In his fight against sex-crime allegations, Julian Assange showed no concern for the well-being of women around the world.
Let’s call his four-year misinformation campaign “Collateral Rape.”
His human-rights lawyer — before he hired George Clooney’s fiancée — argued that it isn’t illegal to trick a woman into unprotected sex. If a woman objects to sex without a condom, if the man uses force to pin her down, it can’t be considered a crime if she gives up and gives in, according to the lawyer, who now handles human-rights issues for the United Nations.
Assange has much support in developing countries, and his supporters laughed at the idea that a man could be required to use a condom. But women’s right to say no to sex without a condom is crucial to the AIDS epidemic, population control and women’s health.
Assange founded WikiLeaks, a website for whistleblowers. In April 2010, it released “Collateral Murder,” a documentary on U.S. Army gunmen killing two Reuters journalists, whom they mistook for Iraqi combatants.
That August in Sweden, two volunteers for WikiLeaks went to police. One said she agreed to sex with Assange, but only if he used a condom. She said he had difficulty having sex with a condom on. The next morning, she said, she awoke to find him having sex with her without a condom. The other woman said she wanted to have sex with him initially, but he was rude and rough. She struggled as he lay on top of her, pinning her arms and forcing her legs open. He finally asked what was wrong, and she said she wanted to use a condom. He let her retrieve one, but she believes he broke it intentionally.
In July, a Swedish court upheld his international arrest warrant, saying there was probable cause of rape and molestation. The Australian has avoided extradition by holing up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He recently suggested he would leave “soon,” but apparently not for Sweden.
His misinformation campaign began early. When the accusations first became public, Assange lied, saying he didn’t know who the women were. Next, he suggested the Pentagon had set him up. A supporter published an article blaming the CIA. His British attorney at the time called the case a honey trap (but later said he was misquoted). He argued Assange’s only crime was “sex by surprise,” which was illegal in Sweden. Actually, no such law exists. A British court ruled that the accusations against Assange would constitute rape and molestation in both Britain and Sweden.
The most important misdirect has been the suggestion that Sweden had no interest in prosecuting him until he released government secrets. His Swedish lawyer claimed no one tried to interview Assange before he left for London at the end of September 2010. In court, however, he said he realized later that the prosecutor had contacted him in an attempt to interview Assange, but the lawyer wasn’t able to notify Assange. A British judge called this “a deliberate attempt to mislead the court,” and the Swedish Bar Association issued a warning to the lawyer.
There was discussion about Assange returning in October 2010. Meanwhile, he was feuding with associates, who wanted more time to go through documents on the Iraq war, in hopes of protecting people. Assange went ahead and released the documents that month. After he failed to return to Sweden, an arrest warrant was issued in November, and Assange then released the U.S. diplomatic cables. His celebrity was cemented.
His lawyers have never presented evidence of conspiracy. In a British court, the human-rights lawyer said he wasn’t accusing the women of any wrongdoing, and he didn’t challenge the idea that the women found the sex “disturbing.” By then, however, Assange supporters had harassed the women, publishing their private information, and driving them into hiding.
Governments aren’t the only source of human-rights abuses. Supporters of WikiLeaks need to acknowledge that women’s rights are human rights, too.
Suzie Siegel was a reporter and editor at The Tampa Tribune from 1988-1999.