Julian Assange has now been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for three years. WikiLeaks has revealed a lot that powerful governments do not want us to know. But what should be made of the rape allegations against him?
WikiLeaks’ disclosures have been devastating. For the naked government and corporate emperors caught stealing and lying, theirs is the devastation of losing power or acute embarrassment. For citizens unable to seize back illusions, theirs is the devastation of knowing that governments suppress truths, routinely lie and manipulate even more than previously imagined.
The most cynical and conspiratorial among us have found devastating detail to justify further re-examination of our belief systems, trust in leaders, our governments, their pretexts and execution of wars with corporate partners.
WikiLeaks’ disclosures about the distortion and manipulation of UN process, including the theft of biometric data of UN personnel, have shown why diplomacy at the UN has so often failed; the institution has been corrupted, infiltrated and attacked.
I suspected this when I worked at the UN. Now I know.
But as a feminist and a rape survivor, it’s the debate about feminism, WikiLeaks and Assange that has continued to disturb me the most.
The use of feminist goals and principles to attack WikiLeaks has amplified my devastation not only because WikiLeaks has provided the peace and women’s movements with many gifts — troves of evidence, example after example of the crimes and culture of militarised masculinity on the battlefield, in the board room, in the embassy.
I would be less worried if the epidemic of violence against women were being addressed as athletically by governments, the media, courts and police as it is in Assange’s case, if arrest warrants and manhunts were occurring with quite the same fervour.
Because they are not, I don’t find this selective and concerted effort on one man to be a feminist victory. Rather than “something being better than nothing”, selectivity damages and delegitimises real efforts to address violence against women.
Instead of a feminist victory, I see the violations we named and the laws and standards we agitated for being cynically used by forces that are not feminist to try to shut down WikiLeaks, to punish the organisation for revealing the truth about war, corruption and the ineptitude of governments.
This is not an investigation of alleged sexual offences in isolation.
This case started one month before a Swedish election, and several Swedes involved in the case are prominent members of one party.
The case also started within the eight to nine weeks between the release of the Afghan and the Iraq War Logs when the US government was aware that Assange was walking around with access to 251,000 diplomatic cables with intent to publish.
This case started when there was a 120-man Pentagon task force in operation.
I’ve read everything to do with the allegations — the good, the bad and the ugly — and it seems to me that:
- Both women had consensual sex with Assange — quite a lot of it. Neither claims they said no or showed or demonstrated non-consent. That matters a lot, as it happens. Failing to see the difference between what happened and rape insults rape survivors and fails to recognise a continuum of violence that places consensual sex, failure to use a condom and rape in fundamentally different frames.
- The senior prosecutor, Eva Finne, took on the case but then dropped the investigation not because she didn’t believe the women — she did — but because she said from the alleged conduct there was no indication of criminality.
- One of the women has stated that she felt “railroaded” and has refused to have anything to do with the case. It appears the women have essentially lost any agency; they were not pressing charges; their inquiry to police was about STD testing. If the women were pressing charges and calling for feminist solidarity, it might make sense to offer it. In this case, it doesn’t, because they are not.
- Isn’t justice delayed justice denied? Wouldn’t it have been in the interests of the women, justice and feminist aspirations in this area for the investigation to have involved swift questioning of Assange when he was in Sweden and making himself available for just this? Why have means routinely used under the mutual legal assistance procedures such as questioning in an embassy or by phone or video link still not been used?
The UK Supreme Court has ruled that any person in the UK can now be extradited to anywhere in Europe by any partisan prosecutor, without charge, without having to show any evidence and without proper judicial oversight. I find that as frightening as I do the potential of Assange finding himself temporarily surrendered to the US while his government looks the other way.
I hope that my feminist friends and colleagues think more about what is happening here — not only in terms of the cause but also how our movement is being used. If the world is not safe for an organisation like WikiLeaks to provide some of the most devastating revelations — including about militarised masculinity and its routine abuse of women and civilians in war — then it is not safe for any of us, least of all feminists.