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She has tweeted a link to a working copy of the article: http://blog.nerdchic.net/archives/418/

The tweet quotes the line: "It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else's job to avoid assaulting me."

I think that statement is wrongheaded. Not the second part - it is indeed everyone else's job to avoid assaulting people. The responsibility for the crime lies entirely with the perpetrator.

Unfortunately, because of this, making any statement as to the victim's behavior is always seen as "blaming the victim".

The problem is, in this world, we only reliably control the actions of one person: ourselves. We can take principled stands that "it's everyone else's job to not assault me", and that's so true, but in the end, being right isn't a suitable stand-in for being safe.

That is why I don't like the statement, "It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted". Because regardless of where the responsibility should lie, in reality, we are ALWAYS the stewards of our own personal safety. We have to be, because we're the only person in the world who will treat the job with the gravity it deserves.

If I walk down a bad alley, it is not my fault if I get shot. The person pulling the trigger is 100% at fault. But, I was not being a good steward of my own safety.

Towards the end of the post, she says, "I’m tired of people who think I should avoid having a beer in case my vigilance lapses for a moment." You have a right to be tired. I've lived in a couple of unsafe places where I grew tired of the fact that I had to be vigilant just to go about my daily life. It is draining and it is frustrating to have to alter your behavior because of the threat posed by others. But we only have one life, and safety must take priority over principle.

It is right to say that the perpetrator is the one at fault. It is right to call them out and make them account for their actions. Innocent people shouldn't have to alter their behavior to avoid danger. But the reality is that they have to anyway.

EDIT: Allow me to clarify a couple of points. Some people are taking me as saying, "you have to do everything possible to protect yourself, and if something happens, then you didn't protect yourself enough."

This is false. Sometimes, stuff happens even if you do everything right. The point was simply that you have a responsibility to your own personal well-being to do everything right, even though you can't guarantee 100% safety.

Also, I have avoided applying my comments to her specific sequence of events. Some people have taken me as lecturing her in failing. Folks, she was largely successful in doing what I'm saying. Her attacker was clearly intending to do more and was foiled. This may not have been the case if, say, she had been too drunk, or in a place where she was not able to make the escape she did, etc.

What her attacker did was the sexual assault equivalent of a sucker punch. He found the ever-so-slightest opening and exploited it. She successfully shook off the initial attack and defended herself from any further assault. We're talking about a situation that could have ended much worse, and didn't because she was able to take ownership of her safety. And she had to do so because there was no one else to do the job.

Which is why I found the comments in her blog/tweet that I replied to a little puzzling, and made this post to address them.




She said no, he groped her. What do you propose she should have done to be a "steward of her personal safety"? Live as though every male could attempt to sexually assault her? Is that how you want your wife/girlfriend/daughter going through life? Do you think that's how they want to go through life? Is that how we want female members of the tech community feeling at these types of gatherings?

Look, I appreciate the fact you're trying to make a reasoned, pragmatic argument on an emotional issue. But the fact of the matter is this is a situation that we can change and do something about. Anyone should feel comfortable participating in our community without fearing for their personal safety; we have the ability to support victims and make clear to those who would commit these crimes that it's not something they can get away with, which is not the current status quo.


I'm not necessarily saying she did anything incorrectly.

I made comments towards the general attitude she espoused at the end of the post. I quoted exactly what I was responding to. Anything else is stuff that I wasn't responding to.

>> Anyone should feel comfortable participating in our community without fearing for their personal safety; we have the ability to support victims and make clear to those who would commit these crimes that it's not something they can get away with, which is not the current status quo.

I agree with all of this. Everyone should be able to participate without feeling unsafe, victims deserve support, perpetrators deserve to be called out, would-be perpetrators should be put on notice. All of that is very much consistent with what I said.


I should have made more clear I think we're generally in agreement as well. My point was the respond to the implication that sexual assault is just a fact of life for women: it doesn't have to be. It's something we can change, and in that sense it's the job of all of us to make sure it doesn't happen to other members of our community.

In all seriousness, thanks for your articulate and reasoned comment.


