They fell asleep and she woke up by his penetrating her. She immediately asked if he was wearing anything. He answered: “You.” She said: “You better not have HIV.” He said: “Of course not.” 12th July 2011
The longer Julian Assange delays his return to Sweden to be questioned by the police, charged with rape and sexual assault, and for the Swedish justice system to decide what to do with him, the less likely it is that he will ever be tried at all. It is already three and a half years since two women went to the police to discover if they could force Julian Assange to have an HIV test and, in the process of describing what had happened, gave evidence that Assange had attempted sexual assault on one woman and raped the other woman.
Since 19th June 2012, Assange has lived in a room in Knightsbridge, a guest of the embassy of Ecuador, his request for asylum accepted by the President of a nation who has little concern for free speech. Assange has, in effect, sent himself to jail without trial under much more unpleasant conditions than he would have been subject to in Sweden: where he would have been unlikely – even if found guilty – to have been sentenced to more than three years. If he intends to imprison himself in Knightsbridge until the statute of limitations expires in Sweden, he will stay there til August 2020.
Let’s just be clear about what Julian Assange is alleged to have done: both women consented to sexual intercourse with him if and only if he used a condom. Both women say that getting Assange to agree to that was a struggle, and that he attempted to circumvent their wishes: one woman says that the next morning, while she was asleep, Assange entered her without a condom and therefore without her consent. That was rape.
The number of men who dismiss this as not really rape, who ignore or gloss over the issue of women who didn’t know Julian Assange’s HIV status (who still don’t) wanting him to use a condom for intercourse: it’s disturbing. Whether or not you are one of those men, if you want to believe that the women are lying, that this was a “honeytrap”, that the Swedish authorities only pursued the charge because they wanted to send Assange to the US – that’s all been discussed, ad nauseum, in 2012.
Just consider; the earliest and most consistent Wikileaks spin on the case was and still is: “Julian Assange is accused of sex without a condom” which, the Wikileaks spinners claimed unblushingly, “is illegal under Swedish law”.
(It isn’t. What is illegal under both Swedish and UK law, is for a man to penetrate a woman without her consent. If she’s given her consent only conditionally “if you use a condom”, then for him to penetrate her without a condom, when she is asleep and cannot give consent: that is rape.)
I picked up my papers and went into the dining room with Julian. After a little while, [Sarah Harrison, Assange’s personal assistant and girlfriend] joined us. I wanted to discuss the book’s structure. Julian said we should consider having a chapter called ‘Women’.
‘I thought this was going to be like a manifesto,’ Sarah said.
Julian bristled slightly. They were a proper couple: flirting and fighting and not-saying. ‘It is,’ he said, ‘but with personal history woven through.’
‘I just think …’
‘Don’t worry about it.’
‘Don’t worry.’ She turned to me. ‘He’s got such appalling, sleazy stories about women you wouldn’t believe it. I don’t want to hear all that.’
‘Hold on,’ he said.
‘No. Sorry. I don’t think that’s what the book’s about, your stories of sleeping with women.’
He wanted again to discuss Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who had worked with him on the initial newspaper deal to publish the leaks. ‘The problem was he was in love with me,’ said Julian. ‘Not sexually. But just in love with me. Like I was this younger guy he wanted to be.’ He said the same thing about the Icelandic politician and activist Birgitta Jónsdóttir: ‘She was in love with me.’ I knew from then on that any understanding of him would involve a recognition of his narcissism. ‘I went to the local pub,’ he said, ‘and the people in the bar were gossiping about me, while I was there. One of them said: “The local ladies will be pleased.”’
On Valentine’s Day, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance released an ad celebrating sex with condoms. I saw it again on Joe.My.God’s blog on Friday, the same day LRB published Andrew O’Hagan’s account of ghostwriting Assange’s autobiography. And I thought of Julian Assange, imprisoned in a room in London rather than go to Sweden to stand trial for rape and sexual assault, and his aggrieved insistence that the whole problem was scary Swedish feminists wanting him to use condoms.
And all those men who think that a woman’s conditional consent to intercourse only with a condom doesn’t matter and who bluffly defend Assange because not using a condom when the woman’s asked you to isn’t actually rape, is it?
Come together to fight AIDS. Come together to celebrate joyous, consensual, enthusiastic safe sex. And condoms.