Julian Assange, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo And The Swedish Approach To Sex Crimes
Editors' note: This post was originally published late last night, without an edit by anyone else at Washington City Paper. Because of the subject matter, we unpublished it so we could review it. The post originally named the women who Julian Assange is accused of raping. Their names have been deleted. City Paper does not have a formal, blanket policy on whether to name victims of alleged sexual assaults, but in this case, it was inappropriate, and editors should have been consulted before the post was published. An update responding to critics of publishing the names has also been deleted.
Otherwise, the post has not been edited further, since it was already published, and copies of the original are available on the Internet.
I initially abstained from devoting mental energy to the Julian Assange sex scandal saga on grounds that it appeared from a distance like a pointlessly ugly search term turf war, an internecine meta-feud whose viciousness was largely a product of the semi-rare circumstance of one key corner of the moment's big story having happened to draw in two highly risible factions of overeager MSNBC-leaning media consumers, one galvanized around the emotionally-freighted search term "rape"; the other by the equally-charged "CIA conspiracy."
The two camps were drawn into an inevitable flame war earlier this month, when Kate Harding wrote an essay on Salon expressing her dismay that such morally upstanding members of the conspiracy-minded camp as Keith Olbermann and Naomi Wolf(!?!) would so reflexively rally to "smear" the Wikileaks founder's alleged victims on the basis of so little evidence.
Dismay gave way to near-homicidal #rage the next week when Michael Moore posted Assange's bail by the conspiracy-minded reasoning that one should "never, ever believe the 'official story'" about such suspiciously-timed accusations, leading the "rape is rape" camp to accuse the documentary filmmaker of "rape apologism." Unto the internet, a Twitter hashtag was quickly born.
Within another few days the #mooreandme meme had made its way through the Twitterverse to Rachel Maddow, who last night solicited a live apology from Moore, a development that was met by the core #mooreandme loyalists with a tone not exactly "conciliatory"—"why can't you just admit you fucked up #mooreandme," one wondered—but at least, quite effusively self-congratulatory; their "wild-eyed" efforts had "ended an era," someone else Tweeted, although upon close inspection it looks like that guy might actually be a trolling perv who was being sarcastic.
None of this mattered or matters in any meaningful sense, because Julian Assange is not a journalist in the meaningful sense.1 If he were, then the reliability of his interpretation of reality would be of actual consequence, and it would by extension actually matter if we were to learn that his interpretation of said reality might be possibly distorted by his insatiable sexual appetites and/or contempt for one half the population and/or pathological narcissism and/or whatever combination of those led him to send that preposterously un-self-aware series of overwrought emails to that 19-year-old in Melbourne.2
The question of whether Assange is an incorrigible douchebag (and also, a liar) would only decisively matter if he was asking (or more likely knowing what we know, presumptuously expecting) us to take his word for it that Muammar Gaddafi doesn't travel anywhere without his Bedouin tents and voluptuous Ukrainian nurse or the Arab Gulf states are privately rooting for the us to start shooting missiles at Iran, etc. etc. But trusting the judgment of those who impart information is actually the precise opposite of the point of Wikileaks; the organization he founded is by design merely a high-profile courier; what impact would have on your credit card bills if it turned out that your letter carrier was into child porn?
Which is why all the media deconstruction of Assange's seemingly well-cultivated mystique seems so suspiciously irrelevant to begin with: wouldn't a ludicrously secretive network of ultra-sophisticated hackers be structurally impervious to any character assassination attempts on its weird-looking white-haired mascot?
Okay, but. It turns out that once you get beyond the first nineteen layers of spin, suspicious timing and overall pointlessness, the Julian Assange rape case is an improbably interesting story, and one that's also as potentially uplifting as a "rape story" could possibly be—but first I should establish that, at least the way the chain of events is laid out here, it doesn't seem like either of his two accusers termed his misdeeds "rape" at first. Assanage's first accuser initially described it to multiple friends merely as the "worst sex ever", and from all the available information it seems like that would have been the last word on it from her had Assange not waited around protesting and then procrastinating after the next girl he fucked a few days later asked him to get tested for STDs.
But instead, the second woman—whose ex-boyfriend told police she had never had unprotected sex—panicked, first confiding in Wikileaks' Stockholm bureau chief, who told police he responded by asking Assange to get tested, a request Assange allegedly refused. Eventually the second tracked down the first, who was still letting Assange stay at her apartment (and who had in the meantime hosted a party for him there). It was only when the two women finally met and compared notes, a week after sex with the first woman and four days after sex with the second, that they decided to go to the police.