>"But the fact of the matter is this is a situation that we can change and do something about."

What can we do something about? Aren't loud, drunken, dark, crowded venues the kind of places that sexual assault happens? Is the hypothesis that if we shame people more that we can eliminate sexual assault?

I am not sure that insufficient shame is the problem. I doubt the males that do this think it is a fine thing to do when sober.

Our society thinks frat parties, dance clubs, and drunken after parties are a swell way to have fun and a huge percentage of our women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. These two facts are related. It's dumb to think we can pack people together and dull their inhibitions with alcohol and nothing bad will happen. It's not harmless fun.

Maybe the Mormons have the right idea about alcoholic partying. We're playing with fire and we're lying to ourselves if we think we'll ever make it safe.


Actually, if someone wouldn't commit a sexual crime, they're not going to do it drunk. Only 30% of reported rapes and sexual assaults involve alcohol use on the part of the offender. (Keep in mind that this is reported rapes and sexual assaults; sexual crimes are extremely unreported.) The Center for Sex Offender Management quotes a 1998 Greenfield study when it says that "[a]lcohol use, therefore, may increase the likelihood that someone already predisposed to commit a sexual assault will act upon those impulses. However, excessive alcohol use is not a primary precipitant to sexual assaults." Note: These numbers are from 2000, unfortunately. However, there has not been a dramatic change in the last decade.


Actually, if someone wouldn't commit a sexual crime, they're not going to do it drunk. Only 30% of reported rapes and sexual assaults involve alcohol use on the part of the offender. (Keep in mind that this is reported rapes and sexual assaults; sexual crimes are extremely unreported.)

The underreporting is not uniform, though. I wouldn't be surprised if intoxicated victims are less likely to report than sober victims; and the sobriety of victims and assailants is highly correlated.


How often is someone drunk? 30% is absolutely huge conditionally.


Really? There is going to be some correlation between the times that people are most likely to commit sexual assaults and the times that people are likely to be drinking.

I'm sure people spend a lot of time doing things like commuting to work or sleeping at night, but it's highly unlikely that they will commit sexual assaults during those times. People are just more likely to be drinking at times when they are looking for sex (e.g. at a party, at a bar, etc).

You should probably be following something like the following line of reasoning:

1. How many sexual assaults happen on dates?

2. How prevalent is drinking while on a date? (Maybe you'll have to divide the data up regionally or something for it to make sense)

3. How many sexual assaults happen when there was drinking on a date?

Then you can start to look at how likely it is that alcohol is really the cause of sexual assault (at least for the dataset that you're looking at).


  >  I doubt the males that do this think it is a fine thing to do when sober.
I resent the idea that once people are 'under the influence' they lose all grasp of reason. I've been drunk on a number of occasions and I never once thought that sexual assault sounded like a keen idea. And even if I had ever mis-read a woman and kissed her when she didn't want it, I sure as hell wouldn't have thought it was a good idea to then move on to grabbing at her genitals. Don't blame the alcohol here.

That part of your post is almost as bad as the film, 'Reefer Madness.'

  > Our society thinks frat parties, dance clubs, and drunken after parties are a swell
  > way to have fun and a huge percentage of our women are sexually assaulted at
  > some point in their lives. These two facts are related.
You're ignoring a huge number of factors and focusing in on just the idea that you want to be true.


This line of reasoning is typically used to let people off the hook for sexual assault. I get what you're saying--- you're making a practical argument, here, that people have to protect themselves.

She didn't do anything extraordinary, though. A crowded bar is hardly an "unsafe place," for crying out loud. And I would ask you what you, specifically, think she should have done differently, but who are any of us to judge in the first place? Going to a bar with some friends for some beers is eminently normal.

I am not accusing you, personally, of justifying sexual assault. But people can and do presume that a woman who is assaulted was in some way foolish or asking for it. And they make legal decisions on this basis.

As I said, I get that you're making a narrower point that speaks to reality over principle. But it is spectacularly unhelpful and in extremely poor taste to counsel a victim of sexual assault that she is responsible for her own safety and, by implication, she needs to be or should have been more careful. Why do people feel like it's OK to lecture women in this way?

