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DEFCON: Why conference harassment matters (adainitiative.org)
108 points by simcop2387 on Aug 2, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 98 comments

Thank you so much for this article. It actually had examples and those are the best weapon women have against sexism/sexual harassment. It's one thing to talk about sexism vaguely and broadly and another to actually tell the stories.

"I think this chick should lighten up personally."

It's hard for males (me included) sometimes to relate to sexism (think of all the women in tech articles we've debated) or sexual harassment because we're not on the menu. We don't experience it. We aren't the prey. It isn't until men themselves feel vulnerable and dominated that they realize what an awful feeling it is to be invaded, harassed, or threatened sexually. From "innocent" ass grabbings to brutal rape. Men aren't frightened of such events because they'll probably never experience them.


Enjoy. You'll see sexual harassment and rape in a whole new light after watching that video. Getting your ass squeezed doesn't sound so innocent now does it?

Who would say "lighten up" to somebody whose groin was groped? Just because one blogger suggested it, it still isn't the standard thing to say to women. I downvoted you for quoting this out of context from another article and fostering a harmful meme.

"I think this chick should lighten up personally."

Someone actually posted that HERE, in the comments below, it got such a negative score that the comment disappeared and most people on HN won't see it unless they have "dead" comments turned on in their HN settings. I was responding to that person. Despite there not being a lot of comments like that here (you'd get downvoted into oblivion) There are lots of guys like that all over the place.

I get what you mean about it being hurtful to men. Being constantly shown as a primitive horny neanderthal with no self control makes all men look bad. It makes us feel bad to be represented that way. But it's not a "stereotype" it's a statistic, don't be in denial or run away from it.

I don't deny that the world is full of jerks, but I don't think it is possible to cure them all. Better to simply avoid them.

Although I can understand if somebody wants to defend their turf (create jerk-free zones).

If the "ligthen up" comments are voted away, it seems to be a good thing? So why support the meme that "lighten up" is a standard response? You can always find people displaying any grade of sexism you desire and point to them saying "see, I told you so, sexism exists". It is just not a very useful thing to do.

You can't just 'avoid' them; they're your co-workers, your managers, your family members. Likewise, voting a comment off of the screen doesn't mean it's "getting better", it means enough likeminded people were able to get their point across.

Reddit illustrates the problem well; while the push for equality is out there and people are hearing it, it doesn't stop misogynist/otherwise hurtful responses to shoot up to the top, with little to no regret if it means laughs and upvotes. Until that's not the overwhelming response, it isn't getting better.

Men don't understand the problem. They haven't had to deal with it and because they see themselves and their friends as upstanding citizens, they don't think these things happen as often as they do.

As I said, I understand defending your turf (ie your job, online community, whatever). However calling out men really does nothing. I don't grope random girls in bars, so I have no idea how I am supposed to react to your post. Obviously would I encounter unpleasant behavior towards women, it would be a different thing. But I rarely do. Also I think for the groping incident it was pointed out that it is illegal, so I suppose had the groper been known, there would have been consequences already.

It's true that from the beginning men don't understand the problem. But after a while you can learn, and occasionally you get a homosexual approach. I understand how it can be uncomfortable to be desired by a stranger. Unfortunately I think it is partly in the nature of things. Women are "the price" and hence men have to hunt after them. Men are pretty worthless biologically (simply because it takes less men than women to create lots of children).

That doesn't excuse disrespectful behavior, of course. But it is a biological reality that at least men have to do a lot of approaching, and women will not always like it (it shouldn't be groping, but I hope you get the idea).

I don't understand your issue with the voting: this is Hacker News, and the offending comment was quickly removed. If Reddit doesn't work out that way, perhaps don't hang out on Reddit? That is what I mean by avoiding jerks. Personally I probably wouldn't enjoy Reddit either because of the jerks. But you can not convert any and all environments, or at least, if you want to try, good luck! I don't think jerks can be eradicated. I can only say it works well for me: I hardly ever encounter jerks, and I don't think any of my friends would grope women in a bar. I could make my life miserable by thinking about the millions of jerks out there, but why bother?

I can assure you that men with daughters understand the problem.

You can't really take reddit as a good sample of men in general. 56% of reddit is age 18-25, as compared to about 7% of the overall US population.

The reason this is a problem is that young adults are much more likely than average to exhibit poor judgment, inaccurate risk perception, perceived invulnerability and egocentrism. This has been shown in countless studies. Of course it is only true statistically, not necessarily of any particular individual.

So yes, reddit is full of hurtful crap, and it gets upvoted in the default subreddits. And you can legitimately take that as evidence that young men don't understand the problem.

But, eventually, they do grow up.

Yes... ... ... ... that's ... why ... I posted the video of jail inmates describing how they sexual harass and rape men, many of whom simply got caught with Marijuana. Just hearing the descriptions and testimonies gave me E.D. for 2 days. When men see what it feels like to be preyed upon it might change the way they behave around women. One cannot just "avoid" people like that. You talk to people about it, you educate them about it.

Avoiding racist people didn't give blacks the freedoms and acceptance they have today. That was achieved by confrontation, education, and telling their stories from a point of view that everyone can relate to. Same with sexism and sexual harassment. Men can joke around about rape all they want because they're never really have the fear of having it happen to them. They can harass women and grab their asses all they want because they've never felt what it's like to have a bigger and taller man sexually harass them.

Sorry, I don't agree with your theory. You think men rape women because they have no idea what it feels like to be raped? That's the most ridiculous theory I have ever heard, can't put it in a nicer way.

I'm always hesitant to bring my fiancee to hacker conferences, but she wants to support me and understand "what I do," so she has been to DEFCON the past three years.

Yeah, she gets hit on. A lot. Mostly by drunk, smelly guys, and then proceeds to tell me how much it sucks. Her ass was grabbed several times at DEFCON events. My understand is that it's not an altogether pleasant experience for a non-totally-nerdy girl to spend any length of time at security conferences... and what with BSides and DEFCON, we were there a week.

