Reporting harassment and naming names

Maybe we can make a little progress here.

DJ Grothe has a comment on his Facebook wall (I don’t know if it’s public or not), replying to this comment:

I wish you could see, DJ, how a different frame would improve your position. Don’t say that the talk is causing a problem, say that the talk has increased the JREF’s desire to continue making TAM a safe and fun place for women.

D.J. Grothe: I certainly agree, and don’t believe any conversation about sexism is the problem — sexism is the problem. But there may be disagreement about the best ways to combat that problem. I favor direct communication and reporting harassment and naming names (such helps organizers remove offenders etc). And I remain optimistic that people of good will can disagree on such strategic issues and continue working in common cause.

Ok; this is one place where the gears start to grind, and maybe further discussion will help us make a little progress. (That’s what we want, right? Not Deep Rifts!! but explanation and better understanding. Right? But of course.)

Here’s the problem: it’s not that easy. It’s sooooooo not that easy.

Reporting sexual harassment (hereafter SH) is not easy – and by not easy I don’t mean it’s a nuisance, or difficult the way learning a new language is, I mean there are inherent problems and obstacles and penalties that make it all but impossible in most cases. I’ve just been chatting with some UK friends on Twitter about it, and they all instantly produced examples from their own experience.

  1. SH is by its nature covert. People usually don’t do it in crowded rooms full of witnesses, although sometimes they do, as Ashley Miller has been telling us.
  2. SH by its nature doesn’t leave evidence, unless it ends in rape.

1 and 2 all by themselves are enough to show that reporting and naming names are not always going to be even possible, let alone easy. Then there are all the other problems – it’s a friend, it’s a boss, it’s a colleague, it’s someone super-important or famous or money-giving or otherwise of value to the organization you work for; it’s a neighbor, a landlord, a relative, a friend’s relative.

Then there’s the “I’m a skeptic!” problem. On the one hand you have 1 and 2, and on the other hand you have people saying “I’m a skeptic, where’s your evidence?” People are saying this about SH among the atheists and skeptics right now, often with venom and malice and cunty epithets. So that’s another obstacle, innit. On the one hand women should report it and name names, on the other hand I’m a skeptic and where’s your evidence.

DJ, this is a problem. It’s a structural problem within skepticism. That’s not your fault or our fault (we women who have been talking about it lately), it’s just a problem. On the other hand when you blame us for talking about it in general terms instead of reporting it and naming names, well that much is your doing.


  1. says

    There’s also the problem that reporting and naming names are not the same thing. When you name names, you potentially create a martyr, you add a whole lot of heat to the situation… it is sometimes the right thing, of course. But oftentimes, just dealing with it discretely is more effective. Not every incident of harassment needs to become a cause celebre, often just having someone in a position to back it up tell the offender to “fucking stop or there will be consequences” is the most effective solution.

  2. says

    I favor direct communication and reporting harassment and naming names

    …Well, not if it happens on on the internet, though. If you report that, I’ll jump in to defend the guy and accuse you of baiting him into it and opportunistically using it to stir up controversy and get blog hits.

  3. says

    Because that wasn’t reporting, it was attempting to deal with. So we can’t attempt to deal with, we can only report? Yes that’s not going to work. I hope that’s not the plan.

  4. smhll says

    My thought on naming names publicly is that the person who reports will be verbally harassed by many of the named persons friends, cousins, facebook friends and twitter followers. Especially if the person is famous or popular, and also if the offense is something a non-targeted person can just handwave away with cheap excuses. I’ve never claimed to have psychic powers (naturally), but this I can foresee.

  5. Bruce Gorton says

    What if a website could be set up where the names could be named, without who named them listed? It won’t be ideal from the point that it could be exploited and hard to police, but it may at least be a start.

  6. 'Tis Himself says

    “This guy came up behind me and grabbed my ass.”

    “What’s his name?”

    “I don’t know, it was a quick grab and by the time I turned around he was retreating with his back towards me. He was about 5’10”, brown hair, wearing a blue polo shirt and jeans.”

