Amy Gilligan argues against attempts to trivialise or brush aside sexual abuse allegations
The SWP has a long tradition of fighting for women’s liberation and attempting to grapple theoretically with the questions that this struggle throws up. Reports in Socialist Worker around the SlutWalk protests of 2011, rape allegations against Julian Assange and the Delhi rape case serve to highlight what socialist attitudes should be around rape and sexual assault.
On the SlutWalk protests, the report in Socialist Worker emphasises that “women are never to blame for rape”. After the brutal gang rape in Delhi in December 2012, Socialist Worker discussed how the police often blame women for rape, focusing on what they were wearing or whether they had been drinking alcohol. The article went on to state there was an urgent need to change the treatment of women and the responses to rape.
Around the Assange case, the message in Socialist Worker was very clear: “Rape allegations should never be trivialised or brushed aside.” Another article written around this time with the headline “Taking rape seriously” argued: “We need to challenge every expression of [women’s oppression] as part of the big battles to uproot oppression permanently.”
We cannot, however, simply rely on our past record or on articles in Socialist Worker. We have to put our politics into practice. Some in the SWP – led by a small but powerful minority that includes people on the central committee, national committee and disputes committee – seem to be shifting away from our tradition on questions of women’s liberation.
Recent comments made by Nick G, a member of the national committee, and by Roger H and Russ C from Walthamstow branch typify some of the shocking behaviour that has unfortunately become all too familiar since January. These statements show total disregard for the SWP’s tradition of fighting for women’s liberation.
Russ, writing on Facebook, talks about how women in his branch have “better things to do than whine”. This implies the women who have brought allegations – and those who have stood up to the sexist way those women have been treated – are simply “whining”. He also accuses a woman who uses the word “intersectional” of being a “scab”.
Roger, also on Facebook, talks of a “witch-hunt [which] rests on lies” when asked whether he thought those who have made the allegations are lying. This parrots the right-wing notion that women who bring such allegations routinely lie, when the truth is completely to the contrary. Both Russ and Roger are attempting to trivialise and brush aside rape allegations.
Nick, writing in response to an open letter by Michael Rosen, states that offering unconditional support to comrades reporting sexual abuse is a “sentimental” notion, implying that those who do so are motivated by “factional mischief making”. This is an appalling distortion of the socialist position on oppression.
Nick also argues that the comrades reporting abuse should have been told they had “fucked up” rather than indulged by letting their complaints be heard. Further, Nick states that he feels the disputes committee should have refused to hear the case because “the details were apparently a few years old and if true should have been reported to the police long ago”.
This echoes right-wing arguments that women must report rape immediately, otherwise they have just changed their mind about what happened. We have to be clear: Nick is attempting to trivialise and brush aside rape allegations. He is failing utterly to act as a tribune of the oppressed.
These comments by Nick, Roger and Russ are not isolated. They are particularly blatant and public examples of the reactionary behaviour that has become common among those who have supported the accused. Such behaviour shows how these comrades have turned away from our politics around women’s oppression.
Socialists have a responsibility to confront sexism wherever it appears, including within their own organisations. The importance of this was reiterated by both Mireia Gargallo from En Lucha and Eamonn McCann from the Irish SWP at the opening and closing rallies of Marxism 2013.
Reactionary comments by SWP members have caused and continue to cause immense damage to the party. We need a sharp turn to correct this. As a first step, the central committee should issue a public statement which repudiates and condemns the message put forward by Nick G, Roger H and Russ C.