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Jun 05 2012

Sexual Harassment, and What “Not Naming Names” Does And Does Not Mean

I’m working on a longer post about this whole “sexual harassment at atheist/ skeptical conferences” thing. I may not be able to get it out for a couple/few days, as I’m more than usually swamped right now. But there’s a particular point that I haven’t yet seen addressed, and I want to address it quickly here.

A quick summary, for those who haven’t been following: At the Women in Secularism conference last month, blogger and panelist Jen McCreight said that there was a problem with sexual harassment at atheist and skeptical conferences — and that in particular, there was a problem with certain speakers harassing female attendees or other speakers. She sums it up here on her blog.

There’s been a lot of conversation about this — and much of it has focused on the fact that, for the most part, the issue is being discussed without specific names being publicly named, and the discussion of who exactly we’re talking about is mostly happening behind the scenes. It’s been explained — more than once, actually — why this is. But detractors have been calling this “gossip” at best, a “witch-hunt” from the “Galiban” at worst.

So there’s a point I want to make.

Are second-hand reports of harassment enough to put someone in jail? Of course not.

Are they enough to officially ban someone from speaking at a conference? All by themselves, probably not.

But are they enough to start a conversation about sexual harassment at conferences? Are they enough to get us thinking about how we can make people feel safer coming forward when they’re harassed? Are they enough to make us wake up and realize that there’s a real problem here?

They bloody well should be.

If a whole lot of women, independently of one another, are coming up to Jen McCreight or anyone else and privately saying, “(X) groped me,” or “(X) kept hitting on me over and over even when I made it clear I wasn’t interested,” or “(X) followed me up to my hotel room after dinner without any invitation from me”… this should be a clear indication that we have a problem.

And if a whole lot of women are saying these kinds of things about several different men — with some reports being told about the same men over and over, and others being told about lots of separate incidents with lots of different men… this should be a clear indication that we have a BIG problem.

And it should be a powerful motivation to take action.

Yes, we have a Catch-22 about reporting. Currently, women who get harassed often don’t feel safe reporting it publicly. Understandably. When they do report it publicly, the consequences can be pretty ugly… especially if the person they’re reporting is famous and well-liked. And most of the time, it’s difficult at best, impossible at worst, to get hard evidence of harassment: it typically happens away from witnesses, and it rarely leaves physical evidence, so it typically comes down to “he said, she said.” And that creates two very bad situations: perpetrators can harass without consequences, and innocent people can be falsely accused with no defense. The people who are speaking out against sexual harassment at conferences are aware of this. We get that it’s a real problem.

AND THAT’S THE EXACT REASON WE’RE TALKING ABOUT IT.

We’re trying to find solutions.

Since this conversation started, nine different conferences that I’m aware of have either put a harassment policy with reporting procedures in place, pledged to put a harassment policy with reporting procedures in place, or stated that they already have a harassment policy with reporting procedures in place and have pledged to make it more public. That is a HUGE practical step forward. These are practical steps that can address this Catch-22. And they are steps that have been taken because people started talking about this.

There has, for instance, been a great deal of discussion about incidents of sexual harassment at TAM. JREF President and TAM organizer D.J. Grothe has been saying that he had no idea these incidents had happened. I’m willing to believe this. And this is the exact reason that a conference needs to not only have an anti-harassment policy, but needs to have reporting procedures in place. Having official channels to anonymously report these incidents gives you an idea of what problems your conference might be having that you don’t know about — and gives you ideas of how you might fix them.

So yes. The fact that women who get sexually harassed at conferences — especially by famous speakers — often don’t feel safe speaking out about it and naming names in public… yes, that’s a problem. Some of us are trying to solve this problem. If you have ideas about solving this problem that we’re missing, we would love to hear about it.

But if you’re going to accuse us of spreading gossip or starting a witch-hunt because we’re talking, as clearly as we can, as publicly as we can, about what is obviously a very real problem in this community, and are trying to find practical and fair solutions?

I’m trying to find a civil way to say this.

Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

59 comments

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  1. 1
    Infophile

    Ironically, it’s occurred to me that all the flaming that victims of harassment tend to take likely has the effect of minimizing the chance that anyone will be falsely accused of harassment. After all, if the accuser is going to become a social pariah for a claim (and many people are going to defend the accused), who would ever consider it worth it to speak up? So at this point, in this environment, false reports are likely a non-issue. At the very least, we’ll do far more good than harm by taking all complaints seriously and trusting that the accuser probably isn’t lying.

    Of course, I’m not saying false complaints will never be an issue. It’s certainly possible for a system to exist in which accusers face no repercussions, allowing a number of malicious individuals to take advantage of this fact. Eventually, finding a balance will have to be an issue, but it’s not immediately clear to me how that might be achieved. In the meantime, though, we can certainly improve the current system by taking all complaints more seriously.

    (Aside: I’ve heard that in Japan and Sweden, there are sufficiently few repercussions to accusers that false accusations are a real problem. But then again, I’ve also heard this about the US, and it’s certainly not the case there. If anyone knows of any hard statistics on false claims in those countries (specifically for groping on trains/subways for Japan, but harassment in general for Sweden), I’d appreciate seeing them, to be able to confirm or refute claims that false accusations are real problems there.)

