Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Sexism in Tech: Don’t Ask Me Unless You’re Ready to Call Someone a Whistleblower (medium.com)
330 points by xena on Mar 8, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 370 comments

I feel so naive asking this, but I really would like to better understand the specific scenario that led to being raped repeatedly "several times over months" by a colleague. Especially because it apparently happened to another female colleague by another man "in much the same way my attacker had raped me."

I don't doubt FOR A MINUTE that this can happen but perhaps understanding the circumstances could provide a focal point for specific change.

For example, how do colleagues end up even physically alone in the same space together especially after the first RAPE? Does this stem from unsupervised after-work parties that employees feel obligated to attend? Is it related to conferences or work travel? Clearly she would seek to avoid being near her rapist alone but couldn't. Are there things companies can be doing to better avoid such scenarios?

Story from a friend of a friend's law firm. Young associate worked for this partner. Over the course of months, he coerced her into giving him blowjobs. Eventually she quit.

1) Why is this rape? Because coercion doesn't just take the form of physical violence.

2) Why not report to the police? Because it's mutually assured destruction. Even if you bring the guy down, you'll be known as the woman who called the police on her boss.

3) Why let it happen more than once? If you've ruled out calling the police, what are you going to do? Can you afford to quit your job on the spot? Can you compromise your long term future at the firm by bringing it to the management? You've worked years to get to where you are, and you just want to do your job and try to get ahead, just like your coworkers who didn't catch the eye of some creep.

Your comment reminded me of this story I read about a month back, which was pretty eye-opening to me as a male who's never been in a position to worry about these things:


I'd known, intellectually, that a large fraction of rape is perpetrated by someone the victim knows and somewhat trusts. But the story here put concrete details to that and made me think. What do you do if someone you like, who you have been consensually involved with, takes advantage of you? What do you do if they had been, until then, your strongest support at a new school (or in a new job, or something), and social structures are that you're expected to keep working together? Is there even a better response than pretending it didn't happen, at least for a bit?

I'm also a little ashamed to say that, if I hadn't heard stories like this one and thought them through, I can see myself being the skeptical cop who says, well, why were you continuing to hang out with him and invite him over. And I'd known intellectually that skeptical cops were a problem that dissuaded reporting, and that it often was naïveté not malice, but never thought through what an actual case would look like.

1) Why is this rape? Because coercion doesn't just take the form of physical violence

I was curious if this is technically rape in my home state (Illinois) so I looked it up...

edit: Already downvoted? C'mon this is relevant!

  (720 ILCS 5/11-1.20) (was 720 ILCS 5/12-13) 
    Sec. 11-1.20. Criminal Sexual Assault. 
  (a) A person commits criminal sexual assault if that person commits an act of sexual penetration and:
        (1) uses force or threat of force;
        (2) knows that the victim is unable to understand the nature of the act or is unable to give knowing consent;
        (3) is a family member of the victim, and the victim is under 18 years of age; or
        (4) is 17 years of age or over and holds a position of trust, authority, or supervision in relation to the victim, and the victim is at least 13 years of age but under 18 years of age.

Are you arguing that blackmailing someone into having sex with you, or threatening them with consequences like having your career ended, isn't rape in the state of Illinois?


If I were a woman I'd want to know where this was illegal or not. I want to know for my daughters when they grow up.

I'm pretty sure it is illegal, but nobody in this thread is a lawyer providing legal advice so that's moot.

What is the point of arguing that blackmailing people into sex isn't rape?

My only point was that blackmail is not rape in Illinois. Interpret that as you wish.

>My only point was that blackmail is not rape in Illinois. Interpret that as you wish.

The issue here is that, in your ignorance of legalese, you've misinterpreted the word "force" with a colloquial definition.

Then, because of a mental bias like Dunning-Kruger, you did not stop to think that your ignorance to law would prevent you from having an understanding, you assumed that you were correct in your interpretation by default.

In law, "force" is an interesting concept. You assumed it meant only "unlawful violence" but in law "compulsion" is the second major part of force. As in, compelling someone to act against their free will, which violates their Inalienable Right to Liberty.

You should investigate the legal concept of "force" further because I think you'll find that coercion, blackmail, duress, or any other form of behavior control constitutes legal force and would quality as rape under Illinois law.

I think you may be misconstruing and applying intent that isn't there.

That's quite different. She had an option to decline. Maybe it would've a very hard choice indeed, both socially and career-wise but she did have that choice. It might be convenient in some cases to broaden the definition of rape gradually but the bottom line is you can not be raped if you are simply able to walk away.

It might be harassment.

It might be blackmailing.

It might be a lot of nasty, disgusting, and even criminal things.

In the above story, the partner was obviously a complete prick.

But the scheme is inherently different from a rape. This abusing prick could've asked both men or women under his supervision for a number of completely unreasonable favours, whether sexual or non-sexual, declining of which would've been similarly catastrophic for the career of his staff members because of the power the abusing partner held over the matter.

But they could've walked away. Maybe they could have restarted their career elsewhere or had to change careers, I don't know. Life isn't fair. But they could've walked away and from what I understand, so could've this young associate in the law firm.

I think the very definition of rape is crossing the very line where the victim is not allowed to leave and forced to be abused instead. A rape is a physical act of violence, regardless of whether what happens is an intercourse or a blowjob or whatever and whether the victim was physically threatened by fists, a knife, or a gun, but the physical nature of the act means if you are able to walk away the rape doesn't happen because it can not happen. And that is for the same reason why a robber with a knife can't kill you unless you're within a few feet of him. A knifeman can't kill you a block away and a rapist can kill you if you're not there.

In some jurisdictions coercion might translate to non-physical threats. Then maybe there it could be classified as a rape. It's still as wrong as if it's classified as something else. But the dynamic of that situation is nevertheless different from the dynamic of a rape with the latter interpreted in the traditional sense. There is a line between situations from where you can actually walk away and situations from where you can not.

If you threaten to punch someone in the face if she doesn't sleep with you, that's clearly rape. If you threaten to fire someone if she doesn't sleep with you, some people wouldn't call that rape (and the law wouldn't either). But I'd rather get punched in the face then lose a job I worked really hard to get. So why do we consider the latter not as bad?

The belief that physical coercion is worse than economic coercion arises from our deep-seated deference to rich people. A migrant worker has to pull a knife to coerce someone. A law firm partner doesn't have to, but can exercise powers that are just as immorally coercive.

Would it be easier if I called it "white collar rape?"

But I'd rather get punched in the face then lose a job I worked really hard to get. So why do we consider the latter not as bad?

-- I have no objections to saying "his sexual harassment and manipulation was worse than physical rape". I'm wholly on the side of using every means possible to stop both rape and sexual harassment in the workplace and punishing people severely for both. I'm even all in favor of punishing the wealthy for using their wealth in abusive and manipulative ways, sure.

But I think the "it was as bad as rape so we should call it rape" argument really loses potential supporters.

The problem is that redefining the term creates a situation where the outside observer will feel that they can't really verify the truth or even the substance of the claim.

I know the argument that it is wholly unfair to demand that someone who has already been victimized also speak in an exact and clinical fashion about how they have victimized. Yes, it's unfair but is still the only a believable (by an outside observer) argument is going to happen. And there really isn't any alternative to that.

You are not really helping the issue, you are doing that "I support you, but you are so wrong".

The whole "outside observer" smells like slut shaming to me. The article talkings about how to make the social environment in tech better, the clinical definition of rape is not the issue.

you are doing that "I support you, but you are so wrong".

I sure am.

What is the problem with that? People who have been victimized sometimes say things that are incorrect. Pretending that everything someone who has been victimized says is factually correct and credible seems is totally counter-productive, makes all rational dialog impossible and ultimately allows the strongest to impose their version of events since it produces a situation where no one cares about the facts of a situation.

  Yes, as through this world I've wandered
  I've seen lots of funny men;
  Some will rob you with a six-gun,
  And some with a fountain pen.
- Woody Guthrie

This is ridiculous. I'm "economically" coerced into working every day (i.e. if I don't work, my employer will stop paying me and fire me), but that's completely distinct from slavery, which is work forced using physical coercion (or threats of physical coercion), and is illegal.

What you're describing is essentially prostitution. While illegal in some jurisdictions, it's far from rape.

This is why the term "slippery slope" is so common in the legal profession. If financial consequences = coercion = rape then there is a huge range of situations that can now be cast under the cloud of rape, such as relationships where one person is financially dependent on the other.

Fortunately some states have laws that specifically define and criminalize sexual extortion. It's distinct from rape / sexual assault but it is a felony.

"relationships where one person is financially dependent on the other."

Suppose a couple lives together, and one tells the other: "let me sodomize you right now or I kick you out of the house and you can live on the street."

What in the world would be the point of arguing that this is not rape?

On the other hand, if there is no threat accompanying a demand for sexual access, it is obviously not rape and nobody is saying it is.

Nobody argued that that isn't rape, but that's because you've folded in what sounds like a physical threat. "Kick you out right now and you can live on the street" sounds more violent than "have sex with me or I initiate divorce proceedings".

The question is whether there's a distinction between economic coercion and rape. rayiner argues no, it's just as coercive as "pulling a knife", but most state laws (I believe) do have distinct definitions of sexual extortion. It's still a felony, so it's really bad, but not quite as severe. I think that probably reflects the truth of a spectrum of coercion from knife-to-throat (class A felony), to lose-your-job (class E felony), to divorce-with-financial-consequences (sad but not criminal). That's the slope one can slide down if we don't have clear tiers and definitions along the way.

What I'm asking is: what is the point of trying to argue that certain kinds of coerced sex are not rape?

I wonder why HN is so sensitive to this line of questioning that they want to censor it outright. Are people emotionally attached to using certain forms of coercion to get sex, while thinking that it's okay or "not rape" because they aren't holding a knife?

You're responding to me so I'm going to assume you're talking about me, even though I just stated that sexual extortion is a felony, really bad and definitely not "okay".

Your question is like asking what's the point of arguing why certain kinds of homicide are not first degree murder. If you collapse distinctions in an effort to take a "stronger" stance, you might consider that it actually weakens the severity of the gravest charge. Also, it may have the effect of inhibiting understanding of the specific scenarios at hand and thus crafting strategies for targeting them, which is my motivation here.

>what is the point of trying to argue that certain kinds of coerced sex are not rape?

Because if financial coercion counts the same as physical coercion, we will have to completely rebuild how our market functions or else say that financial coercion only equals physical coercion in certain situations, and then come up with a way to determine when it falls under each (at which point, we are back to arguing about if certain kinds of coercion are equal, including if all forms of coerced sex are equal).

"What I'm asking is: what is the point of trying to argue that certain kinds of coerced sex are not rape?"

The point is that if start using a definition outside the standard definition, you tend to lose the trust of an outside observer.

Suppose someone wants to determine what happened in a given set of circumstances. If a person says, "He did X to me under Y conditions" and the observer comes back with "but Y conditions would seem to make X rather difficult" and the original person says "well, I have different definition of X", the observer instantly feels like the credibility of the person has decreased.

If a person gives a pretty unambiguous description of events, their credibility tends to be high. If a person's story is going to be widely believe, believed in a court of law and so-forth, we want their credibility to be high.

I think I can understand emotional appeal of the argument that the victim shouldn't be under scrutiny and shouldn't have to prove her case. But, I'm sorry, reality can't work that way - any system that discards investigation into truth will instead wind up with the truth suiting those having the most power and that only guarantees more victimization on one level or another.

