Julian Assange is probably a dirtbag, but how far do we go in calling him a sex offender? That's the question posed by Katrin Bennhold in a column in today's New York Times. “It cheapens rape,” she quotes a friend of hers as saying. “He sounds really sleazy,” said another friend, “but not exactly like a rapist.” The controversy reflects confusion over what exactly is rape and sexual assault: "In this world," Bennhold writes, "as long as the woman is passive, she is consenting."
“Rape is messy. It’s rarely straightforward," says an expert on child and women abuse. In most of Europe, force is a defining aspect of rape, but in 2003, the European Court of Human Rights changed that emphasis to "nonconsent." In Britain, nonconsent is already the law. In Sweden, where Assange is wanted for questioning, the law is somewhere between—the victim must be able to give consent, ie not be sleeping or intoxicated.