  2. 2
    Eliott

    Greta…it feels like the autonomy and diversity of organizations within the community will create the greatest hurdle. In my view the policy’s need to be consistent and predictable across the spectrum. Sexual misconduct under Title VII is defined clearly so the policy’s should reflect that consistency. But here is where the complication starts unless the templates all look the same. For example …
    1) what do the reports look like
    2) who takes them
    3) what happens to them once taken
    4) who does the investigation, what qualification will they have to do it
    5) who will ensure a witness is available to witness the interview
    6)who determines if the incident rises to the level of misconduct
    7)what is the penalty
    8)who determines it
    9) are the folks doing the investigating indemnified
    10) how do we ensure confidentiality
    11) how is the loop closed at the end of the investigation
    12) what happens if there are no findings…this is particularly significant because…
    …a person at a meeting is accused of misconduct with no finding after the investigation, the same person goes to another meeting and is accused and there is another no finding, and then it happens at a third meeting…clearly predatory behavior and to catch that there needs to be a repository of aggregated information. The issue will be the logistics of the record keeping and the huge liability issue related to that.
    >A violation in any meeting should be the same and the penalty should be the same regardless of organization. In other words you would hope that a finding of misconduct would have the same hurdle at TAM as it would at AA and the same penalty. But there is a right of confidentiality that also has to be maintained.
    As to the policy’s themselves, I would look for them to include 2 statements in addition to the harrassment policy as follows…
    a) the organization reserves the right to ask a participant to leave at their discretion forfeiting any and all stipends, bonuses, renumeration or compensation. Additionally no refunds will be extended
    b) any participant attending willingly agrees to cooperate with any legitimate investigation involving misconduct when asked by the organization
    I believe thevrespnsibilty has the best chancevfor success if it is handled centrally by one person/group with significant experience in this discipline to execute the facilitation of this process throughout the community to ensure a consistent and predictable result.
    Lastly, for the duration of a given convention In addition to readily identified and available volunteers prepared to take initial statements, I would recommend the initiation of a monitored hotline available 24 hours as well as a website.
    I probably missed some things but hope this helps.

  3. 3
    Maria

    I don’t know about Japan, but I am Swedish, and checking stuff up a bit it seems to me that false rape accusations from women towards men is not the HUGE problem some wants to make it out to be.

    I was able to find reliable statistics about how many sexual crimes are reported in Sweden from:

    “The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet – Brå) – an agency under the Ministry of Justice – is a centre for research and development within the judicial system.”

    Here:

    http://www.bra.se/bra/bra-in-english/home/crime-and-statistics/rape-and-sex-offences.html

    Trying to find reliable statistics about this supposedly big and increasing problem of women falsely accusing men of sexual assault and rape proved much harder. Most of the links were of tabloid articles with their usual flair for sensationalism and scare mongerging, racist white power sites, or the like, where they also claim most rapists are dark skinned foreigners, when not complaining about how women lie about being raped all the time out of pure spite. Or a lot of forums and blogs where the tone is of the common misogyny we see so often, and where people “just know that it IS a big problem, because, duh, everybody knows that!!” but no one ever shows any reliable statistics to back it up. Or articles about Julian Assange…

    I’m not saying it never happens! Of course such things happens. But I can’t really find anything that realiably points to that this should be an especially common problem, or even something that is turning into a serious problem. Especially not when one compares with the statistics from the link above – which obviously IS a big problem.

    For example, this was discussed on a forum where people cried out for these women to get a punishment at least as severe as a real rapist would get. The hate was palpable!

    I would not agree either that there are no, or few, repercussions for women reporting they’ve been raped or sexually harrassed here in Sweden. There are the same talks here about “why did she walk there on her own in the middle of the night?” and “she shouldn’t have dressed like that!” Also, a recent newsstory in Sweden tells about how a convicted rapist in the north of Sweden had a support group on facebook in which several Swedish and Norwegian politicians and public persons were members. And a few years ago another much noted newsstory told of how a schoolgirl in a small Swedish town was more or less bullied out of town after having been raped by a popular boy at school. There was an absolute outrage all over the country about the treatment of this girl… for a while, but… now, some time later, there are still support groups on facebook for convicted rapists…

  4. 4
    Deen

    I’m trying to find a civil way to say this.

    Civility is severely overrated. It’s hard to keep seeing it as a virtue after reading all those people bragging about how much more civil they are than those hysterical lying feminazis…

  5. 5
    Katkinkate

    Men are beasts! I saw the double standards when I was a small girl and decided I wanted nothing to do with all that marriage nonsense. Of course I realise that might not be a viable option for most women. I’ve internalised the ‘don’t make waves’ message quite thoroughly though and have seldom even mentioned my run-ins with sexual harrassment/abuse. It’s just a part of being a girl, complaining just draws a lot of unwelcome attention and blame. I’m thankful I was born in Australia where the misogyny isn’t so malicious nor overt and I can be a marriage-avoidant batchelorette until the day I die without being ostracised completely. As I get older it’s getting easier. There’s not so much trouble with men sniffing around any more and my man-beating stick hardly gets used. I’m only keeping it now in case I need it as a walking stick in another decade or two.

  6. 6
    jamessweet

    I still don’t understand how “You’re not naming names” turns into “This is a witch hunt!” Isn’t part of the point of a witch hunt that you name the witches???

    Recently Rep. Allen West made a really stupid comment about there being some 90 members of congress who are really communists. While this obviously reminded everyone of McCarthy, nobody is calling West’s comments a “witch hunt”, because he didn’t actually name names or drag people in front of a committee. It was stupid, but it was not a witch hunt.

    How can you have a witch hunt without naming names? It just does not make any sense to me…

  7. 7
    Deen

    @jamessweet: maybe you first need to have a persecution complex for it to make sense.

  8. 8
    JD

    If a gay guy who works at the warehouse, and he is a big tough strong guy, keeps throwing his “gayness” in my face, is that sexual harassment?

  9. 9
    Deen

    @JD: what sort of derailing, underspecified , loaded question is that?

