Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been threatened with espionage charges, prison, torture and death in retaliation for his courageous release of thousands of classified documents that expose the lies, secrecy and corruption of the U.S. government.
For that reason, there was immediate suspicion of a setup when news broke that two Swedish women had accused Assange of sexual misconduct. However, these legitimate fears have degenerated into sexist mudslinging on the one hand and depiction of Assange as a sexual predator on the other hand in a brawl that threatens to distract public attention from the political disclosures.
As of January, Assange remains under house arrest in London even though no charges have been filed against him. Sweden is requesting extradition for questioning about claims that Assange pressed the women into unwanted, unprotected sex. The allegations apparently fall into Sweden’s third and lowest category of rape, which is for cases where a woman is forced to have sex with minimal or no physical violence. Assange has been accused of sabotaging a condom and initiating sex without a condom while a previously consensual partner was sleeping.
Swedish officials have said that if Sweden gains custody of Assange, he would be sent to the U.S. upon request. Logically, this would mean dumping the women’s claims.
Principled defense needed. It is imperative that leftists and feminists publicly support and defend WikiLeaks and Assange for standing on the frontlines against imperialism. But it is not acceptable for Assange’s backers to engage in the kind of misogynistic smears that are frequently used to discourage women from standing up to their abusers.
Some on the Left have trivialized the allegations. Counterpunch contributors Israel Shamir and Paul Bennett wrote, “Farcical rape charges have once again been leveled. … Julian Assange now stands accused of: (1) not calling a young woman the day after he had enjoyed a night with her, (2) asking her to pay for his bus ticket, (3) having unsafe sex, and (4) participating in two brief affairs in the course of one week.”
On the other hand some sexual assault advocates, in their defense of the alleged victims, have single-mindedly demanded Assange face trial in Sweden and have little to say about the political witch-hunt against him. According to Yana Walton of the Women’s Media Center, “Rape is rape is rape is rape, and should be prosecuted as such.”
Who benefits? Feminists need to be aware that if Assange is delivered to the U.S., it only serves the interests of warmongers and a government that cynically used the plight of women in Afghanistan to broaden the war, dumped women’s reproductive rights in a deal to pass healthcare “deform,” and refuses to end sexual harassment and abuse in the military.
Women must also be conscious of how false charges of sexual assault have been used to uphold the power structure. From 1882-1951, at least 860 Black men in the U.S. were lynched because of accusations of rape or attempted rape of a white woman. This climate of terror was essential to maintaining the racist police state in the South. When the civil rights movement exploded into being, the FBI relentlessly searched for opportunities to use accusations of sexual misconduct against Martin Luther King Jr.
It is possible to support the work that Assange has done without belittling the charges in a way that undermines victims of sexual assault. It would go a long way if champions on both sides of the argument admitted that the truth of what happened has been buried under rumor and supposition.
No justice from capitalist courts. Radical Women doesn’t believe that the women or Assange can receive justice from a judicial system that is opportunistically using the rape claims to crack down on a political enemy.
If the two women are truly supporters of WikiLeaks, we urge them to make this position clear and publicly state they will not be used as pawns by Assange’s opponents. If they are not participants in a setup, as others have alleged, we think that a mutually agreed-upon solution, such as private, informal mediation, could bring resolution given the scale of the purported charges. For example, the women reportedly were only concerned at first with knowing Assange’s STD status.
The content of the WikiLeaks revelations, which have the potential to reawaken and empower the anti-war movement, must not be buried under the question of Assange’s personal behavior. For feminists and the Left to be divided only benefits the powers-that-be.
It is imperative to shift attention back where it belongs: on the crimes of the U.S. government.
Send feedback to Margaret Viggiani at firstname.lastname@example.org.