But here's the thing: girls are going to get hit on at a drunken Black Hat party at PURE just as much as they'd get hit on at a drunken normal night party at PURE. Yes, it's hackers, and you'd maybe expect better behavior (unless you've been to a lot of these things), but is the behavior worse than any other night club? I'm not a lady, but based on what I've heard, not really. Las Vegas is a dirty, "sinful" place, and any moderately attractive woman going out to a bar or club there is going to get hit on.

Now, when we're talking about disgusting, incessant harassment, that's different. And that is the line I think we need to draw. Sure, it's difficult because many of these "hackers" are severely lacking in the "social skills" department, but walking up to a woman and grabbing her boobs is going to get you slapped and probably arrested. Anywhere. Personally, I didn't see a lot of that... just a bunch of nerdy, socially awkward guys trying (and failing) to pick up women.

Honestly I don't think you're operating from the same baseline for behavior that I and others do.

If you're at a conference, you're there amongst your peers and colleagues, there is a certain level of respect and decorum that I would like to assume would be present amongst a community that aspires at least to some modicum of collegiality.

You can say that the security community (which granted isn't particularly my scene) is rough and tumble, but surely there should be some expectation of some basic human respect.

I guess put more succinctly, just because it's held at a night club, doesn't make a conference party any less a conference related function.

> If you're at a conference, you're there amongst your peers and colleagues, there is a certain level of respect and decorum that I would like to assume would be present amongst a community that aspires at least to some modicum of collegiality.

I would agree. The difference is that unlike, say, Black Hat or RSA, DEFCON is not a security conference. DEFCON is (and is advertised as) a hacker conference.

Sure, the speakers are generally in the industry (though not always) and there is no blatant illegal activity happening (most of the time), the target audience for DEFCON is not the infosec community. I think that leads to the problems that happen at cons like DEFCON, HOPE, and CCC vs. Black Hat (mostly), RSA, USENIX, CRYPTO, SANS training, etc.


> just because it's held at a night club, doesn't make a conference party any less a conference related function.

Totally agree with you there; I was not trying to excuse the behavior, simply indicate a possible explanation therein.

The issue is perhaps not only behavior at conferences, but the predatory behavior that is fairly common of males in that environment.

Yes, you're absolutely right. I've always associated DEFCON with security stuff, mainly because that's all the interesting stuff I remember reading coming out of DEFCON (and I've never been). Thanks for the clarification.

It's not just a conference, but a conference of mostly socially inept and humanly horny gentle(or less-so)men. Not at all to excuse the behavior, but as always, buyer beware.

Perhaps a partial solution would be to have a track dedicated to social relations (not engineering!). Maybe include some of the finer points of a stay in Las fucking Vegas.

Again, and I can't reiterate this enough, I'm not excusing inappropriate or damaging behavior. It is important, though, that situational awareness be accounted for. In a conference for cops, of course this behavior wouldn't be expected. In a conference of mostly lonely males...

What I'm saying is that perhaps education may warrant a better outcome rather than furthering the perpetrators into a social black hole. That is if we are talking about otherwise "normal" folk in a drunken state rather than something more pathological--which I think we are. Goons can should an do deal with those others handily afaik.

-- Edit: here we go with the downvotes. If you feel that way, and read past the first paragraph, please expand beyond an anonymous click of the mouse.

How do you ever expect anything to progress without discussion? I may very well be far off base, and am more than happy to discuss. I'd also be more than happy to admit I'm wrong if that's the case. But please, I beg of you, let's talk about it.

My experience is that tech conferences are mostly comprised of socially competent people. In a group of 20 people, for example, I might find that one person in a group is truly inept. So, to do the arithmetic for everyone, that's 5%. Unfortunately, that's often about the same percentage as the number of women present. :/

I won't lay out all of the problems with identification, getting the "socially inept" into one room and educating them, making sure that whoever is teaching this (as yet undefined) social skills curriculum is a good teacher, making sure the education sticks, etc... Instead, I'm just going to share that I don't think education of socially incompetent people will significantly improve my conference experience.

Things that help include:

* An assumption on the part of conference staff, speakers and attendees that women are there to participate, not just observe or tag along

* Swift, friendly, supportive responses from staff if verbal or physical harassment is reported - often made possible by staff who are aware of an anti-harassment policy, and are trained in what to do (LCA did a great job of this in 2012)

* Allies who help stop hostile, harassing and inappropriate comments if they occur

And there's other stuff that helps too. There's some good stuff in the "what can allies do" section of the Geek Feminism wiki.

Anyway, I appreciate your willingness to converse about this issue and hope I've shed some light on why people might be down-voting your comment.

I agree setting up a track for it would be difficult. I imagine, though, any married dude could speak at the track. And wasn't thinking so much a mandatory class, but a track like any other. Could be humorous/fun interspersed with nuggets of info. Perhaps some tips and tricks as to where there may be a local setting (not at the con) where the attendees could start to ply their new skills.

Another possibility would maybe be a page in the booklet detailing unacceptable behavior--or a request from con founder or such. I think almost all the people attending are very smart; if they were to hear/see a request from someone they look up to very highly, it might be enough to stifle bad behavior even through a drunken lens.

To your points:

1) I think this comes back to the education thing. Be it a page in a booklet, on the website, or something else--sometimes people need to actually see/hear it. It's dangerous to assume that just because people are smart, they know how to behave and how to be respectful to others.

2) I only have experience at the big 2 in Vegas, but thought the staff were trained on such... Don't know. I agree, though, that having them trained to be responsive would be a huge help.

3) Yes. I actually (unfortunately) had the opportunity to do as much this year. I know people I was with would be more than willing to step in as well. But, again, perhaps it would help for everyone to know that they can be on the lookout for this behavior and step in/get help when necessary. We can't just assume that people will do the right thing, either.

Thank you for the well though-out response. I very much hope that in the future your con experiences improve dramatically regardless of what makes that happen.

The blame the victim mentality sprinkled throughout this comment and a few others is the problem have with them.

"Not at all to excuse the behavior, but..." "I'm not excusing inappropriate or damaging behavior. It is important, though..."

Those sentences should end before you go on to give the impression that we just have to accept that sexual assault/harassment is going to happen when a room is dominated by men. There is no good reason why grown men who happen to be some of the brightest minds in computer security should be excused from treating their female peers with the same respect that they would want for themselves or their own daughters, wives, mothers, and aunts.