  10. 10
    jamessweet

    @JD: While Deen’s response is probably all that is deserved for such an irrelevant question… the answer is that I guess it depends on what you mean by “throwing his ‘gayness’ in [your] face”, but generally speaking in terms of most corporate anti-harassment policies, the same standards would apply regardless of the gender of the participant. If a “big tough strong guy” were constantly making unwanted advances at you, or graphically describing a recent sexual encounter, then yes, that is sexual harassment. On the other hand, if “throwing his ‘gayness’ in [your] face” simply means that, e.g. he has a family picture of him and his husband in his wallet that he likes to show people, then no, that is obviously not fucking sexual harassment.

    I remember when we did sexual harassment training at my job, there was a brief portion which emphasized that sexual harassment was not necessarily a man doing it to a woman, that the participants could be of any gender, and of any sexual orientation for that matter: A straight man can sexually harass another straight man. It actually is not all that uncommon: Mocking (which is not okay to begin with) with sexual overtones, e.g. like implying somebody has a small penis or something like that, I dunno.

    Of course it’s silly to act like the vast majority of sexual harassment isn’t men doing it to women. That doesn’t make other victims any less legitimate (and in fact, there is a little bit of an issue in that male victims of sexual harassment tend to undderreport even more because it is perceived as shameful) but let’s not unnecessarily derail this, mmm’kay?

    (And I’m especially suspicious because the phrase “throwing his ‘gayness’ in my face” sure doesn’t sound like somebody with a legitimate complaint would typically say. “Oh my god, I was made incidentally aware of his sexual preference! I’M BEING HARASSED!!!” — but you know, the fact that I have photos of my wife on my desk is perfectly okay. Uh oh, I’m throwing my striaghtness in people’s faces!)

  11. 11
    as

    I cant help it:

    Whenever I hear the term “anti-harassment policy”, I think of Neville Chamberlain, proudly waving his piece of paper.

  12. 12
    Deen

    @as: which is why just having the policy isn’t enough. You’re going to have to enforce it too.

  13. 13
    Stephen Frug

    I’m only intermittently following this conversation, so I’m probably missing something, and if so I apologize. But isn’t there a portion of the community for whom the problem is that there is not >enough “gossip”? That is, people who want to know who is harassing, and who are willing to take women’s word for it, but can’t know because people aren’t disclosing the names of the harassers? (Presumably this is a different group from those who are saying that even talking about this amounts to a witch-hunt.) My sense is that there are at least some conference organizers for whom second-hand reports would be enough to get them to not invite certain speakers, but who don’t know who not to invite.

    Obviously, there are good reasons people are reluctant to name those names — reasons detailed in the posts you link. But there’s some reasonable frustration about it, too.

    (One question along these lines: why not set up a moderated, anonymous way to report harassment claims? Someone could set up a web site with an email address, and solicit stories; once two (or three, or whatever number seemed right) independent stories came in about the same person, the person’s name would be added to the list. Obviously there are real problems about false accusations with such a system. But if the web site was run anonymously, wouldn’t it at least answer the issue that people are afraid of blow-back if the name those accused of harassment? There may be some obvious issue with this I haven’t thought of, but… well, I haven’t thought of it.)

  14. 14
    Pteryxx

    Stephen: Well, yeah, the obvious issue is that a completely anonymous, wide-open system like that would be prone to spamming by trolls who just want to break anti-harassment systems. It’s obvious from the level of online harassment of women who speak out that a LOT of such trolls exist.

  15. 15
    Barefoot Bree

    Eliott says:

    I believe thevrespnsibilty has the best chancevfor success if it is handled centrally by one person/group with significant experience in this discipline to execute the facilitation of this process throughout the community to ensure a consistent and predictable result.

    I wonder if it would be possible/feasible for some one of our many organizations to take this on and become the central investigating committee for all our various orgs and gatherings. One of the larger ones with some natural gravitas. They could set up a special task force and contact or even hire (if it becomes necessary) people with real expertise in the subject.

    (Yay! I learned how to blockquote! :D )

  16. 16
    Aaron Ross

    I think if gays are displaying their gayness at work in provocative, open ways then that IS FUCKING HARRASMENT!

  17. 17
    Deen

    Boring troll is boring.

  18. 18
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Aaron Ross,
    Define “provocative, open.” Like, seriously.

    Do you mean, “organizing orgies in staff meetings,” “hitting on people and not backing off,” both things that are out of line and (in the latter case) harassment? Or do you mean “Sally mentioned that it was the birthday of Jane, her wife,” or “Bob happily invited the office to a party celebrating the completion of the adoption of his child with his partner, Steve,” both of which are about gay people not hiding the fact that they are gay and are NOT objectionable in any way – unless you’re a homophobe.

  19. 19
    Alasdair

    Aaron Ross: well, it isn’t. Jamessweet already addressed that above. And what does it have to do with this thread, anyway? Take your trolling elsewhere.

  20. 20
    Butch Pansy

    I thought to be harassment , the offensive action had to originate from a person in a position of greater power than that of the harassed, in an on-the-job situation. Unwanted sexual talk or actions might be creating an uncomfortable or even dangerous work situation, but are not harassment, as such. A conference attendee might well make unwanted advances, but boorish behaviour is not harassment. Am I wrong?

  21. 21
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    The overall shape of society influences it too, Butch Pansy.
    In our society, women are expected to submit to sexual attention from men. Failure to do so is shamed. Look at EGate, for example. For all that Rebecca was a speaker and EGuy (so far as we know) was just an attendee, he *did* harass her by ignoring (1) her prior statements about how it is bad that women are seen as being there for men to pick up and (2) her statement that she was tired and heading off to bed. That he hit on her in an enclosed space at 3 am is just the cherry on the shit sundae.

  22. 22
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Bah. Didn’t finish my though.

    And her response? A gentle, “Guys, don’t do that.” By failing to obey the rules about sex, a rain of condemnation came down on her.

    The other thing about harassment is even IF the two parties are equal, once it is made clear that (1) the attentions are unwanted and (2) the one making the propositions/comments fails to stop and back off, then it immediately becomes harassment. No matter what else is true.

