01/03/2011 08:02 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jessica Valenti: Even progressive heroes can rape

Ever since sexual assault allegations surfaced against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Wikileaks supporters, many who consider themselves "progressive," "liberal," pro-women's rights," "anti-rape," etc. have rallied behind Assange. Many supporters claim Assange was being set-up by his enemies. Feminist Naomi Wolf blatantly discredited the alleged victims' stories while documentary filmmaker Michael Moore called the allegations "hooey." Even MSNBC host Keith Olbermann laughed off the allegations. Blogger Sady Doyle called these progressive heroes out on their ignorance. Moore eventually responded. Wolf still can't separate the facts from her own ideology. Olbermann on the other hand barely apologized. Had it not been Doyle, Jaclyn Friedman,'s Kate Harding, and countless activists at the Twitter hashtag #MooreandMe, raising awareness about the realities of rape survivors would go unnoticed.

I caught up with Valenti and we discussed briefly how and why progressives should support Wikileaks and a fair investigation/trial for the alleged victims as well as Assange.

A lot has been said about the sexual assault charges against Julian Assange. Why are many progressives rallying to the defense of Julian Assange as opposed to the alleged victims?

I think as a culture we tend to think of rapists as obvious bad guys - like a scary man jumping out of the bushes. When it comes to those on the Left, the same is true - people don't want to believe that one of their progressive heroes could ever do something so terrible. But someone can be a great guy when it comes to politics and still be a rapist. It's not a zero sum game. As for the alleged victims; victim-blaming has always been around and I don't think that progressives are immune to it.

What have been the worst examples so far where the alleged victims have been discredited by Assange supporters, the media, progressives, etc.?

I don't think I can bring myself to list the worst! But obviously there's a lot of lying about the women going on - something that's par for the course in rape cases.

What's also bothered me is the continued misrepresentation of the allegations against Assange (oh, it was just a broken condom!) and the rape laws in Sweden.

I've heard from some progressive-minded Assange supporters that the timing of Assange's rape charges make this case suspect. Why is that faulty logic and why is that not an excuse for Assange's alleged behavior?

There's no doubt that the timing of the charges is politically motivated - but that doesn't have anything to do with the veracity of the women's claims. The women brought their charges forward in August; they have nothing to do with when Sweden decided to act on them.

Is it conceivable that the government is using sexual violence charges as well as the alleged victims as a cover-up to go after someone Assange? I personally find that hard to believe because I've learned that false sexual assault charges against the accused are rare. Even rarer are those who lie and stick to their stories. Your response?

I think if someone wanted to create a cover-up, rape charges would be the dumbest way to go! They're notoriously hard to prosecute. If someone wanted to frame Assange, there are much easier ways to do it.

Assange supporters like Naomi Wolf, Michael Moore, and Keith Olbermann have been heavily criticized for their support of Assange and their dismissal of the alleged rape victims. One person who seems to be flying under the radar is Naomi Klein. Recently, Klein tweeted that "Rape is being used in the #Assange prosecution in the same way that women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up! #wikilieaks" How serious is this claim? How does it hurt the alleged victims case and how does that comment compromise sexual assault awareness?

I don't think Klein's tweet was wrong, or that it called into question the women's claims. Yes, women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan - but that didn't mean that women's freedom wasn't a real issue, it was!

Last question: The sexual assault charges against Julian Assange may be a teachable moment in promoting rape awareness. What are the most important things people should take from this case in relation to sexual assault awareness and what many alleged victims face?

I think this case goes to show how far we have to go, culturally and legislatively, in battling rape culture. The victim-blaming, the smearing and the dismissiveness really shine a light on how backwards our thinking on rape is.

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Jessica Valenti (via Google Pics)