[rape, sexual assault] ioerror, TOR, and encouraging victims to report rape to law enforcement

[TW: This post discusses rape and sexual assault in some detail. In addition, several of the links lead to graphic descriptions of rape and sexual assault by survivors.]

First of all, all my thoughts are with the people who were finally able to speak out loud enough to be heard in the face of power. I hope they get whatever measure of justice, or closure, or healing they can and want from this. I also find it tentatively encouraging that, after some prodding, the TOR Project has chosen to deal with this publicly to an extent. The digital rights community has a long way to go, but I guess the reactions we’re seeing this week, and the voices we’re hearing, are better than those back in 2010.

There’s one thing that really struck me in TOR’s second statement though, which in some ways illustrates the depth, complexity and extent of the issues we as a digital rights community still need to get our collective heads around to make this a safe space:

People who believe they may have been victims of criminal behavior are advised to contact law enforcement. We recognize that many people in the information security and Internet freedom communities don’t necessarily trust law enforcement. We encourage those people to seek advice from people they trust, and to do what they believe is best for them.

Allow me to digress for a moment to another high-profile rape case that’s been in the media this week: the Brock Allen Turner one. This is pretty close to a classic “stranger rape” case, where there were two witnesses and a rape kit. This is one of the vanishingly small percentage of rape cases that not only got reported, and got to court, it led to a conviction. It is also the case where the rapist was sentenced to six months’ jail time because anything longer would have a “severe impact” on him. This is how law enforcement treats rape if you are lucky.

Here’s something else for you to consider before encouraging those Appelbaum attacked to go to law enforcement. This is a quote from River’s account over on jacobappelbaum.net:

I didn’t know until very recently that nonconsensual sex, by a friend, is rape.

This is not unusual among those who have experienced rape and sexual assault. Our society constructs sexual violence as “just sex” in a number of toxic and insidious ways. So if a survivor doesn’t know that what happened to them was rape, guess who else doesn’t know it: law enforcement. Let me be clear: nonconsensual, coerced, unwanted sex is rape, even if the person doing it is a friend, a partner, a spouse. This is certainly the case morally, and it is the case legally in many – not all – jurisdictions. Unfortunately, it’s not how law enforcement actually operates.

From what I’ve seen so far, most of these cases are historical cases of acquaintance rape: more difficult to prove “beyond reasonable doubt”, which is the standard for criminal conviction in most jurisdictions. This is not an issue with the cases, or the victims, it’s a structural problem of the way Western criminal justice systems approach rape and sexual assault. The best you can hope for here is a protracted, painful and humiliating investigation that is eventually declared inconclusive.

Another consideration is that the digital rights community that Appelbaum exploited is by nature multinational and migratory. At least one of the assaults (Forest’s account) happened in Germany. Germany’s rape laws are notorious as a carte blanche for rapists. Even if that wasn’t the case, by asking the victim to contact law enforcement, you’re asking them to deal with a legal system that is unfamiliar to them, in a language they may not speak. Depending on whether they’re resident in that country or not, you’re potentially asking them to put that at risk too.

So here’s the thing, TOR: as a woman who is also a digital rights activist, my mistrust of law enforcement does not come from my involvement in digital rights activism. Yes, it’s exacerbated by that, and surveillance is something I have to think about on a daily basis. But in this very specific intersection of circumstances, my mistrust of law enforcement goes much deeper than that, and is much more visceral. You suggesting otherwise is insensitive at best, and shows a remarkable level of ignorance of the reality of the situation at worst.

At the same time we need to recognise that the fact that the people Appelbaum attacked are digital rights activists does make it even more difficult for them to seek justice through law enforcement. In this way we are a vulnerable, marginalised community, making it easier for predators like Appelbaum to operate with impunity. Saying victims should talk to people they trust and do what they believe is best for them is not enough. It’s not a how a community should operate. It undermines our work and our reputation on the issues we have come together to address.

We need to get better at this. We need to believe the first person that reports an assault, not wait until there are ten of them. We need to set up structures that allow us to deal with abusers in a timely and effective way. We need to support survivors. Your move, TOR.