Can they legally kick them out? If not, then there is a problem. But if they can legally kick them out and can legally engage in the sexual act with them (so ruling out cases where the other party is underage, intoxicated, ect.), aren't they just saying 'do this legal thing for me or I'll do this other legal thing that I think you won't like'.

My understanding is that you cannot just kick out someone who has been living their legally, so let's make it a legal action instead. "Start having sex with me or I'll start the eviction process." If that is rape, then should not "Start paying or I'll start the eviction process" would be theft?

But I'd rather get punched in the face then lose a job I worked really hard to get. So why do we consider the latter not as bad?

This is strangely reminiscent of a lot of arguments that men's rights activists make. Namely, they'd rather be raped than lose 50% of their income to paternity fraud. They even attach a prefix to the word rape - "divorce rape" instead of "white collar rape".

I take it you also support their arguments, right? Or if you don't, you've got some clear principle separating the two cases?

(Note: I'm taking no position on any of this, just pointing out a possible inconsistency.)

Where the hell did you get that. rayiner is only comparing punching vs. firing. They're making a point entirely about coercion, not directly about rape.

If those guys were talking about getting punched in the face vs. paternity, then you might have a good comparison.

One involves sexual coercion, the other does not, that's the clear principle 'separating' the two, since rape means coercing someone to have sex. I'm surprised that's not clear.

I understand that criminal law appropriately distinguishes between different levels of severity in harmful and socially undesirable behavior, one way or another. But when people start trying to finely parse what kinds of sexual coercion are 'really rape' and what kinds aren't... it's awfully creepy, and sounds like they're looking for an excuse to justify some kinds of sexual coercion. Why would you want to support, justify, or perpetrate (even accidentally), any kind of sexual coercion? Wouldn't you want to try and prevent it from ever happening? You're sounding kind of creepy, friend.

Your post completely misses the point, but I guess ad hominem attacks are easier than actually using reason.

If you reread what I wrote, you'll discover I'm merely pointing out either a) an uncomfortable implication of a line of reasoning or b) a logical flaw in said line of reasoning or c) an unstated premise. I took no actual position myself.

jrochkind1 correctly pointed out that divorce doesn't involve sexual coercion, which seems a good reason not to regard it as an instance of rape.

The issue is not whether the label "rape" should be applied. The issue is whether this line of reasoning is a valid argument for why something should be a crime:

"If you $X that's clearly $CRIME. If you $Y, some people wouldn't call that $CRIME (and the law wouldn't either). But I'd rather get $X then $Y. So why do we consider the latter not as bad?"

I don't think jrochkind1 was appealing to any kind of universal principle, he was just pointing out that there are many ways of coercing people to have sex, and some of the violent ways of doing it aren't obviously worse than some of the non-violent ones. That certainly raises the question of whether we'd want to make a sharp legal distinction between violent and non-violent coercion in the specific case of rape. As some other people have pointed out, it's important to distinguish times when it is and isn't useful to go into a philosophical discussion. If you want to figure out some kind of moral axiom system that makes it possible to "prove" that one form of forced sex is or isn't as bad as another, then that's best saved for a philosophy seminar. In practical terms, it's obvious that there's a danger of minimizing the significance of non-violent forms of sexual coercion due to the view that these don't count as rape.

That certainly raises the question of whether we'd want to make a sharp legal distinction between violent and non-violent coercion in the specific case of rape...times when it is and isn't useful to go into a philosophical discussion.

Take it up with rayiner then. Once you stop discussing what the law says in favor of what it should say, you've already gotten into moralizing. But when it's pointed out that the moralizing is probably flawed, it's no longer the time for moral philosophy?

I.e., I need to turn off my mind the minute it goes against your emotional conclusions. "Won't someone think of the children/women?"

It's odd to suggest that any discussion of possible changes to the law counts as moral philosophy. As for your last two sentences, there's quite a large middle ground between strict demonstrative reasoning and purely emotional argument. In general, it's rare for moral argument to be a strictly demonstrative affair. So yes, it frequently involves an appeal to principles that don't fully generalize. Aristotle has a nice way of putting it:

"Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs."

Drop the issue of sex for a second. Firing someone with no cause is legal in most states (at will employment). Punching someone is rarely legal outside of very specific situations where both sides agree, and never legal when one side does not agree. Yet many will agree there are easily constructed realistic scenarios where a punch in the face is far preferable.

I believe the issue here is far more rooted in classism and, if I may, class warfare.

You bring up a good point, but the law is very clear and intentional (in illinois).

"Uses force or the threat of force." It means that even if you decline you have no choice but to have sex with them. You will be forced to. In the white-collar situation, you can say no, even if you don't want to.

Wait, are you sure that's how to interpret "threat of force"? I would assume that a threat of beating someone up and then leaving would qualify. You disagree?

Did you not read item 4 in the statute you quoted? Here it is again:

"(4) is 17 years of age or over and holds a position of trust, authority, or supervision in relation to the victim, and the victim is at least 13 years of age but under 18 years of age. "

The parent's description above is rape. See for example the Wikipedia page:

> Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration perpetrated against a person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or against a person who is incapable of valid consent...

See: ...coercion, abuse of authority...

You don't think that it was rape, but that is part of the problem: people are always trying to redefine "rape" so it doesn't cover this or that particular flavor of it. But if it is sex without consent, it's rape, period.

I reference Wikipedia not because it is an unassailable authority, but because it represents the lowest common denominator of what most people agree on.

Referencing Wikipedia in specific technical instances like this is ill advised. Wikipedia is good for summarizing sources, but if you actually read the sources, I don't think you'll find any of them [1][2][3][4] make any mention of "abuse of authority" pertaining to rape.

Rather than reflecting "the lowest common denominator of what most people agree on", it seems more likely this is what one specific individual with a less accepted definition of rape who cares enough to edit the wiki and fight off all dissenters wants you to believe is the default definition of rape.

There's a much simpler definition of "rape" as "being coerced into having sex that you do not want to have." It, of course, is not the present legal definition of rape. But it's something that's easy to talk about and to use in conversation.

In other words, the point is that sex is put into a separate sphere of activity from other ordinarily-pleasant experiences and given a dignity which is not special to those other activities. (This is not particularly tendentious: most cultures have, say, hygeine laws which are important to follow but it's hard to identify the exact reason "why". Egg on your face is "dirty". Will it hurt anyone or cause you to contract or spread disease etc.? No. But it's still dirty and it's still important in our culture.)

The gap from sexual harassment to rape is therefore not, say, violence, but the escalation from uncouth groping to uncouth sex. The fact that there is a narrative where she looks out upon her options and says, "okay, I will fearfully give this man a blowjob rather than give him the middle finger and prepare for joblessness" -- one where she somehow rationally "chooses" sex as her "best option" -- is moot if sex is fundamentally privileged by the society you're a part of. The problem is that the "rape" has essentially happened (it's happened as a conspiracy, say), by the time that that "choice" has to be made.

Is sex somehow fundamentally different than every* other act that it should be treated so differently?

* Every. If I used my power at work to make you eat a literal lunch of feces, is that more or less egregious? I know what my gut would say, but why? Isn't the core bad behavior the concept of abrogating another human's free will? Why is sex in this other classification?

Edit: put another way, why is it that being coerced into sex is much worse than being coerced into e.g., murder. Is it simply the frequency? (It doesn't seem like the issue is that the act is against a specific or particular gender/race/hate crime victim group, unless we're differentiating between "straight rape" or "gay rape", which is a moral hazard worth avoiding...)

Sure, that would be fucked up, wouldn't it?

Fortunately, we don't have too much of a problem with some people forcing other people to eat feces, in the workplace or elsewhere. Or with people scared to complain about their bosses making them eat shit, for fear of ruining their career.

We do have a pretty big problem with sexual violence, sexual coercion, and gender-based discrimination, in the workplace and elsewhere.

A whole bunch of this thread is people wanting to have abstract philosophical arguments, instead of dealing with what's really going on. Abstract philosophical arguments can be fun, when stoned in a dorm room, under-taken between people who find them fun (usually because they're about things that do not have life-or-death consequences... at least for the people in the room).

But they're no substitute for discussion (and action) focused on what's actually going on in the world, people who are being hurt (and I don't mean their 'feelings are hurt'), people who are hurting them (sometimes, but not always, without realizing it), and what to do about it.

I think the OP was pretty masterful in keeping a focus on what's actually going on, and what to do about it, practically, in the real world we live in. HN is showing a masterful ability to turn it into diversionary irrelevant mental masturbation instead, which is depressing me, I actually expected better for some reason.

Very well said. I'm deeply disappointed by a lot of the comments here. Theoretical distinctions and arguments are often important, but it's unacceptable to use sophistry to ignore serious problems.

Making people eat shit feels very far removed from reality. Putting someone on an empty desk facing a wall and give them menial tasks for years is way more life crushing and actually happens.

People are not disingenious nor delusional when saying that as there is rape, there is also mamy other abuses towards people of both sex, and discussing how these happen, how you can get trapped, and should be aware of these situation is valid.

The problem is really to get rid of situation where the balance of power gets so crushing that you are coerced into getting thinhs done to you that you damages you.

Is it better to focus on each single case and find a specific defense ? or can there be a more universal way of doing it ?

I think the problem is really not centered on the sex of the victim, and more on the crushing power and social impunity of the aggressor. Working on that side of the equation would bring improvement for our society as a whole.

Is sex somehow fundamentally different than every other act that it should be treated so differently?

Yes, sex is different from other things. That was the point of the post you're replying to.

If I used my power at work to make you eat a literal lunch of feces, is that more or less egregious?

I mean, I'd say "more egregious", but that's because it strikes me as unrestrained cruelty. A rapist at least has clear selfish motives with a disregard for human decency; someone who's power-tripping and saying "you're going to do this thing just because I know you don't like it and want to make you suffer" is far scarier.

But it doesn't matter which one is more egregious. The point is that you can call the one thing "rape." That is a valid word to use to describe it.

Isn't the core bad behavior the concept of abrogating another human's free will? Why is sex in this other classification?

You're looking at a two-dimensional figure edge-on so that it looks one dimensional, which causes you to think that these two questions are related, but they are not clearly -- they are about different things.

There are lots of things that are scary about rape. It's not just that someone has "abrogated your free will" -- they're using you as an object and thereby dehumanizing you. This means that certain other questions emerge naturally, like "where exactly does that stop?". And that's a matter of fear for your life (which in law is the crime of assault). It's as if an axiom of our logic has been violated: If someone disregards the basic standards of human decency, we lose all proofs/guarantees that they won't, say, kill us for fun.

If you don't understand where this fear comes from, rape will be an academic question for you, and you will miss the real need for social change.

Yes, because we live in a rape culture, but not in a coerced murder culture.

I think what horrifies me the most in these stories is that, once someone is in a situation where he/she is coerced in a position to have sex, there is basically nothing stopping an escalation in abuse.

If her boss found her attractive enough to want a blowjob, why won't he progressively try to get as much as he can get away with ?

She was not in position to refuse the first step, she won't be in a better position to refuse further abuse.

At the first threat, I have the feeling she already has to choose between her career and getting abused for years.

Slightly more insidiously: she may have given enthusiastic consent to the first step, consent may have dwindled on subsequent steps, and she's still in just as shitty a position regarding refusing further steps, except now she has the problem of being taken seriously by people who think she lost the right to withdraw her consent along the way.

