The Ogvorbis Boondoggle

A couple of days ago, I posted a piece thinking through what it means to provide a haven for rapists. Someone left this comment on the post. Pitters have poured massive amounts of time and energy into spreading this idea that it’s worth looking at in detail.

Of course, the burning issue is whether the support and protection of Ogvorbis, a confessed child rapist, here at FreeThoughtBlogs, makes some bloggers such as PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and you, “a haven for rapists”. This depends on what the likes of PZ means by “a haven for rapists”.

We know for sure that FTB most certainly is a “haven” for at least ONE rapist, and a couple of others who have been accused of rape. [Read more…]

A Haven for Rapists

There’s been some chatter about “a haven for rapists” lately. Even a demand that I say something about the topic. So here goes.

Picture of two rowboats in a small natural harbor.

Safe Haven” by Liam Moloney (CC BY-SA 2.0)

My first thoughts on “haven for rapists” is that, in order to know whether something is a haven or not, I would first have to know what such a haven looked like. So what is a haven? According to the several dictionaries I consulted on the matter, a haven is a place of safety.

In the current context, that’s probably worth emphasizing. A haven isn’t a gathering place or a hangout. It’s a place of refuge, originally a port, but now any shelter. It remains a haven whether it’s used or not.

This raises the question of what endangers rapists.* What would they, in particular, need to be safe from? [Read more…]

Dawkins Tries Again

First we had Dawkins trying to suppress the allegations against Michael Shermer by exerting his influence behind the scenes. Then we had him try to suggest that date rape isn’t so bad. Then we had him try to suggest that people who have been plied with alcohol by others remain responsible for…something (terrible analogy) and that feminists don’t respect women if they believe it’s possible to victimize them. Today, we have these:

As I pointed out to Dawkins on Twitter this morning, we have significantly more evidence against Shermer than that.* As I promised him, here is an enumerated list. [Read more…]

Dawkins Throws Himself on a Grenade

Last night, we saw the Shermer allegations hit the broader media. Knowing that the women whom Shermer had targeted were using their names in the article and having a pretty good idea what it said, I’d already written a post telling people who had previously dismissed these claims to think hard about their reactions to the article before going public with them. I read the Oppenheimer article to be certain it said what I thought it must, but my post went up within half an hour of the article.

I’m more than aware that Richard Dawkins has no obligation to read the free advice I give, much less take it, but I have to believe it would have been better if he had in this case. He and Twitter are not on good terms most of the time. This morning was particularly egregious. [Read more…]

After the Shermer Article: What Do You Decide?

An article has just been published on Buzzfeed about sexism in atheism and skepticism, the allegations against Michael Shermer, and the protection he’s received from some portions of the movement.

It isn’t as though this information is particularly new. Some of us have been talking about this problem for years. We’ve had details on Shermer’s behavior for more than a year at this point, and we’ve seen the responses to that as he has continued to make appearances at conferences and been added to secular think tanks.

This situation is new in some respects, however. These allegations have not just appeared in a blog. They’ve been public for more than a year in some cases, and with a New York Times columnist prepared to listen and take their claims seriously, these women have used their names. The journalist in question, Mark Oppenheimer, has a history of uncovering abuse in other communities, prompting reform.

That makes this yet one more important decision point for people in these movements. [Read more…]

I Believe You–It’s Not Your Fault

Lindy West was at Women in Secularism this year. I already knew she was funny, but meeting her confirmed it. Hearing her talk confirmed that she’s perceptive and thoughtful. Her new project, a blog called “I Believe You–It’s Not Your Fault” confirms that she is awesome.

The blog is already booked with stories for the next six months, but submit your story if you have one. She is particularly looking for stories that “nontraditional” abuse victims can recognize themselves in.

Sexual Assault Plus

I don’t usually do reposts so soon after the original publication. This was originally posted last fall, when Dawkins was talking about “mild pedophilia. He’s ranking rape again. It’s worth pointing out that Dawkins isn’t doing this because no one provided him with any better information. He’s been told this is inappropriate and why, in great detail.

Yesterday, Richard Dawkins issued an apology. In talking about his own sexual assault at a young age, he had generalized their experience from his. He was relatively unaffected by the experience and expressed his opinion that the same was true of “all of us”. He apologized for doing so.