    “That describes about a third of the men here, can you be more specific?”

    “Sorry, no.”

    “We can’t do anything then. If you can come up with a name, then we can do something.”

  7. says

    ‘Tis Himself,

    They can’t approach anyone without a name, but that’s not the same as doing nothing. They can still fill out a report, and collect the data.

  8. Nepenthe says

    TW for rape:

    Small correction:

    SH by its nature doesn’t leave evidence, unless it ends in rape in some circumstances.

    Never forget the rallying cry of every rapist and many rape supporters: “Hey, she likes it rough!”. Bruises and “DNA evidence” *shudder* are now simply evidence that “sex” occurred.

  9. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    We can’t do anything then. If you can come up with a name, then we can do something.”

    Later that day:

    “His name is Mr. John Smith”

    “Do you have any proof? Do you have a man to corroberate You can’t just go around making accusations! You’ll ruin the poor man’s life, you bitchcuntwhoreslut femnazi!!”

  10. maureen.brian says

    Bruce Gorton,

    Can we forget for the time being any notion of a campaign of naming names, however cleverly technological that might be? That way lies a decade or more of abuse, bullying and libel suits – vast amounts of cash and energy expended and most likely no benefit at the end of it. There’ll just be a high body-count and no progress.

    Far more important is what many of us are trying to achieve – a change over a relatively short time in a whole pattern of behaviour. That will include but is not limited to persuading a bunch of privileged, famous, well-connected men that what they have been getting away with is an abuse of power.

    I hope it will also persuade newer and younger people attending conventions that they have more to gain by treating their fellow humans as, well, humans than by putting notches on hotel bedposts in every city on the planet.

    There are a couple of very good draft anti-harassment policies being discussed right now which would take us towards that more important objective and all without show trials, witch burning in the town square or the rather frantic attempt to find a technological solution to what is a human, a societal, problem.

    Having a simple policy written in plain language, having staff and volunteers trained to listen and provide support plus possibly a mention of the fact that this still applies when you are drunk would go a lot further than any of the quasi-heroic “Firm Action” suggested thus far.

    I know you haven’t done it , Bruce, but not a few – DJ Grothe included – seem to see merit in calling the police. This just proves that blokes, however lovely, cannot do this without the experience and the insight which women have. Any woman who has dealt with this problem knows that in most jurisdictions there is a chance >50% that the police will be at least as dismissive as some people on these blogs are being now.

    Think about that!

  11. LeftSidePositive says

    They can’t approach anyone without a name, but that’s not the same as doing nothing. They can still fill out a report, and collect the data.

    And doesn’t that seem like *just* what DJ would do in that situation?

  12. Iain says

    At union conventions I’ve been to, there was always a team of ombudspersons around, specifically to handle complaints of harassment (see, e.g.,, bottom of page). The ombudspersons were there to provide a confidential, neutral path to resolving a problem – but could pass the complaint onto management if there wasn’t a resolution and action was needed.

    This seems to me to be an excellent way to handle this issue. A complaint directly to conference organizers brings in all of the concerns about evidence, liability, and enforcement that have been discussed. An ombudsperson allows for a complaint to be acknowledged, and action taken, without these legal complications. In most cases, it is not necessary for a minor transgressor to be evicted from a conference – a simple tap on the shoulder may be all that is necessary. With this system, I believe that incidences of harassment would be much more likely to be reported – and repeat offenders spotted – than by leaving everything in the hands of event security.

  13. 'Tis Himself says

    Thinking about it, I realize that one of the problems with DJ is he requires that the victims be the ones required to know how to make a report. He took part in ejecting someone causing an incident and he didn’t make a report or ensure one of his underlings make one. If the chief honcho can’t or won’t make reports, how can he expect anyone else to make them?

  14. Kathy says

    This whole ‘naming names’ thing can only be focused on so exclusively by someone who has never actually been harrassed.

    You’re in a room full of strangers, some of whom you’ve just been introduced to, you’ve heard 10 or 20 names for the first time in the last couple of hours. One of the strangers/very recently met people starts making comments that make you uncomfortable – do you even know their name? Do you remember it, if you’ve been told it? Or do you confuse it with one of the 9 other names you’ve heard that hour?

