Details of Sweden's case against WikiLeaks' Julian Assange
Sexual assault allegations in Sweden against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are feeding conspiracy theories and claims that he's being framed. What are the known facts?
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It appears that Assange at some point had a consenting sexual relationship with each of the women. But in Sweden, the US, and many other countries, a person has a right to withdraw consent at any time.Skip to next paragraph
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The fact that the two women are acquaintances has raised eyebrows. Many Assange supporters say the women could have conspired together after they discovered he was carrying on a relationship with them simultaneously.
But Jill Filopovic, a lawyer who writes at the Feministe blog, says he may well have a case to answer. "Commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of 'sex by surprise,' which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. Totally unfair, right?" she writes. "I'm not sure it's that straight forward."
Ms. Filopovic, while admitting that she's speculating, writes that based on news reports, it sounds as if in one of the cases, sex was consented to on the condition of the use of a condom, and that when the condom broke, the woman asked Assange to stop. If that's what happened and he didn't heed her, she says, that would clearly be illegal.
"Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) – if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape."
She writes that in the US, successful prosecutions on these sorts of grounds are rare, though some states have "no means no" laws. "In most states, there’s a requirement of force in order to prove rape, rather than just demonstrating lack of consent. Consent is more often used as a defense to a rape charge, and it’s hard to convict someone of rape based solely on non-consent," she writes.
Whether Assange will face broader legal problems stemming from the release of the cables and other leaked US government documents remains unclear. Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd (himself described as a "control freak" in one of the leaked State Department cables) said Assange is not legally responsible for leak of classified information.
In the US, press outlets have generally been shielded from prosecution for releasing information that the US government has sought to keep secret, so it's not currently clear what, if anything, Assange could be charged with.
"The Americans are responsible for that," Mr. Rudd told Reuters, saying a US failure to secure its own private correspondence, not the existence of WikiLeaks, was the problem. "The core responsibility, and therefore legal liability, goes to those individuals responsible for that initial unauthorized release."