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Sep 25 2012

Not lord of the manor

Tessa Kendall has a post on Bullies and predators, expanding on Michael Story’s post yesterday.

Because of the stupid libel laws in this country, the Offender cannot be named publicly, which makes him harder to deal with.

I’m one of the hosts of London SitP, along with Carmen and Sid. When I started going to SitP, very few women came. Sometimes I was the only woman there at the King’s Head in Borough. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to encourage women to come and now a lot do. We want them to feel safe and comfortable. This isn’t a major problem, we don’t want to blow it out of proportion, but we do want to act responsibly and nip it in the bud.

This shouldn’t need saying but apparently it does – this is not acceptable behaviour. There are no excuses. You are not ‘just being friendly’. If you were, you’d be doing it to men too. You are not lord of the manor and women are not your personal fiefdom. Your position in the Skeptic community does not give you immunity. Even though the law may protect you, there are other ways we can deal with you – and we will.

What does “in Borough” mean? Southwark? Lambeth? Elephant and Castle?

But never mind that; notice the difference between that response and the response of an important segment of US skepticism. Notice the difference between telling off the perpetrators, as above, and telling off the women objecting to the behavior, as last May. Notice standing shoulder to shoulder with the women versus rebuking the women for speaking up.

Well done London SitP. If only if only if only that important segment of US skepticism had done as well. If only. Think of all the rifts that would not exist, the quarrels that would not have happened, the friendships that would not have broken. If only.

It should have been so easy – such a no-brainer. Tessa certainly makes it look that way. By “easy” I don’t mean easy to carry out or problem-free, I mean morally unambiguous. Easy to choose. Which side should we back up, here? The gropers, or the women who don’t want to be groped without invitation? It should have been so easy to choose.

This kind of sexual predator behaviour is a kind of bullying and, like all bullies, the Offender is relying on silence. I’ve been bullied in the past; I know how it makes you feel and I know how hard it can be to do anything about it so I know it’s a lot to ask you to speak up. But we will sort this out.

Bullies and predators pick their victims carefully. It is not your fault he does this to you. You have not ‘led him on’, you do not ‘deserve’ this. He is the one in the wrong. You’re not ‘making trouble’ or ‘causing a fuss’ by telling us. And anything you do say will be treated in confidence, so you don’t need to fear any personal consequences – which is another way bullies maintain their power. [emphasis mine]

See? It’s so clear, isn’t it. Why couldn’t we have had that? Why couldn’t we have had that instead of blame for speaking up? Blame for speaking up, let me remind you, a mere few days after the speaking up happened. Why did we get told off for making trouble and causing a fuss instead of told we weren’t doing that?

Well, maybe the London skeptics learned from what happened last May, and resolved to do the opposite. Maybe doing it the wrong way helped to make clear what the right way is. But I can’t help feeling rather sad that we had to be the raw material of the lesson.

Carmen, Sid and I really strongly encourage you to tell us if you see or suffer from the Offender. We will back you up and anything you tell us will be treated in absolute confidence. You can leave comments here (which in no way implies that you’ve been directly affected unless you make that explicit), you can email us, DM us on Twitter or tell us face to face. That’s @tessakendall, @carmenego or @sidrodrigues.

But DO NOT name him publicly.

For legal reasons. That means here, too.

47 comments

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  1. 1
    arthur

    Borough is a place in London, in Southwark. There’s Borough market, Borough tube station and so on.

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    Ah! Well apparently I sort of knew that, because I said Southwark, although I didn’t know why.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    If asked I’d have said Southwark was already the place, and couldn’t be subdivided any further. I’d have been wrong.

  4. 4
    jose

    If the guy wasn’t going to name names, he should not have left hints here and there saying “he is ver prominent”, “you probably know who I’m talking about” etc. You do that, people naturally will start guessing.

    Apart from that… many bullies in schools have been sanctioned because some kid recorded the abuse with their phone. Everybody has a phone with camera these days. Recording the groping isn’t illegal, is it?

