of those who claim that women make up these stories at the drop of a hat, or for the compo or whatever. The evidence doesn’t show that one bit.

    The long and short of it is that comrades everywhere need to get their hearts and heads around this issue. There are doubtless other comrades out there who have had other experiences or who are going through this nightmare now. The least the left can do is support them every which way they can! Isn’t that what solidarity with the oppressed is all about … or do we conveniently forget that when it is one of the Big Boys, one of those with already much power and control at their fingertips?

    Harpymarx – this post is stunningly powerful and I hope that all who come across it respect the courage and open honesty of your words. The left does need to look at itself … not in any navel-gazing way, but in terms of how our own organisational norms and cultures actively work against the interests of anyone who is or who may become a victim in the future. It has GOT to be sorted and saying so does not make anyone ‘hysterical’ (I’m not quite sure what ‘wandering wombs’ have got to do with this, surely it’s a question of wandering hands and wandering god knows what else, if anything?)

  3. If I were to say to people who’ve known me well over a number of years that my house has been burgled I’d expect to be believed. The woman who said she was raped should have had her claim taken at face value. Instead she was humiliated and her reputation was trashed in front of the very people she was expecting to take her seriously and support her. It really is hard to see how the SWP could have handled this case in a worse way.

    The assumption has to be that any woman in the SWP who is assaulted by someone in the party hierarchy can expect to be personally and politically destroyed and those who support her marginalised and driven out. There are appalling lessons that every progressive organisation has to draw from this. A good starting point would be “believe the woman”.

    • It’s such a no-brainer, and you make that point well Liam. In so many ways I can’t believe we’re having this conversation in 2013, spelling out the very very basics of sexual violence awareness to people who just a few weeks ago were covering the Jimmy Savile investigation and proclaiming to be on the side of victims of sexual abuse. Believe the victim when they find the courage to tell and support them in doing the right thing for them in their recovery. If you attempt to impose any other agenda on that person then you will be actively revictimising them and disempowering them from believing they have choices in what feels at the time like you have been stripped of all power and control anyway.

  4. “It is not for anyone to tell a victim of rape what they “should have” done”

    Yes it is. It’s very easy and rational to tell them what they should do. Non-victims probably have a better idea than victims, whose judgement may be clouded by irrational emotion.

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