Finally, I must point out that your experience of living in unsafe places is a very, very small subset of a woman's experience living in places that might otherwise appear "safe." For all practical purposes, men don't have to worry about being sexually assaulted. This is a case in point: she was at a bar, among numerous fellow professionals, many of whom she considered trustworthy.


>> This line of reasoning is typically used to let people off the hook for sexual assault.

That is exactly what I was taking great care not to have my comments construed as. I don't think I could have any more emphatically stated that the fault lies entirely with the assaulter.

I was hoping that it was possible to separate the issue of the assailant's responsibility from taking care of one's own personal safety. It seems to me that these discussions are never able to do that.

I don't see any logical reason why talking about taking care of your own safety should be considered in any way logically equivalent to taking the blame off the assailant and putting it on the victim. The two concepts should be wholly separate. It is my opinion that it is emotion instead of logic that tends to make the two become confused in these discussions.

As for your comment about it being in poor taste to counsel someone who has just been a victim of assault, that is why the post in question is a comment on the HackerNews post (which was NOT posted by her) and not a response to her tweet, or comment on her blog, or a private email, etc.


"I was hoping that it was possible to separate the issue of the assailant's responsibility from taking care of one's own personal safety. It seems to me that these discussions are never able to do that."

This distinction may exist in theory, but in practice, it requires some ability to judge the victims actions in retrospect. Aside from being practically impossible, it's presumptuous to think that you or someone else would have exercised better judgement. Actually, it's patronizing. Everyone's a little bit (racist|sexist), so for my part I would not call this some deep character flaw on your part. But it's an antipattern that men fall into pretty easily and women are quite sensitive to.

"As for your comment about it being in poor taste to counsel someone who has just been a victim of assault, that is why the post in question is a comment on the HackerNews post (which was NOT posted by her) and not a response to her tweet, or comment on her blog, or a private email, etc."

I get that, but you--- as a man, I presume--- help set the tone of any discussion about this. Other men will read what you write. Some of them are smart, and they'll get you. A lot of other people won't.

I don't know HN's audience, but I presume there are women here that read what you wrote. What you say colors and informs their perception, too.

Think for a moment about how what you write affects the discussion. You have the power to influence it as much as everyone else. I wouldn't presume to advise you not to write your thoughts or anything like that. Rather, this is one of those "with great [freedom] comes great responsibility" areas. What feeling would you expect a victim of sexual assault to come away with after reading that? What would you want them to think, both about you and about men's attitude towards assault in general?


You know, absolutely none of what I've said applies in any special way to women only. We could be having a discussion about a man and some other risky situation, and every bit of it would still apply.

It's not about singling out or patronizing women.

I've put a lot of thought into my own personal safety in sketchy situations, and seeing someone say something along the lines of "protecting myself isn't my job" just rubs me the wrong way. It really has absolutely nothing to do with women and sexual assault in specific.



I was hoping that it was possible to separate the issue of the assailant's responsibility

I don't think that flies, because the point of her post was to identify a sexual assailant. She said she was the victim of an assault by another person, an issue of injustice which is a social and cultural question, and you said "Yes, but everyone is responsible for their own personal safety." This isn't about personal safety, it's about social justice, and yes, those are two very different things. So why are you trying to change the subject? The reasonable conclusion is that you're trying to weaken her claim to justice, which implies that you think we focus too much on justice, using social resources to protect women and they need to look out for themselves more.


He was responding directly to her comment: "It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else's job to avoid assaulting me."

It is not a question of identifying a sexual assailant (it is clearly the guy), or in trying to assign blame to the woman (this is out of her control.) If you read what he wrote, he was not denying any of these points. He was not talking about social justice. He was nitpicking one of the things she said which was not about social justice.

He also did not deny that she was not looking out for her personal safety. He simply said that it was incorrect not to take responsiblity for this -- she did appear to take responsibility but in her message says that it's "not her job". He is just being pragmatic. Predatory people exist; often we have to protect ourselves from them.


I believe everything the author of the blog post has said. The guy in question deserves everything that is coming to him.

