Whenever I’ve raised the com­plex inter­ac­tions I see around the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, I find myself mired in defending my pos­i­tion.

If I say I sup­port his work and that I wel­come the new world where gov­ern­ments cannot col­lude in cor­rup­tion, fem­inist friends (rightly) point out that rape should be dealt with ser­i­ously and argue that this if this guy is guilty as charged, he shouldn’t be nom­in­ated for nice human being let alone Aus­tralian of the Year.

If I say I’m con­cerned that the charges are being glossed over and that charming men still need to be called to account for their actions, lefty and anarchist friends (rightly) point out that the accus­a­tions are awfully con­venient, argue that he’s being “framed” and present me with a list of reasons why the women in ques­tion are tainted wit­nesses. The problem is that both sides have a point. (I’m leaving out the mad right-wingers who want him assas­sin­ated because that’s part of the uncon­scion­able rhet­oric sup­porters of Wikileaks want stopped). 

Before we go any fur­ther, I want to recap a little… and in the spirit of Wikileaks, be trans­parent myself. Polit­ic­ally, I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, although, like most of us, I’ve grown a little more com­pla­cent as I’ve gotten older. I’m also a fem­inist and a sur­vivor of domestic viol­ence and of many of those border-line encoun­ters where I was pres­sured in a work-related situ­ation where I ended up con­senting to some­thing I wasn’t com­fort­able with.

One situ­ation was with Yves Tanguy, a reas­on­ably well-known editor in cer­tain circles. I thought I was going for a job inter­view, for an intern­ship. I was maybe 18 or 19. He was a fair bit older. He was French and charming and had a room filled with books. We drank red wine, which I thought was odd for a job inter­view, but I didn’t want to appear naïve. We ended up on the rug on the floor, kissing, until I called a halt to it. I explained that I was uncom­fort­able. He asked me what on earth I’d expected when I’d agreed to come to his house. I left. I didn’t get the intern­ship. I felt dirty and ashamed and I didn’t report any­thing, even though I felt like I’d been molested. I guess I was lucky he didn’t push things any fur­ther. So, if what they say happened did happen to these women, I can empathise and I fully sup­port their right to ask ques­tions and speak up.

I also ought to declare that Julian Assange is not a stranger to me. I don’t know him well, but we’ve had coffee and exchanged a few emails, before Wikileaks started and then around the time it first launched. I have been a journ­alist dealing with digital cul­ture for many years. So if he is inno­cent (and even if he’s not) I want to see him treated fairly and with com­pas­sion.

I don’t want to rein­vent the wheel in this art­icle, so for my polit­ical pos­i­tion of Wikileaks, go and read Mark Pesce’s ter­rific piece for ABC’s The Drum. I’m hopeful about this new world too. I’m anti-war and I believe in a par­ti­cip­atory gov­ern­ment run by its people not one run by shadowy fig­ures making secret deals that benefit cor­por­a­tions and an out-of-touch élite.

You may also want to brush up on what Julian him­self had to say in his art­icle “Don’t Shoot the Mes­senger”. I have ser­ious con­cerns they will. Shoot him, that is. There have already been calls from Sarah Palin and an adviser to the Cana­dian PM for his head on a platter.

But then let’s talk about the actual charges against him, since he’s not being tried for any­thing he’s pub­lished. I’m not a lawyer, but let’s see if we can piece together a timeline. I’m using this art­icle about the sup­posed dele­tion of evid­ence and this art­icle about the charges laid.

If I under­stand cor­rectly, on August 14, Julian Assange and Anna Ardin have sex. He says it was con­sen­sual (and so did she in some early reports… there was talk of a “condom mal­func­tion” that made it sound like it started out okay and then the condom broke… and for­give me for linking to this Daily Mail art­icle that takes a very sala­cious tone.) The charge relating to this is “unlawful coer­cion” and although Ardin has also said there was no force used, the charges now say he “used the weight of his body to hold her down in a sexual manner”.

