“Rape is not a recreational activity.” Steubenville Rape Verdict Roundup

A near-miracle has happened: two rapists have been convicted of sexual assault. Excuse me, found “delinquent” in a juvenile court. At their ages, had they stolen something more than an intoxicated girl’s bodily integrity, they would have likely been charged as adults – but hey, it’s just rape. Not like they stole a car or murdered somebody, amirite? And, hey, if they learn the appropriate sorry-won’t-do-it-again words, they may not even have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Pretty sweet, huh? That’s actually amazing, considering how few rapists ever get convicted at all.

United States rape statistics. Those numbers should horrify every decent human being. Image courtesy RAINN.

United States rape statistics. Those numbers should horrify every decent human being. Image courtesy RAINN.

And you know what America’s future rapists are learning from this rare semi-functioning of the justice system? Don’t rape? Don’t make me laugh. No, what they’re learning is simple: don’t do your raping in front of dozens of witnesses, and don’t upload pictures and video of your raping to social media. That’s what the judge warned them about:

Judge Lipps described much of the evidence as “profane and ugly.” In sentencing the boys, he said rape was among the gravest of crimes and noted that they could have been tried as adults with far harsher punishments. He also said the case was a cautionary lesson in how teenagers conduct themselves when alcohol is present and in “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today.”

Folks, this is rape culture. The message isn’t, “Don’t rape. Full stop.” No, it’s more of, “Try not to, and if you can’t help yourself, don’t make it so inescapably obvious. Because rape is just awful (wink, wink), but being forced to punish popular people is ever so much worse.”

And calling out rape culture and its apologists? Horrible.

And victims reporting their rapes and seeking a conviction? Obviously the worst thing of all, worthy of death threats and additional threats of rape, because how dare victims think they deserve justice?

One of the reasons I’m proud to blog at Freethought Blogs is because the bloggers and readers here don’t tolerate this shit. And maybe, just maybe, if we fight back against rape culture over and over and over and over again, we can begin to change it. If we refuse to be silenced, maybe, just maybe, this rape culture will no longer be studiously ignored. If we speak out forcefully, loudly, repeatedly, maybe there won’t be another person who doesn’t know what rape is:

One of the three, when asked why he did not try to stop what was happening, testified that he did not realize it was rape. “It wasn’t violent,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what rape was.”

Following is a selection of links and comments from around FtB, with some from our allies. We’re not fighting this fight alone.

Butterflies and Wheels:

Steubenville: Richmond and Mays found guilty.

They didn’t realize?

If you don’t want to be treated like one…


Steubenville rapists found guilty.

Do you deny that rape culture exists?

I’m not usually a fan of dog-piling…

Brute Reason:

More About Justice and Less About Revenge: On Reading the Steubenville Coverage Too Early in the Goddamn Day. (If you only have time for one, make it this one. I mean it.)


Talking About Rape


Steubenville Trial: Two Found Guilty.

An Observation.

The Raw Story:

CNN grieves that guilty verdict ruined ‘promising’ lives of Steubenville rapists.

The top 5 rape apologist reactions to the Steubenville rape verdict.


Some comments from our community:

tigtog on ignoring “trolls”:

One doesn’t have to be consciously/deliberately pro-rape to be an actively harmful participant in rape culture. Most rape culture involves trivialising and minimising the experience of rape, not promoting the practice of it.

Many people feel that the rigorous calling out of toxic victim-blaming and rape apologetics is a hugely important process contributiong towards the goal of dismantling rape culture. When you tell them to stop doing it just because you think that this one particular person’s statements are less important than Some V.V. Important Thing Which Is Gained By Ignoring Him, then you trivialising and minimising the experience of rape, by framing the naming and shaming of rape apologia as less important than the satisfaction you gain by ignoring this guy.

I absolutely believe that you are not personally/deliberately pro-rape. Telling others to ignore somebody who clearly is pro-rape doesn’t help you look like an effective anti-rape ally though.


If it wasn’t for folks on the internet highlighting their vileness relentlessly for years and years, there probably wouldn’t be a cadre of volunteers to act as a buffer zone between the mourners at funerals and the WBC pickets, and the WBC would be spouting their vileness without opposing voices.

Clear strong opposing voices are much more comforting to the targeted than a dignified silence which opposes nothing.


The Mellow Monkey on silence in the face of rape apologia:

You know, I’ve been surrounded by people who go uncomfortably silent or just try to ignore nasty rape apologia for years. That silence has been every bit as damaging and hurtful as anything nasty someone could say, because either they are silently supporting the bad stuff or they just don’t care to provide support and defense to victims.

So when you say “Don’t Feed the Trolls”, you’re not just suggesting that you should deny a troll attention (and people seem to think anybody who disagrees with them is a “troll” only seeking attention instead of a genuinely hateful asshat, of which there are millions on this planet). You’re also suggesting that you should deny all of the survivors support. You’re suggesting that you should ignore the pain people are being caused. You’re suggesting that because you are lucky enough to not be hurt by those words, it’s the fault of a rape survivor for being upset by them.

Fuck that. I will continue calling it out every chance I get. Will it change the mind of the one spouting it? Probably not. But it might change the minds of all those assholes who sit around quietly refusing to take a stance. And–most important of all–it will make other survivors feel a little less alone and marginalized.