    You manage to get away from the guy and go and find someone to report his behaviour to. They ask you to point him out. You look around – now, where did he go???

    When I was in secondary school, I was harrassed on a fairly regular basis. My backside would be grabbed, slapped or pinched at least once a month, starting from about the age of 12. If a teacher was right there, and I knew who the culprit was, I would always report – I would usually have to, as embarrassing as it was, as I would be in tears and the teacher would want to know what’s wrong. (One time I had a teacher pick up that something had happened just from the look on my face – I didn’t burst into tears until after she asked what was wrong.)

    But far too often, someone who I didn’t know would have touched my backside from behind, and when I swung round to confront them, there would be a group of boys, and they’d all be giggling and pointing each other, claiming innocence. It was infuriatingly impossible to tell who was responsible.

    How do you name names when you don’t know who did it?

  15. Samantha Vimes says

    Naming names? How often does the harasser say, “Hi, I’m John Smith, and [lewd suggestions here]”? If he has a weird name, is the woman supposed whip out a pencil and notebook and ask him to spell it? Sometimes you may know, but it seems like pretty often, you won’t.

  16. Samantha Vimes says

    Ack, sorry, my reaction to that was so strong I didn’t read past where you were talking about making martyrs and see that you already covered the anonymous culprit issue. My bad.

  17. Samantha Vimes says

    Oops again. It was another commenter who already covered anonymity. I plead bad allergies for my disorganization.

  18. says

    FWIW, I train people in sexual harassment avoidance/training. I train people in my roughly 50-person business, and occasionally I do training for clients.

    A large part of what we train people to do — as is the standard advice — is to “name and shame” people only privately, to the people who have personal responsibility for the organization.

    I would never, ever recommend that an individual “name and shame” publicly, however much I condemn the behavior in question. That way lies potential litigation all over the place. This may be less true in the convention-participant context than the employment law context, but still — unless you love lawyers and think the world would be a better place if we had more beach houses, I think it may not be the best course of action.

    I say that as someone who firmly supports “naming and shaming” as a measure of social adjustment in appropriate contexts.

    Also, I find some of the criticisms of Ms. Watson — on the “why doesn’t she name and shame” axis — to be odd, given the history of this dispute. A segment of people talking about this absolutely wigged out about Ms. Watson merely describing the behavior of an anonymous man and saying “don’t do that.” Another segment freaked when she responded to a critic by name. Yet others managed to transform a prominent, intelligent, and self-sufficient public figure into a Victorian victim suited for a fainting couch on the grounds that his critics had wronged him by criticizing his fatuous attack on Ms. Watson. Can you imagine the pantswettingocalypse that would transpire if Watson really started to name and shame?

    Again, as I’ve said before, I disagree things Ms. Watson says both descriptively and proscriptively. I just can’t grasp the rage that her criticisms generate. They remind me of when angry X-Box gamers or their apologists write in to the awesome site “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” complaining how evil they are for highlighting bad behavior on XBox Live.

  19. Aratina Cage says

    there is a chance >50% that the police will be at least as dismissive as some people on these blogs are being now

    Not to mention that one of the very worst men on that blog is/was part of the police force (if his self-purported background is to be believed).

  20. says

    I disagree with some things Rebecca says too, on account of how I’m not the clone of her, but I also likewise don’t understand why people turn into the Hulk when talking about her.

    The legal opinion is useful. I will share it.

  21. iiii says

    I’d like to get to the point where women do routinely identify their attackers by name in public. That would be *awesome.*

    But we’re not there yet. If you don’t already know why, I suggest you google Noirin Shirley, and see what happens when a woman does name a name. Spoiler: she does not receive universal sympathy and hugs, and he does not receive universal condemnation.

  22. Pteryxx says

    If the convention has event badges with names or badge numbers on them, that at least *helps* identify strangers better than memory.

