Daily Telegraph, 20 November 2019
Very few rape allegations are ever reported to the police. Women who decide to go to the authorities find themselves facing lengthy delays and the possibility – some would say probability, judging by the statistics – that the case will never come to trial. Investigations lasting a year or more are not unusual, but few complainants have had to wait as long for a decision as the woman who accused the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, of rape in 2010.
This saga now appears to have come to a messy and unsatisfactory conclusion, with Swedish prosecutors announcing that the investigation has been dropped after a review of the evidence. They said the decision had been taken because the evidence had ‘weakened’ due to the long period which had elapsed since the original allegation.
The country’s deputy chief prosecutor, Eve-Marie Persson, made a separate statement, describing the complainant’s version of events as ‘credible and reliable’. But she acknowledged that witnesses’ memories had faded over time, saying she had concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to bring charges.
Ms Persson left open the possibility of an appeal against the decision to Sweden’s attorney general, a move that would require almost superhuman courage on the part of the complainant. Assange’s supporters immediately hailed the decision as a vindication, wrongly claiming it proved that the allegation was baseless and reviving conspiracy theories about the woman’s motivation.
They have always maintained that the rape accusation was a pretext to get Assange to return to Sweden so he could be extradited to the US on unrelated charges of computer hacking. There has always been a major flaw in this argument, given that it’s actually easier to extradite someone from the UK than from Sweden. Indeed Assange is currently the subject of extradition proceedings in the British courts, having never set foot in Sweden since he reneged on a promise in 2010 to return and submit to questioning in relation to allegations of sexual offences involving two women. Inquiries into the second woman’s accusations were dropped in 2015 due to the statute of limitations on lesser offences.
Not for the first time, it needs to be pointed out that a decision not to prosecute is not the same as an acquittal – and it certainly doesn’t justify casting aspersions on the accuser’s motives. On the contrary, this outcome is as almost as unsatisfactory for Assange as it is for the complainant, leaving him open to the accusation – quickly made on Twitter by the legal commentator David Allen Green – that he ‘has successfully waited out the investigation’.
There is only one reason why this matter has dragged on for almost a decade, and that is Assange’s refusal to cooperate with a perfectly legitimate investigation by the Swedish authorities. No one is above the law, no matter how much they have been lionised by a slew of celebrities. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Assange challenged the European arrest warrant issued by Sweden in the British courts – and lost at every level.
He then became a fugitive from justice, taking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012. The Swedish authorities did their best to investigate the allegations against Assange in very difficult circumstances, finally calling a halt to the rape inquiry in 2017. They reopened it in May this year when the Ecuadorean government withdrew Assange’s asylum status, leading to his immediate arrest. He is currently in Belmarsh prison, serving a 50-week sentence for breaching his bail conditions, and fighting extradition to the US.
This near-farcical series of events is often discussed as though it concerns only one person, characterised as a heroic and persecuted seeker after truth. The woman in the case has become collateral damage, the ordeal she has endured almost entirely dismissed and her right to anonymity breached by some of Assange’s supporters.
No one makes an allegation of rape lightly. Women rightly fear that their reputations will be shredded, although few have ever had to put up with smears to the effect that they are pawns in a US-inspired conspiracy. Today’s news was greeted on the website of RT, the TV station funded by the Russian government, as evidence that Swedish prosecutors had thrown in the towel, ‘having successfully fulfilled their role in the years-long scheme to put Assange behind bars’.
Such jibes are demeaning to women, who are never allowed to be independent actors in their own story. It’s even harder to stomach in the era of #MeToo, which is supposed to have ensured that women who make allegations of sexual misconduct at least get a fair hearing. But if there’s one thing that feminists have learned to our cost, it’s that there are no limits to the willingness of left-leaning men to throw women under a bus.
There is an old saying, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Whatever happens to the WikiLeaks founder in the entirely separate extradition proceedings brought by the American government, one thing is clear. He does not emerge with credit from a case that could have been disposed of years ago if he had only kept his promise to return to Sweden and cooperate with the investigation.