The knee-jerk response of many so-called liberals and progressives to the rape allegations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been to defend Assange and attack his accusers. It’s a shameful and hypocritical position, but one which will come as no surprise to most conservatives. It might, however, open the eyes of moderate feminists and their supporters as to just how far women’s rights have slipped down the left’s traditional pecking order of causes.
A gaggle of prominent lefties have taken Assange’s side, trivializing the allegations made against him by two Swedish women and contributing money to his bail fund. Most are little-known outside the politics and arts worlds, such as the filmmaker Ken Loach and journalist John Pilger (who called the charges a “political stunt”), while others, like Bianca Jagger, are the epitome of B-list celebrity activism. A better-known figure, Michael Moore, caused outrage when he dismissed the allegations as “hooey,” and misrepresented the details of the complaints on Keith Olbermann’s show. (He later attempted to clarify his remarks, acknowledging that the allegations “have to be investigated.”)
Countless other left-wing writers and bloggers have joined in, attacking the characters of the women, diminishing sexual crimes against women in general, and spreading wild theories about CIA “honeytraps.” This piece by Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn is a particularly fine example of the genre.
But the clear winner in the hypocrisy stakes has been Naomi Wolf, hero of the anti-American and conspiracy-obsessed far left, and ostensible feminist. In December, Wolf posted a mocking letter to Interpol at The Huffington Post, in which she made light of the rape allegations. Like Moore, she also misrepresented the nature of the allegations, suggesting that the entire case hinged on a broken condom, when it’s also claimed that Assange had sex with one woman without her consent and the other while she slept; either refused to wear or tampered with a condom; and refused to be tested for STDs. (You can read a detailed account of the allegations against Assange here.)
Wolf also defended Assange in a debate with Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action & The Media, which led Amy Siskind of the women’s advocacy group The New Agenda to claim that Wolf had “trivialized these women and rape generally.” In an interview with The Daily Caller, Siskind also said “it seems as if these women are meant to be roadkill so that the people on the left who view what Assange did as heroic can celebrate him.”
Not content with having attracted the ire of much of the women’s movement, Wolf last week suggested that accusers in rape cases should lose their right to anonymity. In the UK and much of Europe it’s against the law to name the alleged victim in a rape case, while in the U.S. a complainant’s identity is generally protected as a matter of convention on the part of the media. (Wolf, incidentally, is said to be one of a number of activists who have released the women’s names on the internet, making the anonymity issue somewhat moot — the women have since received death threats.)
There are valid doubts that can be raised over the women’s allegations against Assange, and it’s certainly possible to interpret the events in Stockholm as a case of two starstruck young women joining forces to take revenge after being shabbily treated by the object of their affections. However, it’s equally possible that Assange is guilty of serious sexual crimes, and at the very least there’s a case to be answered. Similarly, there’s a debate to be had about the desirability of granting anonymity to rape victims, particularly when their alleged attacker can been identified; anonymity for both victim and accused would arguably be fairer.