- Associated Press - Sunday, December 12, 2010

STOCKHOLM | A starry-eyed admirer was flattered to be invited to dinner with a man she considered a champion of free speech. Another woman supported the cause by lending her apartment to the same man, then returned early from her trip.

Both encounters resulted in sex. Now, after unleashing an unprecedented trove of U.S. government secrets, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is behind bars to answer questions about whether his conduct amounted to rape under Sweden’s unusually broad definition.

Sweden prides itself on gender equality and fairness, a tradition underpinning an interpretation of rape that often requires only a low level of coercion. A minor threat or force, such as pulling an arm, can be enough to result in charges. Sex with a person who is unconscious, drunk or asleep can be classed as rape.

Between heavily redacted Swedish police reports and details revealed Tuesday in a British court, a picture is emerging in which flirtation led to sex before the WikiLeaks founder allegedly crossed the line by refusing to use a condom and by having unprotected sex while a woman was asleep. The women’s names are redacted in the court documents, and the Associated Press does not normally identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Mr. Assange denies his actions amounted to rape, and his lawyers call the charges politically motivated. Under police questioning in Sweden on Aug. 30 about one of the accusations, the 39-year-old Australian confirmed the general outlines of the woman’s story but appeared in the heavily redacted transcript to insist that all of the sexual contact was consensual.

One of the women said in her statement to police that she was obsessed with meeting the tall, wiry man she had come to see as a hero of free speech — “interesting, brave and admirable.”

For two weeks after seeing an Assange TV interview, the 27-year-old woman devoured news reports about him. Then one night, she Googled his name and learned he was giving a lecture in Sweden on Aug. 14.

The woman contacted the organizers and offered to do chores if she were allowed to attend. She turned up in a bright pink sweater and sat in the front row — looking out of place amid a sea of journalists in somber suits. The ice was broken when she agreed to buy a cable for Mr. Assange’s computer.

She was invited to a post-lecture dinner, she said, and seated next to Mr. Assange. They flirted, she told police: At one point Mr. Assange hand-fed her cheese and bread. The police report says she found it “flattering.”

She and Mr. Assange went to the movies, where she said they kissed. Two days later, she brought him home.

But by then, she told police, “the passion and excitement had disappeared.”

On the train ride to her place, she said, Mr. Assange logged on to his computer and started reading about himself on Twitter. “He paid more attention to the computer than to her,” the report said.

They got to her apartment at midnight — and what happened next “felt very dull and boring,” she told police. She later alleged, according to a British lawyer, that Mr. Assange pinned her down and refused to wear a condom.

The other woman’s tale also emerges as one of casual, uninspired intimacy.

The 31-year-old, a feminist scholar who was working for the organization that hosted Mr. Assange’s Aug. 14 lecture, let him use her apartment while she was away on a trip. But she returned early, on the eve of his lecture, and the two agreed he could stay.

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