I'm sure that as a heterosexual man, regardless of my financial circumstances, no one could coerce me into giving blowjobs under the threat of losing my job. I'd quit and take my chances. What am I missing here?

From one heterosexual man to another, surely we can see that we're in a different situation than this woman was. Also,

  > Young associate worked for this partner
I don't know how the legal profession works. But:

1. It's quite likely that leaving firm as a young associate carries a huge negative connotation. In other words, her choices might not have been "give a blowjob" or "quit and find another job." It might have been more like "give a blowjob" or "quit and find another job, and maybe not find another job because there's this huge negative on her resume."

2. The law profession has a reputation for being quite chummy. If she had quit over this harassment, even if she filed no charges then it's quite possible that this partner would have gone on the offensive to discredit her character to other influential people.

In the US, if she was at Biglaw, then my impression is that leaving is basically unheard of. You're intended to work for a firm for 2-4 years and move on, or stay at the firm on a partner track.

Once you're out, it's very hard to get back in. So in practice firms have quite a bit of leverage to demand things like work 100 hours in a week, staying until 2am, cancel plans with family on short notice, etc.

Edit: I mean unheard of to leave with no new job and try to get another one in Biglaw.

Its not that unheard of to leave. In fact probably 50% do by year 3. Though quitting without a job is really damn dangerous.

From one heterosexual man to another, surely we can see that we're in a different situation than this woman was.

I am genuinely curious about this point. Why are men in a different situation? Couldn't a homosexual boss want to coerce blowjobs from male subordinates?

  > I am genuinely curious about this point. Why are men 
  > in a different situation? Couldn't a homosexual boss
  > want to coerce blowjobs from male subordinates?
Absolutely, and of course that would also be quite wrong. And I am sure that's a thing that happens sometimes, unfortunately.

I only mentioned it because the poster I responded to had said, "I'm sure that as a heterosexual man, regardless of my financial circumstances, no one could coerce me into giving blowjobs" and I thought it important to say that there are different dynamics involved there.

If a male boss tried to coerce a male employee into sex, the male victim would be much more likely to respond with physical force, so it's less likely to happen in the first place. The male victim would also be more likely to be viewed as unambiguously victimized, whereas in a male-on-female situation there's likely to be a lot of well, she probably wanted it type speculation and/or congratulation of the male aggressor.

In some senses it might even be more difficult for a male victim. A male victim might be viewed as "weak" for letting it happen in the first place. Whatever the case I'm sure we can agree that it's quite a different dynamic, so the original poster's well, as a man, I'd never let this happen to meeee is not really a useful road to travel down.


As another poster pointed out, your own link includes retribution as a form of duress, and it doesn't limit it to physical retribution. Section 261 b. It applies to all of section 261.

Did you make a new account just to post a misinterpretation of this link twice?

Edit: I changed the text. I had cited the wrong section. But that doesn't change what the document says: section b says retribution is a form of duress, not necessarily violent.

The "duress" you refer to is only relevant when someone is using "the authority of a public official" in lieu of force. I.e., the police/IRS can't threaten to arrest you/hit you with tax penalties unless you sex them up.

Please read all of 261.7.

[edit: I misunderstood the scoping rules of law. Ignore.]

This isn't correct. I made an incorrect citation, but you're also reading the text wrong.

There is no 261.7. There is 261.a.7, which deals with public officials. 261.b deals with duress, and applies to all of 261.

only in some legal jurisdictions with outdated notions of "rape"

And even in those, rape is often the proper word, it's just not used in the legal text for historical reasons.

What is your definition of rape?

> What am I missing here?

It's a common question men have about harassment or abuse of women, especially sexual. Why not just say no? Why not fight back harder? I'm no expert in the subject, but this is my undertanding:

For one thing, generally men are raised to be aggressive -- never let anyone push you around. Women are raised to be inoffensive, pleasing, agreeable. Aggression is unfeminine; it scares off or alienates males; our culture models being the kidnapped princess awaiting rescue (still true in most movies, games, etc.), not the hero on the horse. EDIT: It might be as hard for a woman to respond aggressively as for you to smile sweetly when someone is abusing you.

For another, they are physically overmatched. Probably their life-long experience and realistic assessment is that fighting males is dangerous.

Also, these things don't happen out of the blue. People are 'groomed'; attackers establish their authority and push for more and more. They wait for the right moment, when victims' defenses are weak. The attacker may have experience with these situations.

Lots of people are intimidated into doing things they don't want to do, often when they are young and little green, especially by authority figures and especially when believing something valuable is on the line, such as their career. What if you had kids and a mortgage? A sick spouse or parent and needed the health insurance?

Finally, I don't know you at all, but I know that far more people say these tough things than rise to the moment when faced with danger, with anxiety and fear soaring and everything on the line. I think panic is a more common response.

EDIT: But how sad that HN seems so male-dominated that we have to speculate about the female pespective. Wow.

Reduce the barrier. Make your boss an attractive woman, who over the course of months goes from asking you to rub her shoulders to release stress to holding her breasts. And now consider that perhaps you are in a committed relationship with someone else.

At some point you crossed the line of acceptable intimacy (probably rather early) and it escalated from there as you were uncertain how to deal with the relationships.

Is it cold hard rape? No. Is it an unacceptable and illegal exploitation of power and psychological torment by the boss? Yes.

Wait a minute.... do people actually do that? Do co-workers ask each other for massages and/or rub their shoulders?! I've never heard of that, ever. Inform me please. How often does this happen? I've always though the "unspoken rule" of the office is nobody touch anyone else, ever. I've never seen that rule violated except for people who've known each other for a good while, and it's usually 2 heterosexual guys punching each other in the arm.

Has anyone on HN seen a coworker give another coworker a massage?

I'm even a bit hesitant to give people high-fives. And those emotional goodbyes where you hug employees on their last day in the office? Those are very awkward for me, but everyone else is doing it... so... I just go along. =/

According to a random google search, 39 percent of workers have engaged in some sort of office romance. So you can bet there's quite a lot of touching going on - hopefully most of it consensual, almost certainly some of it not, and with plenty of grey areas in between.

It simply is not rape. It's sexual harassment.

There is a concerted attempt now to characterize sexual harassment as rape. The person we are replying to did it in an off-hand manner and it is wrong - not just as a point of law but as a strategy for social change.

This may be correct, legally, in some jurisdictions. I'm not a lawyer.

However, I think it kind of misses the point to adjudicate sexual harassment vs. rape in these cases. Saying it's merely sexual harassment implies that it's somehow not an issue. The point is that it's clearly a malicious act, not a well-intentioned boundary-crossing misunderstanding.

But it can become rape, pretty easily if you are a person in power which sadly often means a man even if he isn't the boss.

Many, probably most, other men in the firm, and your local industry, would rally to your defense.

Often the opposite happens to a woman who accuses a senior manager of sexual assault.

Being reasonably sure that wouldn't happen at the next job.

As a heterosexual woman, I agree with the sentiment. No one could coerce me into giving blow jobs by threatening to fire me, either. In fact, MOST women would HEARTILY agree with that! I'd quit a job like that. You'd quit a job like that. Most people would quit a job like that.

It's not being a man or woman, being straight or gay, being compatible or not with an abuser, that makes the difference here. Unwanted sex is soul-destroying for everyone. Routine sexual abuse is a horrible, unbearable prospect. For everyone.

It's the implication of the "most" that you're missing.

Most people would walk away from that job. Most people would run!

But that's most. Who else is left?

Who wouldn't run from a situation like that?

I don't know why the particular lady described above didn't run sooner. But I can think of some people who wouldn't.

Someone for whom that job represented their one and only opportunity to break into their chosen field. Someone for whom what was at stake was not just one source of a paycheck, but their entire livelihood. Their entire chosen career. It might be worth it, then, to endure the abuse until you could safely move on.

Someone who was too young or inexperienced to understand their options. Who didn't know this isn't just the way the world works. Who didn't know what resources society offers to fight back with, who didn't think the community would help or back them if they left. Someone who literally sees no way to fight back, for whom leaving represents a public humiliation they see as even more painful than the private humiliation. It might be worth it then.

Someone living paycheck to paycheck, who can't afford to miss even one without seeing their family plunged into immediate misery.

Someone for whom the job represented access to health insurance that was keeping their daughter alive, that they couldn't afford another way.

Someone suffering depression, with such a low sense of self-worth that no abuse feels undeserved, without the will to fight anything in any way.

In short, someone vulnerable.

Yeah, most people don't need a job badly enough to be worth selling their soul and dignity for. Those people aren't raped under the threat of losing their job. It's everyone else who has to worry about that problem.

It is a cruel truth that the people who can leave, the people who can fight back, the people who have the will and resources and personality to retaliate . . . are the ones who are left alone.

This isn't a situation you could find yourself in now. It's not a situation you probably ever could find yourself in. Maybe, though. Life is crazy. Imagine yourself five years of hell from now. Imagine you're diagnosed with cancer, put your life on hold for a grueling year or two, lose all your health, all your savings, and the currency of your skills. Imagine an overzealous state prosecutor comes after you for a crime you didn't commit, and after two years of stressful court battles, you're convicted and serve some time in prison. Imagine you forget what financial security ever felt like. Imagine the stress results in crippling depression, and thoughts of suicide prompt you to seek medical help. Imagine the medication you're given comes with side effects, and you experience severe mood swings, alienating everyone but your closest family and friends. Imagine as you start to recover from all of that, you move two states away from anyone you know to get a new job and start over.

I don't know what it would take for you to become so vulnerable that someone thought they could take advantage of you to that degree. I do know that whatever it would take for you personally, life can be that cruel, and more. Rape is not a female problem, and it's not a male problem. It's a vulnerability problem. If someone ever does take a look at you, and think to themselves, "that guy is so completely under my power that I bet I could get him to blow me" . . . it won't matter a bit that you're a heterosexual man. Getting someone to put up with sexual abuse requires extreme vulnerability. If someone ever thinks they see it in you, for whatever reason, for whatever combination of circumstances is necessary to make that true, there's a good chance they'll be right.

It's true with most kinds of attacks -- the strong aren't the ones who have to worry. The powerful, even the merely self-sufficient, are left alone. The vulnerable people are the ones who are targeted. It's extra true with abuse in general, and sexual abuse in particular. The ones who are targeted are the ones who would need extraordinary outside help in order to stop it. For whatever reason.

That is why it is so important to intervene aggressively if you see a problem. The people who can help themselves are already not targets.

>Someone for whom the job represented access to health insurance that was keeping their daughter alive, that they couldn't afford another way.

At which point we have to consider they are being coerced to work where they do and thus it should be considered slavery.

Imagine you walked up to some one (of the gender you prefer) who had a dying child that needed a life saving operation and you had enough free income to pay for the procedure.

If you walked past them, would you be guilty of contributing to their death?

If you asked them to trade possessions for the money, would you be guilty of theft?

If you asked the individual to do some non-sexual tasks for the money, would you be guilty of slavery?

If the above are no, why would asking for sex in exchange make one guilty of rape?

The problem is that vulnerability is a feeling state. A different person in the same circumstances could feel more or less vulnerable or not vulnerable at all. When we add private (no witnesses) sexual relations to the mix and the halting conversation that happens between people who are starting to have them, it's possible that two parties may have wildly different views of what is happening.