  23. Pteryxx says

    Pardon me for spamming this info; I posted initially among the brainstorming at Lousy Canuck.

    Okay… I talked to my local rape crisis center (located through the RAINN hotline) about the education they provide. Your local center MAY provide similar services, gotta ask them.

    Their educators do sexual harassment and assault education training as a presentation format and Q&A session, usually 60 to 90 minutes long. Presenters will come to your group’s event or meeting place, days or evenings or weekends. This is a free service and summer is a good time to schedule as it’s not very busy.

    My contact says the presentations will cover the definitions of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, how to recognize suspect or dangerous situations, what an escalating situation looks like, the basics of how reporting should be handled, and bystander training in how to intervene as safely as possible. She says they have never dealt with training event staff before, but it shouldn’t be much different from their usual presentation except possibly in scale.

    She also said (which I’m overjoyed to hear) that they RUN INFORMATION TABLES AT EVENTS. That means, if your group can arrange for a educator to run a table, the Backup Project volunteers can have a professional mentor! The educator’s there to teach and answer questions, not to handle reporting, but still.

    One more note – she said that a group should check with their local crisis center BEFORE listing the center by name on their harassment policy, in case it constitutes an endorsement.

    Printable materials can be requested or downloaded from local resource sites. I’m in Texas, so my local site is:

    which has lists of brochures (in English and Spanish) about non-stranger rape, sexual harassment (in the workplace) and lots of other topics.

    My two cents: y’all who are outraged, make a note to find your local center and either attend a training session or nudge your group, employer, bowling league or whatever to host one. Push this information to the organizers of any events you might attend – they too can probably have a training session for the asking.

  24. Cyranothe2nd says

    Ken @ 18 is a great comment. I would further add, what protections does DJ propose to put into effect for victims who name names? I have a really hard time thinking that we can even have a conversation about reporting without first talking about how we can and will protect victims.

  25. Bruce Gorton says


    South Africa recently had a case where a groper got out of getting punished for his actions because we don’t have sentencing recommendations for that sort of behaviour.

    In other words I 100% agree with you.

    The reasoning behind my thinking there was I think the problem is that harrassment is the kind of thing where it only takes a small group of douches to ruin an entire con.

    I am saying I think, because I am a guy, I am stuck looking at this as a guy. My data is incomplete on just how many guys do this, because it doesn’t happen to me.

    You make an excellent point, and I hadn’t thought of the legal aspect.

    Is there maybe a way one could set up a review process for the cons then? Sort of Hello Peter for covention goers?

    The reason I am thinking of this as being public is a comment I read on FTB where the person commenting was saying it was unfair for new con goers to get no warning, when this sort of problem is known to happen.

  26. ... says

    Then there’s the “I’m a skeptic!” problem. On the one hand you have 1 and 2, and on the other hand you have people saying “I’m a skeptic, where’s your evidence?

    Asking for evidence of serious, damaging accusations. How rude. How thoughtless. Don’t the realise that the skeptic way is to accept this sort of thing uncritically?

    For example, take this one:

    Over the past several years, I’ve been groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways, told I can expect to be raped, told I’m a whore, a slut, a bitch, a prude, a dyke, a cunt, a twat, told I should watch my back at conferences, told I’m too ugly to be raped, told I don’t have a say in my own treatment because I’ve posed for sexy photos, told I should get a better headshot because that one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person, told I deserve to be raped – by skeptics and atheists. All by skeptics and atheists. Constantly.

    Wow. Who could be skeptical about accusations like this? Who’d be so crass as ask why she never named names, never spoke out in public, never brought a formal accusation, when a mere offer of coffee in an elevator was enough to prompt a long discussion from her? How could anyone be so mysoginistic as to notice that all these horrible, horrible things were never mentioned by her at the time of her elevator post? Could anything be more perfidious than to suggest that this sudden revelation is a little too convenient?

    This is just dreadful. Clearly the only conceivable response is to set up a system where all accusations can be made anonymously and all requirements for evidence are waved and the accused should never, ever presume that he will even know the accusation, much less allowed to respond, but will simply be disbarred permanently. That is the logical choice. And only a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur could say that this is open to miscarriages of justice and abuse. That would be a dreadful thing to say.

