James Joyner explains the charges:
[Julian] Assange had consensual sex with two women, unbeknownst to one another, who were friends. They had hurt feelings afterwards and confided to a female police officer that Assange had engaged in sex with one of them without a condom, having worn a condom the night before. In the case of the second woman, Assange’s condom broke but he continued to climax, anyway.
Jill Filipovic, a lawyer at Feministe, provides context:
Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape. That may not sound entirely familiar to Americans, since the United States has relatively regressive rape laws; in most states, there’s a requirement of force in order to prove rape, rather than just demonstrating lack of consent. Consent is more often used as a defense to a rape charge, and it’s hard to convict someone of rape based solely on non-consent. Some states, like New York, have rape laws on the books which include “no means no” provisions for intercourse basically, if a reasonable person would have understood that the sex was not consensual, then that’s rape. It seems obvious enough, but those laws are not used nearly as often as forcible-rape laws; they aren’t on the books in many states, and they’re difficult to enforce even where they are.
The amount I value WikiLeaks’s work (quite a bit) is not a factor in what I may come to think, when all is said and done, about the credibility of two women in Swedenthey are separate issues. Assange has denied the charges, and the story is, to say the least, complicated. But I’ll confess that I bristle (perhaps reflexively) when people talk about “real” as opposed to supposedly non-real rape. One’s politics, film-making abilities, or the sports team one plays for should not be a factor in deciding if one is innocent of sex-crime charges. Or in deciding that one is guilty: If the Swedish prosecution is distorted by politics or American pressure, that is very bad, too. But Assange doesn’t get a pass just for being Assange.
To be fair, Palin did say that Assange should be "pursued with the same urgency" as [Osama bin Laden]. So if she meant Assange should be "fruitlessly hunted for nine years without success," then yes, Assange did misquote her.