This is the second in a series of posts about the misleading, uninformed, and downright silly things some Assange supporters are saying about the rape charges over which he is facing extradition to Sweden.
Part 2: The women didn’t cry rape until they found out Assange wasn’t exclusive!!!
The basis of this argument is that neither of Assange’s accusers went to the police until they’d met and compared notes. It’s somehow presumed to follow from this that their “real” motive was jealousy. This is, at best, a nonsequitur. It’s also not entirely compatible with the idea that they went to the police to have Assange coerced into an HIV test or the argument that one of the women is working on behalf of the CIA, but let’s take it on its own merits for now.
What’s not in dispute (note that this doesn’t mean this information is accurate)? Neither woman immediately went to police after the events about which Assange is wanted for questioning. The women spoke to each other and were aware that Assange had had sex with both of them at the time they went to the police together.
What is in dispute? Whether this information has any value in determining whether the women experienced what the charges say they experienced. A reminder:
She said the first complainant, Miss A, said she was victim of “unlawful
coercion” on the night of 14 August in Stockholm.
The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.
The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.
The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on 18 August “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”.
The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.
In order for the women’s behavior to tell us anything, it should be something that is common in women who are not rape victims but uncommon among women who have been raped. (Information about male rape survivors is thin and complicated by a much stronger reluctance to report, even in surveys.) By that standard, nonreporting of rape is a worthless indicator.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that the majority of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against women and girls in the United States between 1992 and 2000 were not reported to the police. Only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported. 
Reasons for not reporting assault vary among individuals, but one study identified the following as common: 
- Self-blame or guilt.
- Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter.
- Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions.
- Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime.
- Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
Let us note that reasons three and four for not reporting, if they played any part in the decisions of Assange’s accusers, would seem to have been fully justified in this case.
From the same source, it’s also not uncommon for people who don’t report their sexual assaults to discuss what happened with others.
In the NIJ funded Sexual Assault Among Latinas Study (SALAS), it was found that victims did not commonly seek help from the criminal justice system, but did seek informal sources of help such as family and friends. However, one third of the women included in the study did not report their victimization to anyone.
The question of how common it is for victims to press charges when they discover they are not alone in their victimhood is trickier. Despite rape being as common as it is, it often leaves its victims feeling alone, separated by shame and denial from the rest of the world. These feelings are strong enough to keep some women from seeking any kind of formal support after their trauma (and with reason). On the other hand, we know that people with social support (friends, family, and acquaintances who believe them and don’t blame them for the assault) are more likely to report and prosecute rapes.
Preventing other rapes is one reason presented to rape victims for reporting, and given some similarities between rape victims and domestic assault victims in reasons for not reporting their assaults, we can make some arguments why it might be an effective one. Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with domestic violence is familiar with the explanations offered by the offender: “I’m so sorry, honey. I can’t believe I did that. I just got carried away. It will never happen again.”
There are similar statements made in the case of rape. “You were so sexy. I just got carried away. It will never happen again.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t think you meant it. It will never happen again” In every case, either stated or implicit is the idea that this was a one-time offense, that it will not reoccur. We know that believing that the offender will change makes a difference in the behavior of victims of domestic assault. It isn’t a stretch to posit that it will do the same in rape victims. Knowing that your assailant has raped someone else makes it much easier to understand that none of the fault for the rape was yours, and preventing someone else from being raped can provide the motivation to deal with your fear of the process of reporting a rape when you don’t feel a prosecution can otherwise help you.
To bring this back to the Assange case and summarize briefly, the behavior of his accusers in speaking to each other before going to the police is hardly something that can only be accounted for by a conspiracy of sexual jealousy and revenge. Their behavior isn’t unusual within the context of rape victims, and it’s consistent with what we know about rape, assault, and reporting.
Does that mean that Assange is guilty? Oh, go read. Don’t bother to comment here until you have.
What it does mean is that nothing about the validity of the charges Assange is facing can be determined from the behavior of the women involved. As an argument, this needs to be dropped.