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Aug 09 2013

How many shoes are there?

And now there’s another grenade: PZ’s post about being told something by a woman who doesn’t want to go public with it.

She’s torn up about it. It’s been a few years, so no law agency is going to do anything about it now; she reported it to an organization at the time, and it was dismissed. Swept under the rug. Ignored. I can imagine her sense of futility. She’s also afraid that the person who assaulted her before could try to hurt her again.

But at the same time, she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else, so she’d like to get the word out there. So she hands the information to me. Oh, thanks.

It seems unfair, doesn’t it. But then her situation is also unfair. It’s all unfair.

What is the something?

With that, I cast this grenade away from me…

At a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me. I can’t give more details than that, as it would reveal my identity, and I am very scared that he will come after me in some way. But I wanted to share this story in case it helps anyone else ward off a similar situation from happening. I reached out to one organization that was involved in the event at which I was raped, and they refused to take my concerns seriously. Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things (5 different people have directly told me they did the same to them) and wanted to just say something and warn people, and I didn’t know how. I hope this protects someone.

Boom.

Holy shit.

I knew he was on the list that women warned women about. But I didn’t know it was that bad.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Gregory in Seattle

    It might be helpful to a lot of women if that list were to be made public.

  2. 2
    Bruce Everett

    I can’t say I’m gobsmacked or shocked, particularly. Not that I’m making too many assumptions, or asserting anything about the truth of the matter. I can’t see any other position tenable other than take it seriously.

    The only things I can think of right now are “how are people coping?” and “what’s going to come back down with the debris from the exploding grenade?”

    Well, that and “perhaps this situation could have been avoided if various freethought groups started to take things more seriously back when they should have.”

  3. 3
    Ace of Sevens

    I’m wondering what can be done. Michael Shermer is head of his org and can’t be fired (unless there’s a board that can do it. I don’t know.) If he handles this badly enough, he could drive away most of his support, though.

  4. 4
    Kevin Anthoney

    I admire PZ’s bravery, but I think he could have protected himself a bit if he’d hedged his language better, by sticking to the absolute bare facts. For example, a construct like:

    I’ve received an email from a woman who stated that John Doe plied her with alcohol at a conference and then had sex with her.

    tells women what they need to know while being more libel-proof (IMO, although I’m not a lawyer).

    On the other hand, if PZ’s trying to goad Shermer into suing him, he’s going the right way about it.

  5. 5
    Ace of Sevens

    @4: Part of PZ’s objective was warning women about Michael Shermer, so I don’t see how your version constitutes telling people what they needed to know.

    Also, I’m not a lawyer, but I did take a class on business law. Shermer is a public figure and PZ did make it clear this was hearsay, so it’s doubtful that Shermer would win. A lot of the trial would amount to presenting all of his dirty laundry in court to determine if PZ had a good faith belief that the accusation was true.

  6. 6
    Kevin

    Add me to the “not surprised” list.

    His over-the-moon hyper-reactivity at merely being called out for saying something sexist fits right in with the pattern.

    Deny, deny, deny. Accuse, accuse, accuse. Spit and holler. Deflect. Accuse some more. Anything to mark his accusers as being somehow untrustworthy. Hysterical. Women.

    I’m more glad than ever that I never bought any of those e-books of his that I previewed. I’m sure they have interesting things to say — I’m not interested in hearing those things from him.

  7. 7
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    No wonder Shermer flipped out when you called him on his sexist statement.

    Hm…

  8. 8
    Kevin Anthoney

    @5

    I didn’t want to talk about Shermer specifically, so I was using a generic example where the assailant was called John Doe. You still name names.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Gregory – the list now pretty much has been made public. It was a short list.

  10. 10
    Kevin

    @8 — You can’t unsee what’s been seen. Everyone knows who we’re talking about — even you.

  11. 11
    doubtthat

    To the legality issue, the main thrust of any suit Shermer would file against Myers would be whether or not the allegations are true. If they, that’s a complete defense from any libel suit. Now, Shermer might file a suit to save face and angle for a settlement, but I doubt serious he wants to litigate this matter as it may be the nudge the other unnamed victims need to overcome their reluctance to report.

    I do agree that it’s risky to pass on information that way, but I would assume that Myers knows the woman well enough or is confident enough of the allegations that he isn’t worried about blow-back. I’m assuming that the [email protected] has more than one such message in it, and he didn’t post all of them.

    There may be lawsuits from all of this (filing a lawsuit means nothing), there may even be some settlements, but there won’t be any successful litigation from the assailants’ perspectives.

  12. 12
    doubtthat

    @6 Kevin

    There has so far been a fairly decent correlation between idiotic misogynist arguments and misogynistic behavior.

    Off the top of my head, I don’t recall Krauss pulling Shermer or Radford, but I’ve only seen a couple of panel discussions he’s been involved in.

  13. 13
    Kevin

    @5: If sued, PZ would subpoena the woman. Require her to give a deposition. That deposition would then be required to be turned over to the prosecutor of the district where the incident occurred. That would general a full investigation of the original complaint and any subsequent complaints that come to light.

    Oh no. Nobody’s suing anyone for libel. Not when there is evidence to be collected and statutes of limitation that have not yet expired. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, statutes of limitation vary anywhere from 2 years to to “never”. In California, there is no statute of limitation for aggravated rape (which carries a lifetime prison sentence), down to 3 years for sexual offenses that carry sentences of less than 8 years in prison.

