While many here in the United States think Julian Assange should stand trial for espionage charges, he’s been sitting in a London prison for a much different reason: sexual assault.
A British court on Tuesday granted bail of $315,000 for the Wikileaks founder, but Assange remains in temporary custody until his extradition status can be resolved. The details of his case are bizarre and vary widely between different news reports. The case exposes issues of consent in sexual encounters, which is a very important issue to have in the public consciousness, and the case also runs the risk of making if harder for victims to get justice in the future if he turns out to be innocent.
So what really happened? While we just don’t know all the exact details, NPR did a very good job of piecing together the facts. (Listen to the entire story audio here):
NPR: [The women] describe separate encounters with Julian Assange at a seminar in Stockholm. Were these encounters, as you understand them, things that started out consensually and then took a different turn?
Mr. MARK HOSENBALL (Reporter, Reuters): That’s exactly the way I understand things. One of these women was a press officer for his tour of Sweden and was hosting him at her apartment. One thing turned to another and they ended up, as it were, in bed and had consensual sex, as I understand it, with him using a condom. But then at some point the condom broke. And this became a point of contention later on.
Another woman is a woman who allegedly essentially stalked him, became fascinated by watching him on television. Hooked up with him a few days after the first encounter. Took him to her apartment, had sex with him with a condom consensually, but then allegedly he had sex with her the next morning perhaps while she was still asleep, if that’s believable, without a condom, leading her to become very concerned later on that he should be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
She tried to get hold of him, but he had turned off his phone because he was paranoid that people were tracking him through his phone. She eventually got in touch with the first woman who she had not known previously. They compared notes and they ended up trying to track him down ferociously because they wanted him to have medical tests.
BLOCK: The women did eventually go to the police. Did they press charges? Did they go and say, this man, Julian Assange, raped me?
Mr. HOSENBALL: No. As understand it, they just sort of told their stories to police and didn’t want him to be prosecuted.
So, is this rape charge politically motivated? Maybe. Swedish prosecutors took up the case several months after it was reported, after Wikileaks’ release of 250,000 classified government cables. They have invested more time and money trying to extradite him to Sweden than they normally do the lowest of three grades of rape charges.
My concern is this: Saying you were raped when you weren’t has serious negative implications for future rape victims. I live in Durham, NC, remember the nightmare Duke Lacrosse case very well. It became apparent that the woman who said she was assaulted made the whole thing up, and the charges were dropped. However, ever since then rape charges — especially those made by women of color or women of lower socio-economic status — simply aren’t taken as seriously in the local community.
At a time when rape on college campuses is shockingly and devastatingly high, we need to think seriously about anything that makes it harder for victims to get justice. I have the concern that holding Julian Assange in prison without bail when there is very little evidence to support that he is guilty could make it harder in the future for rape victims to be taken seriously.
But, it should be make clear that if sex begins consensually and one partner draws their consent, any continuation of the sex IS rape. Jessica Valenti recently wrote in the Washington Post:
“In the United States, withdrawing consent is not so clear-cut. In September, for example, prosecutors in North Carolina dropped rape and sexual battery charges against a high school football player because sexual contact with the alleged victim began consensually. The dismissal documents cited a 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling, State v. Way, which says that if intercourse starts consensually, “no rape has occurred though the victim later withdraws consent during the same act of intercourse.”
So if you initially agree to have sex and later change your mind for whatever reason — it hurts, your partner has become violent, or you’re simply no longer in the mood — your partner can continue despite your protestations, and it won’t be considered rape. It defies common sense. Who besides a rapist would continue to have sex with an unwilling partner?”
I agree that some of America’s laws regarding sexual assault are atrocious. Whatever one may think about Assange bringing into the open classified information, this case is also exposing the issues around consent in sexual encounters. To be blunt, the women’s cases sound dubious. A stalker takes him home, they have sex, and in the morning she claims he had sex with her while she was asleep? Both women reportedly willingly spent time with him the following days — the first woman bought him breakfast and a train ticket. It sounds more like the women wanted to contact him to talk about STDs (a very responsible thing to do), but since he was unreachable they went to the police. I just hope –- for the sake of other victims and survivors — that the women accusing him are coming forward because they were assaulted, and not because they want to put Assange in jail for political reasons.
Dan Jubelirer is a 2010 Netroots Fellow at Amplify, a youth-driven community dedicated to promoting sexual health and reproductive justice.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of Dan Jubelirer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire HyperVocal staff.