And that last one is a fucking hell lot more important than “oh no, some troll got attention.” That last one saves lives.


Pteryxx on rape culture:


No rape culture, eh?


*warning for victim-blaming within the trial, specifically re testifying, and photos – Og, brace yourself*

The alleged victim is not expected to testify when the trial begins in Jefferson County juvenile court — before outside judge Tom Lipps took over for a recused judge with ties to the famed Steubenville High football teach, a West Virginia judge blocked a subpoena of the girl and two other witnesses called by the defense. But that hasn’t stopped Richmond’s attorney from using Jane Doe’s so-called “silence” against her: “The person who is the accuser here is silent just as she was that night, and that’s because there was consent,” Madison said.

There it is. Directly claiming the silence of an unconscious victim equals consent. And using that claim to shame her for not testifying up to that point.


More coverage of her testimony:


“Honestly, I was praying that everything I heard wasn’t true,” she testified. She didn’t want to be the center of drama, especially in a small town, everybody-knows-everybody atmosphere. “I thought everybody would blame me.”

And she was right.

On Aug. 14, after taking the teen to a medical center in her hometown of Weirton, her parents decided to go to police. She testified that she sat in the car.

“You never wanted to go to court on charges did you,” asked Marianne Hemmeter, a special prosecutor with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

“No,” the girl said, who has the 28th witness to testify during the trial, which began Wednesday.

And while CNN and almost all the coverage focuses on the poor promising rapists:

In the most outwardly emotional moment of the testimony, Hemmeter showed the 16-year-old a photo of herself that she had not seen. In the photo, she is lying on the tan carpet of a basement floor, naked and on her stomach. Her arms are underneath her body.

The girl began to cry, as did some of her family members, many of whom were wearing teal ribbons and the color teal, which is identified with supporting survivors of sexual assault.

“Do you remember that photo?” Hemmeter asked.

“No,” the teen replied.

“How’s that make you feel?” Hemmeter said softly.

“Not good,” she answered.

Even more here:


She also testified that she did not want to go to police. She said it was her parents’ idea. She sent a text to one defendant, 17, saying, “We know you didn’t rape me.”

Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter asked her that when she sent the text, did she know that digital penetration was also rape. The girl said she didn’t know that. She also said she didn’t know she had been digitally penetrated.

Like most victims, like most people, she didn’t know what counted as rape. But she did know coming forward would make her a target, and would make her friends turn on her; because they already had, that very night.

Hemmeter read from three of the texts: “Reno (football coach Reno Saccoccia) just called my house and said I raped you,” one said.

Another said, “You know what happened, there’s no video, so nothing happened.”

The third said, “This is the most pointless thing I’m going to get in trouble for. I should be thanked for taking care of you.”

The girl testified that she was interested in him and left a party with him because she trusted him.

She trusted him, and he said “there’s no video, so nothing happened.” She trusted him, and her friends (now former friends) yelled at her and blamed her the next morning, before she even knew what had been done to her and before she even knew the word “rape” applied to it. Though judging by the video, her attackers knew perfectly well that’s what it was.

And that’s the story, her story, and basically all of our stories in one form or another, that’s being erased when all the sympathy’s given to her rapists. That’s rape culture in action.

There’s far more from excellent people. If you have time, read the threads on the FtB and allies posts linked above. Speak out. Change the culture. And let’s never forget what Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said as he promised to take this case further: “Rape is not a recreational activity.”

Sunday Sorrow: What We Can Do

No songs today. Something broke this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born, and somehow I accepted them. Outrageous, horrible, tragic: can’t do anything about them in our gun-obsessed, health care-deprived, bullying, class-ridden society. Moving on, then.

Not this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born. I want them to stop before I die.

And I will need your help. We are going to have to start pushing hard together for a great many things.

We will need evidence-based solutions. Good studies of mass killers will need to be done; those studies will have to be conceived of, and funded, and read, and digested, and disseminated, and acted upon.

We know, already, that these mass killers have a tendency to use the kind of weapons you don’t keep around the house for shooting deer. We may not yet know how to keep them from hatching fantasies of killing, but we do know one way to mitigate their damage: get the guns out of their hands. We do indeed have the right to bear arms in this country. That right does not need to include assault rifles, semi-automatic handguns, and extra-large clips with armor piercing and/or hollowpoint ammunition. You want to shoot that shit off, you can do it at a gun club where your weapons are kept under lock and key and not allowed to leave the premises.

These fantasies about more guns being the answer need to stop. Watch this video:

You are a howling idiot if you believe you could do any better. The answer is not more guns. Period, full stop.

But controlling guns alone won’t fix the problem.

We need to combat bullying in schools. Kids need to learn to accept differences, learn it early, and have it reinforced often. So many people who have gone on to kill were outcast, bullied, denigrated, driven to despair – and even if it turns out that stopping bullying doesn’t stop the kind of social dislocation that causes people to murder one another, it will sure as fuck prevent a few suicides, and that is reason enough to do it.

