Naomi Wolf responds: Case against Assange is “an insult to rape victims worldwide”

Last week, Lori did a nice roundup of responses to the rape accusations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange—including feminist Naomi Wolf’s “pretty embarrassing defense” of Assange from prosecution by the Interpol “dating police.”

Today Assange was granted bail and released to “mansion arrest.” And yesterday Wolf wrote a second piece accusing Sweden, Britain, and Interpol of insulting rape victims worldwide by pursuing the case against him.

“In other words: never in twenty-three years of reporting on and supporting victims of sexual assault around the world have I ever heard of a case of a man sought by two nations, and held in solitary confinement without bail in advance of being questioned — for any alleged rape, even the most brutal or easily proven. In terms of a case involving the kinds of ambiguities and complexities of the alleged victims’ complaints — sex that began consensually that allegedly became non-consensual when dispute arose around a condom — please find me, anywhere in the world, another man in prison today without bail on charges of anything comparable.

Of course ‘No means No’, even after consent has been given, whether you are male or female; and of course condoms should always be used if agreed upon. As my fifteen-year-old would say: Duh.

But for all the tens of thousands of women who have been kidnapped and raped, raped at gunpoint, gang-raped, raped with sharp objects, beaten and raped, raped as children, raped by acquaintances — who are still awaiting the least whisper of justice — the highly unusual reaction of Sweden and Britain to this situation is a slap in the face.”

Since it’s unclear that Wolf actually reads the internet, perhaps this follow-up isn’t a response to all the feminist flak she got for her original piece. But if it is, she completely missed the point. There is very little disagreement that Interpol’s aggressive pursuit of Assange is politically motivated. Even a casual observer—without Wolf’s 23 years of experience—can see that.

And yet it’s entirely possible to believe that and still avoid acting like an anti-feminist asshole! It’s possible to point out that rape accusations are rarely taken seriously when the accused isn’t an internationally wanted man, without automatically dismissing the charges as “personal injured feelings.” It’s possible to lament the lack of justice for the many other victims of sexual assault, without assuming that the accusers in this case are lying. As Jill at Feministe said, “we can chew gum and walk at the same time.”

I understand Wolf’s frustration, I do. Women are raped all over the world every single day and no one gives a damn. As another prominent Naomi tweeted about the case: “Rape is being used in the Assange prosecution in the same way that women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan.” And that cynical use of feminism does totally suck for actual feminists who cared about Afghan women’s rights before it became a convenient excuse to go to war—or feminists who have spent years fighting for justice for all victims of sexual violence. We should certainly point out—and condemn—the fact that women’s rights are too often only valued when it’s politically expedient.

But it’s just embarrassing that a woman who spent much of the follow-up article touting her feminist credentials—her decades of work with rape victims, her years of experience reporting on sexual assault cases—could write that original piece and not check herself when she started to sound like a victim-blaming, rape-apologist cliché. And it’s frankly astounding that she could fail to recognize that maybe—just maybe—there’s a connection between articles like that and the worldwide disregard for rape victims she so forcefully condemns in her follow-up.

Apparently, she didn’t get the memo that how we talk about rape in the media actually, you know, matters.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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