The women accusing Julian Assange of sexual assault deserve to be taken seriously.

The women accusing Julian Assange of sexual assault deserve to be taken seriously.

The women accusing Julian Assange of sexual assault deserve to be taken seriously.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Dec. 22 2010 4:20 PM

The Perils of Charging Rape

The women accusing Julian Assange of sexual assault deserve to be taken seriously.

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Here's my story: I went out with friends and returned home, where another group of friends showed up with alcohol, hoping for a party. I was tired, so I said my goodnights and went to bed. I awoke some time later to find one of the latecomers in bed with me, with his hand in my vagina. I think he thought I was wasted and would sleep through it, but I wasn't. Still, I froze. To me, waking up like this was both terrifying and ludicrous, like finding a stranger in the house wearing a clown suit. Making sense of the situation took up too much brain space for me to choose the correct reaction. We all like to imagine ourselves as action heroes in our own lives, swiftly repelling those who threaten our safety. But indecision in such a moment is more common than most people realize.

I was lucky: A male friend of mine happened to walk in on his way from the poker table to the bathroom. I weakly squeaked out, "Help," and he pulled the guy off me. My friend turned into an eyewitness, a relatively rare advantage in acquaintance rape, and the difference between my rape and many others that go unprosecuted.

Still, it took a week for me to admit that I'd been sexually assaulted. Mostly I didn't want the baggage that comes with pressing rape charges. Some people believe you and respond with a humiliating pity. Some people believe you but wonder why you just can't let it go. And some people deny that you were raped, the most painful reaction of all. My assailant dropped in for a visit at least once between the incident and my decision to go to the police. I wasn't home, but if I had been, I probably would have acted normally. I can't even imagine how much harder it would have been to follow through legally if the person I'd accused had been an international cult figure.


I'm not noting these parallels to pronounce on Assange's guilt or innocence. We don't have the facts to decide that yet. But Naomi Wolf was simply wrong on Democracy Now when she denied that the charges against Assange aren't credible because the accusers didn't deny consent with enough vigor or because they acted like nothing was wrong for days afterward. By shaming these women, Assange's defenders are in danger of sending a signal to future rape victims that speaking out is just not worth the cost.

I was in the audience last night, when Michael Moore appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, and my body tensed up as he walked on stage. It had been a hard few days, dredging up all my unpleasant memories of my mistakes and self-doubt. Then Moore said all the things that he should have said in the first place: that the charges were credible and serious, that Assange's work with WikiLeaks doesn't preclude the possibility that he had done something awful, and that the accusers deserve to have their side of the story told. Hearing him firmly support women who make rape accusations unclenched my shoulders. Now if only Naomi Wolf would get the memo.

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