We must push for better health care. If health care of all sorts were as cheap and easy to obtain as bullets, and had just as little stigma attached, more people would be able to get the help and support they need, physically, mentally and emotionally. They might walk in to the doctor’s office for help with that pit they’re edging up to, before they’ve gone down in it and think they can only shoot their way out of.

And as I say this, we need to absolutely ensure that we are not falling into the trap of blaming what these people do on being mentally ill, developmentally disabled, learning disabled, or any other bullshit reason people reach for in order to draw a nice thick line between regular ol’ us and homicidal, horrible them. Yes, absolutely, they are disturbed. You do not shoot up crowds of people if you are not disturbed. But the vast majority of us have one or more of those illnesses or disabilities that people try to pin the blame on. If any one of us found ourselves angry and suicidal enough to follow the blaze-of-glory script, people could whip a quirk out of our quirk bag and wave it around shrieking, “That’s it!” They were depressed, or schizo, or bipolar, or ADD, or autistic, or dyslexic, or had a small lesion, or hit their head as a kid, or… the list goes on, it is endless, and it means bugger-all. Stop fucking stigmatizing every mentally ill person in the country by saying only people with a mental illness can kill. This is not true and it doesn’t help anyone.

Here’s a helpful reminder:

“Predicting the Risk of Future Dangerousness”

Phillipps, Robert T.M. Virtual Mentor. June 2012, Volume 14, Number 6: 472-476.

Abstract: “A consequence if not a driving force of the pendulum swing away from benevolence and toward the protection of others has been increased attention to an individual’s dangerousness, with the operative presumption that dangerousness is often the result of a mental illness. But dangerousness is not always the result of mental illness. Individuals who commit violent or aggressive acts often do so for reasons unrelated to mental illness…. Research, in fact, confirms the error in associating dangerousness with mental illness, showing that “the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses [8]. The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is still very small and…only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill” [4]. Violence is not a diagnosis nor is it a disease [9]. Potential to do harm is not a symptom or a sign of mental illness, rather it must be the central consideration when assessing future dangerousness.” [emphasis added]

Does mental illness need to be destigmatized, diagnosed, and treated? Absolutely. Are some killers mentally ill? Sure. But just like we know a few assault weapons bans won’t resolve the problem, we know – or should know – that we can’t blame mental illness for every asshole who walks into a crowded place and opens fire.

We must identify factors that can trigger violence, and put in place safety nets to keep people from falling too far. There are things we can do for those who have lost jobs, loved ones, suffered other triggering events that, combined with other factors, could help put them in a situation where violence seems like the best and only answer for them.

But we must also stop glorifying killers. We must stop treating them like rock stars. No matter the horror we express about what they’ve done, we allow them fame because they killed, and we must find a way to educate ourselves about them and their actions without giving them that fame.

We will have to work to change a culture where little boys are taught to glorify violence and turn their aggression outward while holding their pain in until they burst, while little girls are taught to harm themselves first of all. We need better definitions of action and heroism. We need to change certain aspects of our culture that are doing more harm than good.

We must address poverty, and economic disparity, and work to reduce the differences between the haves and have-nots. We need to make this country that much more just.

Those who still believe must realize that bringing prayer into schools will solve nothing. What use is a God who will let 20 kindergartners and first graders die because people didn’t praise it enough? God will always have an excuse to do nothing: wrong kind of prayer, not enough worship, whatever excuse believers can come up with to excuse its absence.

And we all must be relentless. Call and write your Congresspeople. Contact your governor; rattle the cages of your state representatives.

Sign petitions. You may think they’re useless, but they are voices, and enough voices raised to a shout might get heard.

Here is one on Whitehouse.gov: Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress. And, for good measure: Today IS the day: Sponsor strict gun control laws in the wake of the CT school massacre. Also, since you’re already there and because so much violence starts in the home: Change Domestic Violence Awareness month form October to May so that it can rise from the shadows of Breast Cancer.

Avaaz would like us to Tell the NRA: ENOUGH! I couldn’t agree more.

SignOn has this excellent petition: Newtown, today we tell our leaders “No more!”

Done signing petitions and writing to politicians? Want to do more than howl? Donate to Newtown Youth and Family Services. They have set up a fund for the Sandy Hook victims, and are providing desperately needed mental health services in the wake of this travesty.

Donate to the Red Cross, which responds in disasters like these, too.

And remember.


And use your anger and pain for building a better world.

Enough Children Have Died

Enough children going to school, or out with their families, have died. Enough adults going to work, going out to eat, going shopping, going to the movies, have died. Enough people attending political rallies have died. Enough people have died.

It’s time to have a serious conversation as to why the United States has so many more of these shootings than anyone else.

It’s time to get serious about gun control.

It’s time we found the political will to face down the NRA and those who refuse to believe that regulating guns will solve anything, and make it much more diffcult for raging, hateful people to access the weapons they need for murder.

It’s time we found the political will to face down the cries of socialism and enact health care policies that will allow people to seek the help of a therapist when they can’t control their anger and hate on their own. It’s time we have the will to ensure that people who need help can get it, afford it, and will be judged as strong and good for seeking that help.

It’s time we stop excusing these killers as lone nuts, and start seeking real answers regarding their actions so that we can engage in real prevention. It’s time we had the courage to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

It’s time. It’s been time for a very long time.

