The "Great Man" Theory of Rape


Police in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently claiming asylum

While the British and Ecuadorian governments continue to maneuver around each other over how to deal with Julian Assange—with each detail breathlessly described by journalists all over the world—one question continues to haunt me: Would any of this be happening if Assange faced charges of any violent crime other than rape? Would Ecuador be offering him asylum if the Swedish government sought Assange for allegedly stabbing two men? Would so many liberal pundits be rushing to defend Assange if he were accused of getting drunk and running someone over with his car?  Despite the deep abhorrence of rape all participants in this dispute claim to have, it doesn’t seem likely that they’d be defending Assange were he wanted for another violent crime. 

Currently, Assange—the founder of open-information website WikiLeaks, which riled the U.S. by releasing thousands of confidential diplomatic cables last year—is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he is seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning on sexual-assault allegations. Despite claims that the site endangers national security, many see WikiLeaks as a necessary check on government power and champion of transparency. But the organization's aspirations have been called into question by the conduct of its founder.

Even Assange defenders who claim they want Assange to face his accusers seem to be directing anger at everyone but the person who likely bears the most responsibility for the current situation. They’re mad at Sweden for not brokering a deal that would shield Assange from extradition to the U.S. They’re mad at the U.S. for hanging on to the option of prosecuting Assange for WikiLeaks-related crimes. They’re mad at the British government for threatening to arrest Assange. But they don’t seem to hold Assange responsible for creating this situation in the first place. 

If the accusers in the Assange case are telling the truth—and so far, there’s no evidence that they’re lying—supporters of WikiLeaks should be furious at Julian Assange. He put the whole WikiLeaks operation at risk in order to sexually dominate women. Even if he didn’t rape the accusers, Assange’s reaction to the accusations has demonstrated a strong disdain for the notion that women have a right to bodily autonomy. He accused Sweden of being the “Saudi Arabia of feminism” for no other reason than its willingness to take seriously a woman's claim that she was penetrated against her will. He trotted out the idea that a woman’s clothing choices and flirtatious behavior matter more than her consent. He’s admitted that he’s a “chauvinist pig” while reiterating the assertion that the only way you could read the accusations as rape is if your view is “distorted.” He doesn’t seem to give a whiff if he comes across as a dangerous sexual predator. 

That liberals have not erupted in rage against Assange suggests that we haven’t abandoned the belief that rape, especially acquaintance rape, doesn’t count as a violent crime. It also suggests liberals still don’t quite see misogyny as a serious problem so much as an unfortunate character flaw that can be overlooked if someone is designated a "Great Man."

There’s an important lesson in all this. The inability of Assange’s supporters to see him in the same way they’d view anyone else suspected of a violent crime evinces a broader problem. We give in to the temptation—which I admit I’ve succumbed to plenty of times—to overlook the lecherous behavior some men display because they otherwise have exemplary politics. But in doing so, we create more problems than we solve. Creeps and chauvinist pigs make women feel unwelcome, which should be reason enough. But even more than that, we have to accept that our community, like any other, has undetected rapists moving about, looking for opportunities. If we don’t cultivate a culture where women’s need for safety is prioritized, rapists will feel more free to attack, and victims less secure in stepping forward.  

If sexual predators are in leadership positions, they not only threaten women’s safety, as the Assange case has demonstrated, but could end up destroying everything that activists strive for. As painful as it may be, keeping up your activist community’s reputation as a sexual-harassment-free and rape-free zone matters. Look at how hard it’s been for Occupy Wall Street to shake the image of being an unsafe space after a handful of sexual assaults. The success they have had in doing so has been the result of immediately taking the situation seriously.

The best way to shut out men who threaten a movement’s good name with sexually predatory behavior is to take sexual assault seriously as a violent crime. A good place to start would be in taking some of the anger brewing around the Assange case and aiming it directly at Assange. Even if he didn’t rape those women, he has acted like a grade-A creep who doesn’t believe that women deserve to feel safe. He is not a sympathetic character, and his pompous sexism adds to the image of WikiLeaks as an organization of lawless types who don’t care who they hurt as they pursue their goals. If the world could look at this situation and see that WikiLeaks supporters are furious at Assange for screwing everything up, that would go a long way toward salvaging the reputation of the entire operation.


... pretty appalling journalism, sorry. Perhaps it's time to dust off Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird' ... you know, where the rabble take over and want to kill an innocent black man. Trial by media is bad enough but when the 'facts' are manipulated every which way it makes me want to cry. I'm keeping an open mind; it's the least I can do for all concerned.

"If the accusers in the Assange case are telling the truth—and so far, there’s no evidence that they’re lying—supporters of WikiLeaks should be furious at Julian Assange"

Ahem. The condom in question was handed in to police by Anne Ardin on 25 August 2010 (12 days after the event to which it relates) as evidence of her claims that Assange "did something" to deliberately tear it halfway through sex. The condom was sent by police to the SKL (Sweden's National Forensic lab) the same day. The first set of results could find no chromosonal DNA - male or female - on it at all, although it did have a tear in it and look 'used' (there are pictures, if you really must...). The lab did find a tiny speck of 'something' on it so the police requested a second test. Apparently this tiny speck did contain mitochondrial DNA but bear in mind two things: 1) Mitochondrial DNA, if there is no chromosonal DNA present, can ONLY come from hair or nails, 2) any condom used for sex should be awash with chromosonal DNA from both parties. I will forego saying what I personally think this lab result does to the credibility of Anne Ardin's allegations and instead restrict myself to what it does to the credibility of the Swedish prosecutor's action. The 2nd set of results arrived back from the lab on 25 October 2010, at least three weeks before the Swedish prosecutor described the 'deliberate tearing' of this condom on the EAW extradition warrant (18 November) as the offence of "sexual molestation".

