WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested in Britain, and seems set to be extradited to Sweden next week for questioning on alleged sexual assault charges.
According to media reports, two women have stated that Assange sabotaged a condom (in the first case) and refused to stop having sex after a woman withdrew consent when she realized he wasn't wearing a condom (in the second). These are serious charges; both are forms of sexual assault, and while the former could technically be legal in many U.S. states, the latter would probably be classified as rape by force. Assange should face questioning.
But I see two dangers.
The first is that the reported sexual assaults could be used by the British government simply as an excuse to detain Assange during a critical period as a means of suppressing or delaying WikiLeaks' release of government documents. If the UK extradites Assange to face WikiLeaks-related charges in the United States or elsewhere and simply forgets about the Swedish sexual assault case, then we will know that the British government is no leader in international human rights, and does not take sex crimes seriously. Considering Britain's own very real problem with underprosecuted sexual assault cases, this would send a very dark message to rape survivors in Britain. The UK should extradite Assange to Sweden, and only to Sweden, as soon as possible.
But there's another danger, and that is that Assange's enthusiastic base of supporters seems to be waging war on Sweden's sexual assault laws, criticizing the women who accused Assange, and generally promoting rape culture. One particularly disgusting editorial by James Catlin, Assange's former attorney, is a case in point. I'm not going to quote it here. Another strange critic of Swedish sexual assault laws is former feminist activist Naomi Wolf, who ridiculed the accusations, describing them as comparable to complaints about texting while on a date. They aren't.
I believe Assange is entitled to the presumption of innocence in the sexual assault case, I have serious doubts about the way the case has been handled, and I do not want to see him prosecuted on any unrelated WikiLeaks-related charges. But I†completely agree with Feministe's Jill Filipovic:
[I]t is totally possible to support the WikiLeaks project and to think that the international response to Assange and the project is thoroughly f--ked up and to think we should withhold judgment on whether or not Assange is actually a rapist and also to think that we should withhold judgment on whether the women are lying, and to not discredit the women involved, and to not create a hostile climate for rape survivors, and to not play into every tired old stereotype about women and rape.
Seriously, we can chew gum and walk at the same time.
Life can be complicated. Let's not make it simpler than it is at the expense of free speech, due process, or the equal protection rights of sexual assault survivors. A commitment to human rights requires us to honor all three, even when they may initially appear to be at odds.