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Jul 29 2013

Her (recent) conference assault

Ashley Paramore has released a much-watch video about her recent conference assault at the 2012 Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas. Sadly, the adjective “recent” is necessary since this is hardly the first or second or third time Ashley has had this unfortunate experience at one of the many atheist and skeptical conferences she has attended.

Thank you, Ashley, for sharing this. She goes more in depth about this in the video, but speaking out about harassment and assault is difficult. If you’ve been paying any attention at all to… well, the internet over the last couple of years, you know the kind of horrible treatment that women get for speaking out about these things. When she was employed within the atheist movement, she was too worried that speaking out about her assaults would negatively affect her job and future job prospects. Thank you for having the strength to speak up now.

And I also have to thank the JREF for handling her situation well. They’ve received a lot of flack lately, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

Hopefully this video and the harassment policies that have been implemented across cons will help more women feel safe to speak about their experiences and make atheist spaces safe spaces.

23 comments

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  1. 1
    sezit

    good gawd. what was wrong with the other people at the party? No one noticed this creep and her trying to get away from him? Bullshit. They noticed it, alright – and chose to ignore it, so she would have to deal with it on her own. Any one of these partiers should have said to the jerk “Get out, you aren’t behaving yourself”. Then offered to walk her back to her room. Where are the good guys? She also said that the other partiers confirmed his bad behavior, but did any of them apologize to her for not helping? I hope she calls them out on it. This is another example of rape culture. I’m so glad she posted this.

  2. 2
    nikoelstevens

    I just had something similar happen to me at the bar I was at on Saturday. Super drunk guy thought it would be awesome to just sit down with my party because he liked red hair (eyeroll), wouldn’t take my polite queues to leave me alone then tried to gaslight me when I got more firm with my “go away now” vibes. I excused myself to the bathroom then got pissed at myself for not just yelling at him. I was worried he’d get belligerent so I kept the peace until finally my friend’s boyfriend told him to fuck off. Dammit, I hate that shit! Good for Ashley to speak out!

  3. 3
    Timid Atheist

    Agreed, thank you Ashely for speaking up and out. That’s not an easy thing and she’s getting push back in the comments for it.

    My friend at work is currently being stalked and harassed by co-worker. Our Direct Supervisor has been gaslighting her about it, telling her she needs to change her attitude. Finally she’d had enough and reported the stalking and harassment and sexual harassment to the manager higher up on the chain. This has been going on for six months and she’s finally able to report it. She didn’t want to deal with the push back and further harassment that others have been threatening her with if she reports.

  4. 4
    nikoelstevens

    *cues. LOL I work at an ISP and we do all of our work out of ticket queues.

  5. 5
    Bjarte Foshaug

    I’m surprised the JREF didn’t make “Jim Bob” the keynote speaker of this year’s TAM. He sounds just like the kind of person they’ve been going out of their way to attract…

  6. 6
    PZ Myers

    Be fair, Bjarte — when the JREF do right by a victim, give them credit.

  7. 7
    PDX_Greg

    After reading many ftb blog entries over the past few years, I was rather horrified that women have to put up with this stuff everywhere and then face the screaming infantile blowback from the ignoramuses out there if they dare share their experiences. I expect and want so goddam much better from a community that defines itself on the basis of being rational. So I am endlessly thankful for those who are strong enough to report it, call it out, or even just share the nature of their experiences, and face the inevitable mindless unfiltered tantrums of of those who cant see past the ends of their own penises.

    @Bjarte, both Jen and Ashley note the the conference officials handled it well. So thankfully, it sounds like JREF is pulling their heads from their arses in that respect. Which is a wonderful thing, because Randi’s name should not continue to be smeared with the kind of ignorant position that DJGrothe was espousing not too long ago (and maybe still is? I hope not).

  8. 8
    Bjarte Foshaug

    @PZ @PXD_Greg
    I’m glad – and I mean that quite sincere – that Ashley didn’t get the same treatment that Amy Davis Roth was subjected to at that very same conference, but as far as the JREF itself is concerned, it has forever blown its chances with this particular ex-supporter. In the context of everything that has happened in the last couple of years, I think their choice of speakers for this year’s TAM tells us everything we need to know about where their sympathies lie, and no amount of debunking Bigfoot or homeopathy is ever going to compensate for that.