Taken at face value, what happens next seems like a classic case of "Oh no that asshole didn't pull (so to speak) the same bullshit on you too!!!! OMG that bastard is going to be sorry." The "mysterious" ripping of a condom some guy very grudgingly agreed to use doubtless seems a lot more deliberate, and creepy, once you meet the girl on whom he pulled the same sort of shit three nights later. And it should; I used to date a guy who once volunteered to me that he had deliberately ripped condoms with a previous girlfriend. We weren't using them at the time, because he had a smallish penis, which I imagine to be Julian Assange's problem—that, and an inversely-proportioned ego—but the point is this is definitely something certain dudes do, and I can imagine it would be hugely alarming if you weren't someone who'd ever had unprotected sex, especially if you suddenly found yourself having unprotected sex with someone who (like Assange) obviously did, especially especially if you were only half-conscious when it all went down, and especially even more upon meeting someone else whose experiences confirmed all your worst fears of the incident.
Still, all this having been said, Assange might have pulled virtually the same crap over the same time period with two women who with ever so slightly differing attitudes about sex and faced zero consequences. If one had been slightly less amenable to talking about her sex life, or if the other had been slightly more amenable to the withdrawal method, or—considering that the second alleged victim has apparently said that neither of them feels "threatened" by the guy—if either did actually feel threatened by Assange or his legions of idolizers, at least sufficiently to serve as motivation against enduring many lifetimes of antipathy for the sake of principle…we might be discussing a totally different conspiracy against him right now!
And then there's the issue of judges, juries and legal precedents, which brings me to the problem (other than basic meaninglessness) with the insistent insistence that "rape means rape." I do not think there are too many prosecutors in America who would bother trying to convince a jury that Assange's actions constituted "rape." And given that reality, I have to think further that a multitude of our nation's courtwise feminists would, in either of Assanges' accusers' situations, not bother turning him in. Here, the alleged victims would probably just satisfy themselves by starting an embarrassing Facebook group dedicated to testimonials about Assange's tiny uncircumcised penis, and maybe see if that went viral.
Sweden is different, of course. Until last weekend I was only vaguely aware of the nation's foremost cultural export The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and although I was aware that the book's Swedish title actually translates to "Men Who Hate Women", I was unaware of the scene in which the aforementioned tattooed heroine actually exacts revenge on her women-hating rapist by returning to his house with a giant black dildo and violently raping him back. This is a pretty awesome scene, at least in the cinematic depiction anyway, although not one I can imagine anyone trying to attempt in an American movie, much less real life.
So congratulations on the competent location scouting efforts, conspirators, if Operation Assange was indeed a CIA sting; fact or plausible fantasy, the episode drives home another point that doesn't get enough attention about sexual predators across borders: the more empowered women feel to strike back against potential sexual assailants, the less terrorized by the prospect and/or the occasional reality of sexual assault they tend to feel. And the more sexually enlightened a culture, the less "shame" tends to seep into the sexual interactions of its members, and les sexual shame in general naturally begets less shame about sexual victimization, which in turn begets less hesitation to speak up (and under oath) when it happens. And stripping rape of "shame" and sexual victimhood of whatever "stigmas" it traditionally entailed renders sexual crimes a lot more like other crimes on the books, even if its victims generally remain biologically incapable of meting out "eye for an eye"3 vigilante justice a la Lisbeth, that does nothing to prevent the penal system from measuring individual incidents—and punishing their perpetrators in accordance with—some measure of the degree of their criminal magnitude. Which is why I don't quite understand "rape means rape"; are chanters of the refrain saying that anyone guilty of what Assange has been accused of deserves to spend the next 1444 months in prison?
Because I would dispute that, not only because beyond whatever physical trauma a sexual assault does or doesn't entail, whether the attendant emotional trauma lasts a few hours or a few decades depends in large part on contextual and cultural factors that vary a great deal more widely from Sweden to Scranton to San Francisco to Saudi Arabia than prison conditions do, and I'm pretty sure widespread imprisonment was not how Swedish society achieved its exceptional level of gender harmony. Forcing some sort of dogmatic equivalence upon every action that technically conforms to the legal definition of "rape" seems guaranteed only to condemn the discourse to an eternal rhetorical circle jerk of slut-shaming/finger-wagging/conspiracy theorizing/etc.
Eventually, I suppose, the Moores and Maddows of this media will get back to the more substantial business of mining the substance of the Wikileaks themselves and analyzing the great geopolitical implications of that cable about Anna Nicole Smith, and such. Unless, that is, one of Assange's accusers unleashes a real game-changer and decides to go public with what's happened in the months since she endured the "worst sex ever." My money is on the first one, who was recently reported to have stopped cooperating with prosecutors, but the real media shitstorm would ensue if you could nab both of them—which is to say, that's how it would go down if I were in charge of this CIA conspiracy, you heard it here first.
1An assertion I make in full knowledge that an equally fervent (albeit much more boring) sideshow debate continues to rage about this very matter, but look, I don't care.
2Which is, btw, why it's so irritating when dudes are all "oh well who cares whether Great Genius Writer X was a misogynist, because he was a genius…" except for the fact that he irrationally hated one half of the population, asshole… Etc.
3"Hole for a hole"? Yeah, this country is not ready for that, I don't think.
4That's the minimum that mid-level sentencing guidelines would seem to call for in California, by way of example.