    And, in truth, Brutus is an honourable man.

  27. Lyanna says

    Asking for evidence of serious, damaging accusations. How rude. How thoughtless. Don’t the realise that the skeptic way is to accept this sort of thing uncritically?

    Oh, I like this. So now the victim is the bad guy for making “serious, damaging accusations,” and the so-called “skeptic” gets to pretend that anything that doesn’t leave bruises or DNA simply doesn’t exist. Convenient!

    Who’d be so crass as ask why she never named names, never spoke out in public, never brought a formal accusation, when a mere offer of coffee in an elevator was enough to prompt a long discussion from her? How could anyone be so mysoginistic as to notice that all these horrible, horrible things were never mentioned by her at the time of her elevator post? Could anything be more perfidious than to suggest that this sudden revelation is a little too convenient?

    Nothing could be stupider, that’s for certain. Because it’s not a sudden revelation. The Elevator Guy incident (which didn’t prompt a “long discussion” from her–it prompted a single, mild comment of “guys, don’t do that,” which you and your fellow mosquitoes swarmed over) wasn’t the first time Rebecca spoke about the treatment of women in skeptical conferences. When Rebecca encountered Elevator Guy, she had just finished a speech about sexism and harassment among skeptics.

  28. ... says

    Did I say anything? No, I agreed with you! All requirements for evidence must be waved! We cannot conceivably waste time establishing that the victim is a victim; we cannot possibly allow any doubts to enter out minds; we must guard our hearts and our minds such that we may be made new, and that our opinions be made good and acceptable and perfect.

    I do not see why you take that tone with me; I have agreed entirely with your program.

  29. Lyanna says

    You said nothing at all, no. You just blew some smoke.

    What evidence would suffice, in your view, for establishing that a victim is a victim?

  30. Lyanna says

    And by the way, Rebecca never made any accusations at all. An actual accusation requires naming names. Saying “I was harassed here” isn’t an accusation. So you’re on the one hand demanding names, and on the other hand saying she shouldn’t accuse people without evidence. Nice logic, there.

  31. ... says

    But my dear Lyanna, have we not agreed that nothing beyond an accusation is necessary? Why do you persist in trying to make me one of those nasty misogynists who requires evidence and that the accused may face the accuser and all such machinery of patriarchal oppression? No, indeed, I agree, let us be done with such antiquated chains!

    But here, I fear, I must mention something else. For, I am sure that you agree, sexism is not the only form of discrimination out there. And we have noticed what one might call an ethnic imbalance in the ranks of the speakers, right? And though it tears my heart to say this, but there are standing accusations that Watson has been known to speak very disobligingly in private of those of non-European dissent. Now, is it a good thing to have such a person as representative of skeptical womanhood? Should not be a good thing for her to resign her position then? Enfin, I do not wish to use an outdated, phallocentric metaphor, but I cannot prevent myself from hearing the one about gooses and ganders and sauces rising in my mind. Do you want a person with such prejudices speaking for you?

  32. Lyanna says

    Yeah, whatever, troll. I’m not your dear, and we haven’t agreed anything. You’re just jacking off to your straw-woman, who’s apparently doubling as your inflatable sex-doll.

    Ms. Watson doesn’t speak for me, though I agree with much of what she says. Are there standing accusations of her behaving in a racist fashion? If so, who makes these accusations? When she stated there was harassment, she did so under her own name, because she’s not a cowardly troll who can’t even muster the letters of a pseudonym.

    Ophelia? Troll alert!

  33. says

    Wow, “…” (haven’t I told you before that you have to type in a handle of some kind?), you really missed what I said, didn’t you.

    A reminder:

    1 and 2 all by themselves are enough to show that reporting and naming names are not always going to be even possible, let alone easy.

    See that there? It doesn’t say “report and name names no matter what!!!” It says the opposite of that.

    Jeez. Reading 101.