  5. 5
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I’m just glad it’s being dealt with. It’s nice to know that London skeptics are miles ahead of some US skeptics when it comes to acknowledging/dealing with harassment.

  6. 6
    yahweh

    Hmmm … Borough market’s just over the river from me …

    Michael Story’s post has an element of l’esprit d’escalier to it.

    I’d like to think I would have said something in his position but I can well imagine myself missing the moment. Then what do you do?

    And I know that these people choose their victims carefully, but I think it would also help if it was generally accepted not just that this is unacceptable behaviour, but also that the victim is perfectly entitled to give him an almighty slap in the face then pour their drink all over him. Now that would be an anti-harassment policy. Probably best not documented though.

    If nothing else, I suspect that an assault case would be rather easier to fight than libel.

  7. 7
    johnthedrunkard

    If British libel law is so all powerful, why do all these trolls seem to feel no restraint?

    The abuse of libel laws requires some genuine financial resources or power within organizations. Does the Offender really have that much power?

  8. 8
    eric

    From the earlier thread:

    I heard a bit of a commotion, turned round and saw this fellow (who had had a few drinks) giving an unwilling woman a hug- not a friendly hug, but one which led crotch first…

    and the tie-in…

    Why did we get told off for making trouble and causing a fuss instead of told we weren’t doing that?

    This is not rocket science. Leading with the crotch is making trouble. Reporting it, is not.

    But if any skeptic organization wants to take the position that a man ‘leading with the crotch’ is NOT making trouble, I trust that out of equality and fairness they will also have no problem with a woman ‘leading with the knee.’

  9. 9
    carlie

    But, but… he didn’t do a controlled study quantifying the actual amount of harassment and how that compares with subjective feelings of harassment! How can he know there’s any problem at all? Men are so oppressed in London, it’s impossible that any of them have been able to successfully approach a female and eventually mate!

  10. 10
    raymoscow

    Which side should we back up, here? The gropers, or the women who don’t want to be groped without invitation? It should have been so easy to choose.

    It was easy. I’ve never understood why the choice was supposedly difficult or complicated.

  11. 11
    Argle Bargle

    If He-Who-Is-Not-To-Be-Named is so well known and his sexual assaults have been witnessed often and by many, then why is there a conspiracy of silence about him? Dominique Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign as President of the International Monetary Fund because of a sexual assault charge (which was later dropped). Is He-Who-Is-Not-To-Be-Named more powerful than Strauss-Kahn?

  12. 12
    sheila

    Men are so oppressed in London, it’s impossible that any of them have been able to successfully approach a female and eventually mate!

    With a seduction technique like that, maybe they haven’t!

  13. 13
    Aratina Cage

    It was easy. I’ve never understood why the choice was supposedly difficult or complicated.

    And yet, so many atheists fail to make the right choice. It reminds me of how one of the initial MRA hangups a year ago was on women complaining about being sexualized and, well, “How dare they!?”

    It seems like some not-insubstantial number of atheists think that women (and straight men, of course, Duh!, since this happens to straight men so often) should just get over it and shut up about it; so, when they see groping they do not believe it has violated the person it happened to any more than a scrape or a light paper cut would have.

    They see it as a booboo. They want women who are sexualized (and up to or including being groped since groping is at the edges of that grey area of “being sexualized”) to put a bandage on their hurt feelings and get over it. “Men shouldn’t be shamed for having sexual thoughts or expressing them”, they think, ignoring that the (str8) man did not get consent and violated the woman’s personal space and ethical and professional boundaries in that context.

    And online, spending close to a year talking about a person’s junk and likening a person to junk is seen in the same way: “Put a bandage on your hurt feelings and get over it!” When you look at such things like that, it would be hard to make the right choice, wouldn’t it?

    You’re not ‘making trouble’ or ‘causing a fuss’ by telling us.

    *applause*

  14. 14
    Aratina Cage

    When you look at such things like that, it would be hard to make the right choice, wouldn’t it?

    I should have written that more clearly:

    When you look at such things like groping and sexual harassment in that way (that they are almost harmless), it would be hard to make the right choice, wouldn’t it?