As regards one of Anne Ardin's other allegations - the 'forced pinning down' to stop her from reaching a condom as she twisted her legs sideways to prevent penetration - described on the EAW extradition warrant as sexual assault and coersion, what seems to have been overlooked is that the very next sentence of her witness statement describes Assange asking what on Earth she was doing. She explained for the first time that she wanted him to use a condom. He let go. She fetched one. He put it on and they resumed.

The second woman's witness statement describes being "half asleep", which the prosecutor has bumped up to "fully asleep" on the extradition warrant.

Stop trying to make the stories of two individual women stand in for ALL women's experiences of sexual violence. Stop believing that because women routinely experience sexual violence all over the world and are generally poorly served by the courts in getting justice that individual women can NEVER be being untruthful if they make such claims. I am a woman. I was raped. I went to the police although the case never reached the courts. But I never lied about my experience and I didn't hand in any false evidence.

Turn your anger onto the Swedish prosecutor who has abused due legal process in this case and has lied to and misled the UK courts. She should be investigated because she has done a great disservice to ALL true victims of rape.

Thank you Arbed for all of this information. I knew the case, but didn't know specifics as you do. I was also raped, however, I can see through the falsity of the charges against Assange.

When Paul Craig Roberts suggested that feminists were up-in-arms because Assange wasn't taken in for questioning, I commented that such stereotyping was unfair, and then I stated my opposition to extraditing Assange. Roberts must have read this article before making the comment.

Dear Arbed,
I am sorry about what happened to you. I hope you are keeping well now. Your reply seems factual and straight from the heart. I am really impressed by your research and command on this subject. You have really hit the nail with your reply.

Many thanks again,


Being a self-declared feminist doesn't give you special license to play judge/jury/executioner.

Your article goes way beyond the reasonable position of wanting to see the charges addressed. Instead, you attack a strangers character by calling him a creep and shamelessly declare him guilty.

The previous commentator is correct. Your behaviour resembles that of a southern white supremacist, for whom the word of a white woman was enough to ruin (and take) lives.

Personally, I think you're no better than American reporters who attacked alleged WikiLeaker Bradley Manning - by describing him as a "lonely creepy homosexual".

This is why we have inconvenient things like process, trials, and presumption of innocence. Though you've clearly reached a verdict, the Assange case is still stuck in process.

Ecuador has made clear that it wants Assange to face an investigation for the allegations of sexual misconduct, but there must be guarantees that this is not a backdoor way of shipping him off to America to face espionage charges.

And, please, spare us your disingenuous concern for Wikileaks & transparency. Where was your concern when Bradley Manning was condemned to a military kangaroo court & solitary confinement?

This is very disappointing. The Propect just got a large "donation"? Or something? Because Assange hasn't been charged with rape. He hasn't been charged with anything, yet. The Swedes claim they want him for questioning prior to deciding whether to charge him with something or not. Granted, it's understandable the Swedes don't want to give a blanket guarantee they wouldn't extradite him to the U.S. Just suppose the U.S. government had a Grand Jury indict him for third degree mopery (or maybe they already have but are keeping the indictment secret, which they do all the time except for Anwar al-Awlaki whom they never bothered to indict). In that case, how could the Swedes refuse? But the final decision is up to the government, not the courts and the appropriate government official could announce that he would regard charges of espionage against Assange a political persecution and that he would not extradite him under those circumstances, even if the courts found no legal impediment. Meanwhile, I would think the British government should take steps to prevent any of its citizens being close to Assange. I don't know what the lethal radius of a Hellfire missile is, but a had grenade is 25 yards, so no one should get any closer to him than that -- hey, what's that buzzing sound in the sky?

As a constitutional lawyer specializing in criminal procedure, I have no interest in addressing the issues of feminism this column raises, despite my general ideological orientation in favor of women's rights and in favor of punishment of sexual violence.

Nevertheless, I find it appalling that the author refuses to acknowledge the fact that, whatever the merits of the Swedish charges, a larger issue exists: namely, the fact of a possible extradition and potential death penalty sentence in the United States of America. It is ably pointed out by other comments that the U.S. is capable of atrocities against even its own citizens accused of such capital offenses as Assange's. See Bradley Manning, held naked in a 6'x12' windowless cell for two years for allegedly taking part in the Wikileaks leak.

Perhaps the author, Amanda Marcotte, believes that any man accused of sexual violence deserves such treatment, and, eventually the death penalty; if so, she does her argument a disservice. She has convinced me more than ever that Julian Assange needs to be kept out of British, and Swedish hands.

I agree with the majority of comments. It is appalling how Ms Marcotte hasn't done her research. The testimonies of the women involved as well as the weird reversals of the Swedish D.A. show that the charges against Assange are trumped-up.

Long time reader, first time commenter.

I feel this is the single worst piece of journalism I've ever read on The Prospect. Arbed's comment above outlines the missing detail resulting in misleading conclusions for the accusations levelled at Mr Assange.

Dexter's comment above outlines the absence of international context for the motive for the behaviour of the prosecutor.

This is substantively lack-lustre journalism and is beneath you Ms Marcott, and beneath the (otherwise very rigorous) entity you write for. This is a sad day for the Prospect, here's hoping you all learn from this experience.

Excellent article. Whilst it is extremely difficult to prove rape, particularly acquaintance rape, the media support Julian has received has set women's rights back decades. No is always No. If a woman says no sex without a condom, and the man has sex with her in sleep without a condom, then that is rape.

Especially if it was yes, then you found out he was having sex with other women, you manufacture evidence, and change the answer to no.

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