Words, actions, or attitudes

They’re on the story in the UK, too.

The skeptical community is aflame once again over the issue of sexual harassment following the remarks of JREF president DJ Grothe in response to a 50% reduction in female attendance at TAM 2012.

Remarks remarking that the angry feminazis scared off the women who should be registering for TAM because TAM is totally entitled to those women and the angry feminazis have a hell of a nerve scaring them off.

There is not really room to pretend there is not a real problem with sexism and harassment in our community, as this data from the American Secular Census shows, women are 26% more likely to feel unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed at Secular events 14.4% of women have felt  unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed in the secular movement and the factors that most influence these worrying statistics are as follows:

77% – Words, actions, or attitudes of other participants

46% – Words, actions, or attitudes of organizers, leaders, or employees

23% – Unwanted advances by other participants

15.4% – Unwanted advances by organizers, leaders, or employees

15.4% – Programs or positions of the organization itself

8% – Choice of activity or venue

Words, actions, or attitudes, you see – it’s not just unwanted advances. Unwanted advances are a pretty small percentage. It’s important to keep this in mind.



  1. Great American Satan says

    Interesting information. I wonder how the info compares to religious organizations? I suspect we’re worse with women and racial minorities than religious groups are, but better with sexual minorities (LGBTQetc), but that’s just a feeling. I don’t have any data.

    Yes, my home squids in the atheist underbelly need to get their shit together and start respecting the ladies. WTF, dudebros?

    And DJ Grothe – Does my memory serve me right? Was he the lone dissenting voice on the diversity panel that one year? That was hella butt. Hella butt.

  2. David says

    Are they such low percentages? They look far to high for me like Great American Satan, I’d like to see a comparison with a religious group, but i would also like to see one compared to a corporation and/or a goverment department. Previous work experience of mine , in a UK govenmental agency, and sexual harrasment was top of the agenda back in the early/mid 90’s. There were even awareness sessions.Ive been in a permanent state of astonishment since “Lift Gate” that in this day and age its still, by all apppearances, a very big problem, for a too high a percentage of women.

  3. says

    I wonder how the info compares to religious organizations? I suspect we’re worse with women and racial minorities than religious groups are, but …

    Great American Satan, I often think that the way people phrase things tells us as much about their frame of mind as the informational content of what they say. When I was ten years old, a pair of twins of the same age moved into my street. Their parents had just moved to the UK from South Africa. It was from this family that I first heard of the evils of apartheid and the issue of racism, something that simply did not occur in the part of Essex where I was brought up. However they also used to say things like “We treated our Africans well, we gave them our old clothes and we bought toys for their children.” I distinctly remember such talk made me feel uncomfortable but at that age I could not quite put my finger on why.

    I have to say that when you say “I suspect we’re worse with women” I feel similarly uncomfortable. Women are not some strange alien beings that “we” are “good with”, “bad with”, “better with” or “worse with”; on the contrary, women comprise more than half of humanity.

  4. Rich says

    I’m sure I’ll be blasted for saying this, but while the number of women complaining they feel unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed sometimes is in fact 25% more than men, the absolute number is 14.4% vs. 11.4%. If men are running around at these conferences calling everyone “cunt” and doing a bunch of ass grabbing and such, then I would think the % difference would be much greater. Something doesn’t make sense here. The article does feel a bit “cooked.” Slanted to make a point. And what is the % in other settings? Of course, the study could be understating the problem as well as overstating it. From the tone of the article, though, it seems unlikely that sampling bias worked in that direction.
    Oh well, I’m not a woman, and I don’t go to these conferences. This conversation seems very odd as an outsider. I should probably shut up now. LOL

  5. Pteryxx says

    I just posted this down in the depths of PZ’s thread, too. Ophelia, my apologies for spamming.

    All righty… I did some research into the problems with using surveys to determine the prevalence of sexual harassment. Much of what I found was paywalled research. It’s not something that can be done with a general survey not designed for the purpose.