  15. 15
    Stephanie Zvan

    Well, let us not forget, amid all the noise and opposition, that most group leaders here did the right thing too, as soon as someone told them what that was. It could have all rolled along here smoothly. Then a little something happened.

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes exactly. If only that one little something hadn’t happened…how much better things would have turned out, in so many ways. Just that one.little.thing.

  17. 17
    julian

    @Rodney Nelson

    Those were formal charges for alleged criminal misconduct. This is, and I’m going off the statement in the op as I know nothing about UK law, something that wouldn’t raise to any kind of criminal offense. If they named I imagine it could be treated as spreading nasty rumor about someone.

    And with the way libel laws are in the UK this could amount to more trouble, time and money than anyone in that group has.

  18. 18
    omniz

    I think I’m confused about the libel laws. I’m neither in the UK nor a UK citizen. If, hypothetically, I knew who they were talking about (I don’t) and I named him, how does that cause legal trouble and for whom?

    I’m not saying I would name the person: I respect the wishes of the people making the request not to. But are UK libel laws really so strong that they could go after someone in another country? Or is SitP somehow liable for something I say?

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes, UK libel laws are so strong that they can go after people in another country. They can go after publishers in another country because one copy of a book has been sold in the UK, and that happens. That’s part of why libel tourism works. There was that book about Saudi Arabia that Cambridge University Press simply shut down, because of that.

  20. 20
    hyperdeath

    johnthedrunkard says:

    If British libel law is so all powerful, why do all these trolls seem to feel no restraint?

    Pursuing legal action requires huge amounts of time, effort and money. People like that @ElevatorGATE creep could be bankrupted and publicly humiliated if the right people were willing to put the work into it. But they’ve got lives to lead, and more enjoyable things to be doing.

    This is an underreported problem with libel laws. They’re biased towards nasty obsessive people with empty lives.

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    Ya. Alms for Jihad; CUP pulped it in 2006 because a Saudi banker threatened to sue.

    http://www.legal-project.org/issues/uk-libel-law

    CUP even “even requested U.S. libraries remove their editions from circulation.” I wonder if they complied.

  22. 22
    omniz

    Forgive me in advance, I fear this is going to sound like I’m trying to argue with you. I’m not, I’m just so taken aback by this new knowledge that I don’t know how else to react. But…

    What the fuck? What the honest-to-goodness fucking fuck?

    How can I be prosecuted in a country I’ve never visited? That makes no fucking sense. Who would design a law like that? Aren’t there international laws to prevent this sort of thing? If not, there should be. At the very least I would expect my own government to (hypothetically) prevent me from being charged with libel in another country, in particular when I haven’t broken any laws. It would be like the US bringing up drug charges on people in Amsterdam. It’s like governments in the Middle East issuing fatwas against foriegn citizens (which I get happens, but we generally try to prevent them getting away with it).

    Jesus…

    Okay, sorry for the slight derail. I’ll go rant in private now. Fucking hell…

  23. 23
    Ophelia Benson

    No, it’s absolutely crazy.

    Another glaring example of course is David Irving’s lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin. She’s American, but he was able to haul her into court and fuck up her life in an attempt to silence her. It backfired on him, but only because Penguin spent a small fortune to defend the case.

    Google “libel tourism” to explore the full horror of it.

  24. 24
    Argle Bargle

    I understand that British libel laws are draconian and someone can sue an Antarctic penguin because that bird farted in the general direction of London. But according to Story’s story, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named assaulted a woman, probably sexually assaulted her as well. These are CRIMES! It’s not “oh I think maybe perhaps He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named may have been rude to some woman.” He assaulted her. In Britain, grabbing someone is criminal assault. I really, truly doubt any libel case would fly if someone said “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named whom I am naming was found guilty of assault” when that was the case.

    So instead of wringing their hands and muttering about possible libel, why aren’t people bringing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named up on assault charges? I’m obviously missing part of the picture.

  25. 25
    SallyStrange

    why aren’t people bringing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named up on assault charges?

