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Aug 06 2013

“Maybe you misread him?”

Update: Ok I knew this when I wrote the post but I refrained from saying so (for the time being), but PZ posted about it a little before I did and he got a ton of emails all saying is it ___? and saying the same name. The guy in this account is Ben Radford.

____________________________________________________________

Oh gosh, sexual harassment again. Again? Yes, again. (Also, still.)

Karen Stollznow reports on hers at the SciAm blog.

“I was sexually harassed for four years,” I admitted to  a colleague recently. “That’s awful!” he bellowed in outrage and  genuine concern, before he promptly changed the subject. Sexual harassment  is an uncomfortable topic to discuss with colleagues, especially when you’re the victim.

Well sure. You might start talking about a buddy of theirs.

Sometimes we don’t even know how to identify sexual  harassment because its methods are changing. Today, sexual harassment  is not always as bold, brazen and blatant as the boss who slaps his  secretary’s ass. It doesn’t have to involve leering or groping. It happens in a virtual work environment as much as it happens around the water cooler. More people are telecommuting although physical distance doesn’t prevent staff from being targeted by a harasser. Harassment from afar can include sending unwanted communication of a sexual nature, including emails, texts, instant messages, mail, tweets, phone calls, images, Facebook “pokes”, and stalking on networking sites.

Yes. Yes it can.

Confronted with these stereotypes and influenced by  the various forces of social conditioning, we often don’t know how  to react to sexual harassment anymore. Here are some of the attitudes  and opinions expressed to me, both directly and indirectly, when I began speaking out about my situation.

When they didn’t know the details, some people reacted with  concern that was tempered with cautiousness. “Could you be overreacting?”  or “Maybe you misread him?” There was suspicion over the delay in  reporting the incidents, “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”  and, “Why did you continue to work with him for so long?” Not observing  the harassment was a cause for doubt. “I couldn’t tell there was  anything wrong!” Some were prejudiced by their positive personal experiences  with the harasser, “I know him. He’s a good guy. He wouldn’t do  that!” My claims were also dismissed with the old adage that boys will  be boys. “It’s a guy thing,” and, “That’s just how men behave.”  One man offered a backhanded compliment, “Hey, what guy wouldn’t be interested in you!?”

So what you’re saying is, people haven’t learned anything over the past thirty or forty years.

As often happens in these situations, the blame is  shifted to the victim. Like the woman in The Drew Carey Show, the victim  may be labeled a prude or “uptight”. She lacks a sense of humor.  She’s crazy. She may be portrayed as a troublemaker by the accused  and his supporters. To undermine her claims, she might be branded a  serial complainer, where sexism and sexual harassment are often confused,  “You know, she’s accused other men of sexism before.” The case  may be demonized as a witch-hunt, and become a cautionary tale told  by those who fear that they too could be branded a “harasser” over  the slightest comment or glance. “Watch out, or she’ll accuse you  too!” I was held up to scrutiny in this way too. According to gossip  about me, I gave him mixed-signals, I led him on, I’m flirtatious,  and I’m a dirty little slut.

Demonized as a witch-hunt? Surely no one would go that far!

Alternatively, both the accused and accuser are blamed  for the situation. Those who didn’t know the extent of the harassment  reacted as though we simply don’t play well together in the sandbox.  “Why don’t you two just get over it and move on!” The matter was  misconstrued as a lover’s tiff, or that we were a couple in an on again, off again relationship. Others didn’t have time for my problems,  “I have my own worries.” One person was surprised that I confided  in him, saying, “It’s none of my business.” A number of people  commiserated but then moaned, “I’m sick of talking about sexual  harassment!”

Some were sympathetic, but from a safe distance. They  chose to stay out of it, because they “hate drama.” I didn’t ask  to become involved in a real-life soap either. I feel stigmatized by those who feel too awkward to face the situation, or me. I had a mutual friend who barely contacts me anymore, as he is unable to take a “side”.

All familiar.

From late 2009 onwards I made repeated requests for his personal  communication to cease but these were ignored. He began manipulating the boundaries by contacting me on the pretext of it being work-related.  Then came the quid pro quo harassment. He would find opportunities for  me within the company and recommend me to television producers, but  only if I was nicer to him. One day the company offered me an honorary  position that I’d worked hard for, but he warned me that he had the power to thwart that offer. I threatened to complain to his employer,  but he bragged that another woman had accused him of sexual harassment  previously and her complaints were ignored. According to him, she had been declared “batshit crazy”.

Uh huh. Aren’t they always.

