Sexual Harassment in the Skeptic Community

I’ve had to think about this post for a while because I honestly didn’t know where I wanted to go with it.

There is so much to say about the problem of sexual harassment and how it’s viewed in society, that if I put everything here that I’ve been thinking about, I believe it might end up book length.
There’s been a little chatter on the Internet in the last few days concerning this post. Let me say right off that I do not disbelieve the writers story. I do have some questions which I’ll come to later, but even those questions don’t invalidate the allegations.
I did a little (meaning very quick) search on the Internet to discover the incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace. I found this article from 2011. I was surprised to discover that 1 in 4 women report sexual harassment in the workplace, and that 1 in 10 men do as well. Why was I surprised? Do I believe those numbers are inflated? On the contrary, I think these numbers, for both men and women are low.
I know women that I currently work with that have mentioned privately that a certain person has harassed them in some manner. These women never reported these incidences to their respective companies. Why didn’t they? Mostly because they don’t believe that the company would actually do anything about it, unless the harassment turned into assault. And the, maybe.
As for men, I know men that state the same, that they’ve been harassed by a woman at work and never reported it. I am actually one of those men. Why don’t men report it though? For me, it was social stigma. I think it’s the same for others as well.
Am I saying that the rates of harassment in the workplace are the same for men and women? Definitely not!
I’m not going to go line by line through Ms. Stollznow’s post and dissect it to see where I can find inconsistencies in her story. As I already mentioned, I don’t disbelieve her. But I’ve seen some people say that they cannot believe that after a 5 month investigation, where she was told that the “company” and acknowledged the guilt of the the person, that they basically did nothing to him.
I’m actually not skeptical about that at all. I have personal experience with a colleague from a few years ago that was being harassed by her supervisor, had texts, and even voicemail proving it (I saw and heard these). I told her she needed to report it to HR. She did. One day I came into work and the harassers desk was cleaned off. I thought, “Good, the company got rid of him”.
Nope, all they did was move him one floor upstairs and put him on a different project.
So, now for my questions.
First, there is no actual timeline of this harassment. The author states that “From late 2009 onwards I made repeated requests for his personal communication to cease but these were ignored.” How long did this go on before you asked the harasser to stop? At the beginning of the post, she says she told someone that she had been harassed for 4 years. Not that the timeline is really important, just to give some context to the 4 years since the only year she mentions is 2009, and it’s now 2013 (4 years).
But here’s where I really have a problem. At the bottom of the same paragraph, the writer states,

Then, he saw me at conferences and took every opportunity to place me in a vulnerable position. This is where the psychological abuse turned physical and he sexually assaulted me on several occasions.

This really raised my eyebrows. Sexual assault is a criminal offense. And “several occasions”? Why were none of these reported to authorities, and I’m not talking about conference organizers or hotel staff. I mean the police.
Next the author brings up a couple of anecdotes. The infamous “Elevatorgate” incident, and another where a guy had stared at a conference attendee’s breasts. What inn the world do either of these have to do with her experience since a) neither of these incidents are documented anywhere and b) anecdotes are not evidence.
So then she seems to go on, talking about another sexual assault, apparently unreported. Again. If these conferences are so dangerous to women, and these multiple sexual assaults are pervasive to them, why don’t the organizers know about them, and more importantly, why are their not people in jail?
Notice also, she did not mention either the “company” or the harasser/assaulter by name. Since this investigation is over and even though she is unhappy with the outcome, why can’t she “name names”. Well, there may be many reasons. First, she may have made an agreement to never mention either the company or the accused publicly. That’s possible because in doing that reputations (company, accused) would be hurt, even though, in my opinion, I would definitely want the person that sexually assaulted me to be in the spotlight.
Next, she could be sued, even if the allegations she makes are completely true. Here in the U.S., it’s not uncommon for people to file frivolous lawsuits and it often causes the one defending themselves a lot of money.
Lastly, and this is why this is last, the allegations are completely untrue. In that case, she would certainly be sued by said company and accused. Again, I am not saying that anything she has said is untrue, just offering up reasons as to why she didn’t name names.
Well, of course, enter the Usual Suspects, here, and here, that do out the accused company and man. Their evidence? Hearsay. Some emails from some people that named him. Are these emails forwarded to the company? Does any of this represent evidence? No.
Everyone knows what the agenda is here. These people don’t like the accused because he refuses to buy into their special version of social justice. Of course, it also vindicates them on their previous boycott of said company as well. You can almost hear the glee in their writing.
But what if none of this is true? I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t pretend to know anything about the law, does this open up these two for a lawsuit? I would think it does, but I’ll let any attorneys out there that happen to read this weigh in.
Some people have no ethical standard at all. They easily lower the bar for themselves when there is something in their lives that become either embarrassing or inconvenient and raise the bar to unspeakable heights for anyone they don’t approve of. Which is most of the rest of us.
I’ve been going on and on now and I do want to bring this post to an end by agreeing with the last paragraph in Ms. Stollznow’s post:

To avoid becoming sick of talking about sexual harassment we need to feel some empathy for the victims. It may be harder to empathize with a colleague or an acquaintance, so think about how you would feel if this harassment was happening to your wife, husband, daughter, son, brother, sister, mother or father? Then we need to remember our broader responsibility to protect people in our workplace, communities and society. Underestimating the dangers of sexual harassment, and downplaying or ignoring claims, only serves to embolden the harassers. If they get away with sexual harassment, or they don’t even recognize their behavior, they are at risk of doing it again. Let’s not be sick of talking about sexual harassment, but be sick of being silent about it.

I think this is the right sentiment. We all need to be more aware of this issue in our workplace and outside of the workplace as well. No one should be intimidated to report sexual harassment and ensure that someone pays attention to their claim. None of us want to see, as she says above, anyone we know become victim and I agree that the less reported, the more we all (even if you’re just a witness) enable harassers.

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