I don’t want to see any more dead kids on my screen.

Contact your representatives. Tell them it’s time.

Control Arms campaigner David Grimason lays a photo of his son Alistair, who was killed by stray bullets in a gun fight, at the base of a mock tombstone. Control Arms coalition set up a mock graveyard next to the United Nations building in New York July 25, 2012. They are demonstrating as the negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty comes to a close on Friday. Image and caption courtesy Control Arms/ Andrew Kelly

Control Arms campaigner David Grimason lays a photo of his son Alistair, who was killed by stray bullets in a gun fight, at the base of a mock tombstone. Control Arms coalition set up a mock graveyard next to the United Nations building in New York July 25, 2012. They are demonstrating as the negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty comes to a close on Friday. Image and caption courtesy Control Arms/ Andrew Kelly

Link roundup and my letter to my Congresspeople below the fold.

From FreethoughtBlogs:

I am putting Avicenna’s post on top. If your heart isn’t already broken, I hope this breaks it.

A Million Gods: “The Right to Bear Arms.”

After he’s told us about a five year-old who will never, ever be the same, he says, “If you don’t realise that the right to not get shot is more important than the right to shoot people then nothing I say will ever make sense to you.” And this is what I will be saying to anyone who starts arguing with me about the right to bear arms, unless I choose the choice words of John Poteet instead.

Do not even think about slathering your right to shoot people bullshit all over my comments section. You have nothing to say to me today.

To all of you who might be tempted to howl, “Don’t politicize a tragedy!” – answer this question:

Brute Reason: If Not Now, When? On Politicizing Tragedy.

I’m not willing to wait a “decent interval” while children are dying, and have been for decades.

Pharyngula: Newtown Murders and Before you reach for the “it’s not guns, it’s the cray cray” argument.

Zingularity: Elementary school gunman identified, Frum makes sense on guns and Take a wild guess why Fischer & Huckabee think the shooting happened?

Greta Christina’s Blog: The Newtown Shootings: It Is Not Too Soon to Start Talking.

Butterflies and Wheels: A holy God in judgment.

Lousy Canuck: Yet another isolated incident of gun violence.

No Country for Women: Let the children live.

Ashley F. Miller: When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness.

Mano Singham: What more is there to say?


Other reactions I’ve read:

Love, Joy, Feminism: Tragedies Should Be Calls to Action.

Wonkblog: Mythbusting: Israel and Switzerland are not gun-toting utopias.

Mother Jones: A Guide to Mass Shootings in America.

David Frum on The Daily Beast: Every Day is the Day to Talk About Gun Control.

Ontario Geofish: Male depression and machine guns from vending machines.

Salon: Congress mum on “guns” in wake of shooting.

Cross-Check: Will Connecticut Massacre Give Politicians the Guts to Take on the Gun Lobby?

John Poteet (reproduced here for those without access to G+):

If you’re thinking of defending easy access to handguns today…

Shut The Fuck Up.

Just shut up. Your gun is not your dick and it won’t kill you to shut up and listen to people, parents, grandparent aunts, uncles, brother’s and sisters of schoolchildren and teachers rant and grieve for a few days. This is the product of your philosophy. This blood is on your hands.

Own it. Silently.


This is the letter I wrote to my Congresspeople. Feel free to steal and modify for your own purposes. Contact your Congresspeople now.

Dear [Congressperson];

Enough children have died.

Enough children going to school, or out with their families, have died. Enough adults going to work, going out to eat, going shopping, going to the movies, have died. Enough people attending political rallies have died. Enough people have died.

It’s time to have a serious conversation as to why the United States has so many more of these shootings than anyone else.

It’s time to talk seriously about gun control.

I’m sure you’re aware that in at least 2/3 of the 62 mass shootings that resulted in more than 4 deaths, the weapons used by the killers were legal. (Source: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map)

It’s time we found the political will to face down the NRA and those who refuse to believe that regulating guns will solve anything, and make it much more diffcult for raging, hateful people to access the weapons they need for murder.

It’s time we found the political will to face down the cries of socialism and enact health care policies that will enable people to seek the help of a therapist when they can’t control their anger and hate on their own. It’s time we have the will to ensure that people who need help can get it, afford it, and will be judged as strong and good for seeking that help.

It’s time we stop excusing these killers as lone nuts, and start seeking real answers regarding their actions so that we can engage in real prevention. It’s time we had the courage to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

It’s time. It’s been time for a very long time.

I don’t want to see any more dead kids on my screen. What will you do today to help ensure that America’s children are protected from gun violence?


Dana Hunter

Annual U.S. Firearms Fatalities. Image courtesy Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Annual U.S. Firearms Fatalities. Image courtesy Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Tell Me Again About Our Post-Racial Society

Actually, tell it to Ashley Miller’s dad, who disowned her for dating outside her race. He apparently didn’t get the memo about racism being a thing of the past. A scene with two lovers holding hands in which there is some contrast in skin tone is, to him, so intolerable that he must cut his daughter out of his life. Of course, he’s a coward as well as a racist, so he made his wife tell his daughter that he is willing to give her up over the skin color of her beau.

Lovers holding hands. Image courtesy Tanjila Ahmed.

