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Are Liberals Too Eager to Believe Sex Charges Against Julian Assange?

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Posted on Aug 31, 2012
gnuckx (CC BY 2.0)

What happens when the predatory interests of a national security state and those of women’s rights advocates seem to coincide, as in the case of WikiLeaks publisher and accused rapist Julian Assange? A murky witch hunt, in which some liberals forget that suspects are innocent until proven guilty, JoAnn Wypijewski writes in The Nation.

Wypijewski reminds us that Swedish police were unusually quick to initiate the process of arrest when one of the women now involved in the charges against Assange asked authorities to require that he take an STD test after the two had unprotected sex. Upon seeing the authorities’ eagerness to arraign Assange, that woman refused to give further testimony. Not long after, the Swedish prosecutor’s office withdrew the arrest warrant for rape and molestation on the grounds that the charges were not appropriate to the women’s claims. For some reason, that decision was overturned a week later, after the Swedish authorities allowed Assange to leave the country. (A detailed account of this sequence of events, with statements from the women that seem to exonerate Assange, can be read here.)

The dubious circumstances surrounding Sweden’s sexual misconduct charges—taken with Assange’s status as public enemy No. 1 in the West—suggest that the public’s legitimate desire to see officials investigate suspects of rape and violence against women is being exploited by governments looking to protect their own interests—namely, their ability to continue committing illegal acts in secret worldwide. In their eagerness to defend the rights of women, Wypijewski argues, some writers and activists, however just their cause in general, may have become unwitting supporters of a government’s malicious attempt to silence one of its ablest critics.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

JoAnn Wypijewski in The Nation:

If the Swedish claims against Assange had involved anything but sex, it’s unlikely that liberals, and even some self-described radicals, would be tiptoeing around this part of the story, either by asking “So I guess he’s a bad guy?” or by arguing “Of course he needs to answer for his crimes.” If it were anything but sex, we would insist on the presumption of innocence. We have instead gotten comfortable with presuming guilt and trusting in the dignified processes of law to guarantee fairness.

“Believe the victim” entered the lexicon decades ago for historically understandable reasons. Women had been denied their own due process, in a sense—their right to make a complaint and expect justice, not vilification or worse. They are still being denied and derided, as the idiot spewings of Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin illustrate. The mutation of basic rights into an imperative for belief, and of full citizens into victims, has not made women any safer, but its cultural manipulation—particularly in high-profile cases—has struck at the foundations of civil liberty in a way that may not have been anticipated.

So here is the spectacle of Assange, as yet unindicted, bearing the dual brand of Sex Offender and Terrorist, the subhuman beings of the twenty-first century. The fusing of abuse and terror in his case thus implies two victims who must be believed, the women and the state. But the women’s claims are murky, and the state is not credible.

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