Wow. I wasn’t expecting this.
Back on December 7 of last year, erstwhile feminist Naomi Wolf wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post in which she claimed that sexual assault allegations lodged against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange were no more than accusations of “consensual sex” with two women who were “upset that he began dating [the] second woman while still being in a relationship with the first.”
This was a gross misrepresentation of what was known about the allegations at the time, as well as a misrepresentation of the sources on which Wolf herself relied in writing her piece. Ten days later, Wolf’s account was again confirmed to be false by a long story in The Guardian.
Wolf as much as admitted that her version of the story was “not sound” in a radio interview on January 7, but she didn’t go back and change the HuffPo piece to reflect that concession. On January 12 I put up a blogpost calling attention to Wolf’s failure to correct the piece, which I described as “a story which cast allegations of sexual assault in a negative, trivializing, and unfair light.” I wrote that I found that failure mind-boggling, given her own previous anti-rape activism.
Well, apparently Wolf got wind of my criticism (or received a nudge from someone else), because sometime in the last week or so she finally added a correction to the HuffPo piece.
Here it is:
The Guardian has, since I wrote this original post based on the Daily Mail, reported that the two women’s complaints to Swedish police centered on the alleged misuse of or failure to use condoms, which can be illegal in Sweden.
Yep. That’s it.
No acknowledgment that she misrepresented her own sources. No apology for ascribing false motives to the accusers. No link to the Guardian story.
And most crucially, no honest description of the allegations themselves.
According to the Guardian’s ccount, accuser A claims that Assange first pinned her down during sex to keep her from getting to her condoms, and then — after subsequently relenting and agreeing to wear one — deliberately tore it so that he could have unprotected sex with her without her knowledge. Accuser W claims that Assange penetrated her vaginally while she slept without using a condom after she had repeatedly told him that she would not have intercourse without protection.
In each of these cases, the women allege that Assange forced himself on them. He is accused of holding A down against her will to keep her from getting at a condom, and then later sabotaging that condom. He is accused of having sex with W while she was unconscious under circumstances in which she had previously explicitly denied him consent to do so. That’s what’s being claimed here. There’s no ambiguity about it.
And for me, that means that the worst thing about Wolf’s correction is its sophistry — because despite its many misrepresentations, there’s nothing in it that’s technically false. Assange is accused of “misuse” of a condom, in the course of deliberately and surreptitiously destroying it. He is accused of “failure to use” a condom, in the course of an act of non-consensual sexual intercourse with a sleeping woman. What he’s accused of is “illegal in Sweden,” but it would be under the rape laws of the United Kingdom and the United States, too. And while it’s true that the Guardian reported all this after Wolf wrote her original piece, it’s also true that she misrepresented what was publicly known at the time she wrote.
Wolf is, of course, aware of all this. She carefully constructed her “correction” in such a way as to make it technically factually accurate while leaving a false and harmful impression in the minds of her readers. If you stumble upon her piece today under the impression that no assault is alleged in this case — that it’s purely a matter of a bizarre quirk in the Swedish legal code that criminalizes consensual sex — you’ll emerge as misinformed as you were when you arrived.
That’s intentional. And it’s appalling.
Update | Comments on Wolf’s piece have apparently been not just closed, but taken offline. When I tried to view them just now, to confirm that I’d posted a link there to my original critique of the article, I wasn’t able to. If anyone can double-check this and make sure it’s not just me, I’d appreciate it.