Lovers holding hands. Image courtesy Tanjila Ahmed.

Racism is still a reality. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. Don’t tell yourself that lie.

I hope Ashley’s father has a photo like this one.

Parent and child. Image courtesy Steve Baty.

Parent and child. Image courtesy Steve Baty.

I hope it makes him weep. I hope it will make him think, and I hope it will eventually make him come to some different conclusions.

You Voted for Death

Dear Friend Who Voted for Romney:

I’ve spent a week trying to process the fact that you voted for Mitt Romney. I still don’t know what those “conservative values” of yours are – you couldn’t tell me, and I can’t figure out what in the Republican Party platform you could agree with. I’m still hoping that you weren’t well-informed and were just voting how the people around you recommended you vote, because if you’d educated yourself on Romney’s values, lies, business practices, actions as a bishop, and history with gay classmates, and still chose him for President, then I don’t know if I ever really knew you.

But that’s not what hurt most.

The thing is, you’ve admitted you didn’t think of many things. You didn’t think of the damage Romney would do to the economy. You didn’t think of the wars we’d get in to. You didn’t think of how he’d gut FEMA, leaving people in disaster areas vulnerable to rapacious companies – if they could afford help at all. And you sure as shit didn’t think of what would happen to women of reproductive age if the Cons came back into power. You told me outright you didn’t think of me and the other women in your life when you voted for Romney.

Romney tried to backpedal on abortion, but he supports efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Romney’s Web site says this would require the Supreme Court to first overturn Roe v. Wade. Then “states will be empowered through the democratic process to determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.”

Right now, women are protected by Roe vs. Wade. Yet states with Republicans in charge are currently busy stripping away as many of our abortion rights as they can get away with. With Roe gone, they’d have nothing standing in their way. Even the most extreme Republican stance – no abortion, no exceptions, not even for rape or life of the mother – could become state law.

This is the Republican dream for the nation.

And I want you to take a moment right now to picture all of the women of reproductive age that you love, and then imagine them in the world you would have made possible. Imagine them being impregnated by rape or incest, and told they had to carry that child to term. Read about the complications and risks of pregnancy, and tell me whether your “conservative values” are worth forcing them to endure this against their will. Because your “conservative values” come with that cost to women. You need to understand that.

And you need to know what the world you might have made would look like:

Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia at University Hospital Galway a couple of weeks ago, because she had a miscarriage and the hospital refused to abort the dying fetus.

“Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

“This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, ‘this is a Catholic country’.

“She spent a further 2½ days ‘in agony’ until the foetal heartbeat stopped.”

Then she died of a raging infection, because doctors wouldn’t abort a failed pregnancy even to save her life.

Savita Halappanavar. Image courtesy Shakesville.

Savita Halappanavar. Image courtesy Shakesville.

And you might say, “But that’s Ireland!” It happens here, too. You might say, “But that’s Catholics!” This is exactly what anti-abortion zealots in this country want, too. Even in places where they, like you, would allow exceptions for “life of the mother,” they don’t much care for mothers’ lives.

They put fetal heartbeats above the heartbeats of living women.

And you voted to empower them.

You voted for a world in which women had better be damned good at being pregnant, because their life is at stake.

You voted for death.

Another time, we may discuss the fact that you also voted for financial collapse, the destruction of the middle class, and endless war, but I think this will do for now.

I love you. I will always love you. I will always be there when you need me. But with your values turning out to be so antithetical to mine, we have a lot to work through.


Your Very Upset Liberal Friend


“She Had a Heartbeat, Too”

That is the phrase I want all of you “pro-life” people to remember: “She had a heartbeat, too.”

And now she doesn’t, because people like you placed a doomed heartbeat above her own life.

Look at the woman your morals killed.

Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar. Image courtesy Shakesville.

“She had a heartbeat, too.” Remember that. There is a life carrying that fetus you’re so concerned about. There is a human being you’re condemning to death when you tell her that the failing heartbeat of a person that will never be is more important than her own beating heart.

And if you can look me in the eye and tell me that what happened here was right and just, then I will know religion has stripped all traces of humanity and compassion from you.

Thunderf00t’s Potentially Illegal, Positively Immoral Crusade

I’m not going to say much about Thunderf00t’s plunge into probable illegality, because it’s been said better elsewhere. I’m having a difficult time thinking in anything other than expletives, and have since I discovered that little shit hacked our email list after being tossed out on his ear. I know he has a penchant for flouting copyright, but apparently, there are no depths to which he will not sink in order to satisfy a grudge. It borders on stalking. When I encounter asshats like him, my thoughts tend to trend towards words of roughly four letters. Especially when they’ve placed people I love and respect at real risk of physical harm.

In other words, it would be impossible for me to write a measured post.

Other people have managed more coherent pieces on the subject.

Ed Brayton’s statement sums up things nicely. Start here if you have no idea what’s going on.

Natalie Reed explains why what he’s done places some of us at risk of real-world harm, and why people like him drive good people out of the movement. If you read no other post, read this one.

Ashley Miller describes how his loathesome exploits have sickened those who were staying on the sidelines.

Zinnia Jones discusses the right to private spaces, free of eavesdropping asshats, and tells us about what the asshat has already done with some of the information he stole.

