*The following letter by Katharine Jenkins regards the visit of Princeton Professor Dr Cornel West to the University of Sheffield Union on 08/05/2013. The letter is a response to the answer given by Dr West during the Q&A session, when quizzed about his comments about Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, who is facing allegations of rape in Sweden*
Dear Dr West,
I am the woman from your talk last night at the Sheffield Students’ Union who asked you the question about Julian Assange. I’m writing this open letter to you because I was troubled by the answer you gave me, and because I want to share more fully the reasons behind the concern I expressed last night. I am sure you are extremely busy, but if you are able to find time to respond to this letter then I will read your reply with great interest.
Last night, I listened to the start of your passionate and lyrical speech with excitement and agreement; but my heart sank when you mentioned Julian Assange. You referred to the difficult times he is experiencing, and to his residence in the Ecuadorean embassy, but you did not mention that the reason for this self-imposed confinement is that Assange is avoiding answering allegations of rape and sexual assault against two women in Sweden after the British High Court approved his extradition in June 2012.
I asked you the following question, which I wrote down so as not to stumble on my words: You’ve spoken very emphatically tonight about the importance of loving kindness, of compassion, and of empathy; and you’ve urged us to remember that integrity only ‘in the abstract’ is not enough for a decent human life. As a woman, I want to ask you how you relate this to Julian Assange, whom you mentioned, I understood, with approval. Because it seems to me that to evade legal charges of rape, as he has done, is to commit a gross failure of kindness, of compassion, of empathy, and, perhaps most especially, of integrity.
Although you said that you welcomed the question, your response to it seemed to me, and to others present, to lack the clarity and confidence of your other words last night. I want to respond to the main points of your answer; I repeat what I heard you say as closely as I can. Forgive me any inaccuracies, and let me say that the order in which I list your points is almost certainly not the order in which you gave them.
You said that Assange must answer the charges of rape and sexual assault that he faces, and be suitably punished if he is found guilty, but that this should take place at an appropriate moment in time. I take it that you do not think this moment is now, or that it was in December 2010, when the allegations were first brought. I find this incredible. The women who accuse Assange deserve justice, and I cannot see any reason why they should have to wait to get it – unless one thought that their rape and sexual assault would, in any case, be of secondary importance to Assange’s work with Wikileaks. I hope you agree that such a view would indicate an unconscionable lack of respect for human rights.
You said that Assange told you that the allegations made against him are false. I am sure that you are aware that this does not remove the need for him to answer them through legal proceedings. Moreover, if Assange stopped evading justice then he would have the opportunity to challenge the allegations in a court of law. Until then, his innocence or guilt remains in question, whatever he may say.
You said that the timing of the charges against Assange is suspicious. Even if it is true that the authorities pursuing the allegations have been selectively zealous in their application of the law, this does not constitute a reason for Assange to avoid or delay answering the allegations. On the contrary, it reminds us that authorities are often lax and slow in responding to allegations of rape and sexual assault, and that we should never stop trying to improve provisions for bringing perpetrators of rape and sexual assault to justice.
Finally, you said that your approval of Assange relates to his actions with Wikileaks, and that you do not approve of any rapes or sexual assaults he may have committed. I understand that it is perfectly possible to approve of some of a person’s actions and not of others, and I would never suggest that you approved of rape and sexual assault. But when you mention Assange’s residence in the Ecuadorian embassy without mentioning its cause, I feel that the voices of the women who accuse him of these crimes are silenced – and with them, the voices of all the other countless and uncounted women all over the world who will never see the men who have raped and sexually assaulted them brought to justice.
Even if you do not agree with my responses to your other points, I hope that this last point by itself gives you pause for thought. You spoke movingly last night of the evils of indifference. To me, your glossing over of the allegations against Assange is an instance of indifference on your part to the women who accuse him, and to all women and all survivors of sexual violence. I know from your work and from your speech last night that you are alive to the fact of male supremacy. I ask you not to let the power that you have as a man and a respected thinker lend unintended support to that supremacy.
Yours very sincerely,