    Basically, surveying sexual harassment is difficult *at all* because of pervasive underreporting. As with sexual assault and rape, only a small percentage of incidents are ever reported, for many reasons: the victims are too embarrassed or ashamed, they assume (often rightly) that nothing will be done to address the problem, or they’ve normalized the harm. Fear of retaliation or escalation, while also major factors, probably don’t have much effect on a truly anonymous survey.

    This is from page 32 of a 2005, 72-page report on sexual harassment among US college students (it’s big but quite readable):


    Given the strong reactions to sexual harassment,
    we would expect students to report incidents, yet
    most do not. More than one-third (35 percent)
    tell no one. Almost half (49 percent) confide in
    a friend, but only about 7 percent report the
    incident to a college employee.

    Female students are more likely than male
    students to tell someone about sexual harassment,
    although they, too, have reservations about
    discussing their experiences (see Figure 10).
    A common theme among female students is a
    feeling of nervousness or discomfort at reporting
    something that might not be “a big enough deal.”
    One young woman describes an incident that
    made her feel “horrible” and “helpless,” but
    she didn’t report it because “it didn’t seem to
    be that important.”

    Also, for a victim to report sexual harassment (or sexual assault, or rape), the person has to first admit that what happened to them WAS harassment, assault, or rape.

    From a 2004 U of Iowa report:


    Because research has shown that many people are reluctant or unwilling to label even serious unwelcomed behavior (e.g., physical assault of a sexual nature) as sexual harassment, this survey separated questions about respondents’ experiences with unwelcomed sexual behaviors from the question of whether or not they felt they had experienced sexual harassment. The intent was to capture more accurately the occurrence of behaviors without the stigma of the label.

    This survey asked about eight types of unwelcomed behavior which may constitute sexual harassment. A majority–52%–of respondents indicated that they had experienced one or more of the eight categories of unwelcomed behavior. Yet, when these responders were asked explicitly about whether they had experienced sexual harassment in the past 10 years at UI, most responders (62%) indicated that they had not been sexually harassed, whereas 24% (805 individuals)) indicated that they considered the unwelcome behavior to be sexual harassment. This represented 26% of female and 19% of male responders.

    It’s not just that DJ Grothe’s survey fails to capture the incidence of sexual harassment. ANY form of self-reporting will fail to do so, as long as sexual aggression combined with victim-blaming is culturally normal, particularly when internalized so that the victims blame themselves. Sexual harassment and violence can only be addressed in a supportive environment – otherwise, the vast majority of harassed persons will simply remain silent.

    If a culture exists at DJ Grothe’s organization that is not supportive of victims, as may be indicated by his recent remarks, then that culture could have DIRECTLY contributed to the observed low reporting rate. One instance of a witnessed, publicly reported incident has already been shown to have gone unrecorded within TAM’s harassment reporting system.

    Thus, the low reporting rate at TAM may be largely a RESULT, not a cause, of DJ’s (publicly articulated) perception that sexual assault is not a problem under his purview.

    *note: I decided (with reservations) to stay with the term “victim” throughout to keep focus on the concept of victim-blaming. Not all recipients of sexual harassment consider themselves victimized by it.

  6. LeftSidePositive says

    Rich: first off, you should probably read some background on the comments under a lot of the DJ posts–you’ll find that a lot of people mentioned that since harassment is so normalized in our culture, self-report will probably be lower, because it didn’t occur to them to report the things that people keep telling them is “no big deal.” A good number of people who might get a skeevy vibe might not consider themselves unwelcome or harmed, but opt out when they just don’t feel the community is for them (and general creepiness/objectifying/othering may play a part in this).

    Secondly, no one is claiming that there is overt and obvious widespread inescapable harassment. It is well-known that these are a minority of instances, but the general problem is a “chilly climate.” You should read up on that concept and why this can seriously affect female participation even when obvious harassment isn’t taking place.

    There’s also a selection bias–those who have opted out of the movement altogether after harassment (or just after feeling unwelcome due to their gender) will not be picked up.

    Cons and travel take a lot of money. If women feel like they’ll have to be on their guard the whole time (even if it’s just a 10% chance of something moderately bad happening), it becomes an expense and a bother that they just don’t want to invest in. “Oooh, I could go to this event, and at least there won’t be tons of “cunt”-screaming and masses of groping! Instead I’ll just be talked over, leered at, and assumed to be less well-versed in science than the men” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of how I want to spend my time.