Stephanie Zvan describes the difference between a whistleblower and Thunderf00t. This is a useful post to bookmark for those times when folks may be tempted to view him as some sort of freedom fighter.

Jason Thibeault explains how Thunderf00t hacked our system. Combined with the fact he’s now crowing about it (no, I’m not going to link his ass: if you want to see it, either find the link in another post on FtB or Google it), this should satisfy those uber-skeptics who believe nothing without twelve dozen lines of evidence. If not, they’re a lost cause, and I will no more weep for their departure than I did Thunderf00t’s.

Greta Christina walks us through the ways egregious violations of privacy can harm folks who haven’t done a damned thing wrong.

JT has a moving post up on what it’s like when a personal hero turns out to be a complete asshole.

Jen McCreight explains why those of us at no obvious risk are outraged. Her final paragraph sums it up nicely.

Al Stefanelli takes Thunderf00t to task directly.

PZ pulls no punches (you didn’t expect him to, right?) and is curating links.

Ophelia Benson has her say.

There’s nothing much I can add to this discussion. I simply wish to make it clear that I think he’s a loathsome little shit, lest my silence be taken for indifference or approval. It doesn’t matter how angry he is that we decided he was better off our network than on. No amount of personal butthurt justifies what he’s done.

That said, I shall waste no more time over him. I have better things to do than watch an asshat dig himself deeper holes. I will be there for the people he’s placed at risk, and I will happily cooperate with law enforcement if it turns out they take an interest in his doings. I will make it clear to any and all people who wish me to attend conferences that my attendance is dependent upon his not being there. But he gets no more posts. I don’t like wasting my time with scum.

He can fuck right off.

(Before you comment: read the policy thoroughly. Keep in mind that this is not a public forum, I am in the midst of quitting smoking, I have no damned patience left, and I’m not interested in letting people split hairs and excuse his behavior in my comments section. We will not be discussing possible legal recourse, as that is a discussion to have with lawyers. If any of the foregoing has diminished your desire to comment, that’s very likely for the best. Come back for one of the happier posts.)

Surely We Have Some Real Threat Assessment Experts in This Community

And I’d like to hear from them. Threat assessment isn’t a simple task for the layperson. Since Dr. Blackford decided he’s the world’s expert* and has deemed the communications Ophelia received to be “not threatening,” I got curious as to whether we’ve got folks who do threat assessment for a living. You see, I did quite a bit of (informal) study on forensic psychology when I was younger. And one thing I remember actual threat assessment experts** saying is that threats are context-dependent.

For instance, if someone says they’re going to shoot me in the head, make sure my brains splatter all over the sidewalk, and then pour gasoline over the remains and set fire to them, I might become upset – if, say, that was conveyed to a third party by someone who is obsessed with me. But that graphic explanation of what will happen to me would make me giggle if some friends and I were discussing the best method for handling me should I become a zombie. Context is key, people.

But context isn’t always so crystal-clear. We saw that with the communications Ophelia received. They can be read as either a) a veiled threat to harm, b) a paranoid fan trying to help Ophelia stay safe, c) a nasty mockery, or d) something we haven’t even considered. Yet the context surrounding them is over a year of threats, animosity, and hatred aimed at her and like-minded women. That vitriol had increased to a fever pitch just before she received those emails. I can tell you that in the context of what’s been going on in this community, if I had received those communications from a person unknown to me, and this came on top of doubts I’d already had about my safety and comfort in speaking at a conference, combined with reasonable doubt as to whether the president in charge of said conference would take concerns seriously, I’d not be inclined to read them in the most flattering light. I’d be pricing Kevlar, just in case.

And I wouldn’t be wrong to do so.

Not being an expert in threat assessment, I’d have to go with my own judgment and the advice of people I trust. If some of them advised me that things looked rather hinky, and this confirmed my own feelings on the matter, I’d quite probably decide that keeping my speaking engagement wasn’t worth the risk. And if I believed, at the time, that these were genuinely threatening communications, I’d mention this fact when announcing that I was breaking the engagement.

According to Dr. Blackford, this isn’t what I should do. I have news for Dr. Blackford: his opinion in this matter would be precisely as valuable to me as my cat’s shit. He has not said anything that would give me confidence in his insight into such matters. What he has said on other matters leads me to suspect he may be full of the substance that frequently emerges from the litter box regarding this one.

Dr. Blackford sez, “For what it’s worth, I am an expert (or at least, to be honest, a former expert, in that I have not been in legal practice for over a decade now) on the subject of sexual harassment law and workplace misconduct in general.” Fantastic! I’m dying to know more about this brief phase of his life. Perhaps he can inform us how many incidents of workplace harassment are required before he would advise a company to adopt a harassment policy. Perhaps he would tell us what might happen to, oh, say, a convention that doesn’t take measures to prevent harassment and then gets the shit sued out of it by an attendee who is harassed and/or harmed there. Could it be possible that a harassment policy would not only protect convention attendees, but the organization itself?

