Assange charges challenge prior assumptions about case

With the beginning of the extradition proceedings against Julian Assange, we finally get to see exactly what the allegations against him are:

Gemma Lindfield, for the Swedish authorities, told the court Assange was wanted in connection with four allegations.

She said the first complainant, Miss A, said she was victim of “unlawful coercion” on the night of 14 August in Stockholm.

The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.

The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on 18 August “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”.

The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

The first thing to note is that two of the allegations do not appear to match the information given in the timeline I published earlier, which draws its information from a printed supplement published by the Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet, which the newspaper claimed to have been based on information obtained from police files.

The first two allegations, ‘unlawful coercion’ and ‘sexual molestation’ by failing/refusing to wear a condom relate to events that are alleged to have taken place on the night of 14 August 2010.

The ‘broken condom’ incident, which has been widely reported as forming the basis of Miss A’s primary complaint, took place on 13 August 2010, according to the timeline, so it would appear that we have an incident which did not appear in Aftonbladet’s original coverage. This does, however, match up with the comments of Miss A’s lawyer, Claes Borgström on 25th August, where he told the newspaper that:

‘I want to stress that there are significant details missing in this report, details I base my accusations of rape on, but I am prevented from revealing what these details are.’

‘It would hurt the investigation to make the information public at this stage. It’s my opinion [Finné] was in error. I believe Assange will be accused of sex crimes.’

According to the timeline, Assange was staying at Miss A’s flat on the 14th and, during the evening, attended a crayfish party in the flat’s courtyard along with two members of Sweden’s Pirate Party, so its reasonable to think that these allegations relate to a previous undisclosed incident which allegedly took place after that party.

None of the public statements issued by Assange or his lawyer, prior to today, seem to indicate that either were aware of this allegation before today’s hearing which, unfortunately, means that these new allegations are likely to interpreted by some of Assange’s supporters as concrete ‘evidence’ that Assange is the victim of stitch-up and that he has been subjected to manifestly unfair treatment by Sweden’s prosecuting authorities.

Regardless of the merits of the allegations, this is likely to prove a bit of a PR disaster for the Swedes when Assange’s supporters realise that a couple of previously undisclosed allegations have now been put on the table.

The third allegation, that Miss A was ‘deliberately molested in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity’ on 18 August has me completely and utterly baffled.

According to the timeline, 18 August is the day that ‘Miss W’ (Complainant B) telephoned Miss A and told her she’d had unprotected sex with Assange and that she was worried that she might be pregnant or have contracted an STD. At this point, the two appear to have exchanged stories in regards to their sexual encounters with Assange, after which timeline has Miss A phoning one of Assange’s acquaintances with a message to tell Assange move his stuff out of her flat.

This is the oddball ‘only in Sweden’ offence that falls under chapter 6, section 10 of the Swedish penal code, which reads as follows:

A person who, otherwise than as previously provided in this Chapter, sexually touches a child under fifteen years of age or induces the child to undertake or participate in an act with sexual implications, shall be sentenced for sexual molestation to a fine or imprisonment for at most two years.

This also applies to a person who exposes himself or herself to another person in a manner that is likely to cause
discomfort, or who otherwise by word or deed molests a person in a way that is likely to violate that person’s sexual integrity.

Somewhat curiously, both Interpol and the Swedish prosectors office have cited this as section 7 rather tnan section 10, which is what it was under the 1994 version of Sweden’s penal code, but that curio aside the issue here seems to be – according to Reuters – that both women were concerned that they might have contracted an STD from Assange and wanted him tested but were unable to contact him on his cellphone, which was switched off in case his enemies could use it to trace his location.

If it weren’t for that this stuff is currrently before a court, I be prepared to swear-blind that this whole scenario had been lifted from the script of crap Wayans brothers spoof of Austin Powers but, be that as it may, this allegation does fit the timeline as does the final allegation that Assange had sex with Miss W on 17 August while she was allegedly asleep.

The relevant section of the timeline starts with the events of 16 August and notes that:

Complainant B (Miss W) and Assange have sex that evening with a condom. They have sex again in the following morning but without a condom. After sex in the morning, Complainant B goes out and buys, then cooks breakfast – oatmeal and juice. They joke about her possibly being pregnant.

Miss W is quoted as telling the police, in regards to ‘joking’ about being pregnant, that ‘I was being sarcastic to defuse the situation’ which does a little incongruous until it becomes apparent that she’s claiming that Assange helped himself to an early morning quickie without having the courtesy to wake her up before getting started.

None of that charges laid against Assange today amount to rape under Swedish law. The most serious allegation is the ‘rape-lite’ coercion charge , an offence that really should be considered an abomination on the grounds that rape is rape and in any civilised society you should not be getting brownie points for not beating the fuck of a woman while you’re raping her.

Under English law, both the coercion allegation and the allegation of sex without a condom while Miss W was asleep would, at the very least, be investigated as rape allegations although – and I really hate to have to say this – both cases come down to ‘he said, she said’ situations in which the consent defence would be deployed, so I wouldn’t be banking on either leading to a conviction.

This is murky business all around, and all the more so for the fact that just about everyone who has written about this story since August has been barking up the wrong tree – the broken condom story – as a result of the incomplete information that was published by Aftonbladet.

If there are any lessons to be learned from this whole sorry mess, other than the obvious one – Sweden’s rape statute was devised by a total basket case – its that we need to look very carefully at how high profile rape cases are reported by the media and the impact this can have on public perceptions of those case.

To give but one example of what I mean, my last article cited comments attributed to Miss A, taken from US media coverage but widely reported elsewhere, including our own Guardian newspaper, which clearly seemed to indicate that she did not regard herself as having been raped:

“It is quite wrong that we were afraid of him. He is not violent, and I do not feel threatened by him,”

“The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who had attitude problems with women.”

In the last few hours, I’ve managed to track down the original article from which those quotes were taken and discovered another statement attributed to Miss A which places those remarks into their proper context:

The woman in her 30s said that she, for its part [excuse the machine translation] claims to be the victim of a sexual assault or molestation, but not a rape.

For reasons that are entirely unclear but I suspect come down to nothing more than the press pulling its information from a piece of wire copy, that last quote doesn’t appear to have found its way into the English language coverage of the story for all that represents an important qualification of Miss A’s widely cited comments on the subject of whether she had been raped.