  9. 9
    oolon

    @Bjarte, I’m with you, note the mention of a policy that they have but refuse to advertise in the video? I can only assume for fear of turning off their apologist constituency. Totally childish to have a harassment policy but refuse to call it that for fear of the #FTBullies getting one over the JREF. Lack of transparency and openness by them in making it clear there is a policy and what the procedures are will have one effect -> deterring people from reporting harassment.

  10. 10
    Alison Cummins

    I’m fascinated that after all her experience, Ashley still considered “not making a scene” more important than “staying safe.” Twenty years ago I took a women’s self-defense class in which it was pointed out that men will use women’s reluctance to make a scene to control them. “Bingo,” I thought, and was immediately empowered to keep myself safer.

    This feeds into sezit’s observation about the other people at the party who were watching. Ashley was handling things on her own, being calm and unfussy and not making a scene so why would observers feel like they should rush in and make a scene on her behalf?

    This isn’t about making anything Ashley’s fault, but wondering what is going on that after all these years and all these assaults, Ashley still cannot make a scene. It’s a useful skill. Everyone should be able to call someone else’s bullshit. What is going on that Ashley can’t?

    And that was about the most ineffective “No!” I’ve ever seen — when she was trying to communicate to us how clear she had been. That was a very submissive No. What kind of culture does Ashley live in that she cannot shake off deference to men even to protect herself physically?

    Now before you accuse me of victim-blaming, let’s think a bit. If this is victim-blaming, then what we are saying is “Ashley should be able to be submissive and deferent to men in all circumstances and be safe anyway!” Which is definitely true. Yes. Absolutely. But it raises a really important question: why do we think it is so important that Ashley be submissive and deferent to men in the first place?

  11. 11
    Alison Cummins

    I note that Ashley did other things to protect herself from this particular offender, and went further in exposing herself to other forms of attack in order to help keep other women safe.

    I do not consider Ashley a passive victim. She is clearly an active agent. I am just wondering how it happened that she has been denied the use of a particularly helpful part of an adult’s armamentarium.

  12. 12
    okstop

    Is there any hope of a transcript for the hearing-impaired? The automatic captioning is nonsensical, as always. I know people love to make videos rather than just type, for some reason, but the fact that it’s not common procedure to provide transcripts is incredibly frustrating. The internet is slowly becoming more like the hearing-world again… a place where the hearing-impaired are left out of the loop.

  13. 13
    clarewilkinson

    Alison — often I think it is sheer shock that someone one knows would behave in such a way. Then, there is the worry that if one “makes a scene” (as Ashley puts it), other people will be more offended by having their happy party disrupted by such unpleasantness than by the audaciousness and hostility of the attack. Such people don’t just rely on women’s reluctance to “make a scene”; they rely on the fact that other people will see it just as the phrase implies — a woman making a fuss over something unimportant. This is why it’s so important not just to have clear policies regarding harassment, but also for organizations and the individuals that lead them to make it abundantly, publicly clear that this behavior is utterly abhorrent and unacceptable. I think individual women will be more likely to tell scum like Jim-Bob to fuck off if they are confident they’ll be backed up on it.

  14. 14
    sezit

    Re: #10 – Alison Cummins, Ashley asked 2 people at this party for help. After at least some there saw JimBob grabbing her ass and crotch. These are sexual assaults that this guy could be arrested for. Both of her “friends” treated her fears as no big deal, just advising her how to get away from the guy. Why would anyone think that was good enough? You think she didn’t say NO forcefully enough? Maybe one reason why her NOs were not forceful enough was that she was essentially being told – by her FRIENDS! – that they saw what was going on and they couldn’t give a shit. Not acceptable. We all need to commit to support the safety of everyone in our community, and call out bad behavior. Oh, how I wish that making a scene was not something that so many people were terrified of. Make the goddam scene! It won’t break any bones!

  15. 15
    blondeintokyo

    Exactly! Women are afraid to be seen as making a fuss over “nothing”, don’t want to ruin the atmosphere, and are afraid no one will support them if they do. What women really need is a good network of friends who they know will support them no matter what. Unfortunately, it seems many people, and this is not just women, don’t have the aggression to confront these transgressors, or perhaps don’t have the understanding or experience necessary to recognize when a interaction has crossed boundaries.

