Back in August 2010, a newly-famous Julian Assange touched down in Sweden on a ten-day visit to promote and raise money for his suddenly modish non-profit outfit, Wikileaks.
At 39, the eccentric former computer hacker might not have been exactly young. But he was very much free and single, having recently started to discover the romantic perks that his rock-star status could afford.
Weeks earlier, Assange had collaborated with a number of news outlets to publish the first tranche of more than 400,000 leaked military and diplomatic cables, detailing years’ worth of US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The coup had turned this socially-awkward Australian into a sort of a folk hero among liberals, rendering him irresistible to a certain demographic of Left-leaning young women. And Assange seemed happy to take full advantage.
Julian Assange delivers a Wikileaks seminar in Sweden in 2010 while Miss W (foreground with glasses) sits in the audience
On his very first night in Stockholm, he attempted to seduce the English girlfriend of an American journalist who’d been invited to dine with Wikileaks activists at a Lebanese restaurant called Beirut.
Over the course of the ensuing seven days, Assange would enjoy two further romantic forays, seducing a pair of young women in turn, both of whom would walk into police stations days later to accuse him of sex crimes.
Each of the two, Miss A and Miss W complained that initially consensual encounters with him had suddenly turned darker, ending in them being forced into unprotected sex in circumstances they found uncomfortable.
Their testimony set in train a series of events that would see Assange spend the next two years in British courts, fighting extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning, followed by another seven hiding inside London’s Ecuadorean Embassy.
Assange, who has always protested his innocence, variously accused the two women of being ‘notorious radical feminists’ who had ‘got into a tizzy’. So who are they and what were the disputed events that spawned their now-notorious complaints?
Miss A (pictured) is an experienced political activist and equal rights campaigner
Miss A is an experienced political activist and equal rights campaigner. In her early 30s at the time of the alleged incidents, she was involved in inviting Assange to attend a seminar entitled ‘How Truth is the First Victim of War’ and hosted by the Christian wing of Sweden’s Social Democratic party.
Planning to be out of town visiting family when he arrived mid-week she generously offered him use of her flat in Sodermalm, Stockholm. Assange, who often dossed down on the sofas of supporters, accepted.
On Friday August 13, she returned to town and went out for dinner with Assange, before returning to the one-bedroom property where they were both to spend the night before the seminar. Her statement to police alleges they then sat down to drink tea. It was at this point he began stroking her legs. They embraced, after which he began pulling off her clothes.
Miss A’s statement claims she initially attempted to put clothes back on, because the situation was ‘going too quickly’ for her liking. But she says that Assange ‘ripped them off again’, breaking a necklace in the process.
After deciding to consent to sex, she then attempted to reach for a condom. However Assange held her arms and pinned her legs to prevent her grabbing it, the statement claims.
Eventually, he agreed to wear protection. However during the ensuing moments, she felt him ‘do something’ to it with his hands. It was only afterwards that she realised it had been torn. She believes deliberately.
Despite her experience, Assange’s host allowed him to remain in her flat for much of the remainder of his visit. Some nights, she decamped to a friend’s. On others, she slept on a mattress. She alleged to police that Assange continued to make advances towards her every day.
Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court after being arrested and forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy earlier this week
On Wednesday August 18, she alleged he’d approached her, naked from the waist down, and rubbed himself against her.
The arrest warrant subsequently prepared by Swedish police lists three specific allegations against Assange, which contributed to a charge of sexual assault against Miss A.
The first is of ‘unlawful coercion’ – meaning he took a consensual encounter too far. The second is he deliberately broke a condom during sex after she insisted he use one. Thirdly, he was accused of having ‘deliberately molested her’ days later.
Assange has of course never allowed himself to face these allegations in a Swedish court, and the crime has a five-year statute of limitations which passed in 2015, meaning he’s unlikely to face trial for it.
However, writing about Miss A’s claims several years later, he declared their night together was ‘unremarkable’. He added ‘she seemed totally happy’ at a party the next day. Photos of them together at the event have been published by supporters of Assange, who believe they undermine Miss A’s claims.
That day was also when Miss W came into the picture, meeting the Wikileaks founder at the aforementioned seminar. She would later tell police how she had become fascinated with Assange, a man she considered ‘brave and admirable’. She spent weeks reading about him, before apparently obtaining a press pass to the event as a photographer.
Dressing to catch his eye, she chose a shocking-pink jumper and sat in the front row. Assange, dressed in grey jeans and a suit jacket, spoke for 90 minutes.
What then unfolded has been compared to the meeting of a groupie and a pop icon. Waiting outside the venue to meet her idol, Miss W approached a member of his entourage, who invited her to join them for lunch at a local eatery called Bistro Boheme. There she struck up conversation with Assange who invited her to spend the afternoon with him.
After a short walk, she told police, they’d decided to visit a cinema. Watching the film did not appear to be on Assange’s mind: he’d instead spent his time kissing her and putting his hands inside her clothing. Walking in a park afterwards, he’s said to have declared ‘you are very attractive to me’. When they parted, the duo swapped numbers.
They didn’t speak again until Monday, 48 hours later, when Assange agreed to meet her in the evening and suggested they spend the night at her flat.
Miss W wanted to go to a hotel, but he insisted on coming to her home, in the city of Enkoping a 50-mile train ride away. Star-struck, she bought his £10 train ticket because he had no cash (and said he didn’t want to use his credit card in case his movement was being tracked).
At Miss W’s home, she told police, they moved to the bedroom and started to have sex. However Assange did not want to wear a condom, causing her to move away because she had not wanted unprotected intercourse. The Wikileaks founder had then lost interest, she alleged, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had consensual sex when ‘he agreed unwillingly to use a condom’.
Early the next morning, things took an ugly turn: Miss W says she went to buy breakfast before returning to bed and falling asleep beside Assange. She had awoken to find him on top of her, having sex.
And when she asked if he was wearing a condom, he said no. Miss W’s police statement claimed she responded ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not.’
In Sweden, having sex with an unconscious, drunk or sleeping person can lead to a rape conviction punishable by up to six years in prison. This crime has a ten-year statute of limitations, meaning Miss W’s allegations could still see him facing trial. Assange has vigorously denied they had unconsensual sex.
When details of her police complaint leaked several years ago, he wrote that their encounter had ended amicably: She had kissed him on the cheek and asked him to call soon. However like many a sexual predator, Assange of course didn’t call.
A few days later, things escalated in the most unlikely fashion: Miss W called the office of Miss A, whom she had briefly met at the seminar, to discuss future political collaborations. In the course of their conversation, the duo realised to their anger that they had both fallen victim to Assange’s charm, within a few days of each other.
After a brief discussion, they agreed to contact Assange and asked him to take a test for STDs. However, for reasons that are unclear, he refused.
Miss W seemed especially anxious about the possibility of HIV and pregnancy. Miss A recalled her being deeply upset.
It was in this febrile state the two women, who had previously barely known each other, decided to take a momentous step which would have ramifications few could have predicted – a few days later, they walked into a police station, and sat down to tell their stories.