Wednesday Update | A representative of the Swedish prosecution team is forcefully rebutting the Assange defense’s definition of consent in today’s hearing. Click here for ongoing coverage.
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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is in a London court today, contesting an order that he be extradited to Sweden to face allegations that he raped two women there last year.
Assange’s attorneys are contending that the extradition order is invalid because the actions alleged are not criminal under English law. In doing so, they appear to be conceding the sincerity of at least some of those allegations. “Nothing I say,” Assange lawyer Ben Emmerson told the court this morning, “should be taken as denigrating the complainants” or to “trivialize their experience.” His arguments should not be construed as disputing that they honestly consider Assange’s behavior “disrespectful” or “disturbing,” he said, or that Assange “push[ed] at the boundaries of what they felt comfortable with.”
Emmerson went on to provide accounts of the two encounters in question which granted — for the purposes of today’s hearing — the validity of Assange’s accusers’ central claims. He described Assange as penetrating one woman while she slept without a condom, in defiance of her previously expressed wishes, before arguing that because she subsequently “consented to … continuation” of the act of intercourse, the incident as a whole must be taken as consensual.
In the other incident, in which Assange is alleged to have held a woman down against her will during a sexual encounter, Emmerson provided this summary of the allegations: “[The complainant] was lying on her back and Assange was on top of her … [she] felt that Assange wanted to insert his penis into her vagina directly, which she did not want since he was not wearing a condom … she therefore tried to turn her hips and squeeze her legs together in order to avoid a penetration … [she] tried several times to reach for a condom, which Assange had stopped her from doing by holding her arms and bending her legs open and trying to penetrate her with his penis without using a condom. [She] says that she felt about to cry since she was held down and could not reach a condom and felt this could end badly.”
As in the case of the first incident, Emmerson argues that subsequent consent renders the entire encounter consensual, and legal.
While Emmerson was not vouching for the accuracy of these accounts but merely offering them as summaries of the charges against his client, his introductory statement, excerpted above, was striking in its tone and approach:
“Nothing I say should be taken as denigrating the complainants, the genuineness of their feelings of regret, to trivialise their experience or to challenge whether they felt Assange’s conduct was disrespectful, discourteous, disturbing or even pushing at the boundaries of what they felt comfortable with.”
At a minimum, such language would seem to preclude two of the defenses that have previously been offered by Assange defenders — that the complainants were merely spurned lovers or government plants concocting fantastical stories for their own purposes.
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Selected previous Assange coverage:
- Guilt, Innocence, and Justice in the Julian Assange Case
- Assange Accuser’s Only Interview Mostly Ignored By US/UK Media
- First Thoughts on Naomi Wolf’s BBC Interview
- Why Naming Names is a Problem Even When the Names Have Been Named
- Naomi Wolf Still Peddling Falsehoods About Assange Assault Case
Note | This post has been edited to further clarify the distinction between Emmerson’s own descriptions of Assange’s behavior and his summaries of the allegations against his client. The core arguments of the piece remain unchanged.