Your comment seems to suggest otherwise, because "In a conference of mostly lonely males..." hey what do those women expect? Apparently, they should have had more "situation awareness". It reminded me of the common victim blaming argument "she shouldn't have dressed like that if she didn't want the (bad) attention".

No. What I'm saying is that educating or helping these people might be a better solution than straight ridicule. Whether the education be how to control self, or how to appropriately engage woman, it would seem to strike the root of the problem.

If I came across otherwise, I appologize.

I really appreciate you being open to discussion - its the biggest reason why I value the HN community and why I even bother to comment. I read your original comment many times and think that it needed clarity, eventually you did get to your point about education but that did not come off as your main point.

I assume the Ada Initiative's goal, at least in part, is education. Even through this post alone they have educated part of the HN community that women get harassed at conferences. But I don't think the problem here is that men need to be educated about these behaviors - every decent human being knows its not okay to grab a womans crotch and hide in a crowd. This article wasn't about borderline cases where it wasn't clear what acceptable behavior was. It was about blatant disrespect like telling a female peer at a conference to "show her tits".

I think the men who are doing the harassment need to be made to feel this is not tolerated behavior in this community. If a few perpetrators get embarrassed about being called out and being given a colored card, thats acceptable if it helps prevent sexual assaults/harassment and alters their behavior.

> Honestly I don't think you're operating from the same baseline for behavior that I and others do.

Exactly. This is not just a minor annoyance, in the examples above we should be talking about sexual battery, and sexual assault charges. There should be a mechanism to identify and point out the perpetrators, call the police, get them booked in etc. For other non-criminal but just discriminatory and harassing behavior there should be a quick and easy mechanism to shame, weed out, exclude and expel perpetrators. Take a picture with a phone and post on a public board (maybe a bad idea, haven't thought this through...).

The sad part is the lack of outrage from the majority and form the organizers. This apathy indicates some complicity. And that's probably why not much happens to fix this.

Isn't his point that a party is a party? Being a party at a night club, conference or not, makes all the difference.

> Her ass was grabbed several times at DEFCON events.

> but walking up to a woman and grabbing her boobs is going to get you slapped and probably arrested. Anywhere. Personally, I didn't see a lot of that... just a bunch of nerdy, socially awkward guys trying (and failing) to pick up women.


I might be reading this wrong but let me paraphrase your argument or rather what I read as its implication: "Guys sexually harass women in other contexts so that means it's really not that bad at DEFCON. It's just equally bad."

To which I would reply that this behavior needs to change regardless of whether it's DEFCON or a "regular" night at a club. We just happen to be discussing it in context here.

"but is the behavior worse than any other night club"

So what? Other nightclubs aren't representing the hacker community. This sort of behaviour ought to be attacked anywhere anyone has the power to attack it.

The underlying point is that this is part of a systemic, larger problem with many men and how they relate to women..hacker or no.

I agree that verbal hitting on isn't per se offensive, even if it's not something I'd do or suggest at a professional event (unless you know the person, odds are very high that a female at a hacker related party is either really on guard due to the 50 other people who have hit on her, or is someone's girlfriend or spouse, or both. Not a very productive environment.)

If people are grabbing your fiancee's ass at events, either you or she should be talking to the conference organizers. I assume none of this happened at BSidesLV.

(Personally, I'm waiting for someone to go reaching for a female attendee's ass and brush up against her M11, due to being from OSI or whatever and attending for work. I suspect hilarity would ensue...)

I don't think this affects your point, but on a random night in Pure, women will outnumber men by maybe 4-to-1, and the same is true of (I believe) most Vegas nightclubs.

I had a strange experience that when I signed in to HOPE9 at the "Department of Hopeland Security," this year.

Following the "homeland security" theme, a man and a woman made a couple of weak jokes about a "pat down," which I kinda laughed at, and then the woman came up to me and actually started patting me down. It was clearly a joke, but it was a violation of my personal space and it made me feel pretty uncomfortable. (At least at the airport they ask for your permission!) This was the first thing I experienced walking into an unfamiliar environment full of unfamiliar people. I was so shocked that I didn't say anything.

If this kind of thing happens to men (like me), I'm not surprised that Valerie and other women are hesitant to attend these conferences.

I regularly fight the TSA at the airport and have been threatened many times. I document my antics using #fuTSA.

The last few times they asked "do you consent?"

I asked "does it matter what I say?

They answered "not really"

My response "so why bother asking? It's incredibly deceitful for a Federal employee to ask for my consent to do something when they're going to do it anyway. You're just trying to convince people they have a choice.. when we don't."

I always get the "aggressive patdown" then. ;)

Pat-downs are pretty standard in public events and totally fine for security. You know exactly who checked you if anything goes wrong, and he is hanging by a paycheck.

It was not a security pat down. It was a badly made joke that involved someone touching me without my consent.

HOPE isn’t really that kind of a conference (you can come and go as you please and there’s usually just a volunteer sitting by the door glancing at everyone to make sure they have badges).

If he got a pat down it wasn’t in any kind of official context. (FWIW, the attendees are pretty friendly.)

You know why no one will ever take this blog post seriously? It's about DEFCON.

Those that have not been, let me sum up what the conference is about. It's in Las Vegas. The general attitude is that you should be drunk 24/7. Most of the attendees are horny losers who wish they could come up with talks like "hacking gender" and "cable modem hacking". The weekend becomes a blur, and you just hope you're sober enough to make your flight home. And something about security talks.

Those of you that have been, and didn't just go to talks and sit in their hotel room, know what i'm talking about. Mardi Gras for nerds, toned down a bit, with something like 5% female attendance.

If you want to combat sexism in your industry and at your conferences, you probably need more organizations like Ada Initiative. But it's not going to do a god damn bit of difference about DEF CON. This whole piece hinges on the idea that there's one "worst" offender, and if we can just get them all to play nice, feminism will reign and no woman will ever be victimized at a conference again.

Wake up.