  It’s not the first time something like this has happened to me, at all. It’s not 
  the first time it’s happened to me at a tech conference. But it is the first time
  I’ve spoken out about it in this way,
This is a crime. You would report it if someone robbed your house, you would report it if someone bashed you in a dark alley. Incidents like these needs to be reported every time, so it's good she has told us about it; but then I guess as a member of the opposite sex I can't see how hard it is to report crimes like this from a woman's perspective.

  I’m tired of the sense that some idiot can ruin my day and never have to answer 
  for it. I’m tired of the fear. I’m tired of people who think I should wear 
  something different. I’m tired of people who think I should avoid having a beer
  in case my vigilance lapses for a moment. I’m tired of people who say that guys
  can’t read me right and I have to read them, and avoid giving the wrong 
  impression.
It is unfortunate that in this society, as the above comment said, everyone needs to be a steward for their own safety. Some might need to stay vigilant more so than others, but even then, even if they are tired of it, they are still the only ones who truly understand how to keep themselves safe, there is no one else who can do as good a job.

Nonetheless from what I see there's nothing she could have done to have prevented it, besides being absent from the after party.


I wouldn't want to live in a world where every women wore long skirts, didn't drink beer, and weren't over-friendly to me just because these are all 'risk-factors' for increasing potential of inappropriate behavior.

I'm pretty sure most women wouldn't want to live in that world either.


I made it a point to entirely direct my comments towards those statements that I quoted, and not towards the specifics of her incident.

I didn't want to get into the much more fuzzy and subjective discussion of to what degree her actual actions did or didn't follow what I laid out.


It's your job to avoid being assaulted in a dark alley, when a woman (or any person) at an industry conference feels that it's her or his job to protect themselves from assault around the delegates, that's a big problem.


You're right. If there exists such a problem that women have to be vigilant in protecting themselves at industry conferences, that is indeed a big problem.

Her post said, "It’s not the first time something like this has happened to me, at all. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me at a tech conference."

Clearly, for women, tech conferences are far too closely resembling the dark alleys that I'm being metaphorically shot in, and that deserves some serious attention by those putting on the conferences.

If the conferences are that bad where this is becoming a pattern, then it is also important that participants pay sufficient care to their personal safety, while also doing everything possible to bring the issue to light. And bringing the issue to light is something she is doing with this blog post, for certain.


> that deserves some serious attention by those putting on the conferences.

It's not just up to those putting on the conference. It's up to all of us.

And it's not just about about incidents as "blatant" (although not to everyone, apparently) as this but also other cases:

http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents

If people don't make a stand, things don't change.


> It's your job to avoid being assaulted in a dark alley

Or maybe it's the job of the city in which you live to provide sufficient lighting and security for its citizens.

In this metaphor you, I and the tech community are the city.


Exactly. We as the technology community need to make sure it's not a "dark alley" for anyone, for everyone's sake.


> Which is why I found the comments in her blog/tweet that I replied to a little puzzling, and made this post to address them.

I'm going to phrase this in neutral terms, because I believe you thought you were making a useful point, and are genuinely confused at the reaction. Has anyone suggested you might have Asperger's?

Here's the thing: people will judge you based on what you appear to be thinking about.

Let's say your next-door neighbor is black, and then you hear he suffered a beating from some white supremacist skinheads. So you write a post on a forum saying "You know, some black people are so caught up in their own identity of victimhood, they invite others to take advantage of them."

That might be a valid point, and maybe you aren't even intending to make the connection between what you said and what just happened. But by the standard principle of conversational relevance, people will assume that's what you meant. And the people around you are going to be outraged, because if you were able to react like that, it indicates, at best, that you had no emotional reaction to your neighbor being beaten. People who aren't aroused to defend victims are considered creepy and untrustworthy. It suggests you are indifferent to the attackers, or that you even identify with them.

So, just as you tried to offer neutral advice on staying safe in a dangerous world, let me offer you neutral advice on not sounding like a horse's ass. When someone in your community is victimized, their emotional state, as well as the safety of others in their situation, is supposed to be uppermost in your mind. Statements that show otherwise are interpreted as supporting the attackers, or perhaps suggest that you think the victim wasn't really part of your community or worthy of defending. So, if you want to make tangential comments, at least acknowledge the situation first.