    The conviction rate for actual rape in the UK (and the US and many other places) is less than 5%. What do you think are the chances of a conviction for mere groping?

  26. 26
    Argle Bargle

    You don’t know unless you try. Just throwing your arms up and saying “nope, not going to work” is worse than useless.

  27. 27
    shockwaveplasma

    Yes, UK libel law is basically for the protection of the reputation of the rich, and it has been for over a 100 years.

    I think it was last year that the USA passed a law making UK judgements invalid in the USA.

    The law is in the process of being changed, but is still short of a “public interest” defense at the moment.

    You can read up on it here http://www.libelreform.org/

  28. 28
    Valindrius

    Our law of defamation is truly atrocious and there’s a sizeable campaign demanding reform. The present government has pledged to change it and the Defamation Bill is their attempt to do so. I don’t think it’s insufficient in its present incarnation and hope it’s amended upon reaching the House of Lords.
     
    Hopefully, the resultant Act will mean that odious individuals can be named in the relatively near future. They shouldn’t be readily able to abuse the law, especially when victims have rather paltry options available to them. Even if victims wanted to do something, I believe conviction rates for charged suspects can be as low as thirty percent in some areas, with about a sixty percent average. This relies on the charging stage even begin reached since prosecution attrition rates are horrific. If the offence is harassment then I believe that’s only subject to a maximum of six months imprisonment or a fine up five thousand pounds.
     
    Conversely, being pursued for defamation seems to be a harrowing and costly experience that has considerable ramifications for a protracted period of time whether your comments were legitimate or not.
     
    Having said this, I’m not a solicitor/solicitor advocate/barrister so I’m probably entirely incorrect about all of this and their options or likelihood of getting a conviction could be far greater or far worse. It’s simply my vacuous opinion and I hope it’s wrong so something positive can be done if any victim feels it would help them.
     
    With regard to ‘libel tourism,’ have other jurisdictions not sought to protect their citizens? Did the US SPEECH Act not set a good precedent for such? Obviously, it goes without saying that they shouldn’t have to invest effort into dealing with our stupidity. I simply hoped that nations would strongly object to their citizens being subjected to it and attempt to shield them.

  29. 29
    Valindrius

    (Apologies for effectively replicating shockwaveplasma’s post. I had internet problems so failed to see it before managing to post my comment. Darn.)

  30. 30
    omniz

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around this…

    So let’s say someone in the UK charges me with libel. I’m not in the UK. Do I have a right to appear at my own trial? What if I can’t afford to take time off work and go to the UK? Will the court pay for my travel expenses? What if I’m disabled or otherwise unable to travel? What if I refuse to go? Would they demand my country extradite its own citizen?

    I’m just so at a loss for how this could even be enforceable…

  31. 31
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    I realize this has gone a bit off topic, but I googled libel tourism as per Ophelia’s suggestion.
    O.O
    unbelievable

  32. 32
    IB

    As an individual with no dealings with the UK, it might not hurt you much. As a company/organisation with vested interests in the UK, it can be a right pain in the arse.
    It was also used to silence a Danish newspaper that was reporting on those dodgy Icelandic banks before they were eventualy exposed. Reason being that the Danish newspaper had an English language portal.
    Its an utterly stupid system, and effectivly works on a guilty until proven innocent basis, with the added catch being that its amazingly expensive to establish your innocence.

  33. 33
    IB

    Hmm should have been a reply to #30

  34. 34
    Argle Bargle

    There’s a “highly placed” skeptic who manhandles women. He cannot be named because he’ll sue for libel and win everyone’s income for the next two centuries. He cannot be charged for assault because the case won’t be persecuted. So all that can be done is shake our collective heads and mutter what a shame it is that nothing can be done about this guy.

    If Atheism+ is about improving the lot of women in the skeptical and atheist movements, then we should be doing something concrete about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Mabus/Markuze went on for years until a group of people hounded the authorities to deal with the situation. If a bunch of skeptics kept filing criminal assault charges against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sooner or later either he would get the idea that people object to his actions or the legal authorities would haul him in front of a judge.

