…if no-one thinks it’s a smear…
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to find the timing of Interpol’s warrant for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who turned himself in to British authorities today, curious. The charges — “one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape,” according to a statement from Scotland Yard — were brought against him in Sweden last August, yet he suddenly graduated to “most wanted” status just after releasing over a thousand leaked diplomatic cables in late November? It would be irresponsible of journalists, bloggers and average citizens of countries most eager to plug the gushing WikiLeaks not to wonder if those dots connect.
Still, as the New York Times put it, “there is no public evidence to suggest a connection,” which some members of the public seem to find unbearably frustrating. With no specific target for their suspicions and no easy way to find one, folks all over the blogosphere have been settling for the next best thing: making light of the sexual assault charges and smearing one of the alleged victims.
The danger here is that I think we can by now safely say that we can’t rely on the courts – in any country, in any situation – to be able to distinguish a real rape claim (and protect the rights of violated women) and a ‘fake’ one (protecting the rights of falsely accused men). It scares me that I so easily assumed these women were lying, and that has made me question who I am and what I stand for, both personally and professionally. It scares me that ideologically the best case scenario here is that these women are telling the truth and the system works to find justice for them – if they are lying for political reasons, then a rape trial getting this much exposure where the public find themselves questioning even once the truth of the accusations does so much damage to the plight of actual survivors of sexual assault that it will put us back centuries.
If Assange really did assault any of these women but we are happy to dismiss these charges as political conspiracy reliant upon what appears to be Sweden’s unusual rape laws, we are in real trouble and it is far too close to regressing back to the figure of the ‘heroic’ rapist for my liking. But if our governments are prepared to mock the real trauma of actual rape survivors by promoting fraudulent charges to their own ends – which is not a definite, but certainly a possibility here – then for citizens, media consumers, and people who rally against the horrific reality of rape that faces legions of women on a daily basis, the outlook is equally as grim.
If the CIA, or whichever shady power responsible for an alleged smear-attempt on Assange’s character really thought that a charge like this would work, then I don’t think much of their abilities. Sure, everyone’s against rape aren’t they? It’s a bad thing, right? Except that time and time again, we declare rape to be wrong, then just re-define it out of existence so that nobody that we either know or like or admire could ever be capable of committing it.
If Wikileaks was the only reason that people decided to get their shit together to take a sexual assault charge seriously then that’s a really sad indictment on business as usual. It’s not an argument that he should be let go because Roman Polanski didn’t have to face the justice system. As far as the actual case is concerned, my only comment is that I hope that truth and justice are served. Whatever the result, it has no bearing on whether Wikileaks is a threat to society or a brave act. But next time a sports star is accused of a similar crime, there are a lot of so-called progressives about who should remember their response to this before condemning the ignorant debate that will no doubt inspire.