Sexism is a big, big problem, all over the globe, in many different communities. I can quote you about 10 different stories of women being harassed in the general vicinity of where I live. I don't need to tell you about a woman who was groped at a bar, because quite frankly, nobody is going to do shit about it. If I wrote a blog post about that bar, still nobody would do anything about it.

Calling out one conference and making this thinly veiled assertion that all conferences are just like it is not only deceptive, it's blatantly misrepresenting the community surrounding the conferences.

Women are the most aware people about the power of sex in culture. They are born with people looking at them different, and depending on their lot in life, will experience both degradation and achievement all based on circumstance. The idea that a woman could write an article like this with no idea that occasionally a drunken man will make a pass at them is preposterous. Therefore I can only assume it's written specifically to start a kind of cultural flame war with the intent being to bring more attention and resources to their organization's cause.

In short: Using DEF CON as a model for sexism at all conferences is the most ridiculous thing i've ever read.

I didn't read the article as saying DEF CON was the same as all other conferences. I read the opposite: that DEF CON is the worst, but the "hacker" niche of conferences are all pretty bad.

And you are wrong about whether DEF CON will be a hold-out of sexism. It might be the last holdout, but if and when gender equality becomes widespread across the US technical community, it's easy to see that no sexism could holdout in any popular venue. At the very least, the sponsors would run away.

Finally, this:

> The idea that a woman could write an article like this with no idea that occasionally a drunken man will make a pass at them is preposterous. Therefore I can only assume it's written specifically to start a kind of cultural flame war with the intent being to bring more attention and resources to their organization's cause.

That is quite the accusation, with not even the flimsiest of supporting evidence.

You are perfectly right that its the general attitude at defcon that is the problem, through I would claim its cause is the cowboy culture in the hacking community. It is the idea that hacking is all about the wild west, where some drunken, guns at the hip, "cool guy" can come and save princess and hunt down and hurt the bad guy.

That said, the bar example you took up is not very relevant. I could tell you about a mugging that happened, even make a blog post about it, but no one would care or do anything about it. I could talk about a car accident, even one including a drunk driver, but it would be meet with the same reaction. Common crime do not create reaction from society. Maybe if a 9 year old daughter of some politician got groped at a bar you might see some media coverage and reaction, but that would be true the same if she got mugged or was hit by a drunk driver.

I didn't notice any sexual harassment this year at either BSidesLV (where I was on the security team both days, and where one of the main organizers is a woman) or at Defcon (although the in-your-face Chippendales posters all over the hotel were annoying). Nor at HOPE. Other than at Bsides, I wasn't actively seeking out bad behavior either, but it wasn't in-your-face if it did exist. (One speaker at Defcon used a James Bond movie hook in a talk about trusted platforms, with "don't get hacked, win the money, and get the girl", but I wouldn't consider that particularly inappropriate -- that it was James Bond makes it less bad than if it were a generic "don't get hacked, get laid" reference.)

Compared to Defcon 1-13, which had pretty pervasive sexual harassment. (Plus more public drunkenness and drug use, too). I was in Iraq during 14-18, so I can't really comment on those.

(This year, at an after-Defcon party on Sunday, the only obnoxiously drunk harassing person I encountered was female, too. That's probably not an improvement for society.)

I do kind of hate how people-with-kids now bring their children to Defcon, and the general push to turn it into "hacker disneyland" (with NSA recruiting there, various "Defcon kids" programs, etc.). I don't think that's related to less sexual harassment, just with the thing being bigger and a lot of participants now being old.

USENIX Security, IETF, and Nanog seem to be the best overall blend of "non-offensive atmosphere", "actual technical content", and smart/interesting people. There's probably a role for something cheaper and similar, maybe an extension of BSides, since as an individual, I'm a lot more willing to pay $100-200 for a conference than $1500-2500.

It's heartening to hear that. I was a *nix security researcher and admin in the late-90s, and attended DEFCON 8 with a group of men. I never went back on my own.

An organizer's support for kdotcdot's cards makes me want to go to DEFCON next year.

Unless you go to really sketchy private parties in people's hotel rooms, you're probably better off at Defcon overall now than in Vegas otherwise. (Also, I strongly suggest the majority of inappropriate behavior is by the younger attendees; most of the people who have been going to Defcon since the AP or earlier are now in their 30s, many married/kids, have real jobs which mean they have something to lose if they behave badly at a professional event, etc.)

Thanks! :)

I'm thinking next year will be the year I attend conferences for fun, rather than just work. I put it on my calendar.

Go to BSides near your home town, too, if it exists. Fun and volunteer-run, and thus close to free ($15).

Why do you hate children being taken to the event, and what does that have to do with harassment?

It's unrelated to harassment. It's related to making the event a less productive environment for security researchers and vendors.

How so? It's not like the kids are chatting up the sales people or asking dumb questions at the talks. At worst, they'd be taking all the swag and hogging the rides on the segue or whatnot.

Beer surely makes it much more productive.

Surprisingly it does! Being able to talk to cryptographic end users in a "relaxed" setting (1-2 beers) seems to increase the rate of information exchange.

The 10-12 drink stage later in the night is far less productive than baseline, and probably of negative productivity (I listened to people debating the origins of the terms cryptography and steganography, circularly, for a while...went to another room, and they were still at it 2h later). But light drinking seems to be useful in social settings with many people.

This article is about a call to action to end sexual assault and harassment against women. It's really disappointing that the majority of comments that have followed are about how things really aren't THAT bad (as a man), or that women should expect this from a bunch of lonely guys, or that hey it happens to men too. I know some of these commenters are are well meaning, but this article isn't about you. The comments miss the point and completely undermine the author with their male centered narrative.

So next time you read about a minority group creating something exclusive to their gender, race (like Black Girls Code), or religion, remember this thread of comments. Because I bet you're first instinct will be to say "the solution is not to divide us into separate groups!". But until you start listening, internalizing, and cultivating those minority voices rather than dismissing them or displacing them with your own, those people are going to keep dropping out, showing up small numbers, or start making their own exclusive conferences/coding groups/fill-in-the-blank.

Articles like this are declaring issues in existing communities. This make it natural for members in those communities to create opinions and question when listening, internalizing, and cultivating the issues brought forth. Some of those opinions will be of the type "Is this issue, compared to all other form of issues already identified in the community, significant different that it need a imminent and unique reaction?".

