A number of feminist and left bloggers have urged caution about the charges of sexual assault — the description is itself contentious — against Julian Assange, arguing rightly that, though he may be a hero for what he has done as founder of Wikileaks, there may be other actions and other aspects of his character for which he should be held to account. He will now have to answer the serious accusations that have been made by two Swedish women, AA and SW (whose names are widely used on the internet). In this matter he should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, and even if it turns out that he is guilty, Wikileaks is not. In the meantime, he deserves our support.
The reasons Assange continues to deserve our support are that, whilst serious accusations must be taken seriously, there are also allegations that either the accusers or the Swedish prosecutor may be politically motivated and, most importantly, there are concerns that the US will exploit Assange’s arrest to attempt extradition to the US on spurious espionage or other trumped up charges. And the US is a country where it is reported “politicians are pressing for his prosecution and even execution, with Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, saying he should be pursued the same as al-Qa’ida and Taliban leaders.”
It is interesting that, whilst the accusations have been around for almost three months, there was almost no comment from the British Left on them until this week — presumably in the hope that they would just go away (Raincoat Optimism has a good account of the UK web discussion). When dismissive comments were finally made, such as at Liberal Conspiracy, it was on the basis of considerable uncertainty about the accusations: Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, for example, quite possibly because they had not been given proper information, was telling AOL News that Assange was “wanted not for allegations of rape, as previously reported, but for something called ‘sex by surprise’, which he said involves a fine of 5,000 kronor or about $715″. Cath Elliott was right to urge greater caution. And it was never right to mock Sweden’s rape laws which seem to be a model the rest of the world should follow.
Now it is known that the charges do seem amount to the rape of AA (“unlawful coercion” involving “forcefully” holding her arms and using his bodyweight to hold her down as well as “sexual molestation” by having sex without using a condom, when it was her “express wish” that one should be used). The alleged use of force does it. He is also alleged, on a separate occasion) to have “improperly exploited” the fact SW was asleep to have sex with her without a condom (having earlier had consensual sex). This alegation also seems better classified as rape rather than ‘sex by surprise’.
However, we should also consider the possibility that the accusers are politically motivated or malicious. It is relevant, but not sufficient, to know that AA is alleged to have a significant history of work with anti-Castro groups, at least one of which is US funded and openly supported by a former CIA agent convicted in the mass murder of seventy three Cubans on an airliner he was involved in blowing up. To properly assess the possibility that the accusations may be politically motivated, we need to examine some of the circumstances about the case as far as we can gather them.
The Mail carries a pretty full account of the “facts of the case”. There are, of course, dangers of using accounts which are, in the words of a US feminist lawyer and blogger “largely filtered through tabloid sources that are quick to offer crucial facts like the hair color of the women (blonde) and the clothes they wore (pink, tight)”. However, the Mail claims that its account is based on “a number of sources including leaked police interviews.” There are plenty of other sources on the internet including Assange’s lawyers (such as this) and the Independent also carries a full account reproduced here. The causes for concern are:
- AA allegedly threw a party in Assange’s honour at her flat after the alleged rape took place
- AA allegedly tweeted to her followers (and later tried to erase the record) that she was with the “the world’s coolest smartest people, it’s amazing!”(i.e. Assange and his friends), also after the alleged rape took place
- SW is alleged to have texted friends in a similar fashion
- No allegations were made for several days until after the two women had spoken, realised that they had slept with the same man within days, shared their experience of Assange’s use or otherwise of a condom (broken in AA’s case, not used in one instance in SW’s case), and decided to jointly report him to the police.
Nothing publicly available is conclusive. It may, of course, be that there never will be a conclusive resolution. Doubts may remain, just as the juxtaposition of the words Assange and rape in any Google search will remain for some time. It should not affect, however, the reputation and value of Wikileaks, nor even the contribution to that project of Julian Assange.