  35. 35
    Skepticat_UK

    I wrote on the subject of our libel laws a while ago. Here’s a quick example of how crazy the situation is.

    “An example of libel tourism would be Roman Polanski, who has been a fugitive from US justice since 1978, when he confessed to an American court that he’d had unlawful sex with a 13-year old girl. He fled the country before he was sentenced but, rather surprisingly, he still thought he had a reputation worth defending. In 2004, he was able to use England’s libel laws to successfully sue an American magazine, without having to set foot on English soil because our legal justice system obligingly allowed him to give evidence by video link from Paris, where he resides.”

    http://www.humanistlife.org.uk/2010/03/writing-about-medicine-can-be-hazardous-for-your-health/

    This morning I found out who the offender is because he messaged my husband who, unlike me attends SitP regularly. I imagine my husband is one of a number in his wider circle of friends who got this DM, in which he called the allegations about him a ‘smear’.

    I’d half guessed because he was the only one I could think of who fist the description given by Michael but I had never witnessed any of this behaviour myself (neither has my husband) and, given he is a man of many friends, I had almost convinced myself it couldn’t be him because surely, SURELY, one of these friends would have pointed out to him that he was behaving like an arse and it makes both the woman and anyone else in the vicinity uncomfortable.

    The idea of reporting any such behaviour to the police when nobody had complained directly either to him or to anyone running the event the behaviour occurs at (assuming this is the case), seems more than a little ridiculous to me. I spent many years working with victims of crime, including sexual assaults, and knowing what victims have to go through once they’ve involved the criminal justice system, my advice to any woman would be ‘don’t involve the police unless there is really no alternative’. In this case there is an alternative and that is, FFS, to call the man out and tell him not to do it!

    Well, now he’s been called out by Michael and told by Tessa not to do it. Knowing what I do of this man, I believe this outing of him will be sufficient to ensure he changes his behaviour. Time will tell but, in the meantime, there is no need for anyone else to know his damn name! Few people outside of UK skeptics will have heard of him anyway.

  36. 36
    Stephanie Zvan

    If Atheism+ is about improving the lot of women in the skeptical and atheist movements, then we should be doing something concrete about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

    In fact, something concrete is being done. Read Tessa’s post.

  37. 37
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Well, now he’s been called out by Michael and told by Tessa not to do it. Knowing what I do of this man, I believe this outing of him will be sufficient to ensure he changes his behaviour.

    I hope he doesn’t just change his hunting grounds

    Rodney Nelson
    The problems with the “just report the guy” idea are many.
    One is that the legal treshold is pretty high. Not because it’s actually legal, but because court systems are usually overworked and won’t bother with small things. Your friend may indeed owe you 5$, but try sueing him over that amount.
    Even if you manage to get police interested it means that th victim is suddenly the target of investiagtions, all her behaviour, past present and future is discussed and should there be the slightest “but she smiled at him 3 weeks ago” the result will be that he’s getting a official stamp of approval.
    Why on earth would anybody do that to themselves over a pinched butt?
    That’s why we’ve been insisting of codes of conduct, harassment policies and mechanisms which can be easily accessed without jumping hurdles and being judged along the way.

  38. 38
    Ophelia Benson

    Skepticat – I’m not convinced there’s no need for anyone to know his damn name. There’s no need for people at large to know, perhaps, but arguably there’s a need for people who attend SitP events and conferences and the like to know – or, maybe, just for the people who organize such things to know.

    I don’t need to know; my readers in general don’t need to know; but the smaller set of people who might encounter him probably do need to know.

    I said this yesterday on a post of Hayley’s (and she agreed). It’s not just prurient curiosity.

  39. 39
    Skepticat_UK

    Ophelia, when I specified anyone else I meant what you call ‘people at large’, as I thought the fact that SiTP organisers and regular attendees already know (if only because he is now outing himself privately) was implied in what I wrote. Sorry, if I wasn’t clear.