Hackers/programers/scientists/problem solvers is also extremely, to the point of obsession, interested in identify root issues when talking about problems. To find root issues, one need to ask questions, like are there similar issues like this one? Are they caused by the same problem? What suggested fixes are there? are those proven to work? whats does the number says, do they show a trend? are there sources that back up what people experience? How can we eliminate research and political biases? are there additional factors involved like relative risk, risk assessment and risk aversion?

Denying those questions and asking the community to accept the issues as facts, immune against research and question, and just shut-up and follow any suggested fixes it gets, is wrong. Just simply wrong. Maybe that will result in people dropping out, showing up in small numbers, or who starts making their own exclusive conferences/coding groups/fill-in-the-blank. Maybe. But maybe the better way is to ask the questions and find the answers?

> Hackers/programers/scientists/problem solvers is also extremely, to the point of obsession, interested in identify root issues when talking about problems. To find root issues, one need to ask questions, like are there similar issues like this one? Are they caused by the same problem? What suggested fixes are there? are those proven to work? whats does the number says, do they show a trend?

Well, there's your problem. From what I can tell asking those questions is considered anti-feminist and evidence of misogyny. For instance, just to pick one example, there are various studies showing that an impressive proportion of men actually admit to raping women. These get used as evidence of a rape culture in which men specifically - not just society as a whole, but men and men alone - consider it acceptable and normal to rape women. Now, since the studies in question didn't ask women whether they committed rape, they actually give you zero information about whether this is something that men do or something that everyone does. They're still used as ammunition to accuse anyone who treats rape as more gender-neutral of hating women and denying its tuge gendered nature. Meanwhile, the studies that would actually be required to test this - ones which make no up-front assumption and ask both men and women the same questions - don't exist, because even posing the question of whether women rape others in this way makes you a misogynist and is apparently a really bad career move. The same happens in a whole bunch of topics around rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, prostitution/sex work, ...

You cannot uphold anything resembling the scientific method in this climate. It's impossible.

This is flat out ignorant. Is it "impossible" to google for credible studies about sexual assault. Like this popular one from 2010 by the CDC that interviewed 16,000 people (including 7,400 men) and found that 18% of women and 1% of men had been raped or had someone attempt to rape them. So to take the point home, you don't have to believe in a "rape culture", but just know that if you have a wife, mom, grandmother, daughter, and aunt chances are (according the CDC) that one of them will be raped or have to fight off an attempted rape in their lifetime.


I did not say the proposed colored card system was the end all solution and that everyone here should shut up and take it. Absolutely we should question and propose different solutions. But I'm not sure that I saw any comments on alternative fixes besides the general theme "women should know what they're getting into".

I think you're saying that i need to understand this is a scientific crowd and they are of course going to question and apply logic. To which i would respond, why then did we end up with a majority of comments applying unchecked anecdotal evidence (which this community is usually very quick to dismiss) to subtly undermine the authors point?

Normally I would just do some hand waving and mumble "people", but I will try to do something more constructive.

I believe it is the same effect as after a random rant article about firefox/gnome/pulse audio/software licenses. Everyone has some personal opinion there, so if the article lacks all form of basic research, people will immediately start to fill that void with their own anecdotal evidence.

If you're actually serious about security, the answer could be simply: don't attend DEFCON.

The quality is laughable, and in my opinion it is more of an "alternative lifestyle" conference than a "hacker" conference. The joke around my friends is "Wait....DEFCON has talks?" The best (or only good in my opinion) piece of DEFCON is CTF, though, which I would highly encourage everyone to try out. It's an incredible learning experience and a lot of fun.

Infiltrate in Miami is probably the best conference. Black Hat can be very good too. Personally I'm planning on going to DerbyCon this fall.

I'm really surprised by the number of "what did the women expect??" comments in this thread, but I'm glad there are a few smart, well-spoken, good folks in here too. Groping strangers is inappropriate in any public environment; I can't image how it would feel for a woman at a tech conference. It's already a weird feeling to be outnumbered by so many men. You wonder if they consider you a part of their peer group. Getting groped by one of them would be an obvious signal that you're not.

I went to a couple of "Women in technology" meetings, where I was often outnumbered 5-to-1. It's terrifying. I can't imagine the idea of going to a place where I'm so outnumbered, and also having the possibility of being groped.

Frankly, I'm amazed the police aren't called more. Groping - or "sexual assault" as it's more commonly called - is very very illegal.

I have studied in classes where I was the sole guy + 30 women (Physcology course). I can only say, you get used to it after the first few days.

That said, any assault, be that a bottle to the head, first to the face, hand to the groin, or foot to the torso, should be reported.

groping strangers is actually a crime.

I just spent the past week in Las Vegas for my 15th DEFCON, I'm male.

The conference has so many different aspects, it really is better to break it into components, talks during the day, chill-out areas, CTF room, hardware/lockpicking villages, public/private night parties, hanging out at the bars all night, etc.

Here are some of my observations (for better or worse):

* If you're a woman, expect to get hit on dozens of times to varying degrees.

* Some people are drunk during the day, most people are drunk during the night.

* DEFCON attendees tend to be the personality types that make their own rules, and aren't well integrated socially.

* There are some (very few) attendees that seem to have mental problems, don't understand boundaries, and will do very inappropriate things; at least a few are usually banned or kicked out of the hotel or conference each year.

* I chatted with a cigarette girl in the Rio at one point, and asked her if she had been harassed a lot by DEFCON attendees, and she quantified it as, "Not really that badly (in comparison to other events)".

* Small private parties at night can get wildly inappropriate (these are not official DEFCON events, they are private parties hosted by attendees), you'll find naked people in pools at least a dozen times during the con, at least 2 or 3 instances of people engaging in some form of sexual intercourse, strippers, porn playing on a display in the corner, drugs, prostitutes (seemingly not having much success), etc.

This behavior is perpetrated by both male and female attendees, and in fact the average female attendee is worse than the average male attendee in my experience; although, women being in a great minority, you're much more likely to be on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior as a woman.