    As a case in point, I was at a bar this weekend with a group of friends for another friend’s goodbye party. We were all sitting there drinking and talking, when suddenly one of the girls poured her pint of beer over the head of the guy she had been talking to. It seems that he had been steadily getting more graphically sexual and then insulting, and she finally lost her cool. This is a good group of people, and every single one of us, including all the guys, stuck up for her. The guy ranted about how she was a “bitch” and the guys in our group were “fags”. He quickly backed down though, when he realized the entire bar was against him and several of the guys were ready to “take it outside”. The funny thing is, one of the guys in our group had been sitting near her listening to what was happening the whole time, but didn’t speak up or help her out as things began to escalate. I don’t think he quite knew what to do, or else perhaps thought she could take care of herself. I really don’t know. What I do know, however, that if it had been ME sitting there, I would have had her back.

    Similarly, at the beach this past weekend I had to come between my friend and a guy who was harassing her. I wasn’t sure at first what was going on, because at first she was clearly enjoying the flirtation. It was only when it got a bit out of control and he started violating her physical space, trying to touch her VERY inappropriately, that I realized she had become frozen and stepped in. I very assertively told him to leave, and threw a handful of sand in his face to make him understand that I was serious. Then of course, *I* was the bitch, and he stalked off cursing me.

    (What is WITH these guys, I’d really like know, that they feel somehow WRONGED when a woman stands up for herself and forces them to back off? But I digress…)

    What is going on that people can’t recognize when someone needs help? Is it that they don’t realize it, as it was with me that I took a while to understand my friend had frozen, or is it because they are too afraid to step in? I think it’s a bit of both, since it is not at all uncommon for people to be physically afraid of getting hurt, and just plain scared of confrontations in general. I think then, that we can’t criticize Ashley’s friends too much for the same reason we can’t criticize her. Not everyone feels safe enough to step up, and that often includes guys.

  16. 16
    hjhornbeck

    Bjarte Foshaug @8:

    Count me in, too. I’ll happily concede the JREF did the right thing and handled this case flawlessly. But they’re also continuing to keep TAM’s Code of Conduct a secret. That makes it a lot harder to gauge how effectively they’re handling other cases, whether there’s an uptick or downtick in harassment, or what they even consider harassment in the first place.

    This case does not shift my opinion of the JREF one bit, I’m afraid.

  17. 17
    kaboobie

    hjhornbeck @16:

    Ashley wrote up a review of this year’s TAM at http://events.skepchick.org/tam-recap/ and reported that the policy was actually printed in the registration booklet this year, and that she considered that an improvement. I am glad that her report was handled well last year, and that “Jim-Bob” was not present this year. (I’ll admit, I was half expecting her video to end with, “Guess who I ran into, after being told he was banned”.)

    That said, nothing will get me to attend TAM again short of a change in management of the JREF. Even that might not do it. DJ’s treatment of Ashley Miller, Rebecca, Amy, and all the others who blogged about harassment at conferences was unforgivable, but so was Amy’s treatment last year by fellow attendees.

  18. 18
    kevinkirkpatrick

    I know this hatchet has long been buried, but is it the case that Ashley’s assault occurred at the same convention during which Dr. Harriet Hall wore the “I Feel Safe” shirt? If so, I wonder how Dr. Hall would feel to know that she may have been flaunting that message in front of Ashley the morning after this series of events.

  19. 19
    Bjarte Foshaug

    @kevinkirkpatrick #18

    …is it the case that Ashley’s assault occurred at the same convention during which Dr. Harriet Hall wore the “I Feel Safe” shirt?

    Yes

  20. 20
    Jackie

    okstop, I don’t know where to find transcripts. I’m sorry. I know that A+ forums have put up transcripts in the past. Maybe they can hook you up?

  21. 21
    shoeguy

    I don’t go to a lot of conferences anymore mainly because I can’t afford the plane, but back when I did it seemed like there were always a few sociopaths in the room, and those were always meetings of progressive or free thought groups. I don’t know if the guys, and they were all guys, thought that there wouldn’t be as much judgement for their unacceptable ways or they were looking for more sociopaths to go be sociopathic with. Luckily us heathens are probably no more prone to attracting barbarian psychopaths than a Southern Baptist conclave, but the Baptists are better at hiding their evil little perversions. Stand up to jerks wherever you see them.

  22. 22
    A Hermit

    It’s interesting to see the Slymepitters in the comments there falling all over themselves to deplore this incident because of course this one is REAL; not like those other ones we always hear about….o.O

  23. 23
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    I am very disappointed that the TAM organizers did not seize “Jimbob”‘s conference badge and show him the door as soon as they verified the report, to prevent further assaults such as happened to Ashley’s friend (no surprise there — groping is probably his favorite conference activity).

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