That's a very dangerous place for law and social retribution to go. It would actually be better to outlaw sexual relations between people in reporting relationships in employment.

Perhaps it would be more useful to talk about a female boss or being a homosexual male if you're going to try and wrap your mind around this.

    > heterosexual man, regardless of my financial
    > circumstances, no one could coerce me into giving
    > blowjobs under the threat of losing my job
What about the slightly older and attractive female manager asking you to give her a shoulder rub that gets progressively more sexual each time she asks you to do, and that you get progressively more uncomfortable doing? Would you quit the first time she told you she had a sore shoulder, and asked you to stick your elbow in it? What about the third time when she takes her shirt off, and another coworker has been joking to you about how she likes you, and how you're a lucky guy?

Yes as a hetro guy you're going to have trouble imagining a situation where you end up with a penis in your mouth, but I suspect with a bit of imagination you can think of how you might end up in a very uncomfortable situation with a female boss that you don't feel you can get out of.


    > Most guys would be down with it
Sure, at first. And who's to say that the young associate in the original story wasn't originally pretty flattered by the attention from the partner? Successful, powerful guy in the law firm, let's say he was also confident, good-looking, and well liked.

And one day, you're not in the mood - it's been a stressful day, or you've just had a difficult work appraisal with the person in question. And you get called in to the office, and the boss says "You know what, my shoulder hurts again. Get to it! You've gotta make a good impression after that shitty appraisal! (smiley face)". And it crosses a line to where it's no longer really consensual, but what can you do? And over the next few weeks, it becomes more and more sexualized, more and more about the power play, and you become increasingly distressed, unhappy, and don't know how to pull the plug, because this person holds significant commercial and social power over you...

And hey, you can't talk to your coworkers about it because "most guys would be down with it", and you know that Bob, your friend the dev-ops will laugh and say "You're pissed off that you're getting some ass off her?" and you certainly can't tell the girl you started dating three weeks ago, and who you'd really like to be faithful to...

    > most attractive women can get sex easily. Unatractive women
    > on the other hand
Nobody - male or female - 300lbs overweight or with a dripping facial sore - relying on male sexual discretion has any difficulty getting laid as long as they're not choosy.

Excellent points. I think that's one reason why management must consider this behavior unacceptable and make that abundantly clear to everyone ahead of time. Silentl disapproval isn't enough, because the victims won't trust you to come forward, and the attackers won't be detered. It's also the reason sexist jokes and seemingly harmless behavior is problematic; it sends the the message to attackers and victims alike that nobody takes these issues seriously.

> 2) Why not report to the police? Because it's mutually assured destruction. Even if you bring the guy down, you'll be known as the woman who called the police on her boss.

As a man, I may have a hard time understanding any nuances here, but I think being known as "the woman who called the police on her boss" would be highly advantageous in creating a filter where the only male bosses who would want to hire you are the ones who know they aren't going to rape you. Or try to fuck you "consensually" (air quotes) either.

The future hiring manager does not know what really happened, and any details is effectively hearsay to them.

The person becomes a very risky hire personally to the new boss then, because if the police were called once, they might be called again, even if you did nothing wrong. And your career and future income might be ruined. It's much safer to just hire the other person with no history of police involvement.

The general principle can be applied to other crimes too.

That's not rape. Rape is sexual intercourse without consent. Edited to clarify. Oral sex without consent is also rape. Threatening to fire someone unless they give them a BJ is sexual harassment.

Rape is not just sexual intercourse. But all of these comments do raise an important point. We have so many variations on killing someone (murder, manslaughter) and assaulting someone. Rape is calling out for 3 or 4 definitions so that a) Men don't hear the word and compare it to a violent movie scene in an alley and if it doesn't hold up to comparison dismiss it and b) Police and prosecutors would be more likely to prosecute knowing they could win. In the US we created "vehicular manslaughter" because no jury would convict a drunk driver of "murder" given that out of a jury of 12 more than half have driven a car drunk one time so murder was too much.

The word 'rape' is being re-defined now. The definition is being expanded far beyond what we called rape 20 years ago. Feminists are trying to do this in order to call attention to sexual harassment, but it is backfiring. They will dilute the term to the point where violent rape is no longer seen as the uniformly more serious offense that it is.

Focusing on the distinction between "violent" and "nonviolent" rape is dangerous and harmful.

The practical result of this is that it puts the onus onto the victim: "You didn't resist enough. Therefore your rape was nonviolent; therefore it was a lesser crime."

Rape is sex against one's consent. Your consent is just as violated whether you resisted a little, a lot, or not at all (perhaps you were incapacitated by the attacker.)

In many scenarios the most prudent thing for a victim to do is not to physically resist; as rape is largely a male-on-female crime the victim is frequently at a physical disadvantage.

My wife is a small woman. If God forbid this ever happens to her, I certainly hope that the situation remains nonviolent. But I certainly don't see how that would make it less of a crime.


Since we are specifically talking about conditions in the tech industry the legal definition of rape doesn't matter at all. I would say it's actually harmfull to bring it up at all.

Forced oral sex is considered rape. This isn't feminist redefinition. You think if a gun is to your head and you give a blowjob that is sexual harassment? Think about someone who has a family and needs their income, and what this kind of situation puts them in.

For the sake of argument, let me play the devil's advocate here and do a bit of armchair philosophy.

Let's say I have a family, many mouths to feed, maybe it's the last job I could possibly get in my small town in the middle of nowhere. I hate the job, it sucks the life out of me, I don't want to do it, but I'm forced to "against my will" every single day because otherwise my family will starve to death. If I lose it, I might never find one again. I'm under duress. Sure, there's no sexual abuse in this specific scenario, but as other posters have mentioned, modern definition of rape makes it not about sex, but about power structures.

Am I being raped, in the scenario above?

Note: I want to stress that I'm simply having a philosophical discussion here, I have no agenda, downvotes are pointless.

Okay, more devils advocate.

Your boss comes into the office to fire you. You really really need your job or you and your family starve. You really really don't want to. In fact you would do anything but stoop to this level. But you have no choice and you know he is into you. Your family is starving. You decide to ask your boss, "I'll fuck you if I keep the job." He agrees.

It's still sex against your will. You're only doing it to get the job, so your children don't starve. Were you raped?

That sounds more like prostitution.

I think the important element is this: did person A attempt to coerce person B into having sex? If yes, then A raped B.

Let's apply that to your scenario. Is the boss trying to coerce the employee into having sex? No, the boss is firing the employ because

* Maybe they're a shitty employee, or

* Perhaps because the company has dwindling resources, or

* Fill in the blank.

In your scenario, the employee came up with a plan to try to sell sex in exchange keeping their job. That's prostitution: "the act of having sex in exchange for money." As a boss, I would decline that offer because, among other things, it would probably look like I was threatening to take away the employees job (i.e. coercion) if I wasn't given sex - even if that was never my intent.

If, on the other hand, the boss implied or suggested that the employee could keep their job in exchange for sex, that's coercion and is therefore rape.

It's not about "not wanting to do something", it's about coercion. If I'm legitimately fired and I offer sex in exchange for my job, that _is_ my will. If someone threatens (express of implied) to take my job away unless I have sex with them, that's their will, they're coercing me to have sex with them, and that's rape.

The tragedy of all of this is that it is endlessly open to "he said" versus "she said." And that's the problem with the expansive definition of rape. In the case we are talking about the evidence would have to be that she felt coerced and that there was a power structure that make her feel coerced. It's entirely possible for someone to be in that power structure and still consent or (if they are a bad actor) say that they felt coerced after the fact. Criminal indictment and conviction should be based more than a just a victims statement of their subjective experience.

I suppose it depends on what the word 'rape' is to you. To me it is a word in the English vernacular which has a certain meaning to everyday people. To me preserving that lexical meaning is super important because it fosters a common understanding between people which is the primary thing.

The word or concept has nothing to do with jurisprudence or the idea of jurisdiction which is what many people here keep referencing. A word still holds it's proper definition in the minds of men and it is prudent to defend them as such irregardless of what goes on within government.

Why is this the most important philosophical discussion to have right now? I just explained how terrible things can be, a thing I called rape only one of a large number of issues.

Why is "was she technically correct in saying rape" the most important takeaway from this? Even if I'm wrong, don't you see other things worth fixing?

I don't understand this. I don't think anybody is suggesting that nonsexual activities be classified as rape.

It puts her in a stressful situation because now she has to contemplate things like going into debt while she takes the time to secure another job. Or if she doesn't have any credit then she would have to lean on her husband, or an extended family member, or worse of all end up living on the street and putting her children into foster care. She would have to calculate her odds of how likely that situation would be to transpire and whether or not it would actually expose her or her children to physical danger.

What if the woman knows that her rural grandparents or great aunt would probably look after the kids while the mom was looking for a job (perhaps living in her car part of the time) ? In that case then what you're talking about is not a threat of violence, what you're talking about is a threat of having to leave the so called middle class lifestyle and fall into a diminished or poverty-stricken lifestyle.

It's a horrible thing to have to contemplate because and the lower you fall in the socio-economic todem pole the more physical dangers you're exposed to during the course of everyday living, but that doesn't mean her situation is the same as rape

Do you understand the difference between robbery, armed robbery, violent robbery, and robbery leading to death (i.e. murder)? OK, now you're ready to reassess your archaic (and frankly offensive) misunderstanding of rape.

> Feminists are trying to do this in order to call attention to sexual harassment

Not at all. Feminists are doing it to call attention to the true nature of power, and the fact that power is expressed in many ways -- only one of them is physical violence. When your attacker possesses power and you don't, that means that you don't have options (or that they are severely restricted). If you don't have options because someone else restricts them, well, that's the definition of coercion, and sex under coercion means rape.

The definition hasn't changed; rape has always been sex under coercion. All that's changed is that now the law reflects our better understanding of power.


Not according to the California penal code. Duress suffices, and duress is not limited to physical force.


"(b) As used in this section, "duress" means a direct or implied threat of force, violence, danger, or retribution sufficient to coerce a reasonable person of ordinary susceptibilities to perform an act which otherwise would not have been performed, or acquiesce in an act to which one otherwise would not have submitted. The total circumstances, including the age of the victim, and his or her relationship to the defendant, are factors to consider in appraising the existence of duress."

Read that whole section. 261.7 refers to public officials abusing their authority, and duress is defined in that context.

Incorrect. The paragraph I quoted is 261(b). The paragraph you are talking about is 261(a)(7), part of 261(a). Note that 261(a)(7) never even uses the word "duress".

Furthermore, 261(b) says "this section". The "section" is 261, not 261(a)(7). Note also that 261(a)(7) calls itself "this paragraph", not "this section".

261.7 is a completely different section concerning the evidentiary value of birth control methods: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/cacode/PEN/3/1/9/1/s261.7

You are right, I'm misunderstanding the scoping rules for law. I was interpreting it as (261 ... (7 ... (b ...))) rather than (261 (a ... (7 ...) ) (b ...) ).

I guess the question hinges on what is intended by the word "retribution".

Forced oral sex is also by definition rape. And is it consent, despite performing a sexual act, if a "no" causes you severe harm (in this case financial/career harm) and you truly didn't want to do that sexual act, but you acted out of fear and coercion?

How is it forced sex if he/she can simply quit and then go get another job ? I mean I think that it's sexual harassment and a horrendous crime, but it's not the same thing as rape.