  34. ... says

    Wait – you would not be asking for evidence, would you? Haven’t we agreed that such behaviour does not leave evidence and therefore we should waive that requirement? And how on earth can you suddenly reverse on our agreement here and demand that names be named and the accused be faced?

    Unless… like such contemptible people as Grothe, you are making excuses for such prejudice and discrimination! Please, say it’s not so.

  35. Lyanna says

    Ah, but according to our adorable pet troll, not naming names and reporting is just as suspicious as naming them! Either way, the victim’s a liar.

  36. ... says

    But Ms. Benson, I was agreeing with you! It is Lyanna who is all of a sudden demanding that names be named. Consider the magnitude of the subject we are dealing with – racial prejudice – how can we possibly demand that names be named and accusers be faced? Are we not honour bound to take this very seriously indeed?

  37. Lyanna says

    I’m not at all demanding that “names be named,” nameless troll.

    You named names, when you claimed that Rebecca Watson was accused of behaving in a racist fashion.

    And I wanted to know who the accuser was. After all, Rebecca Watson didn’t claim that harassment existed by hiding under a pseudonym.

    Which, by the way, is part of the sexual harassment policies suggested by Stephanie Zvan and others. The accuser goes on the record. Their name may not be publicized, but they will make an official statement under their real name to the people in charge of a conference. A far cry from an unaccountable nameless troll.

  38. ... says

    Lyanna, I just do not understand where you are getting this. I agreed with you that we don’t need to name names publicly, and that we should dispense with the requirements of evidence. I simply wish to see the same standards applied to racial bigotry – and that is a very serious problem, let us not have any doubts about that.

  39. ... says

    heir name may not be publicized,

    Exactly! And those who have spoken to me – it really was quite heartrending – do not want their names to be publicized. I am certain that they will make their accusations in private in due course, and I do hope that they will be believed and not subjected to any nasty doubt or skepticism. That would be horrible, expecting the victims to go through that. We couldn’t possibly have any suspicion that such accusations might be a put-up job. I do hope we can count on your support.

  40. Lyanna says

    Hah. You’re not applying the same standards to racialized harassment (“bigotry” is a type of thought, not a type of behavior, and so would not require the same framework as any type of harassment). You are naming names, unlike Rebecca, and you’re doing so under an unlettered pseudonym–again, unlike Rebecca. You are naming names while remaining anonymous yourself. The exact opposite of Rebecca, who came forward herself and put her real identity and reputation on the line to discuss the problem, while being careful to keep the identities of her harassers out of the discussion.

    You’re also acting unlike the victims would act in the proposed sexual harassment policies. They’d have to make some kind of a statement against their harasser. They couldn’t just start a trollish performance-art smear campaign under a pseudonym on the internet to attack straw-feminist witch-hunters, as you’re doing.

  41. ... says

    So when my colleagues decide to make this accusation in private, you will support them, right? You will not cast doubt on their credentials, you will not demand their proof, you will believe them, yes?

  42. Lyanna says

    Your imaginary colleagues? Who, unlike Rebecca and Jen and Stephanie and Elyse, haven’t made any independent statements in their own names? If they magically materialize out of thin air and appear at a conference, and make a statement under the framework of the suggested sexual harassment policy, which I think is a good one, then the people in charge of the conference should deal with them precisely as they deal with sexual harassment victims. If you want to know what that means, I suggest you go look the suggested policy up.

    What exactly are they your “colleagues” in, pray tell? Do you all meet up in your parents’ basements and stick pins into your straw-feminist voodoo dolls?

  43. says

    What, a rich white educated male being a thick-headed, dismissive, ego-centric ass? That has surely never happened in the entire history of civilization.

  44. Aratina Cage says

    Wrong Cambridge.

    Oh. Still, that is from 1973 and its damn near the exact same issue we are still dealing with today!

  45. jen says

    Good grief! If the IP address is genuine, “…” is posting from Cambridge University.

    Eh, not surprising if this “oh, but I’m just asking questions and clarifying” troll is some college kid angry because he just found out that he’s expected to treat the women on campus as if they were people.

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