    Even if it’s only just as bad as the rest of the world, THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH. For one thing, we’re supposed to be skeptics, and we’re supposed to be rational and be problem-solvers, so we should live up to what we believe in (or at least try). Secondly, even if it’s only the same background of harassment I get everywhere, I’m not going to spend hundreds/thousands of dollars and travel across the country for more of that same shit I have to deal with every day.

    Finally, a big part of the problem is not so much the base rate of harassment, but rather that there is a vocal portion of the community that will vilify and shame those that come forward. Most women do not avoid things they care about due to the baseline risk of harassment–or we could never leave the house!–but knowing a sizable part of the community is going to respond with rape and death threats, and the heads of major organizations will try to silence the victims for speaking up is a HUGE turn off. Feeling like you have no one to turn to makes a small risk an unbearable risk.

    I hope this clarifies things.

  7. LeftSidePositive says

    And by “read some background on the comments under a lot of the DJ posts,” I now mean: read the background that Pteryxx was kind enough to post while I was typing.

    (& there is more on those posts, too, with some different research settings but showing the same results)

  8. Pteryxx says

    Ophelia, a correction to my post above:

    Thus, the low reporting rate at TAM may be largely a RESULT, not a cause, of DJ’s (publicly articulated) perception that sexual assault harassment is not a problem under his purview.

    The two get conflated and overlap plenty without me making a screw-up like that. Thank you.

  9. says

    The source is a glorified internet poll and they don’t report N. I’d consider it less reliable than conference exit surveys that have high response rates and anonymity. But there is a problem of survivorship bias if you go with conference exit surveys.

  10. carlie says

    The people who are so obsessed over figuring out exactly to the tenth of a percent how many incidents of harassment there are per meeting are ignoring the entire cost/benefit analysis of the situation. It’s like they’re doing an entire financial audit of all of their assets before deciding whether to buy a pack of gum. The cost to writing and enforcing a strict no-harassment policy is minimal: good ones are already out there to use as a template (Pteryxx has provided many examples over multiple threads), and the amount of manpower needed to train and enforce it by conference workers is very low. The benefit is really high; it does make the event safer, it shows concern and respect for attendees, and it’s fantastic PR (come to the atheist meetings: we’re safer than the average con!). So even if there weren’t a single instance of known documented harassment on the record, it would still be a good thing to do because the benefit is so high compared to the cost. It’s a no-brainer.

    But instead, a lot of people seem determined to expend four or five times the energy it would take to make and enforce a good policy on trying to quantify the problem instead. Seriously. One incident is enough to justify the cost. We can move on now and just do it.

  11. maureen.brian says

    Yes, carlie, well said.

    And now, folks, we do have an established incidence of sexual harassment which even DJ Grothe admits happened at TAM. What worries me is how much courage and how many people it took to finally get that one fact established.

    When Ashley Miller challenged what DJ had said his response was a standard-issue put-down. I saw him do that put-down in at least three places. Fortunately, Ashley stood up to him although it was clearly hurting her and a whole series of other people – witnesses and victims of the event – came along and poked DJ with large sharp sticks.

    After several days DJ agreed to rearrange a few neurones, scrabble around in his memory and re-eamine what he could just about recall in the light of other people’s perception of it. They have now made their peace according to Ashley’s blog.

    Let’s just note, though, that it was a number of women absolutely refusing to be cowed despite the abuse and the pressure who got this sorted.

    It was not a set of whiny men – you know who you are! – who seem to need a videoed and notarised rape at every meeting before they will shift the emphasis from “what we have got away with up to now” to the much better situation we could have with just a modicum of effort.

  12. Candy says

    I agree with Orac. This Holocaust comparison is sickening. Has anyone been gassed to death at an atheist conference? Held in a barbed-wire enclosure and slowly starved to death? Get a grip, and get some perspective. Dawkins was dead to rights in what he said last year. For shame.

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