It sounds like the young lady experienced sexual harassment and decided that it was worth it to willingfuly have sex with a coworker in order to continue to prop up a financial relationship so that she wouldn't have to deal with the burden of needing to take on some debt, or move in with a relative while she goes out to find another job.

You are assuming that she can somehow show evidence that she believed that it was nearly impossible for her to get another job, and in addition that she believed that losing her income stream would have caused her or her children to actually starve to death. Maybe if she lived in a POW camp where prisoners are assigned strict food rations and a guard was threatening her with losing her only way to get a meal then it would make sense to call it rape rather than sexual harassment. In America though you can go work at McDonalds if you don't have a prior felony record or even go to a homeless shelter.

She could have just sued the bastard to recoup those losses anyways right ? (in theory) Especially if she has that legal background.

I'm not trying to defend the criminal who sexually harassed her but I am trying to point out that falsely accusing someone of rape is a serious crime unto itself.

  > In America though you can go work at McDonalds if you
  > don't have a prior felony record or even go to a
  > homeless shelter.
It's worth noting that there's an extremely high incidence of sexual assault in homeless shelters.

That is not consent.

Consent when being coerced?

> Why not report to the police? Because it's mutually assured destruction. Even if you bring the guy down, you'll be known as the woman who called the police on her boss.

Would the police do anything about the scenario you outlined above? Wouldn't sexual harassment where the boss trades sexual favors for promotions/job security be considered a civil matter in most places?

Fun fact: bringing a lawsuit against your company is not good for feeling like you're going to be getting hired places later: especially since I believe (not completely sure) you can only sue for punitive damages.

Also consider being publicly dragged through the mud, having your sexual history become a matter of public discussion, and having to defend yourself against a far more powerful member of the community, who may be eating dinner with the judge that night. You might find that you become the villain in the eyes of your community.

Very serious issue, but your first point is silly. While the absence of coercion does not clear the bar for "not rape", it does not follow that being unable to declare "not rape" equals "rape".

In your world view, it it inappropriate for any sexual intercourse to exist between a person of power and a subordinate who might gain from a relationship? Because the conclusion of #2 seems to be that sexual relationships can only exist between social / workplace equals, otherwise it will be M.A.D.

Rape is very serious. Sexual relationships are very complex. Every situation is different, and there is nobody (famous) on this forum that knows all the facts and should comment on this case, and should especially not try to draw conclusions from it.

This is more of a comment about the thread in general than your response, except where I specifically asked questions.

>2) Why not report to the police? Because it's mutually assured destruction. Even if you bring the guy down, you'll be known as the woman who called the police on her boss.

I feel like this is the kind of brave move we'd want to reward, for helping to clean up the whole firm.

Ok, I'm naive. So be it.

I don't mean to split hairs but legally it looks like many or most states draw a distinction between sexual extortion and rape.[1] The difference being that sextortion is a lesser felony.

I wonder if that is the case here. Certainly sextortion among engineers/scientists would be an extraordinarily troubling state of affairs. But based on the OP's comments here[2] she is referring to rape and that the enabling factor had something to do with social life being mixed up with professional life. So, not exactly extortion but it would have been costly to avoid the person.

This may be pie in the sky but I wonder if a concrete step that startups can take to reduce problems like this is to make a conscious effort to not penalize employees for not attending off-hours social events. Aside from acquaintance rape, obviously, there's also things like not penalizing older employees with kids to go home to or alcoholics who need to avoid enabling environments.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sextortion

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9168365

I mean, well, you do mean to split legal hairs, clearly. Why are they relevant to the discussion? What do you think it is we're discussing?

Not at all. It's that the strategies startups can adopt to fight sextortion are different from ones to fight being forced to see your rapist in social situations. That's why it's important to understand the specific scenario: solutions are different.

Sextortion could happen even without pressure to hang out in social situations, for example. One person simply extorts another, forces them to meet in private. But what the OP is describing seems to be more in the realm of, I don't want to be alone around this person but I have to for professional reasons, and they keep taking advantage of it to rape.

That might be something that startups can actually target with policies that ensure unsupervised social contact with colleagues is not necessary for professional advancement. That's not really on anyone's radar, it seems.

That is absolutely not rape.

1) Why is this rape? Because coercion doesn't just take the form of physical violence.

The definition of rape in California says nothing about "coercion":


It does mention "duress" which implies a threat of violence. If your friend's boss was not threatening violence then it's wrong to call it rape.

Keep reading your own link. Duress includes "retribution" not limited to physical violence.

" (b) As used in this section, "duress" means a direct or implied threat of force, violence, danger, or retribution sufficient to coerce a reasonable person of ordinary susceptibilities to perform an act which otherwise would not have been performed, or acquiesce in an act to which one otherwise would not have submitted. The total circumstances, including the age of the victim, and his or her relationship to the defendant, are factors to consider in appraising the existence of duress."

Edit: I'm wrong. Apparently coercion implies under threat. I Thought it just meant to convince someone of something. My apologies.

Coercion includes force or threats. The nature of the threat matters in this discussion.

I've been pressured into sexual favors, and I said no, because my dignity was worth more than a job. Been assaulted before by someone with much more power, fought back too. When life shits on you, you have a decision to make, and that decision lies squarely with you the victim.

Every question you've asked is based on fear. Doing nothing because of that fear is cowardice. You are defending it. Stop it. Nothing can be borne from it.

Can you clarify what sort of coercion was involved? My understanding is that rape does involve physical violence, or at least physical coercion. In particular, "give me a blowjob or you are fired" is not rape, but "give me a blowjob or I'm not unlocking the door" is.

Rape is a colloquial term for a range of specific crimes with technical legal definitions. In NZ, for example, the former would be the crime of "Sexual conduct with consent induced by certain threats" (penalty of up to 14 years in prison), whereas the latter would be the crime of "sexual violation" (penalty of up to 20 years in prison).

Other countries might lump them together, or call them different names. If you're trying to discuss the actual crimes, you'd want to 1) mention what jurisdiction you're talking about and 2) use the actual names of the crimes as per the statute book. But as a practical matter, it's all rape.

You say that rape is a colloquial term for a range of specific crimes and chide me for not being more specific. And yet the person I replied to was making a positive claim that certain actions were rape. So how am I supposed to interpret that claim? Does rape take on a different meaning (e.g. a broader feminist definition) in that context?

If rape is defined to be a crime or class of crimes, it's completely unreasonable to selectively ask people to be very specific about which crimes they mean. In the US I don't believe there is any such crime as rape by threatening to fire someone, or if there is it is not a serious crime.

> So how am I supposed to interpret that claim?

As someone using a colloquial term for anything sexual without consent, obviously. Sex without consent is generally called rape; most people don't have any clue about the exact legal definitions. You don't even know what legal jurisdiction OP is in; how could you interpret the word as anything but the colloquial definition?

> In the US I don't believe there is any such crime as rape by threatening to fire someone, or if there is it is not a serious crime.

First, sex crimes are defined at the state level in the US, so it doesn't even make sense to discuss what "the" law is in the US. Pick your state, and you get your answer.

Second, if we pick, eg, Michigan, you're describing...hmm. "Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct", which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Not sure about you, but I'd call that a serious crime. Other states have different laws, but generally speaking getting someone to perform an act via the threat of firing is coercion, and penetration achieved via coercion is one of the more serious forms of sexual assault.

As someone using a colloquial term for anything sexual without consent, obviously. Sex without consent is generally called rape; most people don't have any clue about the exact legal definitions

But most people don't subscribe to your consent based definition of rape. I think the majority of people would lean towards the force based definition of rape. You personally might think that rape should be defined as sex without consent, but that's a different matter.

True, there has been some movement towards consent based laws in the US, but many states still retain the requirement of force (which could be expanded to include threats and physical restraint).

> But most people don't subscribe to your consent based definition of rape. I think the majority of people would lean towards the force based definition of rape.

You are wrong; see for example Wikipedia, which represents a broad agreement of many editors and includes both coercion and abuse of authority as types of rape.

Edit to reply to swatow since I've hit the reply limit: that's a good article and I hope you read it carefully and think about what it says.

I don't see how the opinion of Wikipedia editors is a good source for how rape is defined colloquially.

Here is an article that discusses the controversy over force based vs consent based definitions of rape.


That's a good article! But I'm kind of confused why you linked it, when it so closely supports the position you've been arguing against?

As your link makes clear, most states, the federal government, the legal community, and popular opinion has moved away from force based definitions as archaic and offensive. Which was, of course, my point.

I mean, it's literally an article about one iconoclasts weird and much criticized view that maybe rape shouldn't be defined as sex without consent. Even if you agree with him, the existence of the article proves that it's a fringe position, right? (And much of the article is actually just Rubenfeld saying he actually agrees with is critics, and disagrees with the historical requirement to show force, so...)

The former is most definitely rape.

We call sexual coercion rape because it can cause severe and lasting trauma even if physical violence or threat of physical violence is not part of the coercion.

My understanding is that rape does involve physical violence, or at least physical coercion.

You're missing the threat of violence.

Which part of "consent" is confusing to you?

I don't really want to be the one to speak authoritatively on this topic because I can only speak about a very personal subject that happened to me and about what a colleague of mine told me under very strict confidence. I'd rather see serious scientific study on the topic, so we can refine our efforts to most effectively cut out this problem at the root cause.

We know rape is statistically a problem and we know it isn't well-studied. We are scientists. The next thing to do is not to listen to panic and get reactionary, it is to dedicate the resources necessary to pursue a proper understanding of it.

We're also engineers and entrepreneurs. I'd like to think we know well enough that to start with the lowest hanging fruit when trying to make positive change.

These are the reasons I'm not really ready to march in here with a "how to fix rape: the article." I would be really excited to see what other people have written as far as possible solutions to this. I'm trying to read through scholarly criminology journals when I have time. They're doing some good work. I wish more smart people were paying attention.

In the meanwhile, what I am for sure is needed is for people to look out a little bit for each other, so if there is somebody in your life who has reason to feel afraid and alone (or afraid of being alone), they know they aren't going to be.

But I'm not asking for an authoritative proposal to fix rape. That would be great, and take years. I just want to understand the specific scenario that led to a series of repeat rapes by a colleague over several month, also experienced by another female colleague. Isn't there a way to describe it generically without revealing any identities?

For example, is it after work parties involving alcohol? Does it involve professional blackmail? If so, was there no way to gather evidence that could be used for prosecution, such as a clandestine recording?

It seems to me like there could be an opportunity to speak to the startup community here and now and implement a policy that targets these specific circumstances, and make a difference in the near term.

It involved people I couldn't cut out of my social circles without dramatic sacrifice. Even getting rid of of him as much as I did without calling him a rapist cost me a great deal.

She explains that she could not have reported the rape without destroying most of her personal and professional relationships, because the perpetrator was someone who was central in her social circles (possibly even considered a friend before that).

See her comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9168542

I think this is pretty common and is why many rapes go un-reported. Reporting some criminal stranger on the street who jumps you seems like a no brainer to me, but reporting someone you thought was a friend and who is friends with most of your friends? I bet a lot of people decide it's not worth upending their lives and starting over for.

"A second colleague at a different institution held me against a wall against my objections and struggles and hit me with objects for his own amusement."

Now this sounds rather as an assault, a sick power play, but I would accept it called rape when it involved was sexual amusement but probably sexual assault would be a better term as it would not dilute the meanings confusingly.