13 thoughts on “[rape, sexual assault] ioerror, TOR, and encouraging victims to report rape to law enforcement

  1. ThirteenthLetter

    Justice delivered by angry, uninformed mobs whipped up by self-interested activists and journalists is not an improvement over justice delivered by police and courts; due process is a thing for a reason. If you are raped, call the police. The end.

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  2. I_am_not_a_robot

    I myself and other bloggers such as Catherine Fitzpatrick were some of the first bloggers to criticize Jacob Appelbaum about half a decade ago. We were not taken seriously at the time because we are not hackers and we are not anarchists, so we were treated as untrustworthy outsides. I remember how I myself was ridiculously referred to as a “CIA feminist” at the time for having the nerve to criticize him. Ask yourselves, why was it easier for female bloggers looking in to see the rampant abuse than for you anarchist women looking from inside out to recognize what was happening? Maybe your problem is not sexism in tech culture just as a problem in and of itself, but rather the very insularity and navel-staring in your culture that encourages exactly the kind of attitude such as a categorical “don’t talk to the pigs”. And what if Appelbaum had made the mistake of groping a woman who is not an anarchist with an anti-LE bias like the rest of you? Would you anarchist women have crucified this outsider woman for getting LE involved? Like I remember y’all doing with the Swedish women in the Assange case? I witnessed their d0xing in real time when it happened and many WL and Tor associated women happily participated in the witch-hunt.

    Sexism isn’t your problem. Your insular anarchism and your disregard for women outside of your community is your problem. What if a sex-maniac ostracized in the West by his own community, instead goes and becomes a third world sex-tourist and starts abusing women and men in the 3rd world you’ve never met or even thought of when you casually tossed about the term “OUR community”? –>

    https://twitter.com/wpawlikowski/status/740628344522342400

    Is it in line with your anarchism to allow rampant abuse to continue unabated as long as it happens where you don’t have to see it to people you don’t know? Because that is what you are doing when you refuse to get law enforcement involved.

    I am sorry your anti-LE bias is more important to you than the need to keep other women safe, women you’ve never met, women outside of your community. There are some people who really do belong in a cage for a while, if not to protect the rest of us from them, then most certainly to calm them the fuck down. Why would a sex-maniac voluntairly “seek help” when there are so many men and women on Twitter who right as we speak now boldly and loudly declare that they have his back while insisting against all evidence that this outpour of accusations online is supposedly a coordinated honeypot/conspiracy/psyops/smearjob?

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  3. Andy

    After reading your post, I understand the victims position a bit better. Still, I might consider encouraging victims to go to law enforcement. Even if there is only a slim chance of conviction, it might prevent future crimes or make the accusations more well-known. I have never been a victim of forced intercourse, but I believe I’d feel some closure by knowing that they had to face their crime.

    Are there known cases of residency disallowance after reporting rape? What is the worst thing that happened to someone (legally) that reported a rape that couldn’t be proven in court? Maybe we should collect such information on a website so victims can make an informed decision about reporting a crime. We don’t want them to be victimized twice, after all, or give their attacker the chance to hurt them again because victim protection in the country they are in is too lax.

    Reply
    1. elmyra Post author

      I literally have a pile of academic research on my desk documenting how the criminal justice system consistently re-victimizes rape survivors. To be perfectly blunt, there are only two very specific circumstances in which I would encourage anyone to report a rape/sexual assault to the police (or do so myself): 1. If it fits the classic stranger rape at gunpoint from the bushes paradigm. (There are ways that that victim will still be re-victimized and undermined by law enforcement and public opinion, but this is also the most likely scenario to actually lead to a conviction.) 2. As part of a co-ordinated DDoS attack on the criminal justice system which would collapse if it had to actually process every single instance of violence against women. Obviously, every survivor should make their own choice, and I totally support and respect that and if there’s anything I can do to help people who do want to report do so, I will. But the odds are stacked against victims and I would want anyone choosing to report to go into that process with full knowledge of that.