I had one girl tell me she comes to DEFCON just to meet guys, and said, "I get to have sex with any guy here I want".

This year alone I had female attendees I didn't know, or just met, slap me on the ass several times, had 2 drunk girls walk up and kiss my cheek, had my nipple tweaked once, had my crotch bumped/groped/etc. 3 times, and had a random assortment of other harassing behavior directed towards me (all of this was at night during the parties).

My friend was wearing a kilt, and at one point had a girl stop him to stick her head under the kilt so her friend could take a picture, and then followed it up by grabbing at his crotch while she was down there (in this instance the girls weren't DEFCON attendees, just random drunk women in a casino).


* If you avoid the late night (especially unofficial) parties, bars, and drunken events in general, you are going to avoid most of the inappropriate (and worst) behavior.

* Female attendees will get hit on multiple times by lonely nerdy guys, I really don't know what to say about this, but if you stick to the actual convention, you probably won't endure much worse than bad pickup lines.

* DEFCON has the weirdest, smartest, oddly intense mixture of people I've ever met that mostly come to go completely insane and push boundaries of all kinds... It does have negatives, but the experience is something I look forward to all year long.

> * If you avoid the late night (especially unofficial) parties, bars, and drunken events in general, you are going to avoid most of the inappropriate (and worst) behavior. > * Female attendees will get hit on multiple times by lonely nerdy guys, I really don't know what to say about this, but if you stick to the actual convention, you probably won't endure much worse than bad pickup lines.

Is this not the complaint - that you can't take part in your culture's events because of the behaviour of others? I would find it intolerable if all the other attendees went off to the last night parties and bars, and I couldn't because I was likely to be sexually assaulted.

Sure you can take part in them, but if you go to an invitation-only private party at 2 AM held at a separate hotel that less than 1% of the conference can actually get into and is thrown for the sole purpose of getting people drunk and doing inappropriate things, you shouldn't be surprised if there is some random inappropriate behavior, that's kind of the point.

And just to be clear, this is not gender specific harassment, as a male I would have preferred not to have experienced any of the following:

* Random drunk guy at a party suggesting that everyone sitting around a table playing black-jack instead play strip-poker, and being ignored until he tried to lean against a lamp and fell over with it.

* Naked people jumping into a pool, splashing me, and attempting to start a minor orgy.

* Walking into a room at a party where 2 guys and a girl were laying on a bed giggling at male/female pornography.

* Being groped by random men and women who half the time weren't actually trying to molest me, they were just too drunk to stand up straight.

* Having random women suggest that I should ask to see their breasts.

* etc.

But in the end, it doesn't really bother me, and I'm glad that those people had a chance to cut loose and get crazy. I've been to Las Vegas 20 to 30 times, and I've experienced far more inappropriate behavior outside of DEFCON than I have at the convention.

I was at a dozen or so different parties over 5 nights, and excepting a few of the small room parties, things were far tamer than standard Las Vegas fare.

I don't think I've met the author of the article, but if she stormed out of DEFCON 16, I'm curious to know why she was organizing the TCP/IP Drinking Game for DEFCON 18...


There is a lot of drama that goes on at DEFCON, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out there's quite a bit more going on here.

I feel like the underlying complaint here is more along the lines of: "Some people want to go to Las Vegas, get drunk, leer at strippers, and call themselves elite. I disapprove of this type of behavior, and I am going to assert that as a woman I feel excluded, and in being excluded I am somehow being blocked from some theoretical opportunity in life that is only available under these conditions that I don't want to find myself in, I'd also like to write an article misrepresenting the issue for my amusement, and the status I may also gain from said article..."

And honestly, as long as you don't get naked and jump into a pool, you're probably pretty safe from sexual assault (as a woman at least). Women at DEFCON can generally take care of themselves, and some random groper is likely to get a beat-down from his victim.

In fact, the mysterious perpetrator at the bar disappearing into the crowd seems a little conveniently vague... and if it did indeed happen, and was at one of the Casino bars, there's a good chance it was done by a random tourist, since people see oddly dressed DEFCON attendees and think it's okay to grab their ass, etc.

In fact, the only sexual assault I saw this year was by drunk female tourists who decided it was okay to randomly grope men and women because they were wearing a kilt, had a mohawk, etc.

Just correcting a minor math error... DEFCON 16 was in 2008.

> as long as you don't get naked and jump into a pool, you're probably pretty safe from sexual assault (as a woman at least). Women at DEFCON can generally take care of themselves, and some random groper is likely to get a beat-down from his victim.

I'd be more concerned about the woman giggling on the bed than about the naked women jumping in the pool - assault is more common in the form of "we're already flirting and alone; I'll just take it" than in the form of "I'm going to plot how to get this stranger into a dark corner without anyone noticing." You might find it interesting to look up statistics about acquaintance rape and check out this article: http://jezebel.com/5929544/rapists-explain-themselves-on-red... (if you haven't already).

I'm a DEFCON woman who can generally take care of myself, but there's something weird that can happen in response to a lewd comment, an unwanted touch, or worse: a paralyzing wave of confusion, fear, disbelief. Even if you instantly overcome this and tell him to fuck off or punch him, you still just got a shock that can ruin your day/week/etc. Nobody should have to be subjected to this, male or female.

> I feel like the underlying complaint here is more along the lines of: "Some people want to go to Las Vegas, get drunk, leer at strippers, and call themselves elite. I disapprove of this type of behavior, and I am going to assert that as a woman I feel excluded, and in being excluded I am somehow being blocked from some theoretical opportunity in life that is only available under these conditions that I don't want to find myself in, I'd also like to write an article misrepresenting the issue for my amusement, and the status I may also gain from said article..."

I don't think anyone is complaining that guys at DEFCON get drunk and leer at strippers - if they stuck to doing that, I doubt anyone would mind. The complaints are about a pattern of disrespect toward women attendees - not just a handful of serious assaults, but a lot of small papercuts as well. Some examples from my experience:

* Men introducing themselves to a man but not the female coworker standing next to him, since they assume she's just his girlfriend. This happens repeatedly.

* A guy insisting that women are biologically unsuited to be great hackers and not listening to a woman acquaintance who is dissecting his assertions.

