It’s always the changing story that gives the liar away. We have a couple of accounts of the night in question, when Michael Shermer is accused of taking advantage of a young woman at a conference, and both of them come straight from Shermer himself. Here’s the story from Shermer written shortly after the event.
Alison showed up around 11:30, and of course she’s young and cute and these two guys were panting big time to be with her, but she obviously wasn’t interested in them that way, and was just moving around the room having fun, but when she was hanging on me now and then I could tell that these guys were really pissed off. Long story short, later the next day, after talking to you, I saw both of them standing together and confronted them about the gossip rumors, and [one of them] admitted he was mad at me because he said he felt like I was preventing him from, in his words, “getting into her pants,” and the dreadlocks guy said that he was really drunk and that “I admit that I was running my mouth off.” So, basically, they admitted that it was them spreading the nonsense that I was trying to get Alison drunk and take advantage of her. For the record, by the way, most of the people at that party, Alison especially, could drink me under the table no problem. People kept pouring me scotch, and after awhile I was pretending to drink it and then drinking water instead, and at one point Alison said something like, “hey, he’s not really drinking his scotch,” so I was busted and everyone gave me a hard time (in good fun of course).
Anyway, I wanted you to know that Alison is a good kid and this was just a typical gossip rumor thing that goes on all the time, but that I’m a bigger target than most in this small skeptical pond, so I have to be especially careful.
He portrays himself as the grownup, surrounded by a cloud of hard-drinking young people, and says that Alison could drink him under the table. He’s gallantly defending her from the attentions of two mysterious drunk guys, Jules and Vincent apparently, and neatly evades admitting whether he had sex with Alison or not. There’s the patronizing “kid” and the aggrandizing confession that he’s such a big target that he has to be careful — it’s all just rumors.
So the story here is of a mature statesman of the movement acting responsibly around those darn rambunctious drunk kids, and all the tales about him taking advantage of women are just gossip.
Late one night, at the June 2008 TAM, around 10 or 11, I wandered over to someone’s suite at the hotel where there was a party going on. It was jammed with people. Everyone was drinking and having fun. I talked to lots of people, including Alison, whom I knew reasonably well. We were talking and flirting, and after some time she took me by the hand and led me to the bathroom and closed the door behind us, where she proceeded to proposition me in a very direct, assertive, and physical fashion. I was taken aback. Sex in a hotel bathroom isn’t my idea of a romantic evening, plus I could tell she’d been drinking, so I encouraged her to put herself back together and rejoin the party. We went back to mingling with the crowd and a short while after that we went outside to get some fresh air and we ended up walking and talking for a couple hours out on the Las Vegas strip. We did not drink for the several hours we walked together after the suite incident. She was sober. I was sober. I invited her back to my room and she willingly accepted my invitation.
So now the story is that she’d been drinking, it was all her idea, he waited until she was sober, and then he had consensual sex with that
kid woman. No mention of the fact that the woman woke up the next morning in distress and tearfully talked to friends and conference organizers about the event. No mention that the story went around higher-ups in the skeptical scene to the point where he had to write that earlier whitewash to excuse it.
Let’s just leave it at this: a self-professed “bigger target than most in this small skeptical pond” has now confessed to taking advantage of a young woman sexually at a conference, and is changing his story as more and more facts emerge about it. By his own words, Shermer uses conferences as a sexual meat market and is willing to lie about events.
In his defense, Shermer then cites the fact that Alison later invited him to participate in a panel at TAM, and gosh, she didn’t sound traumatized.
If Alison was unhappy with our sexual encounter, let alone if she believed she had been raped, why would she ask a rapist to be on her sex panel, and throw in a smiley face for fun? Why didn’t she tell me back in 2008, or years later, or even now, how she really felt? I don’t know. But I do know this: at the time, Alison definitely wanted to have sex with me, she was not intoxicated when we did have sex, it was consensual the entire time, and by her actions before, during and after she seemed to have no reservations or misgivings.
Some skeptic. How do women respond to rape? A thousand different ways: some are angry, some are in denial. Some try to blame themselves. Some try to pretend that everything is normal. Some laugh, some cry. Why is someone who claims to be knowledgable about human psychology so distorting the facts of response to trauma?
Sexual assault is an arbitrary event in the victim’s lifestyle. It is sudden, unexpected and unpredictable. She is faced with a life threatening situation that she is unable to effectively resolve. Her usual methods of coping with threats and conducting interpersonal relationships fail her. It is a violation of her physical self and her basic beliefs and assumptions about her environment, about other people and relationships and about herself.
As a result women may experience severe psychological effects. The way the victim copes with the trauma of rape is dependent on several factors. These include her ego strength her social network support, her life cycle stage and the way she is treated as a victim.
This is a common theme in the aftermath of violent crimes. Why doesn’t Shermer understand it?
When Tom Tremblay started working for the police department of Burlington, Vt., 30 years ago, he discovered that many of his fellow cops rarely believed a rape victim. This was true time after time, in dozens of cases. Tremblay could see why they were doubtful once he started interviewing the victims himself. The victims, most of them women, often had trouble recalling an attack or couldn’t give a chronological account of it. Some expressed no emotion. Others smiled or laughed as they described being assaulted. “Unlike any other crime I responded to in my career, there was always this thought that a rape report was a false report,” says Tremblay, who was an investigator in Burlington’s sex crimes unit. “I was always bothered by the fact there was this shroud of doubt.”
And the bottom line:
The fact that a woman’s psychological adjustment to rape, is in part determined by the social systems that impinge upon her, indicates a need for a widespread community response to ensure that those systems are both responsive to her needs, and used to their maximum therapeutic capacity.
That a woman employed by an organization that diminishes and rejects her experiences, yet expects her to do the job of working with her assailant, should develop coping mechanisms is absolutely no surprise. Yet at the same time she’s trying to put a happy front she’s quietly distressed and miserable and unhappy, as she explains to other people outside that sphere of responsibility. This should not be so hard to comprehend. Maybe empathy is not a guy thing, though.
Shermer concludes with a little pre-emptive well-poisoning.
No doubt this statement will be poured over, analyzed, and deconstructed sentence by sentence in the days and weeks to come. I will not participate in any of the “he said/she said” battles that play out on the pages of Internet gossip sites. But I will freely respond to Alison or any other woman who communicates with me directly and privately who believes I have insulted or mistreated her. Let’s try honest person to person—and most of all timely—communication as a way of dealing with such issues.
Shorter Michael Shermer: ‘Don’t you dare, like, actually think carefully about my words! Only people on Internet gossip sites will do that. I’m only interested in talking close up and personal to the woman I assaulted.’