      As to legal consequences, residency issues may not result directly from reporting rape, but again, you’re asking people who are vulnerable in several intersecting ways (gender and sexual orientation, immigration status, membership of an activist community that law enforcement tends to view with suspicion) to bring themselves to the attention of law enforcement. That’s not acceptable.

      Also, you can can get prosecuted for making false allegations of rape. This includes cases where the victim was pressured to retract rape claims and was then prosecuted for making a false rape claim. Kafka would be proud.

      Reply
      1. Andy

        I do agree that people who might be part of an organization that will be looked at suspiciously by law enforcement, or people who are otherwise marginalized, are substantially more vulnerable when going to law enforcement. I hope gender, sexual orientation or even the fact that one is more open about sexuality than other people are not important factors when deciding whether allegations that were made are valid. If anything, it should make the police more attentive to details so they don’t miss anything that could help the victim prove their case. It’s not the polices’ job to decide what happened, anyway.

        Your link makes me furious. If I read it correctly, the victim got into trouble for retracting the rape allegations even though she was indeed a victim of rape, thus saving the rapist from jail (obviously she was pressured by the rapist, so the system failed by not providing adequate protection from her rapist even though she went to the police). If somebody forces me to commit a crime, that person should be responsible for it, not me.

        What has to change before you would ever recommend (or require, if that’s ever morally justifiable. I can only come up with utopian (or dystopian) fantasy societies where I might construct that as a requirement) women who don’t belong to other marginalized groups to report a rape? I don’t think the answer itself might help me understand your position, but the reasoning how you end up at it might provide me with further insights that I might otherwise miss.

        Reply
        1. elmyra Post author

          I’m not going to engage with this/take time to educate you, for a number of reasons. 1. I shouldn’t have to. 2. In the words of a friend, the UK has just voted to stick a chair up its collective arse, and I’m an immigrant here so I have rather more urgent problems. There is a long history of feminist legal scholarship around this subject, and I’m sure you are perfectly capable of googling.

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  4. wiley

    elmyra: she seem’s no to be a victim. as far as i understand the story, she claimed that she was drugged but a blood-test showed no indication of any drugs. additionally, the video evidence showed and proved for that the sex itself was consensual and that she just wasn’t happy about being videoed (apparently, that at the end disproved her rape allegation in the eyes of the court)…

    Maybe next time ioerror should just tape what happens…

    That’s all just antisemitic propaganda by people who already denied the Jewish homeland, the state of Israel, the right of self-defense against terrorist in its borders and the disputed territories, or is it a coincidence that most vicious attacks come from self-descried enemies of the state of israel, like Alison Macrina @flexlibris ( https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CigTE_2WUAEXEbR.jpg that’s her, she put on twitter, next to the flag used by the territories controlled by Hamas a known antisemitic terrorist organisation, isn’s’t it) ?

    Reply
  5. I_am_still_not_a_robot

    “Since when do feminists trust cops?”

    Trust is subjective and is completely irrelevant here. I shouldn’t have to trust the cops to file a report and they shouldn’t have to trust me to assess the crimes detailed to determine whether they are actionable. Why do you think there is anonymous reporting in the Netherlands? Because there are people who don’t trust cops, but cops nevertheless want to be able to find out about crimes they are subject to, so they accomodate distrustful people who nevertheless want to report a crime like this:

    https://www.meldmisdaadanoniem.nl/english/

    People don’t go to cops because they trust them personally, they go to the cops because cops have an authority that no one else in society has and they are expected to carry out their job regardless of their personal feelings about the person filing the report or the person being prosecuted. Cops get to put bad people in cages, which, you know, might just put a stop to the raping for a while and that is a good thing in and of itself. I personally don’t know a single feminist who isn’t in favour of cops stopping rape, but then again, I am not in anarchist circles like you seem to be where everyone is constantly hating on the police. The mere fact that you would ask such a question, this is all the proof I need that anarchist women like you are living on an anarchist island where you have little to no contact with women outside of your tiny politicized circle to understand their needs in term of support and protection. The overwhelming majority of women *want* the police to help them put a stop to a rapist and actually *do* consider the police their only recourse. And you definitely don’t have to trust cops to file a report with authorities. It is about creating an official record of wrongdoing. That’s why lawyers tell people to call 911 or 112 if they want to create a permanent record of a statement. That’s the other function of reporting that you seem to lose sight of.