  23. 23
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    I think if Aaron Ross are displaying his assholish bigotry at this blog in provocative, open ways then that IS FUCKING TROLLING!

    Bub-bye. bigot.

  24. 24
    Butch Pansy

    Oh, I get the shit-sundae aspect, and the fact that no means “no,” not “try harder”. I followed e-gate until I got indignation burnout and MRA poisoning. It was just a semantic quibble I was experiencing. I’ll go back to my lurking position and learn a bit more. Thank you.

  25. 25
    kagerato

    @Infophile (#1):

    A few people seem to have looked into it, and found that the available estimates of false reports on harassment are in the 2 to 4 percent range. Very low, certainly much better than many other cases.

    There’s little to nothing to be gained by false accusations in this context, and a lot to be lost in reputation, shaming, and attacks. The scales are weighted against the victim through a deep structural imbalance that clearly is not easy to address.

  26. 26
    Pteryxx

    Butch Pansy: at least in the US, sexual harassment has a specific legal definition as applied to work situations. That’s not necessarily the appropriate standard to use for conventions, where almost everyone is there a) voluntarily and b) temporarily.

    Tangent point: sexual harassment *from a position of power* is a special case called “quid pro quo” harassment. It’s not the only form.

    What is “quid pro quo” harassment?

    “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment is when a supervisor makes sexual conduct of an employee a condition for employment benefits or advancement or a condition for avoiding adverse employment action. Adverse employment action may include poor performance reviews and preclusion from advancement or salary increases.

    http://www.sexualharassmentguide.com/faq/

  27. 27
    Deen

    I thought to be harassment , the offensive action had to originate from a person in a position of greater power than that of the harassed, in an on-the-job situation.

    No, that’s not required. It’s perfectly possible for someone to harass his or her supervisor or manager, for example. It’s just that you don’t need as much special procedures to protect someone who is in a position of power.

  28. 28
    Greta Christina

    I think if gays are displaying their gayness at work in provocative, open ways then that IS FUCKING HARRASMENT!

    Re Aaron Ross @ #16: I do not tolerate bigoted trolling in this blog. Aaron Ross has been banned.

    Men are beasts!

    Katkinkate @ #5: This is also bigotry, and is pushing the boundaries of what I consider acceptable language in this blog. Katkinkate, you don’t seem to be a troll, and you seem to be attempting to make a sincere contribution to the conversation, so I won’t ban you this time. But please do not make bigoted slurs against all men in this blog again. Thank you.

  29. 29
    Butch Pansy

    Of course, in the default world we live in, males *are* in a position of power, or at least privilege. This conversation, reaching a crescendo with Rebecca Watson’s creepy elevator experience and its exposure of the vile attitudes of MRAs, has been very enlightening for me. I was vaguely aware of the insulation my tall, handsome, able-bodied, well-educated, well-dressed, masculine presence provided, but my view has been widened. I’ve long noticed that people are nice to me, that they treat me with respect and listen to what I have to say. I used to wonder why. Well, I still wonder why, only now it’s with an understanding that they probably don’t know that they’re even doing it. I certainly know it’s not for anything I have actually done, or that I have *earned* such treatment.

  30. 30
    Butch Pansy

    Pteryxx: Thank you for the link. I have been vaguely aware of these guidelines for years, but have never worked in a company large enough to require training and have been mostly self-employed, with few or no employees. Aparently, I have been both the harassed and the harasser in the past, at least contributing to an uncomfortable work environment for straight people of delicate sensibilities; I hope that neither ever happens again. I will continue to be the brash, outspoken queer who I am: visibility is important.

  31. 31
    Randal Foster

    grrrrr….. the not naming names thing is what gets us into a lot of the flamefests in the first place. Whenever stuff hits the fan, folks get huge walls of flame from anonymous folks on the interwebz who would never dream of saying like things if their comments had a name or even a face put to them. We have an abscess here that needs to be lanced and drained, not covered with yet another band-aid. Thanks for telling it, Greta!

  32. 32
    Pteryxx

    Randal Foster: Um, point of order. Quite a lot of people flame women and other marginalized groups under their own real names, with pictures and everything. There are examples in #mencallmethings, either the twitter hashtag or the post series right here on Greta’s blog.

  33. 33
    smhll

    If a whole lot of women, independently of one another, are coming up to Jen McCreight or anyone else and privately saying, “(X) groped me,” or “(X) kept hitting on me over and over even when I made it clear I wasn’t interested,” or “(X) followed me up to my hotel room after dinner without any invitation from me”… this should be a clear indication that we have a problem.

    I understand why it is not desirable to name alleged names in this forum. However, I do feel it is helpful to name acts and talk about specific acts, even if they are hypothetical.

    One reason I feel that this is useful is that I think there is some difference between how the average man and average woman feels about acts of groping.

    People who have not been targeted for sexual predation may not see that extended unwanted leering may be a precursor to unwanted groping which, if it can’t be deflected, can sometimes lead to rape. A woman who is on the receiving end of extended unwanted leering, while trying to dodge it, is likely to worry about what else could happen, even as she dodges. At an expensive and brief convention, completely leaving the premises and going home is not a choice she’s going to be happy to make, even if that is something she does at other times. So I think her discomfort, and perhaps fear if she keeps crossing paths with the guy IS a big deal. I’m arguing that someone who hasn’t experienced sexual assault or the preliminaries to it (i.e. “no” being ignored), is more likely to think groping is “no big deal” and to not hear why people are saying it’s important.

    Also, even the population of men who have been unwillingly groped differ from the population of women who have been so groped. The average man who gets his crotch grabbed likely has wrists about as strong as his grabber (if it’s a man grabbing) or stronger (if it’s a woman). This is true a lot less often for women. Except for frail men and unusually strong women, if a man grabs a woman’s crotch, she can’t forcibly remove his hand. Having a hand squeezing your crotch that you can’t remove is substantially different that having one there that you can remove, I postulate. Walk a mile in my pants, please.

