December 21 Update | In the piece below, and the lengthy comments thread that follows, most of us have taken it as a given that this week’s Guardian piece on the rape allegations against Julian Assange was a full and thorough summary of those claims. But a Guardian editor now says, in reply to charges that the paper quoted the documents in a way that was unfair to Assange, that their reporter actually “left out a lot of graphic and damaging material in the allegations because he thought it would be too cruel to publish them.”
On Democracy Now this morning, Jaclyn Friedman and Naomi Wolf debated the sexual assault allegations that have been lodged against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
In the course of the debate, Wolf repeatedly insisted that what Assange is alleged to have done could not have been rape because his accusers never told him “no.”
But here’s the thing. According to the published account that Wolf herself cited, one of them did tell him no. She told him no repeatedly and forcefully enough that he was first dissuaded from pursuing sex, then later complied with her demands.
Here’s the relevant passage from the Guardian:
Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. Assange had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.
They start to have sex. He doesn’t want to use a condom. She insists. He refuses. He gives up and goes to sleep. They wake in the night. He doesn’t want to use a condom. She insists again. He complies.
And then what happens?
He fucks her in her sleep without using a condom.
She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no.
I’ll write more later about Wolf’s treatment of the other allegation, but this is just completely egregious. It’s frankly astounding.
And I should note that this particular debate has nothing to do with Assange’s guilt or innocence. In her Democracy Now appearance, Wolf — an Assange defender — assumed the veracity of his accusers’ claims for the purposes of the discussion.
And then lied about what those claims were.
Update | The video of the debate is now up online. Here are the most relevant quotes from Wolf:
“The Guardian account … doesn’t say that he had sex with either of these women without their consent.”
“Jaclyn, with full respect, where did they say no?”
“Of course I agree … that consent isn’t a given, and that obviously with every sexual act, everyone needs to be sure that everyone’s consenting. There’s no doubt about that.”
“Again and again and again Assange consulted with the women about what they wanted and they didn’t say no.”
Again: According to this account, Assange and W start to have sex. He doesn’t want to use a condom. She insists. He refuses. He gives up and goes to sleep. They wake in the night. He doesn’t want to use a condom. She insists again. He complies. She falls asleep.
She wakes to find him fucking her in her sleep without using a condom.
And Naomi Wolf calls this consensual sex. Unbelievable.
Second Update | A second part of the debate between Friedman and Wolf, which didn’t air during the original broadcast, has now been posted online. Here’s a key passage:
Wolf: Again and again and again, Assange did what Jaclyn, and everyone who cares about rape, and I, say you should do. He consulted with the women. … He stopped when women said ‘let’s talk about the condom,’ he discussed it, they reached an agreement, and they went ahead. He didn’t have sex with that woman when she was asleep. I agree that you need to be awake and conscious and not drunk to consent. We agree about that.
Friedman: He did have sex — that’s the allegation —
Wolf: Can you just bear with me?
Friedman: He started when she was asleep. That is the allegation.
Wolf: Well, you know — he started to have sex with her when she was asleep. Correct.
Friedman: And that’s rape.
Wolfe: She was half asleep. Then she woke up. Then they discussed how they would have sex, under what conditions, which is to me negotiating consent … they had a negotiation in which they both agreed not to use a condom, and then he went ahead and they made love.
Let’s start by looking at the Guardian’s discussion of this incident — which is, again, the one that Wolf herself is relying on:
She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”
So she’s asleep. Not “half asleep.” Asleep. She wakes up. He’s fucking her. He’s inside her. And what’s the “discussion” that follows? Is it initiated by him? No. Is it conducted on neutral terms? No.
It’s her asking him, while he’s fucking her, whether he’s complying with her previous explicit, non-negotiable demand that he use a condom.
And him saying he isn’t.
And continuing to fuck her.
And her giving up and letting him.
That’s the “discussion.” That’s the “negotiation.” That’s the prelude to their “making love.”
This isn’t a situation in which two people collectively negotiate the terms of consensual sex. This is a situation in which one person wants to do something, the person he’s with says no, and he waits until she’s asleep and does it anyway. Without asking. Without even telling her he’s done it until she asks him. And without stopping, once she’s awake and grilling him, to see whether what he’s doing is okay.
That’s not negotiation. That’s not discussion. That’s not ambiguous. That’s rape.
Third Update | Still watching. This exchange says it all:
Friedman: If someone asks me twenty times, do I want to have sex with them, or do I want to have sex without a condom, or whatever sexual act we’re negotiating, and I say no twenty times, and the twenty-first time I say yes because I am worn down, and because I’m being pressured and coerced and I’m afraid, and because I woke up to him already raping me, and I’m freaked out, that is not real consent. That is not a chance to have actual consent. That’s not legitimate consent.
Wolf: Well, I guess you and I will have to part ways.
Trigger Warning | There’s some very intense, very troubling stuff in the (377!) comments that follow. It’s also important to note that comments are now closed.