Mark Kennedy, police spies and rape by deception

In the last few weeks a UK anarchist named Mark Stone was exposed as an undercover police officer whose real name is Mark Kennedy. Even more recently, a Cardiff based anarchist, a 44 year old man identified by the guardian as Officer B, has also been exposed as a cop.

This has happened here in Aotearoa too. In December 2008, Rob Gilchrist, an anarchist and animal rights activist who I’d known since I was 17, was exposed as an undercover officer working for the Special Investigations Group.

I’m sure you don’t need me to recap all the ways that police informants damage revolutionary movements. It’s not just the obvious things like passing information on to the police and secret service. They also act as agent provocateurs at protests, inciting violence so the police can justify its own violence to the public. They also manipulate people into doing illegal things[1] so they can get them arrested. They derail court cases. They screw up people’s personal lives and relationships. They earn people’s trust and friendship and then they violate that trust. They disrupt the movement by making us suspicious of each other and unwelcoming to new activists. So there’s good reason to be furious and disgusted that the state is using these tactics against us.

But there’s another very specific reason why reading about Kennedy makes me so furious and disgusted. It has to do with patriarchy, rape culture and abuse of police power.

Mark Kennedy had sex with at least one woman activist while he was undercover. Officer B had a 3 month relationship with a woman activist who had been his friend for several years. Rob Gilchrist had several relationships with women activists. In fact, it was his computer genius of a girlfriend who first discovered he was an informant.

I don’t know why any of these men chose to have sexual interactions with activists. Maybe it was part of the job, to gain their trust and that of their comrades. Maybe it was because they wanted sex, comfort, emotional support or whatever else it is people get out of relationships.

Regardless, this raises some questions about sex and consent. For consent to be meaningful in sex, the person has to know who it is they are consenting to have sex with. If a woman consents to sex with a man because he’s convinced her that he is a radical activist who is dedicated to the same struggles that she is, but actually he’s an undercover police officer who is dedicated to undermining those struggles, then that really isn’t meaningful consent.

Sex without consent is rape. Sex where consent is obtained through deception is called rape by deception.

I don’t know how any of the women who had sex with Kennedy, Gilchrist or Officer B define their experiences. I can imagine that finding out your lover is a cop who’s spying on you is unbelievably violating. As far as I know none of them have talked about what happened as rape. I’m not going to project my feelings on other women’s experiences or tell other women that they were raped if that’s not how they view what happened. But I certainly don’t think it would be outrageous to accuse Kennedy, Gilchrist or Officer B of rape.

I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make. That police abuse power they have over civilians? That men abuse power they have over women? That state repression is gendered? That gender oppression is upheld by the state? That’s not news.

I guess I feel the need to point out just how fucked up it is for male cops to have sex with women while pretending to be activists, because rape and abuse are so common that it’s easy to start taking them for granted and not even notice when they happen. But I want to notice. I want to feel furious and disgusted when women are violated like this.

[1] I want to clarify that I have exactly zero objections to people breaking the law. But I do hate it when they get caught, and just coz something is illegal doesn’t automatically make it the most tactical or radical thing to do in any given situation.



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4 responses to “Mark Kennedy, police spies and rape by deception

  1. i was there when we found out about the undercover cop in the AR scene. i could only imagine how horrible that must have been for his girlfriend who was very brave in speaking out in a issue of a regular magazine my friends were putting out at the time. i think it was aac who were putting it out.

    anyway, i wanted to ask your thoughts on ‘rape by deception’
    what sprung to mind with me would be instances of women sleeping with someone thinking they were of the moral character A but it turns out they are of moral character B. im not trying to equate this to A:cop B:acitivst, i can see thats fucked up since its a deception thats paid for by the system.

    but how about if it was concerning someone saying they were vegan and then it was discovered they are not. this is in essence a deception, but im not sure if i could personally classify it as ‘rape by deception’…maybe because its culturally acceptable for women to be lied to or ‘played’ like that…i just personally would be more inclined to say ‘hes an asshole, but oh well, i thought he was nice at the time’ or ‘ok so hes not a vegan but hes still a vegetarian, and he was just trying to impress me’ it’s a bit sad really but its what i would think.

    i guess what im interested in your opinion on is the limits of the definition of ‘rape by deception’? im trying to get at what the difference is or if you think there is one between deceiving someone in order to have sex with them and trying to impress them or bending the truth. again, im clearly not referring to the undercover cop.

    id also be intrested in your thoughts on the extent of consent. would you conisder it to be ‘rape by deception’ if a woman discovers the man who previously said he wanted to marry her, for example, tells her he is not intrested after they have sex. this could be defined as ‘rape by deception’ since he did convince her he wanted one thing but then wanted another. but what is the extent of consent? how long does it last and how much allowance is there for people to change their mind about their own identity after the consent and act of sex?

    i also want to apologies in advances because chances are, even though i like to think of myself as confident in my feminist theory, im a bit short of practice these days and chances are ive said something stupid. i know you must get people all the time trying to rebutt what you have to say and be dicks but im really not trying to do that i do really have an interest.

    • hey zanni, i totes don’t think you’re being a dick. it’s a really good question and i’ve been thinking a lot about how useful i think ‘rape by deception’ is as a category, and what the line is between ‘rape by deception’ as opposed to lying/deceiving someone about who you are. i keep meaning to write more about it, and getting distracted by life. but i do want to respond to some of your points eventually.

  2. sheri

    I went on and was quickly targeted by someone who knew who I was I did not know them. He had been holding a grudge against my ex husband since 1989 for stealing his girlfriend. What he was after was revenge sex. He misrepresented himself in many ways while romancing mme for weeks. In the end he got what he wanted one time. Never heard from him. Had I known his agenda I NEVER would have been intimate with him. Is that not the very definition of Rape By Deception?

  3. Also good to think about would be cheating, if two people have agreed to only engage in sex within their monogamous relationship and one partner cheats yet continues a sexual relationship with their initial partner, is that rape by deception?

    sometimes i dont like to think about things like this.

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