And Then There Were Four

Now a fourth woman has told BuzzFeed News her experience of sexual harassment from Tyson. In January 2010, she recalled, she joined her then-boyfriend at a holiday party for employees of the American Museum of Natural History. Tyson, its most famous employee, drunkenly approached her, she said, making sexual jokes and propositioning her to join him alone in his office. In a 2014 email shared with BuzzFeed News, she described the incident to her own employer in order to shoot down a proposed collaboration with Tyson.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Our culture does its best to silence the victims of sexual assault and harassment, while protecting those who engage in it, so victims rarely come forward. When someone is willing to stick their neck out, however, other victims realize the strength in numbers and join them with their own tales. Sometimes, this leads to a measure of justice; sometimes, not. Whatever the case, the culture of silence makes this avalanche look like a conspiracy or panic; how can so many people be victims, and why are they coming forward now?

For years, Amet had been trying to make the world listen to her account of a powerful man who had once assaulted her and derailed her life. Mainstream publications, including BuzzFeed News, were unable to adequately corroborate the events from so long ago, and did not publish her allegations. And internet commenters assailed her character and New Age lifestyle. Her claims may have stayed buried forever, if not for the women who saw in Amet’s story a shadow of their own.

“I saw that her credibility was being questioned in a way that honestly had a lot of racist and sexist and anti-religious undertones,” [another accuser] said. “I kinda figured if I had any credibility to lend to that so that she’s taken more seriously, I should do that.”

When you look at the science behind sexual assault and harassment, and rationally weigh it, neither question is a mystery. It is exactly what you’d predict would happen if “rape culture” existed.

And it suggests there may soon be five.

A Quick Note on Neil deGrasse Tyson

Sorry for going silent, I’m neck-deep in a paper at the moment. But the reports and news about Neil deGrasse Tyson have kicked up a discussion of sexual assault in my social circles. I’ve been here before; I spent months researching the literature on sexual assault, and delivered a lecture on the topic. I went gonzo with my citations, as I figured most people would be critical of my take. Between that and “A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case,” there isn’t much else I can add. You wondering why allegations of sexual misconduct have anything to do with allegations of sexual assault, for instance? I touched on that in EvFem2.

A third reason may be that the cognitive tools used to justify one form of bigotry are similar to those used to justify others. A meta-analysis by Suarez and Gadalla found a strong correlation between belief in rape myths and belief in myths about age, class, race, and religion.[148]

[148] Suarez, E., and T. M. Gadalla. “Stop Blaming the Victim: A Meta-Analysis on Rape Myths.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25, no. 11 (November 1, 2010): 2010–35. doi:10.1177/0886260509354503.

Bigotry is intersectional, and it’s great to see more people recognizing that. This also predicts that endorsement of benevolent sexism and sexual assault would be correlated, and sure enough it is.

Consistent with previous research, men were more accepting of rape myths against both male and female victims. Past literature on female rape myths has argued that men are more accepting of female rape myths because of adversarial, antiwoman attitudes (e.g., Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1995). If hostility toward women is the only contributing ideology, we would expect that men would endorse female rape myths to a greater extent than they endorse male rape myths. However, men’s acceptance of rape myths did not significantly differ based on the gender of the victim. Women’s acceptance of rape myths also did not vary based on the gender of the victim. This supports Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson’s (1992) conclusion that men are more accepting of rape myths in general, not just against female victims.

In exploring the ideologies associated with each of the rape myths, we find that benevolent sexism toward men is associated with male rape myths. This is consistent with the research that benevolent sexism toward women is associated with blaming female victims of acquaintance rape (Abrams et al., 2003; Chapleau et al., 2007; Viki et al., 2004). Viki et al. (2004) concluded that benevolent sexism is associated with victim blaming to protect one’s belief in a just world.

Chapleau, Kristine M., Debra L. Oswald, and Brenda L. Russell. “Male Rape Myths: The Role of Gender, Violence, and Sexism.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 23, no. 5 (May 2008): 600–615. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260507313529.

If we have evidence someone is acting creepy towards women, then, that raises the odds of them having committed sexual assault. Combine this with the rape apologetics a lot of men engage in …

… a study by Edwards, Bradshaw, and Hinsz found two different groups of people at risk to rape.[147] One sixth of the men in their sample had a genuine hatred of women, and openly admitted they would rape if they thought they could get away with it. But another sixth of their sample said they’d never rape a woman, though they’d consider forcing someone to have sex against their will. This group employed all sorts of apologetics to convince themselves that this wasn’t rape, and some went further to actually justify I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-rape as a good thing, an achievement to be unlocked and celebrated.

[147] Edwards, Sarah R., Kathryn A. Bradshaw, and Verlin B. Hinsz. “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders.” Violence and Gender 1, no. 4 (2014): 188–93.

… plus add in Tyson’s background as an athlete, when we’ve got evidence that athletes are more prone to commit sexual assault than the general public, and I considered it more likely than not that Tyson committed sexual assault even when I could count the number of accusers on one finger.

Hemant Metha has a different take.

This is an awkward thing for me to even mention because 1) I don’t want to believe it (not that my feelings matters), 2) my colleague on Patheos and this very site, David McAfee, is the person who’s been reporting this story from the very beginning and all of the articles coming out now stem from his posts, and 3) I’ve been reading his posts about the topic and still haven’t figured out what to make of it all.

My hesitation mostly stems from the fact that it’s a fellow blogger doing the investigation, rather than some media outlet with experienced editors overseeing the journalism, a track record for covering these topics, and reporters who know how to corroborate all the information.

Consider the priors, Metha, don’t ignore them because of your feelings or who is investigating the situation. That’s not being a good skeptic.


HJH 2018-12-02: PZ Myers seems to have been swayed by Tyson’s statement. I had to pop by with a comment, which is worth reproducing here with a minor edit.

Nah, I gotta disagree with you PZ. Tyson just admitted to having poor respect for people’s boundaries, and his account of the 1980’s incident is a lot like a lot of the deflection I’ve seen from people who would never dare rape someone but would be open to forcing someone to have sex with them against their will. He also twice tries to poison the well [three times], by going after the credibility of the accuser…

For me, what was most significant, was that in this new life, long after dropping out of astrophysics graduate school, she was posting videos of colored tuning forks endowed with vibrational therapeutic energy that she channels from the orbiting planets. As a scientist, I found this odd.

… implies it was a false memory, when we know traumatic memories don’t work that way, and tries to shoot the messenger:

I note that this allegation was used as a kind of solicitation-bait by at least one journalist to bring out of the woodwork anybody who had any encounter with me that left them uncomfortable.

I considered him more likely than not to have sexually assaulted the first victim, back when I knew only of her; between the other women coming forward and his own statement, he’s made it more plausible still.


HJH 2018-12-03: My dogs, this paper has apparently had a monumental impact on my writing skills! I went back and did a quick brush-up, so it should smell a little less. If you’re super-paranoid that I’m flooding the place with deodorant, have at’er.

If instead you’re stinky that I didn’t write up something more substantive, Nathan has you covered.

And then there’s the colleague he harassed. He responds by saying that she gave everyone hugs. He admits to saying to her “If I hug you I might just want more.” There is literally only one way to take that statement. It’s sexual.

I could maybe season the post with a little more science, but the Venn diagram of our reactions is nearly all overlap. It’s worth a sniff.

Also, I see PZ Myers has back-tracked.