  34. 34
    Hellbound Alleee

    I don’t know why anyone would ever consider using the “witch hunt” phrase at ALL, considering not one person’s reputation has been harmed, as far as I know. By “person” I mean “the accused.” Show actual harm (that’s not deserved) and I’ll listen. So far, the only harm has come to those of us who wish to speak out.

  35. 35
    Robert B.

    smhll:

    I don’t deny the differences you mention, especially since you are precise in framing them as averages rather than universals. But I’d be surprised to discover anyone who has been unwillingly groped saying that being groped is “no big deal.” Have you seen that happening?

  36. 36
    Phillip Helbig

    Greta, what do you think of the idea (I think Jen mentioned it) of banning all sexual interaction at conferences as a preventative measure? Seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to me, and also suffers from a definition problem (what about couples, estranged couples, people in open relationships, rekindling old flames,…).

  37. 37
    Laura-Ray

    @phillip, I’m in a rocky horror cast, and we have a clause in our constitution that says basically that members of the board cannot have sexual relations of any kind with initiate members, with or without consent, until the initiates become full cast members, excluding couples who were formed before initiation or board membership. At first I thought this was kind of a pain in the ass, but really, I realized I was fully capable of keeping it in my pants until the people in a position of power over me no longer were in a position of power. And I got the chance to hook up with board members later, with much less stress and such. The moral of my story is, you are fully capable, no matter who you are, of keeping it in your pants for a weekend. If it’s communication you’re worried about, that’s what facebook is for. Otherwise, don’t take the risk of putting someone in the position of being that scared. I’ve been that scared, I would never want to inflict that on anyone else.

  38. 38
    jamessweet

    Actually, Greta, I’m pretty sure katkinkate was trolling:

    There’s not so much trouble with men sniffing around any more and my man-beating stick hardly gets used. I’m only keeping it now in case I need it as a walking stick in another decade or two.

  39. 39
    C Rowan

    @ Phillip Helbig: I believe Jen was suggesting that speakers not engage in sexual relations while working at conferences. She encouraged attendees to flirt & socialize in the spaces/times for such activities (Flirting at the pub, cool. Flirting at a lecture, not cool). I don’t know if I agree w/ her strategy but I understand it. Speakers/volunteers/staff are working, so they should treat the event like work. Also, not hooking up helps people avoid the problematic power dynamics of Speaker/Staff member & attendee.

  40. 40
    jackrawlinson

    >>Men are beasts! I saw the double standards when I was a small girl

    Did you? Did you really see the double standards? So much so that you thought it was okay to say “Men are beasts”?

    Thank goodness you recognise double standards.

  41. 41
    C Rowan

    I got the impression Katkinkate was actually somebody (perhaps a man pretending to be a woman, though not necessarily) who resents all this supposed misandry & was trying to talk shit. Whatever the case, Katkinkate’s comment was sexist, unfair, & unfunny.

  42. 42
    Infophile

    @3 Mary:

    Thank you for that information. Although that link doesn’t directly state how many claims are likely false, it does have this interesting tidbit:

    In 19 percent of sex offences, a person can be tied to the crime (2010).

    Although it’s disappointing that the rate is that low (but not surprising, given how there’s usually little or no evidence for many forms of sex crimes, and others rely on the issue of consent), it does mean that it’s unlikely that many (if any) innocent men have been convicted due to a false claim. Given that, I feel I can safely disregard any claims by MRAs that false accusations present a serious problem in Sweden, until and unless some actual evidence shows otherwise.

    As for Japan, a cursory search has given me the impression that the majority of “false” claims are more likely misidentifications of the perpetrator than crimes fabricated out of thin air to punish a certain individual. Given the cramped nature of public transit in Japan, it can often be hard to identify a groper amidst the crowd. However, there are a couple known cases of mistaken accusations (one man had trouble getting his coat off, and a woman near him thought he was trying to grope her; a witness was able to confirm the man’s story in this case… though maybe he was just using that as a cover from the start; can’t rule that out), and also a few known cases of frame-ups. It’s hard to say how frequent these cases are, though.

    The real problem in Japan seems to have its roots in the criminal justice system, rather than with sex crimes in particular. The courts have a typical 99% conviction rate, throwing out only the cases that are obviously false (which is rare). This covers all crimes, and the rate for sexual crimes is apparently little different. This makes it possible that someone who is falsely accused could indeed be punished based on the apparent victims words alone (though how often this happens, I don’t know).

    But in this case, I don’t think sex crimes in particular are the problem. The problem is inherent to the justice system, and that needs to be addressed directly. I don’t want to derail the thread by getting into the problems with it, so I’ll leave it here.

    Here are a couple English-language articles I found and referenced for this post:
    In anonymous pack train lurk gropers
    ‘I Just Didn’t Do It’ questions court system

  43. 43
    Maria

    Thank you for that information. Although that link doesn’t directly state how many claims are likely false,

    Ah, yes, it doesn’t. That was my point. What are the basis for their claims then?! It’s hard to find reliable statistics of this. Brå doesn’t bring it up (though it does bring up the amount of bicycle theft in Sweden, and one would think false rape accusations would be more serious than that, so it seems likely they would have brought it up if it was a bigger problem).

    So it seems likely to me that in most places where it’s brought up that women falsely accusing men of rape is a big, or increasing, problem, there seems to be nothing of that sort to back it up. If it should actually be a comparable problem anyway, then reliable statistics still doesn’t seem to be where these people have got it from. Several pages of links on Swedish Google are only of links from sources such as I mentioned (tabloids, blogs, forums…), where typical MRA attitudes prevail and there are a lot of anecdata such as they knew “a bitch who did that” or they had read a case about it in the news, and a while later another case, so… now it’s a pattern (and sure there will be such cases – doesn’t mean it’s a problem comparable with, or worse than, all these instances of real rape).

