Thank you to Bug Girl for suggesting this. If you are a survivor and wish to have your name added to this letter, let me know, either in the comments or by email (see the sidebar for my address). If you wish, you may reprint this letter in full elsewhere, as long as you link back to this post for the full list of those who have signed.
If you need background on this, try this post. If you want to argue about this, and you are not Richard Dawkins, go there or get your own blog. Comments here will be moderated as I see fit.
At your request, we write to you to tell you what it is that you do not understand about elevators, invitations, and sexual assault. Who are we, and why are we in any position to tell you anything? We are atheists and skeptics, but more relevantly, we are victims of sexual assault.
There are two important things to note about Rebecca Watson’s experience. The first is that she had spent much of her evening telling the people around her, “Please don’t hit on me,” and finished by saying she was done talking and wanted sleep. This was ignored by the man now widely referred to as Elevator Guy. (Yes, it’s been established that he was in a position to hear her. Yes, it’s been established that he followed her out of the space in which she’d been saying this and got on the elevator with her.)
She had said, by unequivocal implication, “No.” He ignored this and did what he wanted to. This is important.
The second important thing to know is that her response was to say publicly, one more time, “Please don’t do that. It makes me uncomfortable.” That’s it. That was her entire response to Elevator Guy beyond telling him she wouldn’t go to his room.
For that response, Rebecca came under considerable fire. This is also important.
The entire drama-filled discussion came about because Rebecca asserted her right and the right of other women to say, “No,” and be heard. It happened because she asserted that men, as well as women, have a role to play in maintaining that right.
Then you spoke. Then you, widely regarded as one of atheism’s leaders, one of the Four Horsemen, decided you needed to say something about this.
You didn’t have to do that. If you felt, as your comments seem to indicate, that too much attention was being paid to this event, you could have simply declined to add yours.
However, that wasn’t what you did. Instead, you said that Rebecca, who was voicing our concerns, was thereby telling other women with other concerns that they were whining. Or perhaps that the rest of us who supported Rebecca when she was criticized for expressing her preferences were accusing these women of whining.
Even if you had stopped there, this would merit an apology. Not only has Rebecca spoken out loudly against female genital mutilation (drawing the ire of those who told her she wasn’t paying enough attention to the boys) and other religion-driven wrongs against women and girls, but her demand that women’s self-determination be respected is exactly what needs to spread in order to prevent the ills you mention. If this is an issue you care about, instead of a distraction from Rebecca’s point, you should be thanking her for her work instead of emphasizing the “chick” in the name of her organization, diminishing her stature.
Then, in response to complaints about that, you told us all that what happened to Rebecca–having her clearly and repeatedly expressed preferences about being hit on ignored–was “zero bad.” It should be clear by now why that requires a correction from you. It also calls for another apology, whether or not you knew the facts above when you wrote your comment. If you didn’t know, you weren’t in any state to lend your position and reputation to any characterization of what happened, much less the mischaracterization you used.
That is where you injured us, the victims. You have made one more space blatantly unsafe to us. We don’t mean safe as in free from any kind of sexual interest. We’re not asking for that, and we don’t want it. We mean that you, a leader in our community, made free with a woman’s experience and rewrote it to suit your own ends.
You decided you knew better than she did what had happened, and you were comfortable explaining it to everyone else. That is part of how communities are ruined and ultimately shaped to support sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. That is how offenders operate and how they are excused. That is how the world that hurt us was built. And you have added to that.
That is why you owe us an apology as much as you owe Rebecca. When may we expect it?
Stephanie Zvan, survivor of teen sexual assault
Bug Girl, survivor of a date rape in 1980
Abigail Marceluk Parker
Elyse Anders, rape survivor
Dana Hunter, raped at age 18
Megan Wells, survivor of teen sexual assault
Tracy Walker, raped at 15
Andrea Gatley, sexually assaulted at age 14. In an elevator in a hotel.
