FURTHER TO the protests over Julian Assange’s upcoming speech to the Oxford Union via videolink on Wednesday of second week, both Wadham SU and OUSU have formally objected to the Union’s decision.
Both student bodies have passed motions registering their disapproval at the perceived minimisation of the rape charges against Assange and the consequent marginalisation of rape victims. They have also called for the Union to provide a platform for victims of sexual assault, which the Union has agreed to do.
Building on the initial protest by LGBTQ Society President and second-year Hertford PPEist Simone Webb, OUSU passed a motion on Wednesday resolving to “call on the Oxford Union Society to withdraw the invitation to Assange”. The motion passed with 31 votes in favour and 20 against, while nine people abstained.
The motion stated, “Council believes that the invitation to Assange strengthens the misbelief that rape and sexual assault allegations are false and should be ignored”.
Co-proposed by OUSU VP (Women) Suzanne Holsomback, and Women’s Campaign Officer Rebekkah Hammelsbeck, the motion also mandates “the Vice-President (Women) to organise a protest against Assange’s panel presence if the Union persists in inviting him”.
Sarah Pine, a former OUSU Women’s Campaign Officer, described Assange’s request for free speech as selective, noting, “As Mr Assange refuses to be questioned about the allegations then he clearly cannot represent any integrity in freedom of speech.”
Wadham SU passed a motion proposed by Pine on Sunday night, stating, “The invitation to Mr Assange is disrespectful to survivors of rape and sexual assault by silently affirming the myth that rape reports are false and propagating the malicious idea that rape and sexual assault survivors are to blame.”
The initial Wadham motion, proposed by Pine and the Women’s Officer from Wadham, Anna Bradshaw, called for the Union to withdraw its invitation to Assange. This was changed after some members of the SU defended Assange’s right to freedom of speech.
Wadham SU resolved “to mandate the Women’s Officer to write to the President of the Oxford Union expressing our disapproval at the way in which the nature of the allegations against Assange have been marginalised in their publicity.”
The JCR also voted “to request that the Oxford Union provide more of a platform for women who have been victims of sexual assault” by recommending that the Oxford Union invite a speaker who meets these criteria to speak next term, and requested that the Union match the JCR’s donation of £235.87, the cost of Union membership, to the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre.
One JCR member opposed the final motion, and three abstained; an estimated 40 people voted in favour.
OUSU’s VP for Women Suzanne Holsomback said, “I am disappointed that [Wadham’s] common room did not take a stronger stance. I believe in the freedom of speech for all, but also that the integrity of the criminal processing system is essential and that it should be honoured.”
On Monday, Union President Maria Rioumine expressed openness to the idea of providing a platform to speakers on sexual assault, saying, “I think it’s a fantastic idea to invite people from the other side. I think this is a very important issue and it’s an issue that needs to be discussed much more than it is.”
One Wadham student said, “In the same way that Nick Griffin was given a platform on Question Time and people saw what an idiot he was, there may be no harm in letting him speak.” A protest outside the Union’s St Michael’s street entrance is planned for before Assange’s speech on Wednesday evening, and a protest will be held outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London at the same time.