    Also the claim seems to be baked into complaints about women (and children) often making false accussations against men on the whole, about a lot of things. False child abuse accusations for example, and false accusations about abuse in divorce and child custody conflicts. And, again, of course there are such cases. But is it such a big problem that men as a group is badly affected by this, and is it a larger problem than rape, child abuse and spousal abuse…?

    So, yeah, I agree, until I see better evidence, I don’t buy it at all!

  44. 44
    Smhlle

    @35

    Some of DJ Grothe’s comments seemed to focus only on rape and reportable offenses. Anything else I inferred from victim statements that they expected no meaningful follow up, plus some anti-feminists implying that the issues raised were trivial. The idea that many skeptical men think gropping or brushing or handsing the ass when hugging is no big deal is just my educated estimate, based on a sample that may not be representative.

  45. 45
    sezit

    I just had a minor epiphany reading your post. I had been vaguely uncomfortable with the whole discussion. I realized that it was due to not knowing either who did what or WHAT WAS DONE. To my knowledge, there was only one specific incident (Elevatorgate) that has been talked about as unacceptable. Not enough detail has been spelled out.
    No, no, we don’t want to name names prematurely. But yes – let’s name specific actions!!!! Reading that someone was groped, or hit on repeatedly after saying no, or followed to their hotel room makes the situation much clearer! So, ask for narratives – anonymous if necessary. Post these stories somwhere under catchy titles… “Hotel Stalker” or even “Elevatorgate Guy”. Narratives allow learning for clueless jerks who want to stop doing the wrong thing. (My philosophy is that it is better wherever possible to attribute poor behavior to stupidity or cluelessness rather than malice – it allows for better possible outcomes.)
    Powerful verbal shortcut: At the first sign of bad or questionable behavior, the target or an observer says, “hey, Dude – you’re not a “Hotel Stalker”, are you?” (Peer pressure or negative naming can reset the situation. After all, guys do it to us all the time by calling “Bitch”. Turn-about is fair play.)

  46. 46
    AMM

    There’s one aspect of documenting reports of incidents that hasn’t been mentioned: one can still take some action, even if the complainants can’t “prove” what happened.

    For instance, if several people make similar complaints about X, that alone is reason enough to have a private chat with X about how such “misunderstandings” can be avoided in the future. If you continue to get complaints about X, there are further actions that can be taken; look at any good HR manual for dealing with harassment incidents to see what can be done.

    The point is, the goal of a policy is to reduce the number of incidents where someone feels sexually harassed, not to prove whodunit or to publicly shame baddies. As such, proving or publicizing past misbehavior isn’t the point. Getting people to avoid doing problematic things in the future is.

    (And if they make it clear that they have no interest in avoiding problematic behavior, that is IMHO reason enough to take further action, perhaps even disinviting them from future conferences.)

  47. 47
    dep

    I would like to know which prominent atheists are the offenders since I would not want to spend my free time reading their blogs, or spend my money buying their books. But I understand the other side’s reasons for not going public too, given the usual lack of unassailable proof to back the charge.

    Perhaps conferences could supply pen video cameras free of charge to every woman, asking only that they be returned at the end. Women could wear them and record the perps, and either post the video themselves, or just turn it over to the conference person in charge of harassment enforcement and let them take action.

    Thus, innocents could be cleared immediately (though I seriously doubt women falsely accuse men of harassment at atheist conferences, camera or no), and the guilty dealt with justly. Also, people who tend to doubt the woman’s word that she was harassed can be easily convinced with a little footage of the perp in action. Finally, the rest of us could see the offense and know for ourselves when a perp is no longer deserving of our respect, time or money.

  48. 48
    Iamcuriousblue

    While I think the issues you raise here need to be dealt with effectively and decisively, I think there’s two very clear problems here.

    1) The demand for blanket adoption of the “Geek Feminist” model anti-harassment policy, which is overly broad, chilling toward free speech, and rather sex-negative.

    2) The demand that DJ Grothe step down as president of JREF, coming from much of the FTB and Skepchick crowd, is particularly problematic. It seems to be based less based on mishandling of “Elevatorgate” and its followup and more on his being insufficiently “feminist”, JREF being too “libertarian” (whatever that means – “libertarian” has degenerated into a blanket term of abuse on Freethoughtblogs), and apparently, not making a groveling enough apology. In this regard, I think demands for Grothe’s head on a platter have little to do with actual sexual harassment, and more to do with the desire of some Left and feminist ideologues on Freethoughtblogs for ideological purge of the skeptical community.

  49. 49
    ck

    That is one impressive strawman army you built and then expertly tore down there, Iamcuriousblue.

    For your first point, you need to understand free speech. Free speech does not mean that you can say whatever you want with zero consequences ever. It simply means that you cannot be forcibly silenced (usually by government). I’m only surprised you didn’t complain about political correctness as part of this.

    And for #2, people are not angry with DJ because he’s “insufficiently feminist”, whatever that’s supposed to mean, but because of instead touting that JREF had an anti-harassment policy and that he wants women to feel comfortable coming to TAM, he blamed the victims and shot the messengers for bringing up the fact that people had experienced harassment. Frankly, this is not acceptable behaviour, and I can’t imagine why you would think it is.

    Your paranoid rant about some kind of “ideological purge” was amusing though.

  50. 50
    Holms

    Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

    Here, let me help with that: GET FUCKED.

  51. 51
    AMM

    For people who have trouble interpreting Iamcuriousblue @48, here’s the translation of a few terms from MRA-speak into English:

    “chilling towards free speech” = “someone might criticize me for what I say.”