Maybe people who are innocently commenting on whatever popped into their head shouldn't have to make such gestures to solidarity, but the reality is that they have to anyway.


I'm more familiar with the horse's ass diagnosis than the Asperger's one.

You use a word that I find very interesting: "outrage". I find it interesting that you don't seem to conceive of a middle ground between "clinical lack of emotion/empathy" and "emotion completely overwhelming everything else".

You're right that my emotional response (yes, there is one) is tempered by the relative social distance between me and the victim. This is, of course, normal - otherwise, we wouldn't even blink over a somewhat-thwarted sexual assault attempt, as we would be far too focused on the daily atrocities of the world that routinely dwarf it in magnitude.

Your phrasing was that, "perhaps... you think the victim wasn't really part of your community or worthy of defending". This is, indeed, a person I have barely heard of before now. She is a good bit further removed from my social circle than the metaphorical next-door neighbor you sprinkled throughout your comment.

My strong emotional reactions are the property of the more inner concentric circles of my social graph. Perhaps yours reach more outwardly in the graph, and that's fine. I would caution you, however, about doling out psychological diagnoses simply on the grounds that one's emotional reactions do not strictly coincide with The Neilk Standard.


Neil, I'll phrase this in neutral terms, but have you considered that you might be neurotypical, prone to groupthink in defending irrational actions and cursed by the gift of little knowledge? I'm joking, but I do have trouble equating "neutral terms" with "horse's ass". I'd hate to see what your non-neutral terms look like!

Legion's post reads as very self-aware to me, and I think he (she?) sounds fairly aware of how society tends to react. His whole post is a response to this reaction. To me, he sounds to be looking for an audience that can rise above this. Thus you might be teaching your grandmother to suck eggs. Which might actually be a 'neutral term', since I've never understood it's origin. :)


I should have known people would focus on that one phrase.

If you must know, yes, I feel contempt for someone who acts like this, and I was unsuccessful in hiding that. I think the collective response of males and/or geeks to this story is pretty revolting. Over on Reddit, the crudest and most hostile comments are being upvoted. On HN, we avoid crudeness, but neither can we escape from the black hole of geek discussions, libertarianism and related fantasies of complete self-reliance. Way to go, internet.

I also understand that sometimes people who aren't neurotypical really do need things explained to them in extremely literal terms. In the past, I might have been as clueless, probably more clueless. So I tried to focus on being constructive, although I did fail.


I appreciate the focus on constructive --- that's why I'm here rather than on Reddit. Yes, there times when explaining things that seem like they should be obvious is exactly what is needed. Sometimes the obvious has already been taken into account, sometimes it hasn't.

My comment was intended as constructive as well: from afar, I can't tell if you are a step ahead of Legion or if he is a step ahead of you. And I won't even hazard a guess as to which step I'm at. I was aiming for feedback that you would find useful, either by confirming your diagnosis or helping to refute it. I feel no contempt toward either one of you.

I think the odd thing in this case is that the 'victim' is not properly playing her role. Rather than being damaged for life and seeking the help of the 'authorities', she seems to have assumed control of the situation herself. For me, this makes a response like Legion's socially acceptable, even if misguided. Cheers!


I think you're missing her point. I don't think she is saying she is not responsible for taking reasonable measures to protect her own safety. I think she is saying she doesn't need to blame herself for getting assaulted. Which is true.


In any situation it's not just about a perpetrator and a person who has been attacked, it's also about the community.

As a community, if we are aware of a danger to a member of our community then we have an obligation to work to remove that danger.

If that requires putting up a light in that dark alley, standing up for people at conferences or whatever then we have a responsibility to do so.

This whole conversation will have been for little if the next time you or I observe unacceptable behaviour we do nothing about it. It says something for the Apache community that the author felt that their were people she was able to make contact with about it. But we all need to move from the place where we are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.