* Two guys attempting to practice seduction skills in the chillout lounge on a woman attendee who simply asked if they'd seen her friend.

* Men making dumb comments at women, like in this elevator: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4327399

It shouldn't be unsafe or annoying to be a woman at DEFCON. And the nice thing is that as we learn as a community to treat women attendees better, this knowledge should also help us learn to treat men attendees better - it shouldn't be unsafe or annoying to be a man at DEFCON either. Not zero sum.

Reading the anecdotes in the article (crotch grabbing, asking a girl to flash her breasts etc) you have to wonder whether this sort of behaviour would be prevalent at hacker events simply because black-hats by their very nature tend to be opportunistic and seek exploits both in the digital realm and the physical. I'm sure social retardedness plays a part but I suspect many of the individuals who carried out these acts knew exactly what they were getting up to.

Here's one approach I've never seen. Assume that a good quantity of the guys at such a conference enjoy the company of women. They would prefer to have an event with at least some of us around, as opposed to the total sausage fest it would otherwise be. (Obviously, some guys enjoy the 'fest, and that's cool too. But I'm not talking about them.)

Anyway, it seems like a simple cost-benefit analysis. If you stop being annoying, and stop other people from being annoying, whether by shunning the bad ones, or by whatever means you use to thin out the herd, you create a more welcoming environment.

Once you have a more welcoming environment, there may be more of us around. That's more opportunities to hang out with folks who you find pleasing.

So, if you want ANY chance to have a nice friendly chat which MIGHT go somewhere some day, you have to start with having established the basics of human decency, dignity, and respect. Otherwise, you're doomed from the get-go.

I write this speaking from a little experience. I've stopped going to certain events here in the Valley where all I wanted was to nerd out for a little while with other technical folks and it turned into a "how quickly can I hit on you" thing.

I sincerely hope at 44Con that we never see behaviour like that described. We're big adopters of the "Don't be a dick" rule, and "Don't take pictures of people who don't want pictures taken" but that's pretty much as far as it goes.

Discrimination on gender or race is something we'd take very seriously and kick people out for. If we were ever at the point we needed coloured cards I think I'd cry a little on the inside.

Which universe exactly is this where "geeks" and "nerds" suddenly turn into ravenous, over-confident and over-sexed pickup machines?

In my universe, and it has always been this way, whenever I go to a party the geeks and nerds end up huddled in a corner, occasionally daring to look at a woman, and whose social interaction bear such a close resemblance to the Big Bang Theory that it is quite embarrassing.

Admittedly I am not from the US (maybe things are different there), but I find this whole picture a bit hard to imagine.

I find myself asking similar questions when these stories come up. Even after accounting for alcohol (they could force breathalyser tests at badge-pickup time to reduce drunks inside...), it just doesn't fit very well. I suspect it's incorrect to think that the offenders are often socially inept. In this universe, being an "[anything] geek" is OK now. Programming and techie-ness in general are "cool". While it has resulted in less bullying for the nerds, the tradeoff is that techies and the like no longer fit into a small range of human personalities, which conveniently explains why the more mono-personality conventions of old were more respectful. The personalities now more closely represent society as a whole, which is filled with ravenous, over-confident, and over-sexed pickup machines. Indeed, the types of behaviors reported sound a lot more like the work of college fraternity bros than any of the privacy-loving/shy/asexual/low-libido/antisocial/"socially inept"/functionally-autistic/egalitarian nerds (who rarely go to conventions (let alone the after-parties) in the first place because crowds!) that were previously what made up a great percentage of the tech population.

Surely you don't assume that all geeks are like this?

It only takes a few bad apples.


There used to be a website with dating tips for learning-disabled people (ask permission, don't touch inappropriately etc). It sounds like someone should run a session on it at DefCon.

Someone should post this on the Defcon forums.

Those cards are the stupidest idea that I ever heard. This woman is complaining for being harrased in a place where 10000 men from 15-50 are constantly drunk, really. And the answer is giving out colored cards? nature forces can't be controlled with cards.

The cards hopefully shame you into changing your behavior. Your brain is what needs to be controlling you. No matter how drunk you are.

EDIT: Also, being rude (a word which epically understates the kind of behavior mentioned here) is not a natural force. It's a behavior, like being polite. Which your brain controls. No matter how drunk you are.

I agree, brain control over impulses is what separate us from monkeys. But we are still monkeys, and the "creeper" guy over millenia tends to reproduce more over the polite guy, and so the creeper gen get selected and survives, that's how evolution works. It sucks that womens have a bad time at confs, but the last thing that I want is a police force caring for offended people, it's bad enough that modern confs are mostly social events about who get invited to which party, the antithesis of nerd/hacker behaviour.

We don't have to wait for evolution. We have brains that can learn - during the span of our own lifetimes! I really think you didn't read the article if you think this is about being "offended". It specifically mentions Like the man who drunkenly tried to lick my shoulder tattoo. Like the man who grabbed my hips while I was waiting for a drink at the EFF party. Like the man who tried to get me to show him my tits so he could punch a hole in a card that, when filled, would net him a favor from one of the official security staff which you can read about in more detail here http://singlevoice.net/2012/07/12/sexism-redyellow-cards-at-...

So what you're saying here is that we shouldn't be arresting people who commit sex crimes while drunk we should be euthenizing them to remove their genes from the population?

No. There is already a solution to that problem, is called police. We don't need additional police.

At conferences and other private events, it basically goes like this:

Someone behaves inappropriately. Event organizers and/or their security designees and/or venue security request that the offender leave for whatever reason. Depending on venue, level of intoxication, threat, etc., the person may be escorted off the premises (how much force can be used depends on legal situation, too). If someone is unwilling to leave, police may be called and offender charged with trespassing. Attempting to re-enter would be trespassing, and police may be called. Attempting to assault security or event staff leads to police and ambulance being called.

It's pretty normal for conference venues to have their own security (for fire safety as well as physical security), and for conference organizers to have security (mainly for crowd control and access control, but also for responding to things like fires caused by cellphones...).

