There's a fair amount of mystery swirling around the recent rape charges brought against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, but what is known with relatively certainty is this: In both instances, he had what began as consensual sex with a women on the condition that he wear a condom. In one case, it sounds like he told the woman he would wear a condom but removed it; in the second, that he wore a condom but it broke and refused to stop having sex with the woman when she asked him to.

In Sweden, as in the US, withdrawal of consent is grounds for charges of rape. Consent to sex does not imply permanent consent; you don't have to keep having sex if he does something that makes you uncomfortable, or if you're in pain, or if the condom breaks, or if he refuses to wear a condom, or for any reason. You have the right to say no. If you tell the person you're having sex with to stop, and they continue against your wishes, that's rape. (In Sweden, incidentally, a crime that's only subject to a potential fine of about $700).

It's not just common sense; it's the law.

Unfortunately, some folks have trouble grasping that concept. Instead, they've decided the charges are trumped-up attempts to shut Wikileaks down; an effort to get attention by smearing a high-profile man; an after-the-fact show of regret by two women who wanted it (one of them was even seen "acting normally" the next morning!); or a silly overreaction to what some are actually calling "sex by surprise." Some have even resorted to slut-shaming the women, noting, for example, that one was "an attractive blonde" who "dressed to catch his eye, in a shocking-pink cashmere jumper," as if any of that had anything to do with the women's claims that they began having consensual sex with Assange that later became nonconsensual.

Some typical reactions:

Gizmodo:
According to the New York Times, friends of the woman say that he did not comply with her appeals to stop unless he wore a condom. They had sex anyway. Assange claims that she didn't force her in any case. ... [I]f having sex with a broken condom is a payable offense, most people on Earth should pay a fine. And if he was asked to wear a condom by the second woman and, after he didn't comply, both had sex anyway, both of them should be accused of being stupid for risking an infection.

Washington's Blog:
So Assange might be a cad for sleeping with 2 women within a couple of days, and he might be irresponsible for having sex without a condom and then failing to submit to HIV tests afterwards.

But he has not been accused of rape under any traditional meaning of that term.

Counterpunch:
This latest adventure is the stuff of pulp fiction, and chock full of Langley spies, computer hackers, crazy feminists, flatfooted cops and sleazy rags in the female kingdom of Sweden! ...

Sweden is tailor-made for sending a young man into a honey trap. Sweden has particularly thorny anti-rape legislation, where a conviction might be secured from something as thin as an anonymous accuser’s allegation. [...]

In order to frame Julian in Singapore, they would have to fit him up with drugs. To frame Julian in England, they might have to report he had skinned and roasted cats or at least dumped a kitten in a trash bin. To hang a frame on Julian in Sweden only required reporting sex between consenting adults.

Political Pundits UK:
You may call me Sherlock Holmes but the likelihood of two women, coincidentally bumping in to each other, coincidentally having been raped by the same man and coincidentally mentioning it to each other in conversation appears to be a far fetched story. Or, utter lies.

Regardless of how innocent Julian Assange is, regardless of how much evidence there is that he is innocent, the damage has already been done. The average Charlie tends not to question things, in fact, most don’t even bother to go beyond headlines. So, to the average person, Julian Assange is a molesting rapist. Damage, done and dusted.

So, to recap: "Having sex" without a condom is always OK, even if the woman asks the man repeatedly to stop; withdrawing consent and saying "stop" do not fall under the "traditional definition of rape," and so should not be prosecuted; women who accuse men of rape are attempting to set them up; and the fact that Assange is a hero to some means that anyone who accuses him of anything is a liar. (Obviously, this is exactly the reason you would make a false rape accusation: To be dragged through the mud by the international media.)

I'm not saying I know whether Assange raped these two women (although false accusations of rape are extremely rare, due in large part to the fact that women who accuse men, especially high-profile men, of rape are so frequently dragged through the mud). What I'm saying is that absolving him without the facts in hand is just as bad as convicting him without the facts. It is the obligation of the accused to face his accuser in court. By avoiding the country, Assange is making a mockery of that obligation.