This Case of Alleged Rape Is a Reminder Why Many Don't Come Forward

When Julian Assange was first confronted with allegations of sexual assault—allegations a Swedish prosecutor announced Friday, nearly seven years later, would not be pursued—the WikiLeaks founder claimed that he was the victim, victimized by his accusers: two former fans accusing him of nonconsensual sex.

Julian Assange

That’s not unusual. Famous men accused of crimes rarely tell their followers, “yeah, I’m guilty.” In this case, though, there was an oddly implicit admission: I’m not saying anything happened—but if it did, then it wasn't a crime.

The accusation is that Assange ripped one woman's clothes off, pressured her into sex, and then removed a condom despite an explicit demand that he wear one. With another woman, Assange is accused of initiating sex while she was asleep, also without a condom, as detailed in The Guardian.

Assange's initial response was to claim a radical ideology had warped Swedish women.

“Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism,” Assange told The Sunday Times in December 2010. “I fell into a hornets’ nest of revolutionary feminism.”

Assange complemented this analysis by stating that, a day after one of the incidents, one of his accusers "invited friends around to her flat for a dinner in honor of me. Does that sound like someone who was upset by what had happened?"

This, too, is not an unusual approach. Women who come forward with allegations of sexual assault are routinely attacked, and their behavior is questioned, not that of the accused. If you didn’t want some man to waken you with nonconsensual unprotected sex, why invite him into your home in the first place? That a perceived friend or idol did this also requires processing (though at least in the U.S. "7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to RAINN). But that process is itself portrayed as damnable. Why didn't you immediately call the cops?

While the story would later shift to geopolitics, Assange and his supporters hinting the allegations were part of a ruse designed to get him extradited from Sweden to the United States—and playing off ignorance with respect to the Swedish legal system, where one is only formally "charged" at the end of the interview process, which Assange fled Sweden to avoid—the notion that this was a story of feminism gone wild remained a key part of the narrative.

And his supporters ran with it. The accusations are “hooey,” said liberal director Michael Moore, telling MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that it was much ado over nothing; that “a condom broke,” not that two women accused of Assange of ignoring a demand that he use a condom and initiating unprotected, non-consensual sex as one slept.

Meanwhile, as Jezebel noted, Olbermann himself tweeted that “the term ‘rape’ in Sweden includes consensual sex without a condom.”

That comment was false: Swedish law does not define rape in the way Olbermann claimed, and both men later apologized. But the undercurrent—that radical women had been empowered a bit too much by a Scandinavian state—was to remain part of Wikileaks’ own messaging.

On Twitter, Assange’s organization promoted a book, “A Brief History of Swedish Sex: How the Nation that Gave Us Free Love Redefined rape and Declared War on Julian Assange,” whose author lamented the fact that non-consensual relations were no longer considered fine (the final chapter is titled, “The War on Men”).

What’s long been absent from the narrative over the Assange case has been the women themselves, treated as absent liars—painted as defaming their former hero for reasons that are unclear—or as agency-less pawns in an international effort to detain the Wikileaks founder on unrelated espionage charges in the United States.

But those women do have voices. “Neither the Pentagon nor anyone else orchestrated these charges,” one of them said in a 2010 interview, responding to claims in ostensibly progressive media—echoing former WikiLeaks spokesperson and Holocaust denier Israel Shamir—that she was a CIA operative seeking to entrap a critic of the U.S. government. “The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who has a warped attitude toward women and is incapable of taking no for an answer.”

On Friday, a lawyer for the other woman said her client was “shocked” by the Swedish prosecutor’s decision to give up on trying to extradite Assange (who still faces the possibility of criminal charges should he return to Sweden).

“[I]t’s a scandal that a suspected rapist can avoid the judicial system and thus avoid a trial in court,” Elisabeth Massi Fritz said. The alleged victim “can’t change her view that Assange has exposed her to a rape.”

It was also noted that according to The New York Times, "Sweden was dropping the inquiry, Ms. Ny [the chief prosecutor] said, because she simply saw no way forward and 'we don’t make any statement of guilty or not.'"

In the U.S., the vast majority of people subjected to sexual assault don't go to the police; according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN), only six out of 1,000 rapists are ever convicted of a crime. For that victims are often blamed. But going to the police in cases of alleged rape is not a sure means of obtaining justice, either. It does, however, often subject the accuser of a famous alleged assailant to a trial by media, with those who might otherwise be allies joining in when the accused is a beloved, famous man.

And those powerful men stick together. Just this week, Assange shared an article claiming his former public relations partner, Trevor FitzGibbon, had been “cleared” of sexual misconduct. The article was posted on a liberal blog, and it wasn’t true: FitzGibbon had only escaped a trial with respect to three of many complaints made against him, the vast majority of which had not been submitted to the criminal justice system. But WikiLeaks’ supporters ran with the narrative.

“FitzGibbon Media had Julian Assange as a client,” wrote one. “Seem very convenient to have all been a big misunderstanding. Where've we heard this b4?”

That line—about women conspiring to take down powerful men, for either money or the deep state—has certainly been heard before, as Assange’s accusers and others who have gone public with allegations of abuse against people some consider heroes keep being reminded.