Sometimes an organization under-reacts to the claims.  This was my experience. Following “Elevatorgate”, the company introduced  a “zero tolerance policy for hostile and harassing conduct”. When  I approached them with my accusations they appeared to be compassionate  initially. I spent many hours explaining my story over the phone and  days submitting evidence. Then they hired an attorney to collect the  facts and I had to repeat the process. I provided access to my email  account. I also devoted two days to face-to-face discussions about my  ordeal. This “fact collector” also collected a lot of hearsay from  my harasser, about how I’m a slut and “batshit crazy”. This tactic  of the accused is so common it’s known as the “nut and slut” strategy.  I soon learned that the attorney was there to protect them, not me.

Five months after I lodged my complaint I received  a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of  this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications”  and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly  reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and  a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to  my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to  allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the  public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this  turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he  was on vacation overseas. They offered no apology, that would be an  admission of guilt, but they thanked me for bringing this serious matter  to their attention. Then they asked me to not discuss this with anyone.  This confidentiality served me at first; I wanted to retain my dignity  and remain professional. Then I realized that they are trying to silence  me, and this silence only keeps up appearances for them and protects  the harasser.

The situation has disadvantaged me greatly. I have  lost a project I once worked on, I have had to disclose highly personal  information to colleagues, and I don’t think that I’ll be offered  work anymore from this company. Perhaps that’s for the best considering  the way they have treated me. I have since discovered that this company  has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record  of disciplining these harassers lightly, and then closing ranks like  good ol’ boys. Another colleague assured me this was better than their  previous custom of simply ignoring claims of sexual harassment.

Maybe in a century or so companies will do better than this…if they’re not all under water by then.

 

43 comments

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  1. 1
    Claire Ramsey

    Fuck. So well written and so clear. Also brave. Because we know so well how the internetz boys clubs respond to the truth.

  2. 2
    Sili

    Doxx!

    EBOL DOXXER!!

    FTBULLIES!eleventy1!

  3. 3
    anthrosciguy

    Yes, a timeout in the south of France will teach him a lesson.

    That lesson being: go ahead cause it’s okay here despite our stated policy. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.

  4. 4
    Tom Foss

    Some were prejudiced by their positive personal experiences with the harasser, “I know him. He’s a good guy. He wouldn’t do that!” My claims were also dismissed with the old adage that boys will be boys. “It’s a guy thing,” and, “That’s just how men behave.”

    Gosh, those sound familiar. Where have I heard that before?

    (Emphasis mine.)

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Right? [sigh]

  6. 6
    Ace of Sevens

    I can see saying she might have misread him if it were just an obnoxious comment or two, but for years at a stretch? Ben Radford is a generally functional human, not Mr. Bean.

  7. 7
    Ace of Sevens

    It’s like people have the answer ready to go and the details of what she says actually happened are irrelevant.

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    That’s exactly what it’s like! It could all be on cue cards.

  9. 9
    iknklast

    When I was sexually harassed, I had the disadvantage of having been diagnosed depressed. That, of course, easily translates to “batshit crazy”, even though I was never diagnosed with any functional incapacity. You see a doctor? You must be making it up! But they actually acknowledged the incident – then told me I should be flattered. Why? It wasn’t because I was ugly, no one ever said that, and in fact, at that time in my life, I was having to deal with being constantly hit on (I’ve put on a few years, a few gray hairs, and a few pounds; I now deal with sexism, not sexual harassment). They seemed to think any woman should be flattered to be hit on by any male, even one that was a slimy harasser who seemed to think it was his prerogative to issue invitations to the women who worked with him, and have them accepted. Then, they told me since he wasn’t my supervisor, and couldn’t hold firing or promotion over my head, it wasn’t harassment at all! It was just normal social interaction in the office. They also implied that I must have wanted him to say the things he did, or he wouldn’t have said them. I was “sending messages”. Ah, yes. Modest clothes, no flirting, staying to myself, and only going to his office when I had to for consultations on work matters, staying only as long as was absolutely necessary. I never flashed him any leg, never winked at him, and so forth. Apparently showing up at work while female is sending him a message that I was interested.

  10. 10
    besomyka

    I just realised that he was the same rationalizing misogynist that did the ‘take-down’ of the 4-year old girl who was complaining about gendered advertising.

    I am not surprised that it turned out to be him, nor am I surprised at his employer.

    Skepticism is what brought me to critical thinking, a better feminism, and agnostic atheism. To see people that should be skeptical thinkers resort to such poor thinking … it’s sad.

  11. 11
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @besomyka:

    Thank you, I remembered hearing his name but couldn’t place where I’d heard him before.