    Depending on where the incident occurred and how anti-rape the prosecutor is, filing a libel suit is an open invitation to wearing an orange jumpsuit for a long period of time. (Especially consider an “anti-God” skeptic as the investigatory target in a Bible-belt jurisdiction.) Oh my. Some prosecutor could run for governor on that case alone.

  14. 14
    AJ Milne

    Thread over there is… umm…

    Chaos, I’m thinking is the word.

    True story: I got to talking to a friend some years back, woman I know goes to the occasional sci-fi/fantasy conference. Her, it’s business. Does costumes for cosplayers, some fiction. Good money in it, so of course she’s got a kiosk.

    I confessed I’ve never been. She tells me, seriously, guy, you’re not missing much. Imagine like the craziest high school dance vibe ever, everyone on the make. You’re lucky you can take a pass.

    All I got, I think, after this is: she’s right. I’m lucky.

    More seriously: this shit really does have to stop. Like yesterday.

    It’s a pretty alien place for me, even trying to imagine it, being a woman in a context like that. Barely know the context, never mind the being a woman bit. Not something I’d generally even try to ask my limited faculties to try, honestly.

    But what is trickling out now of purely involuntary impressions (as in: now I can’t help but imagine it) is, geez, even showing up is an act of measurable bravery.

  15. 15
    Rieux

    Oh, please, Kevin @4. Do you think we’re in Britain (shudder!) or something?

    Michael Shermer is, beyond dispute, a public figure. Therefore New York TImes v. Sullivan: Shermer would be required to prove that PZ acted (in composing and putting up his “grenade” post) with “actual malice”—that is, “that [PZ's] statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.”

    As Ace hints at @5, there’s room for the defense to urge a tight focus on what PZ actually said; he himself did not accuse anyone of a crime. But even if he had made such an accusation, how exactly is Shermer going to prove that PZ did so “with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false”?

    Good luck! Seems to me his case would have a difficult time surviving an immediate motion to dismiss.

    Re (different) Kevin @13: I don’t think it’s such a sure thing that PZ, if sued, would subpoena the victim. That is an avenue open to him, and under some circumstances it would be a good idea as far as litigation strategy is concerned—but it’s not exactly, er, nice. Clearly he’s promised to protect her identity, and clearly she’s terrified that Shermer will learn it. (The fact that she believes “he got me drunk and raped me” isn’t enough information to allow Shermer to identify her is shocking in and of itself.) Subpoenaing her is at least, er, in serious tension with PZ’s promise.

    (IAAL, indeed a litigator, but no one should ever take anything I post as legal advice.)

  16. 16
    Kevin Anthoney

    @15

    Oh, please, Kevin @4. Do you think we’re in Britain (shudder!) or something?

    Er, well, I am. Maybe that’s making me paranoid!

  17. 17
    A. Noyd

    I hear serial rape is “more of a guy thing.”

    Seriously, though? Given Shermer’s disproportionate tantrum over being told he’d said a sexist thing, I can only imagine how he’d act toward the woman who emailed PZ if she’d revealed her name. If I was the accuser (I’m not; I have never even met Shermer), fear of Shermer’s reaction alone might be enough to silence me. And it wouldn’t be Shermer alone, but all the fans and MRAs sticking up to defend him by going after me. The same thing multiplied a hundred times or more. (How many times have we already watched that happen?)

    So yeah, a big “fuck you” to all those people whining about how dare this woman (and other victims) stay anonymous.

  18. 18
    Pteryxx

    Also possibly relevant… as discussed during the Adria Richards tech conference incident, since sexual harassment (which can cover anything up to and including violent rape) may constitute sexual discrimination under civil rights law in the US, going public with accounts of discrimination is specifically protected free speech.

    Some analysis:

    http://www.rmlawyers.com/blog/2013/03/sendgrids-unlawful-and-retaliatory-termination-of-adria-richards.shtml

  19. 19
    Rieux

    Okay, Kevin @16; touche. But PZ’s not in Britain, and Shermer’s not, and (less importantly) I’m not. We’re all in the good ol’ land of the freeNew York Times v. Sullivan.

    There are many very nice things about Britain, but (as I imagine you already know) your libel laws are not among them.

  20. 20
    Brony

    Re: Kevin @6

    His over-the-moon hyper-reactivity at merely being called out for saying something sexist fits right in with the pattern.

    Deny, deny, deny. Accuse, accuse, accuse. Spit and holler. Deflect. Accuse some more. Anything to mark his accusers as being somehow untrustworthy. Hysterical. Women.

    I’m sure there is a connection between the intensity of response to accusations of similar category (being a sexual abuser/harasser and being accused of saying sexist things). That just smacks of projection meant to suppress criticism.

    Does anyone have any relevant research on that question?

  21. 21
    Stacy

    The fact that she believes “he got me drunk and raped me”

    Correction: she said “Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent.” We don’t know the details.

    Wanted to point that out, because when unattested details get added to these stories, it gets harder down the line to untangle the true from the false and recover the original narrative.

  22. 22
    Ace of Sevens

    @21: PZ clarified in the comments of the linked article.

  23. 23
    latsot

    There are many very nice things about Britain, but (as I imagine you already know) your libel laws are not among them.

    We have some crazy shit libel law, but I don’t think our courts can force people to give evidence if they don’t want to. Isn’t that idea really seriously fucked up?

  24. 24
    Stacy

    Ace of Sevens is right; everyone please ignore my comment @21.

  25. 25
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh, I’d say the reminder is still useful. It’s so easy to paraphrase the details, and that way errors creep in.

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