Julian Assange & 'Sex by Surprise': Is It Rape?

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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Julian Assange -- the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks -- is in a heap of trouble and the charges against him might not be bogus after all.

At first glance, Assange's rape case seems fishy. Just weeks after his website leaks documents that embarrass almost every government in the world on some level, he is arrested in the UK for sexual assault in Sweden and held without bail.

And although the details of the alleged assaults are hard to find, it's clear that there are at least three incidents, one of which is "sex by surprise," also known as consensual sex on the condition that a condom is worn. When Assange didn't wear one, the "sex" became rape, at least according to Swedish law.

But is that "real rape"?

It doesn't seem like that is up for us to decide.

There are false accusations of rape, sure, but the statement from Swedish authorities says that Assange is accused, in addition to the "sex by surprise," of holding one woman down with his body weight and assaulting her. He's also accused of having sex with a sleeping woman without consent. This makes the word "rape" seem pretty close to accurate.

When we, as women, sit around trying to define what rape is, we make it much more subjective than it needs to be. Rape is rape, right? But what if you know the guy? What if you consented to everything but? What if he touched your left breast when you only consented to the right one?

See how it can quickly become gray?

And "sex by surprise" is a gray area. She consented to sex, but not to bareback sex. And there is a difference. When a woman says yes with a condom, she expects her partner to respect her enough to wear one. It's undoubtedly a violation of her trust and the consent to disrespect her wishes so blatantly. So is it rape? Maybe not. But it IS wrong and should be treated as such.

In our rush to defend WikiLeaks, maybe many bloggers have done a great disservice to women. Because when we sit around saying things like, it wasn't "rape-rape" (Whoopi Goldberg defending Roman Polanski on the View), then we discredit all rape victims a little. 

None of us were there the night Assange had sex with these women. None of us can say whether these charges are complete fabrications or true or somewhere in between. But we can avoid making snap judgements and trying to define "rape-rape" before the actual court does so.

Do you think "sex by surprise" is rape?

 

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