    Let me put it another way: now that his identity is known to the London SiTP organisers and many of those who go there, his name does not need to be published publicly to ensure that women at SitP meetings are safe from him and for him to reflect on his behaviour and resolve to change it. Mission should be accomplished, if possible, without things getting any nastier or more people (e.g. the offender’s loved ones) getting hurt because of an anecdote in a blog post.

  40. 40
    Ophelia Benson

    Ah right. I think I did overlook the “else.”

    Sadly, there is one reason it would be helpful for everyone to know, which is to exonerate all the guys it isn’t. But there are other reasons that wouldn’t be helpful.

    The truth is, I suppose I think he should just out himself.

  41. 41
    Scr... Archivist

    Ophelia,

    In answer to your question about Alms for Jihad, WorldCat tells me that there are four hundred copies in libraries across the planet. Many are in the U.S., and fourteen are in the U.K.

    It’s also available electronically through participating libraries.

  42. 42
    Argle Bargle

    I could care less what the guy’s name is. It’s been decades since I was in the UK and I’m not likely to go there any time soon. Plus, being a man, I’m not in his target population.

    What I want is for him to stop groping women. There’s little I can do about this problem. Apparently there’s little anyone else can do or are willing to do. I’m sorry about my lack of ability to deal with the problem. I’m very frustrated that everyone else is taking “oh, it’s so hard and we don’t want to be sued and the police are too busy killing Brazilian electricians so we’ll just let it slide in hopes that he’ll die one of these years which will end the problem.”

    Stephanie Zvan #36

    In fact, something concrete is being done. Read Tessa’s post.

    I’ve just reread Tessa’s post. If that’s “concrete” then you and I have different definitions of that concept.

  43. 43
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    now that his identity is known to the London SiTP organisers and many of those who go there, his name does not need to be published publicly to ensure that women at SitP meetings are safe from him and for him to reflect on his behaviour and resolve to change it

    Well, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

    Note that posts about this made it seem like a lot of Brits who attend sitp already knew about this, so I’m not sure how much has changed besides it getting out in the open for us outsiders to see (while not knowing who the offender is).

    Note also that he has sexually harassed women, which is something his victims could report him for. It would be great if he reflected on his behavior and changed it, but that won’t erase damage he has already done.

  44. 44
    Stephanie Zvan

    Well, by “concrete” I don’t mean encasing the guy’s feet in the stuff and dumping him off a bridge, no. I do, however, mean making it a condition of continued participation that he stop. I also mean making it clear to the women involved that the people in charge consider this to be their responsibility. Additionally, I mean that making it clear to the women involved that the people in charge will not treat a complaint as an annoyance–the way the police will do in the overwhelming majority of cases involving creepers preying within their own social groups. Finally, I also mean putting this guy on public notice that the people in charge will consider these women credible.

    Yes, those are concrete. They are also not at all what you are describing in your comment #42.

  45. 45
    Ophelia Benson

    that the people in charge will not treat a complaint as an annoyance

    So crucial.

    God damn it.

  46. 46
    godlessheathen

    Also, holocaust denial? Not the same thing as slandering Mohammed or desecrating a pic of Jesus. Not at all.

  47. 47
    Argle Bargle

    Stephanie Zvan #44

    I do, however, mean making it a condition of continued participation that he stop.

    Tessa doesn’t say that. Here are Tessa’s comments about what we’re going to do:

    We’ll deal with this in an adult way and we’ll deal with it together. It will get sorted, we promise.

    Carmen, Sid and I really strongly encourage you to tell us if you see or suffer from the Offender. We will back you up and anything you tell us will be treated in absolute confidence. You can leave comments here (which in no way implies that you’ve been directly affected unless you make that explicit), you can email us, DM us on Twitter or tell us face to face. That’s @tessakendall, @carmenego or @sidrodrigues.

    But DO NOT name him publicly.

    If it turns out there is more than one Offender, we’ll deal with that too. If you’re not in London and you’re having a problem, we can still help but we want to put our own house in order.

    It amounts to “yep, we’re going to do something, don’t worry your pointy little head about what, but we’re going to do it.” If that’s concrete then you and I have have different ideas about what concrete means.

    I’m not going to argue about this any more. The last word is yours.

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