  12. 12
    Anthony K

    I just realised that he was the same rationalizing misogynist that did the ‘take-down’ of the 4-year old girl who was complaining about gendered advertising.

    Yep, good ol’ Pink Berries Ben.

  13. 13
    Eurasian magpie

    Not to mention being the one who’s “over rape”. I’m not surprised in the slightest.

  14. 14
    Stephanie Zvan

    Oh, fuck, Eurasian magpie. I was remembering the awful post he put up to get back at PZ after that (then took down and let some piece of slime post it on their blog instead). I’d forgotten how that started. Fuck.

  15. 15
    Great American Satan

    HaHA! Oh yes, it is time for a reckoning.

    Given the organization’s history of how they deal with this stuff, I’m betting they try to fight Stollznow, or bribe her to be quiet, or some other sheisty move. But the cat is out of the bag. A harassment apologist is now known to be a harasser. Shock!

  16. 16
    SallyStrange

    I remember, after Radford’s execrable article in which he tried to argue evo-psych via pink berries and beige dollies, many people, myself included, called on Ron Lindsay to stop giving Radford CFI’s platform from which to spew his aggressively ignorant idiocy.

    Whoops.

  17. 17
    screechymonkey

    great1american1satan @15:

    Given the organization’s history of how they deal with this stuff, I’m betting they try to fight Stollznow, or bribe her to be quiet, or some other sheisty move.

    I’m betting on “we can’t comment on personnel matters, or legal matters, and this is potentially both.” At least officially.

    Unofficially, I suspect we’ll see plenty of Radford allies posting the usual “she’s crazy AND she’s lying AND she asked for it AND it’s no big deal anyway” defenses. (It’s probably started already, for all I know.)

  18. 18
    Tom Foss

    I’m interested to see what shakes out of the asshole brigade over this. Seems like lots of people accepted Ashley Paramore’s story as “real harassment,” but she wasn’t naming a known, big-time, TAM-stage Skeptic. If I weren’t so sure it’s going to be a shitstorm of depressing, disgusting garbage, I might be entertained by their scrambling.

  19. 19
    HappyNat

    I willing to bet CFI board will “express its unhappiness and the recent controversy”. *gag*

  20. 20
    Al Dente

    I have since discovered that this company has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record of disciplining these harassers lightly, and then closing ranks like good ol’ boys. Another colleague assured me this was better than their previous custom of simply ignoring claims of sexual harassment.

    The company is CFI. I am not surprised.

  21. 21
    changerofbits

    @17 Yea, I’m not holding my breath either. They could just use the same hollow “statement” as before, with just a couple of words changed (in italics):

    The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

    The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of a diverse workforce. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent claims of sexual assault and harassment at our office.

    CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

  22. 22
    Ophelia Benson

    It has started already (of course). Even from Hayley Stevens, of all people.

    https://twitter.com/Hayleystevens/status/364840274574323712

    Hayley Stevens ‏@Hayleystevens 4h
    Too many people are taking too much joy out of someone being named & shamed as a harasser for me to believe they are at all sincere. Sick.

    An absolutely staggering thing to say. Joy? Because we like this shit?

    Not sincere? How fucking dare she. What, we’re lying about being pissed off that women get kicked around and then told to shut up and take it?

    Sick? We are sick?

    Good god.

  23. 23
    edithkeeler

    Stephanie’s response to Hayley was excellent

    @szvan @Hayleystevens There is no joy. There is anger so strong that it’s breaking out in black humor.

  24. 24
    SallyStrange

    I’ll admit to a touch of schadenfreude. So the fuck what?

  25. 25
    A. Noyd

    Ophelia (#22)

    Too many people are taking too much joy out of someone being named & shamed as a harasser for me to believe they are at all sincere. Sick.

    Wait, wait, wait. Who is taking pleasure in what exactly? And whose sincerity about what is in doubt because of it? I mean, I hope she’s not saying people on the sidelines enjoying a bit of schadenfreude somehow sullies the sincerity of Karen’s story. But it kinda sounds like it.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    Well, of course, she didn’t spell that out. Twitter is a good place to be passive-aggressive. But I think she means the general group of people who have been objecting to sexual harassment for the last however long, and I think she’s claiming we’re not “sincere” about those objections. But why she’s claiming that, I don’t know.

  27. 27
    Ace of Sevens

    I’ll admit schadenfreude, too. This is caused by two things: Ben Radford is kind of an asshole (for things unrelated to this), so it’s gratifying to see something bad happen to him. Also, most of these scandals involve anonymous parties and we have to talk about them in vague, speculative terms. It’s good to finally have a fairly concrete case involving known people.