Nonetheless this kind of behaviour is sickening and not acceptable by any means but it would explain why it was possible to tolerate it multiple times and how hard it was to do anything to prove that it happened.


I think that it would be much easier to fight with such behaviour by calling it by actual names.

For example "Stop sexual assaults at work" would be in my opinion much more convincing and believable slogan than the exaggerated wording.

This would make the fight with the problem easier as it would not create that much confusion and opposition from it.

Using strong words creates opposition as people would find it by their own experience rather not believable but perhaps they have seen, heard something that would fit sexual assault definition or sexual harassment definition.

I believe that it would be much easier to define and establish the definition of sexual assault in peoples minds and educate them to see it than trying to redefine the established definition of rape in the society.

For clarification, I consider here acts that are described by

"A second colleague at a different institution held me against a wall against my objections and struggles and hit me with objects for his own amusement."

Now again, we should not tolerate this kind of behaviour and we should fight against it but I think it would be easier when we do not call it by too strong names as it would be then easier to establish this as wrongful and not acceptable behaviour in peoples minds.

I think that it is easier to fight with concrete problems individually rather than stretching the definitions.

> I think that it would be much easier to fight with such behaviour by calling it by actual names.

No, it won't, and let me explain why. One of the well known forms of sexism is what I like to call (I wonder if there's an academic name for this) "everyone's a lawyer". You'll find that often when men report wrongdoings, there's a simple expression of outrage, but when women do, everyone's a lawyer who says "of course that's horrible, but let's call it by the right name".

Leave the precise naming of offenses to the courts; these are legal definitions, after all, and we are not judges and not bound by the rules of evidence. The best way to fight it is to express outrage, period. No caveats, no "right names", and no legal maneuvering that is not our job anyway.

You point out that this is sexism against a woman, yet a recent (2010) study purposefully defined forced sex where the victim was forced to penetrate as not being rape (a definition that almost exclusively impacted male victims). Not just any study, but a study by the CDC. This study has been quoted numerous times, often by people looking only at what the study officially defines as rape, leading to a massive misunderstanding of the problem by subsets of society.

So I doubt your notion that for men we just express outrage when large institutions are able to wrongly redefine things in a way to dismiss male victims.

Are you saying even if it wasn't a rape by whatever your very own definition of rape, you would rather call it rape to express outrage?

Of course those "everyone's a lawyer's" types are going to crawl out of the woodwork. Why not call it what it is and not give them any ammo to justify a disgusting action?

This isn't the first time I've seen people on the moral highground undermine their own position by giving their opponents something to focus on that makes sense.

I've never seen a benefit from doing that. Don't give them an inch if you truly want change.

Are you saying that it's important to argue about whether the word 'rape' is the right word or not? (For a specific occurence we have virtually no details about, what do we even have to argue about?)

Why does this matter for the topic matter of the essay? For real.

Why is the most important thing to discuss, in response to the issues raised in the essay, technical or legal definitions of the word 'rape'? Apparently most important thing to a great many HN commenters as it's incredibly well-represented this unusually enormous comments thread.

Seriously, I'm asking, why is this such an important or interesting point to so many here, the legal definition or rape?

I thought one of the most interesting and important points in the OP was about moving away from concerns about legal liability and towards concerns about keeping people safe and treated with dignity -- because the former has not accomplished the latter.

No, that's not what I'm saying but I don't think I can safely ignore the rest of your comment even if it is based on an incorrect interpretation of my comment.

Where'd you get the inkling that I thought it was important to argue whether to word rape is the right word? Please quote the section of my comment that gave you that idea. You've made a baseless assumption of what I was saying and went on a tirade.

This is why I hate these sorts of topics on HN. The community morphs into an hot-tempered accusatory group of individuals who hiss at anyone who sounds like they may not be on their side.

> Where'd you get the inkling that I thought it was important to argue whether to word rape is the right word?

The part where you engaged in argument about whether rape was the right word (for some hypothetical undescribed situation), arguing it was important not to use it unless it was... was where I got that idea. So, the whole comment.

I'm sorry if I got the wrong idea, and at any rate I acknowledge I was reacting to the direction of this collective thread with many participants, not just specifically to your post. In fact, I wrongly assumed you were the same person who participated in the replied-to replied-to post, without checking the names.

I am also sorry that you feel your safety was threatened by my post, requiring you to reply to restore your safety, my intent was not to threaten your safety in any way.

To be clear, by "I don't think I can safely ignore the rest of your comment" I meant I shouldn't let a comment like your stand unanswered.

You're accusatory tone set me in a light that made me look like The Bad Guy™. I don't like looking like The Bad Guy™ so and having already been downvoted, for the "safety" of my reputation, I felt the need to respond to your comment.

I'm not sure what was more accusatory about my tone than yours; I asked a question "Are you saying..." just the same as you did. Do you think your post I was replying to had an accusatory tone? Please quote the section of my comment that gave you the idea I had an accusatory tone, and explain how it differed from your comment I was replying to. You've made a baseless assumption of my tone, and gone on a tirade.

(Yeah, now _that_, which I just wrote, does sound accusatory, I agree. from the demand that you quote me, to calling your post a 'tirade'. You know where I got the template.)

That's why I hate these sorts of topics on HN. The community morphs into a hot-tempered accusatory group of individuals who takes any discussion of gendered discrimination and violence in the workplaces as an attack on them personally, and responds by attacking the honesty, intelligence, or motivation of the women describing their experiences, usually while descending into philosophical sophistry instead of actually engaging the subject matter in an honest discussion of how we can reduce people's feelings of unsafety in our workplaces.

> Please quote the section of my comment that gave you the idea I had an accusatory tone, and explain how it differed from your comment I was replying to.

Someone is downvoting every comment I leave in this thread but I'm going to go out on a limb and explain myself in case you truly care why I believe your post was accusatory and mine wasn't.

pron (the user I originally replied to) said:

> Leave the precise naming of offenses to the courts; these are legal definitions, after all, and we are not judges and not bound by the rules of evidence. The best way to fight it is to express outrage, period.

It seemed to me pron's argument was essentially even if someone was not raped and was instead sexually harrassed they should call it rape as to express outrage. That argument seemed so absurd to me that I felt I needed confirmation that was in fact the argument being made and so I replied to them with the comment:

> Are you saying even if it wasn't a rape by whatever your very own definition of rape, you would rather call it rape to express outrage?

That's it. I was not attempting to be accusatory but just seeking clarification.

You on the other hand asked me:

> Are you saying that it's important to argue about whether the word 'rape' is the right word or not?

Which came straight out of left field for me and thus your comment felt accusatory to me. I didn't feel I did something and but felt I was accused of doing it and thus described your comment as accusatory.

You seem to dislike me. I don't know why. You seem like you care about gender equality. That makes you sound like a nice person. But that way you talk to me is so off-putting and I don't know why you feel the need to be so venomous to someone asking a question. This is not unique to you and not the first time I encountered someone like this on HN. Maybe if we weren't communicating via text and instead speaking to one another face to face we'd treat each other differently. I hope that's what it would be like.

I am saying that if the victim decides to call it rape because that's how it felt, my first response (nor second, nor third) would not be to discuss the finer points of the law and debate the legal use of the term.

People who act maliciously don't need justification from me. But sexism is usually inadvertent, and "everyone's a lawyer" is a classic, usually innocent, response. So people who are not misogynist, but simply sexist (and we all are to some degree) -- because that's how we've been trained to be -- can benefit from me pointing out this difference in how we respond to stories by women differently from those by men. My goal is not to maintain the moral high ground (which I know I possess in this case anyway), but simply to educate those who wish to learn. Change will be made through education of the "innocent sexists"; not by reforming misogynists.

I'm not sure what the point of replying to my comment is if you're not going to answer my question to you. Here it is again if you missed it:

Are you saying even if it wasn't a rape by whatever your very own definition of rape, you would rather call it rape to express outrage?

I see a lot these sorts of threads end up with people talking past each other and not really responding to each other questions. Let's try not to do that. We can maybe move forward in the conversation and perhaps you can educate me on the topic. But if you don't answer straight-forward yes or now question I'm just left wondering if I should take any education I receive from you seriously.

I think I've answered it, but I'll answer again. If the victim calls it rape, I am not going to argue with her, because there are much more important things to discuss than legal definitions. I am not part of the legal bureaucracy, I don't know the law, and besides, the laws are different in different places. When a victim says she was raped she doesn't use the word to match the penal code of whatever jurisdiction she's in, but to describe her experience. As I am not a lawyer, and not discussing legal proceedings, I will use whatever name the victim uses, because, at least for the time being, that's the only name that can be used.

What I think is terrible, though, is that when a fellow worker in my industry describes a horrible experience, some people's first response is to discuss the precise legal definition of said horrible experience. It does not surprise me, though, as "everybody's a lawyer" is a very common sexist response to such events. You'll notice that stories by men are not met with the same discourse.

In any case, the very first thing for someone wishing to learn how sexism and racism work, is by reading this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_(social_and_political)

Yeah I didn't view his actions towards me as rape either. Just really dickish.

Rape doesn't have to be violent. The person could have decided she was into it even though she was saying no, no, no and just proceeded. Presumably she didn't report the rape for her own reasons. I can only imagine how painful it is to revisit this without going into the gory details and be cross examined by the internet.

The sum of all the things she has dealt with are incredibly saddening to me. I have met Katy before and seen how much she did for Hacker Dojo and have a lot of respect for her.

I think the focal point for change is exactly what she is saying regarding "whistle blowers". Someone that comes forward to reveal crimes whether it be Snowden or a woman sexually harassed or raped by a colleague should be respected and not pilloried and made persona non-grata. Bring this bullshit into the light.

I can imagine at least one likely useful, but probably extremely invasive policy. But if, based on all of these recent blog posts, this is as pervasive as we're lead to believe then I would argue that invasive policies are the least of your concerns.

For all company events pair people up and make each persons' well-being the other person's responsibility. In the sense that they will share the responsiblity for reporting issues about things that happen to either of the pair, and not that they would be somehow liable for the other person's well-being. You could give people an option to anonymously "blacklist" certain partners if they don't feel safe around them, or anonymously "whitelist" certain pairings with people who they know they are comfortable around.

Bottom line, if it's not good enough to make a person's well-being their own responsibility then distribute the workload across at least one, and perhaps many other people within the organization.

How about instead, we all share responsibility for keeping each other safe in the workplace? All of us who care about our coworkers being kept safe anyway.

I liked the OP for it's message in that direction.

as an addendum to that: If your partner didn't see it, it didn't happen. This would force the pair to stick together at all times if they were at all concerned for their well-being.

This sounds pretty shitty to live. I would like to think we can do better.

I completely agree. It's not ideal. I wish all people respected one another and understood social and personal boundaries. The comments here reflect my attempt to reconcile the fact that that's obviously not something we can count on. But in terms of the big picture I agree that "awareness" is an important hurdle.

So the reasoning goes: It appears there needs to be some mechanism in place to hold people accountable for their actions. Not that we don't want the overarching goal to teach people how to respect others, but that's a life lesson, and not necessarily something that you can put a definitive timeline on in terms of when you're going to achieve your goal.

I think a real-world solution needs to recognize that you can't guarantee that all employees will understand or follow your guidelines for how to behave in the workplace. So it follows that part of the plan needs to incorporate accountability. It's far more difficult to hold someone accountable when all you have is hearsay. With 3rd party testimony, however, a company is going to have more data to use when trying to figure out / arbitrate a dispute or investigate a claim of harassment.