    “sex-negative” = “giving female human beings the crazy idea that they have a right not to be hit upon or sexually assaulted if they don’t want to be.”

    And, of course, since

    “feminist” = “subscribing to the radical idea that women are people, (rather than doormats or sex toys.)”

    it is clear that:

    “insufficiently feminist” = “subscribing to the [widespread] idea that woman are nothing more than doormats or sex toys.”

    But you knew that one already.

  52. 52
    Iamcuriousblue

    Oh, hi AMM. BRILLIANT summary of my position there. You’ve got me pegged. Any other genius insights while I’m here? :-P

    I know, I should just fuck right off and chill with the MRAs, right? Except that they pretty much hate on me as a “feminist” and “Cultural Marxist”. No pleasing ideologues….

    ckitching:

    Um, yes, as a matter of fact, I *do* understand a thing or two about free speech, but thanks for trying to enlighten me.

    And, yes, while I understand the public-government/private distinction you’re attempting, I think private entities can be quite capable of censorship. If a private group attempts to have certain images or ideas banned pretty much everywhere, than they’re engaging in censorship as effectively as any government. And the fact that the “Geek Feminist” model policy is pushed hard on any and all venues which have a vaguely “geek” interest, from engineering conventions to comic cons, falls into the incredibly over-broad category. Care to dispute that?

    As for point 2, Grothe’s “victim blaming” consists of saying that there’s been excess nastiness on both sides. I don’t think that’s disputable, especially if you go back a year and note that there were a few Rebecca Watson partisans who were making threats to “out” Elevator Guy so that harm could come to him IRL. That’s the same unacceptable behavior that Watson says is directed against her. I don’t think that’s OK no matter who’s doing it, but I guess I’m just silly that way. And as for overall nastiness on both sides, I think that’s indisputable, and I think you need look no further than your own rhetoric. But hey, you’re “justified”, right?

    And, sorry, I’m still quite convinced that the motivation for pushing Grothe out of JREF really just comes down to politics, basically because those in the “feminist” camp, which predominates to varying degrees on FTB (some blogs here quite fanatically so), basically hate his guts. Hence “ideological purge”.

  53. 53
    AMM

    (I realize that the chances of changing Iamcuriousblue’s mind are about zero, but maybe my comments will be useful to other people.)

    …I think private entities can be quite capable of censorship. If a private group attempts to have certain images or ideas banned pretty much everywhere, than they’re engaging in censorship as effectively as any government. And the fact that the “Geek Feminist” model policy is pushed hard on any and all venues which have a vaguely “geek” interest, from engineering conventions to comic cons, falls into the incredibly over-broad category.

    Given that 99% of venues aren’t conventions, etc., with a “geek” interest, I can’t say that that’s “over-broad.” For that matter, I’d guess that there are “geek interest” venues that nobody’s going to “push” this on — e.g., a get-together of “Gor” fans.

    The point of saying that it’s not censorship is that, in contrast to government or a sufficiently powerful private entity, the supporters of the “Geek Feminism” policy aren’t in a position to shut down a venue that doesn’t do what they want. If there are enough people who think that the right to sexually harass women — or to say stuff that they know will make women feel like women are not supposed to be there — is an essential part of, say, a conference on skepticism, and they want to organize a conference to suit them, there’s nothing that the GF policy supporters can do to stop them.

    I’m still quite convinced that the motivation for pushing Grothe out of JREF really just comes down to politics

    In the same sense that eliminating slavery in the USA was “just politics.” The only way it makes any sense to call the compaints against Grothe “just politics” is if you think that freedom from sexual harassment is only a political point, and not a matter of basic human dignity.

  54. 54
    Greta Christina

    The demand for blanket adoption of the “Geek Feminist” model anti-harassment policy, which is overly broad, chilling toward free speech, and rather sex-negative.

    Iamcuriousblue @ #48: Who is “demanding” the “blanket adoption” of the Geek Feminist model? I’ve seen it suggested as a proposed template, to be tweaked as appropriate for the individual event. If you have specific criticisms of this template, or can suggest a better one, I think people would be interested to hear it.

    The demand that DJ Grothe step down as president of JREF, coming from much of the FTB and Skepchick crowd, is particularly problematic.

    What “crowd” is “demanding” that DJ Grothe step down? I’ve seen one person, Greg Laden, suggest that he do so. There may be others that I’ve missed. But I have not seen a wholesale demand for his resignation. What I’ve seen is a lot of serious criticisms of his behavior in this matter.

    It seems to be based less based on mishandling of “Elevatorgate” and its followup and more on his being insufficiently “feminist”, JREF being too “libertarian” (whatever that means – “libertarian” has degenerated into a blanket term of abuse on Freethoughtblogs), and apparently, not making a groveling enough apology.

    No. This is flatly not true. The criticisms of D.J. Grothe are primarily centered on his assertion that women complaining about sexual harassment is what’s making women not want to go to skeptical conferences. They are secondarily focused on his mis-handling of the controversy that — quite reasonably, and entirely predictably — resulted from this assertion.

    And the problem with his apology wasn’t that it wasn’t sufficiently groveling. It’s that it didn’t actually address many of the issues being discussed, didn’t indicate an understanding of why he was being criticized, and was only addressed to one of the several women he maligned.

  55. 55
    tm

    I got the impression Katkinkate was actually somebody (perhaps a man pretending to be a woman, though not necessarily) who resents all this supposed misandry & was trying to talk shit.

    This looks like a case of “No True Scotsman” purification of one’s in-group. If you weren’t already familiar with the moniker, a simple google of katkinkate would clue you in that she is a she and a repeated contributor to freethoughtsblogs.