  28. 28
    Randomfactor

    I had a mutual friend who barely contacts me anymore, as he is unable to take a “side”.

    Guessing here: he picked a side, and it wasn’t hers.

  29. 29
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Toleration of sexual harassment seems to be diminishing generally, in fact: Recently I met someone a friend was putting up for a couple of days. His family had finally thrown him out; he’d also resigned/been required to resign from his job for publicly unspecified reasons. In his case he’d been an infamous groper for thirty years and by-and-large had got away with it. He was very good at the job, charming, apologetic for his offences, persuaded everyone it was a fairly harmless foible and then- all of a sudden- people just wouldn’t put up with it. The friend who put him up for a short time is an elderly lady who punched him as hard as she could when he tried the same game with her many years ago and who he seems to have adopted as a mother-figure as a result- she’d spent a lot of time telling him not to be a fool since then- to no effect, she said.

  30. 30
    Bjarte Foshaug

    Perhaps Radford was just trying to turn Stollznow into a genius by exposing her to some taboo-breaking, unconventional ideas (“thinking outside the box” of our myopic, narrow-minded culture etc.)?
    Oh, that excuse is already taken. Never mind.

  31. 31
    yahweh

    “showing up at work while female [is sending him a message that I was interested]”

    Thank you, iknklast. I will use this.

    It deserves a TLA though, like DWB

  32. 32
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Ben Radford is kind of an asshole (for things unrelated to this), so it’s gratifying to see something bad happen to him.

    That last sentence…something bad isn’t “happening to him”. He’s receiving the appropriate consequence for the bad behaviour he chose to commit. It’s not “happening to him”, like he’s being hit out of the blue by a rock from space. I know that’s not really what you were trying to say, but let’s try to avoid the guilt-erasing language, no?

  33. 33
    John Phillips, FCD

    CaitieCat, not only that, but if his punishment is as described, I.e. suspension while on holiday anyway, he is a long way from receiving the appropriate consequences for his actions.

  34. 34
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Sorry, John Phillips, you’re quite right, I messed that up. I meant that the public opprobrium he was reaping was hardly randomly or passively acquired. Thanks for pointing it out. :)

  35. 35
    John Phillips, FCD

    CaitieCat, true, and, so far anyway, that public opprobrium appears to be the only real ‘punishment’s he is likely to suffer as the laughable suspension was not really one.

  36. 36
    jenBPhillips

    Oh yeah, here we go:

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/pages/cfis_investigation_of_harassment_complaints

    Prepare to be completely reassured.

  37. 37
    SallyStrange

    CFI would like us to know that Stollznow was totally lying when she said that their treatment of sexual harassment claims has been inadequate. I’m so comforted!

  38. 38
    John Phillips, FCD

    Seems I can remove the ‘so far anyway’ qualification out my #35.

  39. 39
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    I’m not surprised about Haley Stevens.

    She blocked me on Twitter for not being considerate enough to Rys when he accused A+ of calling him a “potential rapist” because he completely misunderstood Schrodinger’s rapist. I wasn’t mean or nasty, but I wasn’t nice enough to suit her. I thought I was quite patient, considering how many times I’ve seen that same misinformed accusation elsewhere. I guess I should have pinned a note to some fresh baked cookies, or whatever passes for a nice enough way to correct sexist bullshit. As I started my Twitter account to support several people who were being harassed, including Haley, that prompted me to decide to get off Twitter and stay off.

  40. 40
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    SallyStrange,

    Yep, that’s the CFI I’ve come to expect and be disappointed by.
    I guess we all know how sincere Ron’s apology was, now.

  41. 41
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    Oh, she didn’t just say she doubted your sincerity, she also thinks you’re being “predictable assholes” who are trying to start a fight “like your life depends on it”. Yeah, she’s not angry with Radford. She’s angry with feminist skeptics who are naming and shaming. Because apparently you should have all torn your clothes and wept for poor Ben. She protests her status as an ally being questioned, but she seems far more invested in telling women that they aren’t doing feminism right because they aren’t nice enough to men who serial harass, and sexually assault women.

    Ain’t she a peach?

  42. 42
    Tom Foss

    Don’t forget that refusing to attend a conference without an anti-harassment policy is “emotional blackmail. What a critical thinker, that one.

  43. 43
    Julien Rousseau

    “showing up at work while female [is sending him a message that I was interested]”

    Thank you, iknklast. I will use this.

    It deserves a TLA though, like DWB

    I think iknlast already has it in his post:

    WWF: Working While Female?

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