So, in principle I like the idea that people have mentioned where everyone should be responsible for everyone else. In theory this looks like it's a great idea, but in practice if this is your only rule / policy, it makes it very difficult for people to gauge whether progress is being made, or if they'll ever accomplish their goal. When you have a specific responsibility I find it's going to be far easier for the person to comprehend and observe whether or not they're accomplishing or are on the path to accomplish their objectives of keeping the workplace safe for everyone.

Imagine if one day Larry Page sends out a memo to all Google employees, and says that he's decided to change how they operate. From today forward, "There are no longer specific jobs or goals. Instead we're all just going to concentrate on our one overarching goal. All employees are now in charge of making sure the company makes money". And that's the only direction that is given. It's one big overarching goal and everyone just needs to make sure that happens. No specific tasks are laid out for any one individual in order to make that happen. Now consider this scenario in contrast to the world at Google today where I imagine everyone, though in spirit are all working toward the single overarching goal of the company, each "cog in the wheel" has their own specific responsibilities to make that happen.

And, more importantly, why nobody ever calls the police and sues the guy for physical and emotional damages.

That part of the story sounds made up.

I'm sorry but this is insane. I guess I can only speak to the segment of the tech industry I've been exposed to, but a woman would not be labelled a liability for reporting a rape or an assault, unless maybe it turned out to be false, in which case that's no different than any other industry. I am sure workplace rape and assault happens in every industry, unfortunately, but I've seen no evidence it's more common or accepted in tech than anywhere else. It's certainly not systematized or condoned. I can't believe Google (for whom she has worked) has any more lenient of a policy on sexual harassment or assault than any other Fortune 500.

And if it were this bad, why would she fear being ostracized? If my options were to stay in an industry and be repeatedly harassed, beaten, and raped, or switch careers, I don't think it'd be a tough call.

If you look through the comments here and in other similar threads you'll see numerous variations on the "what wait? just leave." It's an understandable but wrong response to these situations. It shifts the problem from the perpetrator to the victim. It's similar to asking women to be covered from head to toe so that they can't somehow tempt males. The onus isn't on the male to control his desires it's on the female to ensure that his desires are not aroused. So if rape and sexual harassment is happening at a workplace don't blame the victim for not leaving blame the perpetrator for bringing that into the workplace.

Perhaps I'll give another perspective. A coworker had sexual harassment problems with one of our managers, and eventually she left the company. I cross checked, and the other managers knew about it but didn't do anything. I also left the company.

A place where abusing a coworker is OK is just a bad place to work. You might not be the target of the abuse at that time, but you'll get shafted for any other reason on any other subject (e.g. raises, project assignments, perks...).

Basically if it's just one bad apple, you should get help outing the problem. If most of the company is fucked up, you'll have to decide if you really want to stay there, and for me more often than not it's not worth it. Leaving a job can be seen as a privilege, but if you're actually getting regular abuse, it might as well be the only sane choice.

Oh, I'm certainly not blaming the victim. But I believe people have a responsibility to protect themselves. Not just a right, a responsibility. Fool me once, shame on you, etc.

If you are raped and do nothing about it, you're certainly not deserving of being raped again by the same guy. He's still a monster. But when it happens you've been a party to it. And you definitely can't complain that the company or industry you work for is sitting idly by and allowing it if you never reported it to them in the first place.

Now if you did report it and nothing happened, that's a problem. I can't imagine what I'd do if an employee came to me with that, and thankfully I've never had to, but I promise you it wouldn't be nothing.

Why leave? Report those issues. The real question is why just let it slide and then write a blog about it.

Rape is not something you should just let people get away with and move on with your life

I want to do something more with my life than make sure some asshole gets what they deserve. I want my life to be about more than that.

One way I think males can better relate is to consider bullying. There'd be no bullying in school if every single time it happened a child went to the authorities, was taken seriously, the perpetrator was punished and there was no backlash on the victim. Yet we know that many kids put up with a fair degree of bullying because going to the Principal completely changes the game. They fear overt or subtle retribution and social ostracizing. They become defined by everybody at school as the dude who was a victim _and_ went to the authorities and got other people in trouble. So it's no wonder that many incidents of bullying (and sexual harassment) are not reported. Only when the stigma goes away will it happen.

So you should just accept it?

This is a complex situation made up of multiple inputs that in turn denies you the simply answer you wish for.

You unwittingly fall into an enclosure filled with angry chimpanzees.

A crowd gathers, and shouts "Leave the enclosure, climb out, there's a ladder!"

Another crowd gathers and shouts at the first crowd "Shut up. Stop blaming the victim!"

Which crowd has your best interests at heart?

Tech companies are staffed with humans, not angry chimpanzees; this analogy is stupid.

I'll help you out here:

You unwittingly fall into an enclosure filled with angry chimpanzees.

Some of the chimpanzees are guarding a ladder. You can't see where it leads.

You notice other people have fallen into the enclosure too. They help you stand up and remind you that the chimps suck.

Who has your best interests at heart?

Yeah except the ladder leads directly into the shark tank. (Unemployment, retaliation from your rapist, damage to your reputation/resume)

I don't think there's a particular reason to believe this is significantly worse in tech than it is elsewhere (although if this I'm wrong, I'd definitely appreciate being corrected on this). But there are a few things I'd say:

- Tech has this particular weird cultural self-view that we all see ourselves and each other as middle-school nerds emerging victorious, as people who got past the bullies and the ills of "normal people" society, as people who were friendless (and dateless) in school but have found our own little environment now where we can be accepted as we are. So there's a tendency to think that we're not capable of the same sort of awfulness, and that we're better people than the other industries. There's a tendency, subconsciously, to think that if someone's saying something bad about any of our people, they're no better than our middle school bullies. We need to get over that and admit that the tech industry is like any other industry.

- On a different and simpler note, tech is our industry. I don't have nearly as much say about the culture of, say, big law firms or furniture design studios, than I do about the culture of companies where I work and where I might consider working.

Regarding Google, did you see this discussion, which was on the HN home page yesterday? https://plus.google.com/+KellyEllis/posts/L4wawXpNt25

I find it doubtful that tech is worse than, for example, the finance industry (with its rich history of decadence and debauchery). I also find it "interesting" that the tech industry seems to have replaced the finance industry (whose shenanigans put the West into recession) as the focus of media critique.

> I also find it "interesting" that the tech industry seems to have replaced the finance industry (whose shenanigans put the West into recession) as the focus of media critique.

Guess who's the next group of rich people thinking their bubble's never going to pop?


So your own coworkers suffer, and your response is, I find it doubtful that we terrorize women more than others?

So what if that's true? Is the important story here how we've become victims of the media?

Also, software is one of the very few (only?) industries where women participation has been dropping steadily[1], so I find it likely that the situation in tech is worse than in finance (they've had years to learn). Besides, it is Silicon Valley that likes to wave the false flag of meritocracy.

[1]: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-wom...

Our coworkers suffer, but so do the people I know who work in completely different industries.

I have no idea how the tech industry compares to other industries in terms of treatment of women. What I can say for certain is that we do not have the amazing complaints of cocaine fueled parties filled with hookers that seem to regularly emerge from the world of finance.

> cocaine fueled parties filled with hookers that seem to regularly emerge from the world of finance.

Your finance industry stereotypes are about 30 years out of date. Wall Street is way less flagrant about their excess these days.

Meanwhile, in tech... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titstare

>Your finance industry stereotypes are about 30 years out of date.

Not as blatant as the "golden age", perhaps, but it seems "hookers and blow" still figure in the lifestyle. A former hedge fund trader published a book a couple years ago detailing how his company (within the last decade) plied clients with prostitutes and a wide array of illegal narcotics:


Then there's the BofA banker who, last December, was found to have gone off the rails, from continual partying, and killed two sex workers:


The first sentence of your second link:

> The excesses of 1980s New York investment banking as captured best (and with just a dose of hyperbole) by Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho may be long gone in the US...

The first link I provided is about a book by an insider that details these excesses occurring in the 2000s.

According to one tip the SEC received in 2007 about Galleon: "Prostitution is rampant for executives visiting Galleon. You will find that the Super Bowl parties for the executives, paid for by Galleon Group, include prostitutes and other forms of illegal entertainment."

It's gone :/

Ironically, while google web search _thinks_ it has that URL in it's cache... the google cache is completely unable to quote with the JS-heavy Google Plus, so it isn't.

But I guess the author took it down on purpose. It is not hard to guess why, based on the nature of _this_ comment thread.

> but a woman would not be labelled a liability for reporting a rape or an assault, unless maybe it turned out to be false

This is the crux of the matter and where most men run into trouble with this whole discussion.

Let's say she comes forward and accuses a coworker of rape. The coworker denies the allegations and says she's lying to punish him for some work-related disagrement, or because he turned her down for a date or something. She doesn't have any recordings or physical proof. It's just her word against his.

Now what?? Well if you want to get a sense of what typically happens, take a look at this thread, in which multiple men are spending thousands of words debating the fine points of what exactly is bad enough to count as "rape", and why didn't she just quit, etc.

Basically: when there is not solid proof, guys tend to stick up for each other--and there are way way more guys in tech than women.

That's why she would fear being ostracized.

> unless maybe it turned out to be false

I'm assuming most of the people who have been sexually assaulted have no proof of the incident. So while it wouldn't necessarily "turn out to be false," there's a definite risk of people thinking that she was making the whole incident up for attention/out of spite/to get the other guy fired, etc. I think that's where the author's fear is coming from.

I don't know that it is more common in tech because I have only worked in tech. Does that make it OK in tech if it happens everywhere else too? Would that make you want to fix it any less if you knew it was wrong that it happened everywhere?

It's your word against her's. She has been exposed to the internals of many instances of abuse, either by being the victim or talking to the victims as a woman, so I will be believing her over you -- why shouldn't I?

> a woman would not be labelled a liability for reporting a rape or an assault

Well, but that's the problem. She's not saying she will be labelled a liability, but that the environment she works in makes her fear that she would.

As sexism is all about power[1], this is how power works. It's not only in the written rules, but in the atmosphere. Those in the position of less power feel afraid to take advantage of the law/rules, because they're afraid this will somehow be used against them, whether this is what will actually happen or not. You see this not only among women in tech, but among groups that have for a long time been on the receiving end of law enforcement when it comes to calling the police. This fear that the rules won't work in your favor is a great demonstration of how power works.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_(social_and_political)

I didn't understand what this was about, based on the title.

As it turned out, it's an incredibly interesting, important, and sad essay on the severe consequences that exist for women who fight for their own physical/emotional safety (and the safety of others).

If you want to know how people can repeatedly rape coworkers and get away with it, you should read this article.

I think it all sucks... on the one hand, being falsly accused of something because someone made a bad decision in a moment, or exaggerated is pretty bad.

* Two people get drunk and hook up after a party... afterwards the woman cries rape. (there's a difference between rape and a bad decision)

* A person asks another person they work with out. (this isn't harassment, though once a firm no is given they should not ask again)

The problem with the first, is it does happen, for any number of reasons... the second less so, but often women will give a soft decline instead of just saying they aren't interested.

On the flip side, continual harassment, rape, sexism and just general asshole behavior does exist, and should rightly be called out. The trouble is, without repeated offenses, it's almost impossible to know the difference as an outsider.