This post could only exist on HN. The particular point it's making is almost beside the point for me personally; for me, it's so amazing because anywhere else on the internet that I've been, Legion would get completely blown up for being a sexist racist capitalist communist anarchist fascist pigdog force.

So, yay for HN, and yay for not being reddit.

And, also, I agree with it.


I'm sorry but this just pisses me off. I hate to be reductionist but this amounts to "don't blame the victim, but really she should have been more careful."

He called her over to ask her a question, kissed her, she protested, and so he groped her. What the fuck should she have done differently?


Please see my response to shaddi.

Where you're making a mistake is taking my comments and applying them to her specific sequence of events. If you read what I wrote, you'll note that I was not doing this. I was responding to the comment towards the end of her blog post, which she recycled into her tweet.


Don't go over. It's not a good idea for a woman to go alone with a drunk guy. I thought that was common knowledge - am I wrong?

EDIT: if you disagree, please comment instead of downvoting. (If you think my comment harms the discussion, you can downvote of course.)


I had plenty of female friends in college who knew it was perfectly OK to go anywhere and chat with me about anything even when I was gasp drunk. Give me a break.


From the way it was described she didn't really 'go' anywhere with him except maybe a different section of the crowded bar. It's not like she got in a car with him, or went alone back to his hotel room.


Yes you're wrong.


EDIT - just to clarify my POV: It's a terrible thing he did. He probably desserves this.

ORIGINAL - probably misunderstood by the downvoters: But I surely hope he did grope her and he was indeed as abusive as she described him to be. Because if he didn't all this content we are creating will just serve to leave a very bad looking legacy of doubt around his character. I will therefore leave the thread hoping for him that he responds soon on http://flori.posterous.com/


Yeah, but that probably means the smart thing for a woman to do is assume all men are potential rapists. Maybe you're OK with that? Not me.


No, see what you're doing here is trying to blame the victim. It is _NEVER_ okay to do that.


Is that supposed to be some kind of ironic joke?

Not that I feel the victim is to blame in this case, but it is foolish to decide the victim must ALWAYS be utterly blameless. Japan was the victim of the detonation of the first atomic bomb. Were they utterly and completely blameless?


I'm speechless; Your comment is so inflammatory that I can't comprehend how you figured it was okay to post, let alone how you didn't get downvoted into oblivion.

It's essentially a clever twist on the old argument: "She showed some skin so she had it coming"

Seriously: shame on you.


[deleted]


Pro tip: know what you're talking about before conmenting? Hint: click parent, then read the whole comment I responded to.

Thank you.


Don't just downvote me nimwit. Put your name in your profile and tell me how I'm wrong.


I don't have the power to downvote, and so I have not downvoted you. But I would if I could, especially the comment I'm replying to, but also its parent.

In an ideal world, votes down mean "this comment contributes negatively to the conversation, and on an ideal HN I wouldn't have seen it". Actually, I can't find any specific HN guideline on how to vote, so YMMV, but I think that's the enlightened 2010 rule. So people who downvote you don't necessarily disagree.

No one thinks its okay to demand of other people "hey, if you can't articulate why you agree with einarvollset, don't upvote him". Why would you have this asymmetry of expectations?

With that in mind, the parent of my comment is clearly a bad comment, it explicitly violates the HN guidelines, which say "Resist complaining about being downmodded. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading" and also which specifically proscribe calling names. This complaining-about-downvotes comment is a poor one, and ought to be downvoted.

Its parent, that seems more subjective. My take on the matter follows. Your comment appears to _me_ to be reactionary in the most trivial way. It's full of ad hominem, and besides that it's clearly wrong. Legion goes to great lengths to observe that the BLAME lies with the perpetrator, and that his/her problem is with an unrelated claim, namely a claim that people are ought not be responsible for their own safety. You appear to be arguing against a straw man (making your comment less valuable), using rude language (making your comment less valuable), later in the day than other commenters who made more-articulate variations on your comment (making your comment less valuable). In short, it appears to me that your comment detracts from the conversation, and has no redeeming value, and as such should be lovingly downvoted. YMMV, that's why they're votes.




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