That day she tweets about wanting to find a cray­fish party for Julian to attend. The next day, Julian meets the other woman, W, whose name is less widely known than Ardin, because Ardin was the organ­iser of the con­fer­ence he was presenting at. They flirt. She calls him but he’s at the cray­fish party, where Ardin sends the second deleted text saying she’s hanging out with the coolest people.

On the 16th, Julian appar­ently goes home with W and at some point has sex with her. From what I can infer, the first time, that evening, it was con­sen­sual. The second time, on the morning of the 17th, she claims that it was without a condom “while she was asleep”. (This is where the “sex by sur­prise” charge comes in.)

I’m not sure what the action is that draws the final charge that Julian “delib­er­ately molested” Ardin on August 18 “in a way designed to violate her sexual integ­rity”.

Then, on August 19, W calls Ardin and they work out that Julian has slept with both of them. The (alleged) lack of a condom now takes on a much greater sig­ni­fic­ance: not only is there a risk of preg­nancy, but this is a man who sleeps around.

I’ve been one of the women in a story like this. It isn’t fun. How­ever, you can’t ret­ro­spect­ively with­draw con­sent just because you find out that a guy is a dick­head and if you sleep with someone you’ve just met, you don’t exactly have any reason to believe you’re the only person he might be doing that with, unless you’ve fooled your­self into thinking you have a “spe­cial con­nec­tion”.

So, the story goes, they ask him to get an HIV test. He allegedly refuses. They appar­ently go to the Swedish police on August 20 and ask about a man­datory test and are per­suaded to charge him with rape. That charge is dis­missed by the judge for lack of evid­ence. And there it prob­ably would have rested, as it does with so many other sexual assault accus­a­tions, if Julian Assange hadn’t been at the heart of chan­ging demo­cracy as we know it. I mean, ser­i­ously, when was the last time Interpol got involved with a rape case?

Around then, it gets ridicu­lous. Ardin sup­posedly deletes those tweets. The public pro­sec­utor in Gothen­burg, an entirely dif­ferent town, rein­states the charges. Ardin’s blog post about get­ting revenge sur­faces. We’re in standard smear-the-witnesses ter­ritory now, at the same time as we’re in ser­ious is-the-CIA-dictating-Sweden’s-moves-or-what?

One of his bar­ris­ters, James D Catlin, glosses the charges in his art­icle for Crikey when he says, “Appar­ently having con­sen­sual sex in Sweden without a condom is pun­ish­able by a term of impris­on­ment of a min­imum of two years for rape.” That’s inflam­matory and ridicu­lous. There is no prison term for con­sen­sual sex. Impris­on­ment would be the result of proving that the sex was, in fact, non-consensual.

And then, of course, last night, Julian turned him­self in to the police in London, where he’ll be defended in his extra­di­tion hearing by Geof­frey Robertson, which is good. He deserves con­sular sup­port, to be pre­sumed inno­cent before proven guilty and a fair trial. I whole­heartedly sup­port this open letter to the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment on that issue.

But while it’s very dan­gerous to imply that he’s an evil man, a rapist and a ter­rorist without evid­ence, it’s just as prob­lem­atic to dis­miss these charges as entirely without merit just because they’re incred­ibly con­venient for the gov­ern­ments of the world. In the same way that it’s pos­sible for me to be a fem­inist and a sup­porter of Wikileaks and the work that entire team has done, it’s pos­sible, sadly, for Julian to be both a polit­ical and tech­nical genius and a com­plete schmuck who needs to learn to use a condom when he’s asked. It’s not like being a tech­nical whizz-kid and having issues with respect for women is an unheard-of com­bin­a­tion… look at Mark Zuck­er­berg, just for starters…

Now, Julian just needs to sur­vive the right-wing machine long enough to make it to trial, where he’ll either be vin­dic­ated or receive a sen­tence that I hope is com­men­surate with the alleged crime. As an anarchist, I’m not a big fan of locking people up as a solu­tion to any­thing much, really.