    “As to legal consequences, residency issues may not result directly from reporting rape, but again, you’re asking people who are vulnerable in several intersecting ways (gender and sexual orientation, immigration status, membership of an activist community that law enforcement tends to view with suspicion) to bring themselves to the attention of law enforcement. That’s not acceptable.”

    Residency issues have no relevance whatsoever here, because these people are Americans and Germans in their own countries, not Dutch. They are just foreigners filing a report in the Netherlands concerning a person in the Netherlands that the Netherlands has jurisdiction over and has a transnational obligation to investigate and prosecute if needbe. For Holland to prosecute a sex crime there has to be forum contact between the perpetrator and the forum, not the victim and the forum. It doesn’t matter where in the world the sex crime occured as long as the perpetrator has contact with a forum that is under transnational obligation to prosecute. I guess you haven’t been following the Amanda Todd suicide case, now have you? http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/who-is-the-dutch-man-arrested-in-connection-with-the-death-of-amanda-todd-1.1781755 The guy who blackmailed her in Canada is a Turk but Holland has jurisdiction because he has forum contact and that’s all it takes to get him arrested and prosecuted. It doesn’t matter that the crime of sexually blackmailing a woman with revenge porn happened in Canada. Again, the location of the crime or the victim is irrelevant.

    “gender and sexual orientation”

    This might be true in the US or Germany, not in the Netherlands. Many Dutch judges are actually BDSM friendly and have issued verdicts which suggest that they fully understand what is at stake with BDSM. I can assure you Dutch judges will have no trouble determining that it’s criminal assault to continue being border-crossing violent after someone has used the safeword in what was initially a consensual scene. There was a gay orgy verdict several years ago where one of the participants went nuts and stung the other men with a syringe, and the Dutch judge had no problem whatsoever understanding that that was criminal assault and not a part of the orgy.

    “membership of an activist community that law enforcement tends to view with suspicion”

    Discrimination before law enforcement or the courts on the basis of political orientation is illegal in the Netherlands. Dutch authorities have to investigate rape charges regardless of the political affiliation of the victim. The political beliefs of a victim are completely irrelevant to the question of whether a sex crime has occured. Doesn’t the research on your desk tell you that sex crimes occur across the board and in all groups?

    Besides, if the police really hate anarchists as much as you apparently think they do, wouldn’t they actually welcome an anarchist filing rape charges against their comrades? Why would the police turn down such a great opportunity to prosecute an anarchist? See how your argument is already eating its tail?

    “Also, you can can get prosecuted for making false allegations of rape.”

    First of all, there are no false charges here that I can see and you are just being suggestive, but just to go along with your little thought experiment: Nope, Americans do not get prosecuted in the Netherlands for filing a baseless report against a Dutch resident, because Dutch authorities do not want that hassle and they don’t want to discourage other Americans from filing charges by appearing to be hard on Americans. “I have been raped (but I have no evidence/there were no witnesses to the rape)” is just a baseless statement, not a false statement. Any baseless charges just get dismissed in court for lack of evidence, and that’s it, no consequences for the suspect or the accusers. Dutch cops and prosecutors just want a broad sense of what has happened in a case, they do not obsessively go over all the details like code-nerds in the hacking underground do. Nerds think that law is like code because of the formulaic language and all the rules, but that’s not how the law actually works in practice. And the fact is that no, the public prosecutor will not come down on you for making a baseless statement or filing a baseless charge.

    The Dutch penal system is about as accomodating of Americans wanting to file charges as any system can be, yet people are still spreading rumours online based on their experience of the American legal system. The one thing is not the other. Dutch cops don’t even put the handcuffs on you when they detain you.

    Reply

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