Educate me on sexual harassment. Case 1.

Hello everyone. As a disclaimer, you are likely to be subjected to some pretty bad writing. If you feel the need to lament about recurring typos, poorly phrased sentences, crappy grammar and overall lack of talent, please send your complaints to the FTB admins. They brought me here, thus are responsible for any eventual traumas caused by reading my posts.

Now that we cleared that up …

You may have noticed that the subject of sexual harassment at skeptic conferences is still burning hot among bloggers here, and I for one am a bit conflicted. Conflicted as to what exactly should be considered sexual harassment.  On paper, the short definition of harassment is this :

harassment (either harris-meant or huh-rass-meant) n. the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands.

Also on paper, the generally accepted definition for sexual harassment (by courts and employers) is as stated below :

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when

  1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
  2. submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or
  3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. § 1604.11 [1980])

For the context of this discussion I think it’s necessary to replace “working environment” with “social environment”, but other than that things should be fairly clear. Only as it often happens with any kind of human interactions, sexual harassment seems to be an issue far more complex than the words in its definition might predict.

For this reason I will present to you a series of cases, and ask your thoughts as to weather or not these incidents belong in the “sexual harassment” category. The case I will put forth in this post is my own.


About a week ago a friend of mine from US called me on the phone to ask me (what I thought at the time to be) a very peculiar question: “Would I like to report that couple who harassed me at TAM last year?”. This baffled me. “What couple?” “To report what?” “To who?” “Why?” “What’s going on?”.

You see, lately I’ve been a really bad “Internet person”. Due to some family issues which needed all my focus, I’ve neglected pretty much everything Internet-related,  so I was completely unaware of this discussion.

To keep it really short, my friend explained that DJ Grothe said in a comment on Facebook that no incidents of harassment were reported at last year’s TAM that he is aware of. And this generated a series of reactions, one of them being that now there are women coming forward and reporting that they have been, indeed, harassed while attending TAM. Ofcourse, there is a lot (LOT!) more to this which I don’t have time to get into, so for a detailed timeline of everything that happened you can click HERE .

But back to that call. When my friend mentioned the “couple who harassed me at TAM last year”, I initially had no idea what he was talking about. But when he started reminding me about the incident, I began to realize that we may have different perceptions of what classifies as sexual harassment. First, let me tell you what actually happened.

Those of you who’ve attended TAM before may know that after the “conference part of the day” is officially over (as in, all the speakers are done for the day), there’s almost always an un-official hang-out at this bar inside the hotel, where skeptics gather together for drinks and interaction – sometimes until very late in the night or even early in the morning.

On one of these late nights at this specific bar, I was having a drink with the very awesome AJ Johnson, when a young woman approached AJ and started making sexually charged “compliments” . She and her boyfriend were apparently looking for a threesome. She was the one doing all the talking, the boyfriend was sitting in a corner looking too drunk to talk, or too high, or both, or maybe even having some mental disability. He just looked completely out of it. The young woman was noticeably intoxicated too.

AJ had to literally get up and leave in order to get away from her. Fortunetly for AJ, the young woman didn’t follow her. Unfortunately for me, I became the replacement focus of her attention. She was very sexually explicit in her language, very persistent and not very coherent. I was very uncomfortable. After enduring a few minutes of drunken babbles about how awesome a threesome would be, I got up and left too. (I forgot to say there was only AJ and myself sitting at that table when she approached us).

I mentioned this incident to a few of my friends that night, but it never even crossed my mind to report it to the TAM staff as sexual harassment. Nobody else suggested this either at that time.

And when my friend asked me recently if I would like to report it now, in the light of the newly surfaced controversy, I again said that I don’t feel I should report it.


So here are my questions to you: 

  1. Do you consider this was an incident of sexual harassment ? 
  2. Would you have reported it ?


You see, the title of this post is in no way ironic. I am very interested to know and understand what are your thoughts here, and I would very much appreciate some detailed answers instead of just answering “yes” or “no”.

Here’s my main 2 reasons for *not* reporting it to the TAM staff:

  1.  I didn’t feel that this had anything to do with TAM in any way.
  2.  I didn’t feel unsafe at any point, just annoyed.

I’m looking forward to reading your comments.