Dawkins’ apology was very welcome, if incomplete, as was his admission that he should not speak to the experience of other victims of sexual assault. Alex has a pretty good take on what it missed. I don’t agree 100%, but I’m close enough not to quibble. Instead, I’d like to dig into this idea of degrees of assault. What Dawkins has had to say on the topic isn’t entirely wrong, but his naive take on the topic obscures as much as it reveals.
[Read more…]

The Elided Rights of Accusers

There is a strain of thinking that I see repeated over and over as we work to change the culture around rape, as we work to see that people who bring accusations of rape don’t automatically become treated like suspects themselves, that they have equal access to institutional protections and remedies. This has been particularly evident in statements from those who oppose the White House Title IX initiatives addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

The clearest statement of this argument I’ve seen came from Joseph Cohn of FIRE in The Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of years ago, though I’ve seen it in various forms since.

Under the new standard, if it is determined that an accuser’s claims are a fraction of a percent more likely to be true than false, the accused may be subjected to discipline, including expulsion.

Unfortunately for students’ rights, a long line of institutions have adopted this low standard under federal pressure. In fact, a review of policies at 198 of the colleges ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report reveals that 30 institutions—including Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia—have changed their standards of proof following OCR’s mandate.

That’s too bad, because colleges should be free to grant their students more robust due-process rights—and the federal government should not stand in their way.

This argument is generally presented in gendered terms, though it isn’t here. While this article refers to “students”, it is usually “men” standing in for those who are accused of sexual assault. Their alleged victims are in turn presumed to be women, though the women/accusers themselves are rarely mentioned in the formulation of the argument.

There are a number of possible reasons for the invisibility of these presumed female accusers. Women’s rights are often viewed as “special” rights, along with the rights of other marginalized populations, so human and civil rights arguments tend to focus on men. People these days do tend to notice when you argue for men’s rights over women’s rights and apply a bit more critical thought to an argument that does this. Talking about women as alleged victims quickly brings to mind a number of well-publicized stories that look nothing like false accusations to even unsophisticated audiences, and that doesn’t help garner sympathy for the accused.

Whatever the reason, we cannot allow this particular argument to stand on its own. Arguments for the rights of the accused have to be considered in the context of the rights of the accusers.

Why? Because the only way to guarantee that there will never be a negative outcome for an accused innocent is to guarantee that there will always be a finding of innocence. [Read more…]

He Said/She Said at #TAM2014

I was at the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference all day yesterday, but I still had people asking me whether I was going to address the talk by Carol Tavris on rape allegations and rape culture that she gave at TAM on Friday night. The short answer is “Maybe”.

The problem is that I don’t have the talk. All I have is the tweets. They’re terrible, by and large, but most of them come from people who are already terrible on this topic. This was a talk given at a conference where the management has historically taken out extra liability insurance to deal with the risk posed by one of its keynote speakers. There’s a certain motivation for the attendees to pull out every dismissive, permissive, victim-blaming message possible from a talk on rape. The tribalism in the tweets is not subtle. I could give a talk on rape myths in front of that audience, and the Twitter feed would still be terrible.

So I’ll wait to see whether the talk is released to a general audience. If the point was to rally the troops, it may not be. And if it stays private, it can’t be used to bolster bad policy recommendations based on its credentials of having been delivered by a skeptic at a skeptic conference. If it does come out, then I’ll see what it actually says. I may write about some of the tweeted messages in the meantime, because they’re common enough to be worth addressing, but I won’t assume those were actually in Tavris’s talk itself.

So…maybe. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s the tweeted account of the talk. [Read more…]

TBT: Why “No Means No”

This was originally posted in June 2009.

One of the tangential issues that came up in the rape thread that would not die is the statement “no means no.”

I really hate to have to point this out, believe me… but sometimes a simple “I’d rather not,” “I shouldn’t,” or even “no” isn’t clear enough. I won’t try to guess at numbers, I’m not qualified, but there are most certainly women who enjoy that particular game. Keep in mind that we’re talking about college kids here. Boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties for the most part, and clear communication about sex and relationships is going to be fairly uncommon. Again, I’m not even going to pretend to put numbers on it, but I’m absolutely certain that sometimes it is honest miscommunication.

“No means no” is a simple slogan, but it just doesn’t reflect reality. Imagine stopping only to be yelled at because your partner was getting into it and you ruined the mood. Imagine it happening when you’re young and still inexperienced and emotionally fragile. How many times do you think that has to happen before a person is capable of mistaking a sincere “no” for a repeat of the previous situation, if only for a short time?

I’m not trying to say it’s common… I’m just saying I’d be amazed if it never happened, and that I’d be amazed if there aren’t piles of similar ways a misunderstanding could happen in a moment of passion. If the “victim” says that it was a misunderstanding, I’m inclined to believe her unless there’s some other information to imply otherwise.

I’m going to assume that this is an honest statement of confusion, not an attempt at rape denialism or some kind of justification. [Read more…]