I find myself getting testier and testier over the portrayal of Julian Assange in the media, and in particular the muddy, confused reporting of what he’s actually charged with (there is no such thing as “sex by surprise,” and a broken condom wasn’t the issue). So here’s a quick rundown of what I would say in response to some recent statements that I find particularly irksome.
1. “The pursuit of Assange based on these rape charges is politically motivated.” Yes, but…that doesn’t mean the charges themselves aren’t legitimate. The women in question made their accusations in August–they didn’t rush to the police immediately before / after the WikiLeaks dump. Under Swedish law, their charges are substantial–that Assange had sex with one woman while she was unconscious, and that he held one woman’s arms down and raped her after she told him “no.” While I agree with Naomi Wolf that Interpol’s aggressive pursuit of Assange is “an insult to rape victims everywhere” (every rape case should get this much attention, not just the ones that involve well-known figures), I also think Wolf’s initial statement claiming that Assange had been arrested by the “dating police” was damned offensive.
So can we all agree that, even though the pursuit of Assange is politically motivated, we shouldn’t immediately assume that his accusers made it all up?
2. “We should do everything in our power to protect Julian Assange.” Uh, no. I applaud what Assange and Wikileaks have done. We need more transparency. We need people who are willing to stand up and expose governmental hypocrisy and outright lying. But if the man’s accused of rape–and again, the accusations are legitimate, even if the pursuit is politically motivated–then he needs to stand trial. Isn’t it possible to applaud and respect what WikiLeaks stands for without raising up Assange as some kind of saint?
Of course Assange is innocent until proven guilty. I understand why anyone would be quick to condemn or dismiss efforts to prosecute him for anything. He’s been vilified by politicians all across the political spectrum for the wrong reasons–for essentially allowing free access to information, as damaging as that information might be. But in their quick dismissal of the charges against him as “hooey,” people like Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore are unwittingly contributing to a very powerful culture of victim-blaming and rape apology. Regardless of who is accused or what the political circumstances are, every accuser has the right to be heard, and every accusation of rape should be given the serious consideration that it deserves.
The Assange case does not have to be an either-or situation. We can stand up for the right to government transparency and take rape accusations seriously at the same time. All the voices surrounding this case deserve a chance to be heard, especially when the voices that bring accusations of rape are so often dismissed or silenced.