Perhaps Dr. Blackford would also be so kind as to opine on just how much evidence is required of a woman to prove she was, in fact, harassed. Because, you see, he sez, “I think we should suspend judgment as to whether there was ever an Elevator Guy or a conversation in a lift in Dublin – we need more evidence as to what, if anything, took place that night…. Always be sceptical when you see claims about someone behaving badly unless you see the events with your own eyes or there is plenty of corroboration and/or testing of the evidence (via cross-examination, for example).” It sounds to me like Dr. Blackford is saying that no woman, ever, should be believed without X number of witnesses. Oh, he tries to wriggle out of that by adding that menz can totes make shit up, too (I paraphrase), but the people he’s currently busy doubting are all women who were harassed. I find his demand for evidence beyond an unreasonable doubt fascinating, as he was the very man claiming that harassment policies which disallow booth babes are “Talibanesque.” You know what else is Talibanesque, Dr. Blackford? Hint: it has to do with the reliability of women as witnesses.

After seeing Dr. Blackford’s comments on the matter, I doubt I’ll be consulting him on harassment issues for any organization I may be responsible for. And I can’t foresee using him for threat assessment in the future, but who knows? Maybe he’s actually brilliant at it. Let’s give him a chance.

Scenario A: A Love Letter

I have received a letter whose author says that the grace of my body thrills him, that my beauty is his starting point for the appreciation of all other beauty, and that he wants to feel my body and share his love with me. Should I be worried?

Scenario B: A Few Worrisome Words

I have received a communication that indicates I will be skinned, peeled, mutilated, and bombed. Should I become concerned?

Most of you already know the answers. The context of this post hints at them. You might even be wise enough to ask for context within the scenarios, because you suspect I’m being tricksy. I shall provide without making you ask.

In Scenario A, I am a 10 year-old girl getting a letter from a middle-aged man***. In Scenario B, I am a writer who has challenged another writer to a writing competition.

Let’s make it harder.

In Scenario A, I am a young woman receiving this communication from a fan.

In Scenario B, I am a blogger receiving this communication from someone who vehemently disagrees with what I said in a recent post.

It gets harder, in those instances. Perhaps not for Dr. Blackford, who would likely tell me that I should be flattered by A and laugh off B, from what I’ve seen of his commentary. But for most of us, it would become more difficult to deny those two things are potential threats. And if we suspect they may be acted upon, if we suspect that the letter writer in Scenario A will come to “share his love” (aka, rape) and the writer in Scenario B is unhinged enough to actually harm us, we will take action to mitigate those threats.

When we receive communications which, given their context, may be reasonably construed as potentially threatening, we are facing Schroedinger’s Threat. We are also facing a gamble, and the stakes are high. The probability of this Schroedinger’s Threat being a genuine one that will be acted upon may be low. But it’s not zero. Any psychiatric nurse Nurse Practitioner can tell you that a threat, whether baldly stated or merely hinted at, must be taken seriously.

And what we do when we assess the possibilities is a cost-benefit analysis in which we decide, for ourselves, whether to risk to our health and lives is worth the gamble. In some instances, we may decide it is. In some, we may decide it isn’t. We make the best choice we have with the information available to us.

In some instances, we may go so far as to hire a threat assessment professional. As Dr. Blackford and his fellow hyper-skeptics seem to lack a certain, shall we say, discernment in such matters, perhaps we should ask if anyone in the community does this sort of thing for a living?


* I have chosen Dr. Blackford as my example in this post. Alas, there are plenty of “totes not a threat!” people I could have used instead.

** People like Gavin de Becker and Dr. Park Dietz.

***This scenario was taken from Gavin de Becker’s excellent The Gift of Fear.


(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Due to the vagaries of work and sleep, they may not be released immediately. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment. There are also ground rules for this discussion here.)

How Not to Handle Harassment

D.J. Grothe, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, has a disaster on his hands. It didn’t have to be. There is a sentence he could have said at the very beginning, when folks were talking about the need for good, solid harassment policies at conventions and conferences. He could have said, “JREF takes harassment very seriously, and we will ensure a strong policy is in place to ensure speakers and guests are safe at TAM.” Then all he needed to do was to make sure an excellent policy was prominently posted, complete with reporting and enforcement procedures. Had he done so, two prominent women in the skeptical movement would not have withdrawn from TAM due to issues with his handling of harassment and threats.

This was never about TAM until he chose a different route. He chose to make it all about TAM. Those who already know the sordid history can skip this next bit, unless they wish to see D.J.’s spectacular fuck-up once again.

Observe this Facebook thread, wherein the possibility of a panel at TAM on sexual harassment was raised, and he responded thusly: “Hi Sophie, sounds like an interesting topic. But as you guessed, it is too late to add a panel to this year’s show. (The program is largely set many months out.) Also, I tend to agree with Barb that the topic seems sort of unrelated to JREF’s mission and the focus of TAM, scientific skepticism. Do you aim to debunk junk science in the field of sexual harassment or merely to educate folks and raise their awareness about the important topic?”

Please do take especial note of that “merely.” The hastily-appended “important” doesn’t balance it. “Mere” education and consciousness raising about the harassment and harm women endure has no place in D.J.’s organization.

Downstream in the thread, he says this:

“Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.”