Debbie Hadley, lucky to have fought off two sexual assault attempts by men who didn’t believe no means no
Cori Frazer, survivor of childhood sexual abuse
Leilah Thiel, sexually assaulted at age 16
Helen Krummenacker, victim of repeated schoolground gropings
Edie Howe, assaulted at 7, 9, early teens, by both husbands, by strangers three times
BeardofPants, survivor child sexual abuse, age 7
Julia Heathcote, survivor of sexual assault by her PhD advisor
Rebecca Dominguez, survivor of sexual assault and date rape
Monado, survivor of groping (age 13), rape threats for refusing one of those innocent invitations to go for a ride (age 16), partner rape (age 35)
Doubting Thomas, gang raped at 18
Amanda W. Peet, date-raped at age 25
Alice, raped at 16, assaulted at 19
Susan Silberstein, survivor of husband and stranger rape
Stephanie Zierenberg, victim of acquaintance rape at 24
Lynn Wilhelm, date raped in the 80s
Robin Buckallew, victim of childhood sexual assault, age 7
Catherine Ann, date-raped at age 30
Shoshana Kane, biologist, atheist, skeptic, rape survivor
Solvei Blue, survivor of sexual assault at age 19
Dr Fiona Wallace MB BS(London), MA, assaulted age 14 when babysitting – by the child’s father
Nicole P., repeatedly raped by ex-fiance
Dorothy M., victim of kidnapping, assault and rape, daughter of a victim of child molestation, mother of a victim of date-rape
Sandy H., survivor of childhood sexual assault
Anne Marie Newman, victim of acquaintance rape, sexual assault by a “friend,” and sexual harassment at work
Alianna B., stalked and sexually harassed for 3 1/2 years
Calebandrew, rape at the age of 15
Catherine Schneider, sexually abused by father from birth to age 14; raped by teen boyfriend age 15-17; gang raped by acquaintances age 22
Skepticalbunny, date rape survivor in 1982
Emily Dale, raped at age 16
Professor Anonymous_Female_Voice_Specialist, BS, MA, first sexually assaulted at age 3 or 4 and several times thereafter, at various ages
Nichole Filbert, sexually assaulted and raped in the process of leaving abuser
Carolyn, raped on 30th birthday
Sarah Killcoyne, sexual assault survivor
Emily F, rape survivor
molested at age 9, groped on the bus at 14
Kate W., molested at age 14, groped by multiple strange men, assaulted at age 25
WMDKitty, survivor of domestic assault
Bethany Baker, sexually assaulted at age 14
Wilma Janssen, assaulted multiple times, first time at 17
Lee Ruby, survivor of childhood sexual abuse
ChristineCCR, raped, stalked, and sexually harassed
Jennifer Forester, raped by multiple partners
Lynne, raped and multiply assaulted
Cafegirl1995, raped at 13, assaulted at 14
Gwen Olson RN, sexually assaulted by a coworker
Lia C., molested at age 10, groped and ejaculated upon while riding the train at age 19, and date-raped at age 26
Katherine Ann B., survivor of multiple partner sexual assaults, two assaults by strangers, and kidnapping and assault by ex-partner
P. Adams, date raped at age 18
ephymeris, raped and molested repeatedly as a child, raped as a teen
CathyC, survivor of childhood sexual abuse and multiple sexual assaults
Sue Williams, date raped at 20, assaulted multiple times
Jennifer Haden, molested as a child and recently drugged and assaulted
Alexandra B, drug-raped at 18, other various sexual assaults
FranW, raped at age 25 by partner’s contrivance
Jafafa, sexual abuse victim ages 11-14
Mrs. Carol King, first sexual assault at age 7 with more following
StarsEnd42, sexually assaulted on very first date ever, sexually asaulted again at a conference
PixelFish, sexually harassed, verbally and physically, by fellow students and coworkers
Cripdyke, incestuous rape at age 10, domestic sexual assault ages 21-22
Rune C. Olwen, survivor of a Catholic abuse family and repeatedly attacked since;
one of the women who invented women self-defence
Whiteman, sexually abused by father from the ages of 12-15
Rebecca G., survivor of childhood molestation from 5-7, date rape at 16 and at 17, and sexual assault by a colleague in grad school
Nepenthe, repeated partner rape at age 20
Claire D, survivor of repeated and regular rape and gang rape between the ages of 12-15 and date rape at ages 16 and 18
Kate A., survived rape at 19 & multiple assaults
Jenny W, raped at age 14
Ellid, assaulted twice by her own husband in her own home
Sarah, survivor of molestation at 3 & 5, rape at 5, and threats of sexual assault from classmates from 8-17
Aimee McDowd, survived rape at 8, 12-13 repeated molestation and rape again at 15, escaped attempted abduction at 16
Can’tSayWho, raped by friend of 10 years
Kristin, survivor of sexual assault, age 4 and 20
Cynthia Wood, groped by a teacher at 12, raped by a boyfriend at 15
Kay, raped by a partner, groped countless times
Brigitte Hentschel, raped twice, once by a casual acquaintance, once by an ex-boyfriend; sexually harassed and groped countless times
Margaret L, sexually assaulted at 13, raped by a coworker at 22
Elizabeth C., molested as a child
Sarah Rean, molested from infancy, raped at age 18, and assaulted
Michelle, sexually abused by grandfather 4-12
Juliet, sexually assaulted at age 17
Rae, stalked by someone everyone insisted was harmless until he stabbed a stranger
Dr. Dory Green, sexually assaulted at 21 by a casual acquaintance in an encolsed space after politely turning down his advances
Jessa, drugged and raped at age 12
Tamsin, sexually harassed in elementary school with the help of a teacher
Alumiere Sg, sexually abused age 13 – 17, raped as an adult
Melissa Faulkner, sexually abused by stepfather for almost a year, age 12
mouthyb, BA, MFA, PhD (in progress), molested at age 9, raped multiple times
Allison, molested ages 13-14, raped at age 22
Sarah J., molested at age 7, assaulted in 2009
Rob, raped at ages 11-13 by a school official
Kathi, raped at age 12
Faith L., sexually assaulted at 11 and 12, raped at 16, assaulted at 18
Jane P., sexually abused at age 6, raped at 8 and 13
Marley, raped at age 16
Heidi H., raped age age 16
Anonymouse, sexually assaulted at age 17 and groped by a college professor age 18
Demetria, survivor of sexual assault July 10, 2009
Joey Nichole Thomas, survivor of child sexual abuse between the ages of 5 & 6
Ms. Lilithe, sexually assaulted at age 6
Melissa Gay, drugged and raped at age 18
Erica Nash, sexual assaulted by acquaintances and repeatedly raped by ex-boyfriend
KateSi, raped at 18; harassed, groped frequently even now
Grace Feldmann, survivor of attempted rape at age 17 and acquaintance rape–in hotel–at gunpoint age 18
Kendra, assault and rape survivor
G Davy, assaulted at 13