    Thanks, Greta for calling out her comment. I was considering a comment on how her statement does not at all help, and how not calling it out would itself display a double standard — which is not to say that the double standard that she saw as a small girl is not very real. I consider it quite tragic and ironic that the misogynist treatment she has received all her life has resulted in misandry.

  56. 56
    tm

    But is it such a big problem that men as a group is badly affected by this

    “as a group” is a problematic qualification. Some men are badly affected by it, namely the ones who are falsely accused. Are other men oppressed by the possible threat of being so accused? I don’t think that’s statistically warranted.

    and is it a larger problem than rape, child abuse and spousal abuse…?

    I find such comparisons troublesome, like Scott Walker’s divide-and-conquer strategy. How does the magnitude of one ill negate another?

    But, no, absolutely not … and I say this as a man who was falsely accused of sexual harassment and was coerced, through threats of much worse consequences, into a plea bargain. I strongly supported and fought for the creation of the laws that led to my conviction, and I still do. But the law enforcement culture and its ethics being what they are, assumption of innocence and other due process concepts are frequently ignored; it’s easier to treat 100% of complaints of sexual harassment from women as valid even if only 95% are. My accuser was a troubled person who had watched her house sink during Katrina and had been abused by several men. She took anti-anxiety drugs for night terrors. When she came to work in tears, a co-worker urged her to go to the police. She filed a false and physically unrealizable story, and then filed a different false and physically unrealizable story in a restraining order complaint (but didn’t appear at the hearing). The officer who took her statement promised her they would get me, and the prosecutor told my lawyer that she thought we both believed our stories … and yet signed a statement that she was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of my guilt; even if I had been guilty, these are violations of due process.

    My experience is anecdotal; it is unusual. It in no way negates or lessens what women go through. Still, it was a violation of my rights and it badly affected me.

  57. 57
    Maria

    “as a group” is a problematic qualification. Some men are badly affected by it, namely the ones who are falsely accused. Are other men oppressed by the possible threat of being so accused? I don’t think that’s statistically warranted.

    That’s what I said. Things like that do happen and I didn’t say that it isn’t horrible for the individual it happens to. But men as a group isn’t oppressed by women as a group, and I don’t think those cases are a sign of an imminent oppression of that kind. When some people say things like “feminists have got too much power these days,” and “men doesn’t have any rights anymore” and then bring up cases of false accussations by women as examples, it’s them who are making the statement that they are affected as a group – I disagree.

    I find such comparisons troublesome, like Scott Walker’s divide-and-conquer strategy. How does the magnitude of one ill negate another?

    Again, it’s them who are making this comparison. On an individual level I agree with you, on a societal level I don’t think the two problems compare.

    Still, it was a violation of my rights and it badly affected me.

    Absolutely! And again, I’ve never said bad experiences and unfair treatment of any individual should be downplayed or ignored. But what I was arguing against was a claim that there is a serious and increasing problem in Sweden as a society that women do this, and that one reason they do it is that there are no, or few, repercussions for women to report rape or sexual harrassment here – both of which I think are wrong.

  58. 58
    Iamcuriousblue

    More radiance from AMM @53:

    “The point of saying that it’s not censorship is that, in contrast to government or a sufficiently powerful private entity, the supporters of the “Geek Feminism” policy aren’t in a position to shut down a venue that doesn’t do what they want. If there are enough people who think that the right to sexually harass women — or to say stuff that they know will make women feel like women are not supposed to be there — is an essential part of, say, a conference on skepticism, and they want to organize a conference to suit them, there’s nothing that the GF policy supporters can do to stop them.”

    Righhhht, because the only alternative to the “Geek Feminist” policy as written is one where there’s a blanket right to harass women.

    In the same sense that eliminating slavery in the USA was “just politics.” The only way it makes any sense to call the compaints against Grothe “just politics” is if you think that freedom from sexual harassment is only a political point, and not a matter of basic human dignity.

    OK, rereading this – you didn’t just compare the animus against Grothe with the fight to eliminate the brutal institution of slavery in the antebellum South, did you? Oh wait, you just did.

    You may not have mentioned Nazi Germany, but you’ve made an utterly inappropriate comparison on that level. The Godwin threshold has been officially reached. Thanks for playing.

    I’ll give a more full response to Greta later, as what she said actually merits a response.

  59. 59
    Skepgineer

    An anonymous paper exit-survey with a 70% response rate that asks specifically about this sort of thing turned up no reports of harassment at TAM9. What else can they do? Provide an email address for anonymous tips? Throwaway gmail account + mailto:[email protected] + cc whoever. If anybody wanted to report a problem anonymously at zero risk to themselves they could easily do it unless they’re living under a rock with no internet connection. What we’re missing is the bureaucratic process and TPS reports?

  1. 60
    Holy. Fucking. Shit. | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] and much more frazzling even than usual. Thus far, all I’ve said on the topic has been (a) this post, on what is and is not an appropriate community response to widespread second-hand reports about [...]

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    Not Worth the Price of Admission | En Tequila Es Verdad

    [...] Christina’s Blog: Sexual Harassment, and What “Not Naming Names” Does And Does Not Mean; Sexual Harassment, and the OpenSF Conference Code of Conduct and Holy. Fucking. [...]

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    Harassment policies campaign – timeline of major events | Lousy Canuck

    [...] 5th Greta Christina’s Blog Sexual Harassment, and What “Not Naming Names” Does And Does Not Mean: Greta discusses the Catch-22 of taking reports seriously and the troll meme that this is a [...]

  4. 63
    Sexual Harassment, Unwanted Sexual Attention, Cruising, Flirting | Charlie Glickman | Adult Sexuality Education & Sex-Positivity

    [...] about sexual harassment at conferences and community events. I’ve mostly been tracking it via Greta Christina’s blog, though of course there are lots of other people talking about it. I’m really glad to see [...]

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