The amount of fail contained herein is unbelievable for the president of any organization, much less the flagship skeptic’s organization. And he piled fail upon fail. When you claim there were “no reports of such harassment,” yet you were the one personally throwing out at least one harasser, and you blame your falling numbers on the women who speak of TAM like it’s some sort of skeptic mecca while they raise funds for more women to attend, you are telling women that for all you may claim you give a shit about them, in reality, you don’t give a shit about them. Neither does the organization you lead.

And when your immediate response to the news that one of your speakers is withdrawing due to threats is, basically, “meh, that’s too bad,” no subsequent response will be adequate to preserve the tattered remains of your organization’s reputation. Not now. Not until after a very long, sustained, and strong commitment to fixing all the shit you fucked up in the first place. Only time will tell whether the damage is too severe for even those measures to work, assuming D.J. and the JREF care enough to try. Nothing I’ve seen from them so far leads me to believe they will make more than a token effort, wrapped in a few pretty words that manage, once again, to blame women for the problems they face.

I’ve seen in many comments threads resulting from Ophelia’s announcement that, due to threats, she would not be attending TAM, variations on the following question: “How are those threats TAM’s fault?”

They are the fault of the person who made said threats, of course. But D.J. created an environment in which such threats could not be reasonably expected to be taken at all seriously by anyone associated with TAM. This is the extent of any policy they have to deal with issues such as this:

Registration Policies

Prices are subject to change without notice. Refund policy: 50% of charged amount will be refunded if canceled by June 15, 2012. Audio/Visual Recording for personal use only. We reserve the right to refuse entry to anyone. Disruptive individuals will be asked to leave. Questions? Email [email protected].

There is no harassment policy visible on their site. There is nothing spelling out how harassment will be handled, other than that “disruptive individuals will be asked to leave.” There is nothing explaining how and to whom incidents should be reported, what steps will be taken to ensure the comfort and security of attendees. No zero tolerance emphasized for threats or predation. And after watching D.J.’s demonizing performance over the past few weeks, after hearing nothing but thundering silence from the JREF board, after the viciousness displayed by supporters, after no policy other than those two pathetic sentences has been proffered when people have asked, “Where is TAM’s harassment policy? How will it address the obvious gaps in reporting and management that previous incidents at TAM revealed?” how can any person with two functional brain cells to their name possibly ask what responsibility TAM has for some of its speakers not feeling safe?

Conferences have a responsibility for the safety and security of their attendees. Good conferences take threats extremely seriously. They do not begin by creating an environment in which previous harassment is denied, and hence signaling to harassers that few, if any consequences will be faced. They do not achieve safety and security by creating the impression that victims are on their own, aside from hotel security, if they can even interest security in the situation in the first place. TAM did nothing to make a reasonable person believe they would do a damned thing to protect their guests. Why should their speakers expect more?

Tomorrow, realizing that a mild expression of regret is not the appropriate response to a speaker who is withdrawing because of threats, some JREF officials may decide to belatedly ask what they can do, and offer heightened security. That will be too little, too late. The immediate response to someone reporting that they have been threatened with harm if they attend is to do everything possible to mitigate the hazard and assure the world at large that threats are taken with utmost seriousness. Doing that later, when people have formed the opinion that TAM just doesn’t give a shit about women, gives the impression that it is reputation, not safety, that is foremost in their minds.

And if TAM treats its speakers with this kind of blatant disregard, what should I, as a mere female attendee, expect? I can tell you this: although I know many people who went to previous TAMs and had the best time of their lives, I won’t be going. Not now. Not since virtual carte blanche has been given to those who harass and those who harm. I can see for whom the green light shines. It isn’t shining on people who wish not to be harassed.

When your numbers drop to single digits, D.J., and you go searching for blame, you have only to turn to your mirror.



(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Due to the vagaries of work and sleep, they may not be released immediately. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment. There are also ground rules for this discussion here.)

My Country ’tis of Thee, Bad Land of Police Brutality

This is what America’s Finest are up to these days:

Note the technique: the insouciant stoll, the pepper spray held at a casual yet effective angle, the expression that says he could just as easily be spraying cockroaches as students, because they’re equally vermin to him. Note that his safety and the safety of others is in no way imperiled by a bunch of students sitting on the ground, yet he feels it necessary to spray them full in the face with a chemical weapon because they were, y’know, protesting. Defying his authortay. Can’t have that.

This is Lt. John Pike. You can go say hello.

ucdavis.edu">japikeiii@ucdavis.edu rt @ Welcome to the internet Lt. John Pike of UC Davis http://t.co/lnLjlwxo #ows
Gen JC Christian

Let him know what you think of actions and injuries like this:

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood. [emphasis added]

If, like me, you have no desire to speak to that piece of shit directly, contact the UC Davis police directly. Maybe you can send them a link to this video and ask them how this comports with their mission to protect and serve the students of UC Davis. And you can let UC Davis know what you think on their Facebook page.

Read this letter from UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi trying to explain away the violence:

And then let her know what you think of her excuses. Maybe just send her a copy of this letter, if you’re too disgusted to write one of your own.

Actions like this are truly disgusting. This is an outrageous way to respond to people peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. But it also shows how terrified those at the top are. They’re terrified enough to make their precarious position even worse by attacking students for the crime of sitting in front of tents.

Keep ‘em running scared.