Having a conference-affiliated security person request that you leave an event is less damaging to you than having casino security formally ban you from the premises forever, and either is better than having police come and criminal trespassing charges filed.

Some of the examples we're presented with are of physical harassment (i.e. groping). I think the implication is that the police should handle these incidences rather than trying to police them outside of the law.

Unless you think event or building security won't help you, it's still probably better to go to them, even if a "real crime" has happened -- they're able to get police there faster than you can, to the right location, and may be able to assist themselves (a lot of building security are off-duty police, too, and at the very least they're good witnesses). Particularly if it's something which just happened or is ongoing.

I might call the police directly if it's something I want kept private (like, rape) which had happened already, but realistically anything which happens at a conference to an attendee will become known to the conference and venue security soon enough. Or I'd call the police if I didn't trust local security to do anything, like is sometimes the case with campus police. However, at conferences, I think most security staff would be responsive.

Okay, I'm dropping the politeness. I wish I could unilaterally remove you from the programming/hacker/humanity community. And Voxx. And anyone else who wants to act like it's unreasonable for women to want to go to a conference like this and not be, frankly, sexually molested. It's not "offended" people and to characterize it as such is so out of line, I'm not sure how best to express it.

(edited to remove my less-less-politeness, I feel guilty using such language on HN)

Sorry, I did not wanted to offend you. I hope your understand that removing people with different opinions that yours will not help you solve any problems. Nevertheless, I still convinced that there is a problem, that the card solution to this problem is comically wrong, and that the "conference police" solution to this problem is the worst. EDIT: BTW, If you were sexually molested at a conf. you can tell the regular police. There are very clear laws against that behaviour that also are valid inside conferences.

Well, if it matters to you, I concur with drivebyacct2's desire, and I have a Y chromosome.

Societies require enforcement mechanisms, or it is just base nature, red in tooth and claw. If you think there are problems that must be corrected, you too surely believe that there are mechanisms for coercing behavior.

Exile is one such method that's been used in many civilizations over millenia.

Edit: It's worth pointing out that your assumption that drivebyacct22 is a girl simply because he/she disagrees with you is really weird.

Yes I removed that, I wanted to make a small joke but I realized people are too serious about this issue. Yes there are mechanisms for coercing behavior, jail for example. We already have laws governing sexual misconduct much more effective than colored cards. I hope you realize the potential of abuse that a rule against "offending" people have. EDIT: I'm sure we at least agree that most of the harrasments occur under the influence of alcohol. So what about banning Alcohol in conferences, like you know, 100% of academic conferences do. Problem solved.

If someone tries to drunkenly lick my tattoo, I'm not just going to call the cops on them. But I will probably use some lesser method of coercion to get them to stop.

And what you would do if someone grab your hips. This is a very real situation as accidental hip grabbing is very common specially in crowded conferences. I believe hip grabbing and tatoo licking are VERY different situations, you see how complicated this issue really is.

>I realized people are too serious about this issue

I have no words for you. You privileged, narrow-minded unfortunate person.

"Nature forces". Right. So we should all just rape, murder, pillage, steal, and throw our feces around because those are natural impulses?

I'll pass on that world, I like my humans with at least a modicum of civility.

From the article

The cards are a hilarious way to raise awareness of the problem of brutal sexual harassment at DEFCON and similar conferences. Unfortunately, it will take more than raising awareness to make hacker conferences safe for women.

We’re waiting to hear about the first[2] hacker conference to adopt a specific, enforceable, well-planned policy protecting women from harassment – and then we’re going to promote the hell out of it.

Did you really just get bored and stop reading when you got to the colored cards? You were already 80% through the thing!

I agree that the cards are a pretty ineffective way of dealing with the problem at events. They're only effective for people who don't know they're doing something inappropriate, but do care when told. I think that's a very small percentage of offensive people.

Selfishly, I care more about getting the (admittedly very small number of) hacker females to attend and contribute to events more than unrestrained free speech by attendees. If kicking out a few obnoxious drunken guys, and convincing others to behave reasonably, is necessary, fine. That seems a lot more effective than cards handed out by attendees. Naming and shaming people who act like idiots would also be effective I suppose, but probably more potentially open to drama and consequences than quietly ejecting them for the rest of the event.

There's something interesting about these cards - they're helping DEFCON people adopt a usable vocabulary for talking about harassment, an addition to our jargon.

Here's an example. A few days ago I was part of a Rio elevator full of DEFCON people when it stopped at a floor where a non-attendee woman was looking to get in. There was obviously no room inside, but one of the guys hollered at her to "get in anyway - you're a cute woman - we love women - this ratio needs to be improved!" She instantly disappeared. As the elevator door closed, another guy looked at him and said "dude, yellow card." Silence the rest of the way down.

It's a small thing, but I was the one DEFCON woman in the elevator, and I appreciated that verbal yellow card - in other words, while I was in the middle of mentally processing what had just happened and whether creepy attention would shift to me, a fellow attendee had quickly and effectively reset the tone of the elevator to basic civility. This is good.

Thanks for sharing this story! :)

  > Naming and shaming people who act like idiots would
  > also be effective I suppose
A "Wall of Creeps" next to the "Wall of Sheep?"

(or maybe the threat of "poor impulse control" tattooed to your forehead? ;-)

It's ridiculous and harmful to think sexual harassment is justified just because you're in a large group of drunk men.

Also, there aren't 10,000 men that go to DEFCON. A large percentage of the attendees are women.

This post really set people off. Guess what, the cards were such a retarded idea, apparently in Defcon there were contests about who got more red or yellow cards, this actually caused lots of harrasment.

I don't think those cards are just for being hit on, really.

Right. They are for being hit on badly.

Excuse me (it's more polite than what I'd like to say.) I'm a man and I don't get drunk and think that I have a right to grope other women or other men.

Natural forces tell you that groping women is okay?

edit: Further more, if someone does manage to become so uncivilized from the amount of alcohol it takes for them to get to such a state, maybe, just maybe they shouldn't do that. In public. Around people that they can't seem to help but grope. Jesus, is this a real conversation I'm having?

Can I recommend referring to "groping" as "sexual assault? It won't help with the trolls here, but it does help focus the discussion a little bit.

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