> * Two people get drunk and hook up after a party... afterwards the woman cries rape. (there's a difference between rape and a bad decision)

Did I miss somewhere in the post where the regret of a (mutually) drunken one-night-stand was equated with rape? Or are you bringing this up because you believe such occurrences happen often?

If it's the latter, would you mind sharing sources? I've heard people suggest that these things happen (where the "victim" was either embarrassed of sleeping with the person, or perhaps was ashamed due to their morals), but I have never seen a man or women ever claim that they were raped when it was in reality just "a bad decision" ... which makes me wonder if the mentioning of the scenario you give is just a common device for distracting from the topic of rape.

As someone who WAS falsely accused of rape (in my early 20's), I'm pretty sensitive to the issue... and yes, it does happen often enough.

It seems to me that a lot of women are left with pretty much two options in a lot of these situations: the lethal option, and submission. Calling the police or going to HR is the "lethal" option, meaning that, in all likelihood, there is going to be a big problem, and somebody is going to suffer.

I think the following scenario should be easy to understand (if not familiar) for most people: A person is walking down the street, when somebody approaches them and tells them to surrender their wallet. What would most people recommend in this situation? "Let them take your wallet, there's no point in risking your life"? What if the person being mugged revealed they were carrying a weapon capable of deadly force? Would you recommend that they use it to defend themselves?

Would your recommendation change if the threatening person in question had a position of default trust (e.g. a police officer), or a member of a powerful gang?

Now imagine a person in a scenario where, instead of just walking down the street, they are approached _in their office_ by somebody they trust, and instead of being asked for their wallet, they are asked for something incredibly more traumatic and unrecoverable, under the threat of complete financial destruction or possibly even physical harm.

I would never want to find out which way I would decide, in any of these situations. It's abominable that anyone should have to make that kind of choice, and it's worse still that it seems to be happening under our very noses and nobody can see it.

I think this article sets forth some very powerful, actionable ideas that are not only gender-neutral, but generally applicable in many other industries for many other classes of people who need options.

As a hetero male that is relatively new to management, what can I do to let my direct reports, indirect reports, and other colleagues know that they can report these kinds of things to me, and I will take them seriously? I don't have any women reporting directly to me right now, but it's very likely to happen over the next year, and I want to be proactive from the get-go.

Your eagerness to help is very good, and I think expressing that you care about these issues to your employees is great, but unless you tattoo it on your forehead, most employees won't know about your personal stances. Your personal stance will come much more into play when a complaint is brought to management level, since the odds of you being the one randomly handed it are pretty low.

I think the lowest hanging fruit in your own workplace will be to make sure the escalation structures that already exist are strong, protect those who are afraid, and have clearly defined expected fair outcomes for when a complaint is heard. Too often reports of problems just disappear into management and die down before anything happens because nobody's planned out what they are suppose to do if there is a problem.

Address or write about the issue publicly.

I've heard men in the tech space who I would normally have considered very nice people say extremely sexist / homophobic / transphobic things. When I've called them out on it, they've been surprised that anyone was offended. As I've said, otherwise really nice guys, but they seem to have just thought such comments were acceptable in the context of the 'community'. Strange stuff.

Have also seen casual sexism and racism used. I assume these people aren't racist or sexist to the point it would affect anything they do professionally, however it does detract from my view of them.

On the other hand I swear like a sailor, although I try to pull back from it in public - I occasionally slip. Especially when I'm dropping the C bomb (usually targeted at an inanimate object).

Is it unprofessional? Yes. Should I be judged? Fuck yes. Do I care?


"they've been surprised that anyone was offended"

What did they say?


I agree. That is not justification at all. I just think if you call people misogynist/homophobic/etc you shouldn't be hesitant to provide a concrete example of them acting that way.

Also, would you mind showing me evidence of any negative thing any sea lion has ever done to you?

Wow. This is such a good piece. Seriously, this is incredibly well-thought out and well-written, in a very intentional way. Thanks to the author.

I am pleased that it's on the HN front page. And I was at first pleased to see such a long comments thread, that people were interested in discussing it.

But man, this discussion is depressing me. Arguing about the legal definition of rape, really, that's what HN feels like talking about in response to this piece?

The discussion on the definition is because we're shocked that someone could be repeatedly raped without calling the cops. From accounts I've heard, rape seems much more serious than, say, being mugged or stabbed. If someone were to say they were mugged several times by a colleague, we'd ask why the cops weren't called. Hence it's terribly upsetting to hear a colleague repeatedly does worse.

But if the definition of mugged was that someone's colleague repeatedly left them with $500 bar tabs that they felt compelled to pay, then we might say, yeah, I see the issue. It's not actually a legal mugging in such a case, even if it's effectively as bad (minus the trauma of having, say, a gun pointed at you).

"From accounts I've heard, rape seems much more serious than, say, being mugged or stabbed."

For real, bro?

So let me get this straight, you're either upset that someone was mugged or stabbed without calling the cops, or you're upset (but maybe not as upset) that a colleague has done something worse than mugging or stabbing (a colleague of yours? that you know of? Have you considered calling the police?)

You can 'see the issue' with $500 bar tabs, but not with muggings? Or wait, by 'you can see the issue' you mean you don't believe the author, you think she's lying or confused when she writes 'rape', unless she says that she didn't really mean rape, in which case now you 'see the issue' and are wiling to support doing something about it? If you don't believe the author, it would be less confusing if you just said so. Or is it that you're only willing to do something about $500 bar tabs if you can first convince the person subject to them to stop calling it a mugging, cause that's the important thing here, eliminating that mugging/bar-tab confusion which is a scourge on our society? Me, I'd start out assuming if the author wrote rape she didn't mean a $500 bar tab. But the ironic thing is that most of the essay isn't actually about rape.

Man. Yeah, I'm not contributing to a useful conversation, I realize. I have no idea how the author manages to engage in this sort of conversation -- which the OP article is, an engagement in this sort of conversation, as well as the author's participation in this reddit thread -- while maintaining such an even temper, and always making the most charitable possible interpretation of everyone's comments (or at least successfully pretending to). I am impressed. I would need to work a lot harder than apparently I'm willing to, to pull that off.

Thanks. I try. I think a lot of women are afraid of being taken as 'emotional' or 'overreacting' in the workplace so we start practicing young.

I'm not quite sure I follow. My reaction was to the article was shock, when I read that she was raped repeatedly. Then, like most people, I assume, the question that springs to mind is: how can that happen? It violates a lot of assumptions we have about civilized society.

One way of making sense of it is determining that an unlawful act wasn't committed. Then, yeah, you can't call the cops, it's not "really rape" (according to the law), and it's terrible because there's no recourse without destroying one's career.

I'm not saying that's what happened to the OP. Just explaining why the definition of rape matters. If it was legal rape, then we're left wondering even more why going to the cops wasn't an option. If it wasn't legal rape, then it's much more difficult.

(And in case my writing wasn't clear, I'm suggesting that a $500 bar tab could be called a mugging, if you didn't willingly pay for it. But the law wouldn't consider that a mugging. So if someone meant a colleague pulled a knife on them repeatedly, then yeah, the response is "what about the cops"? Whereas in the bar tab scenario, I can " see the issue " of no recourse. Same way that you might sleep with someone because you felt you had to, but the law wouldn't consider that a rape.[1] I'm not saying this is what happened to the OP, at all, just responding to your questioning of why HN would discuss the definitional aspects.[2])

1: This is further aggravated by some people thinking rape is over claimed, perhaps in response to other people suggesting that two drunk people having sex means they taped raped each other. And by extension, that means people on permanent medication, who are never "sober" are always being raped. Totally unrelated to the OP, yet a driver of rather useless discussion.

2: And I probably am terrible for saying this, but I just don't tend to empathize with such stories much. The huge amount of suffering in the world overall (let alone the disgusting implications of MWI) has numbed me. Plus the situation described is not very relatable to me. While I experienced the outrage when personal (eg when something happened to my daughter), other accounts tend to provoke a more... distanced reaction. Having nothing to contribute or say regarding the actual problem, I'll respond to branching topics like yours. Terrible as that is, perhaps that's another explanation for the type of discussion you find here. And I'm probably not the only guy on HN with similar feelings, maybe.

Well, I don't know how to reach your empathy, but we do need your help creating safe spaces, educating folks in a non-destructive way, and getting people to talk about these issues until the truth and solutions are found.

I feel they could have done it without making my boss feel like he was being directly threatened with a huge HR complaint. It’s a real shame for our tech culture that there is no way to get somebody tutored about what is and isn’t appropriate without also landing them in deep trouble.

I'd like to add the only education available to teach people social interactions, outside of being self-taught, is PUA material, as well as in-house education on how to influence masses in the intelligence community. Which means if you weren't in a situation to talk to enough people while you were growing up, later on in life you'll miss out on jobs, you'll feel insecure, you'll make inappropriate comments, you'll have difficulty making friends, you'll have difficulty seducing a potential mate, you'll get divorced later on due to inability to manage arguments and fights and conflicts.

Families have been getting smaller - first people stopped living with close to their relatives, then people stopped living with their parents and siblings, and now people begin to stop living with their husbands or wives, and children without at least one of their parents, and parents having fewer siblings in general.

People are receiving less practical experience in interacting socially as they are growing up. You either fit in at school and do well, or you don't and isolate yourself and fall behind.

We have a mess at university campuses. We have a mess in tech companies. We have growing numbers of men who are 'losers'. We have growing numbers of women who can't get married if they want to. We have growing instances of inappropriate behaviour at work. Men and women resorting to electronic means to communicate, and avoiding face-to-face interaction, even among friends. Parents sent to nursing homes, pension spending growing and unsustainable. People growing up with little to no spiritual values besides materialism. etc, etc.

I think all of these stem from smaller families, causing less exposure to social interaction with others of the same age as well as with the older generation, resulting in less wisdom passed down, and decreased social ability of people growing up.

And it's only going to continue to get worse.

Though maybe people getting poor and being forced to stay with their parents for long might just be where the second derivative is beginning to turn.

Because there was less rape when there were larger family. Right...

Dude. From the article:

I had a boss once who knew he was sexist (also homophobic and transphobic), but was trying to get over it. He said some incredibly dumb things, like offering to have a company meeting at a strip club. He genuinely had bizarre concepts of what’s appropriate and inappropriate behavior. He was ashamed of this and really trying to improve. Listening to him quote the sexual harassment seminars was the saddest bit: on one hand he was really trying, but on the other, everything he was quoting made absolutely no sense. I frequently found him putting so much effort in where it didn’t really matter, like obsessively counting how many times he had asked a man vs a woman to carry heavy equipment. He always seemed overloaded with things to remember about “not being sexist” and afraid to get something wrong. It seemed almost heartless to risk getting him in trouble.

On the whole, however, I don’t hold against him all the inappropriate things he did. The best I could do was kindly remind my boss when something made me uncomfortable, but he always looked panicked when I did. I didn’t want to get him in trouble; in fact, half of my comments to him started with phrases like “you know people are going to take it the wrong way if they hear you saying that.” I wish my male peers had helped him more in this regard. I feel they could have done it without making my boss feel like he was being directly threatened with a huge HR complaint. It’s a real shame for our tech culture that there is no way to get somebody tutored about what is and isn’t appropriate without also landing them in deep trouble.

And yes I think with a larger family you're less likely to have men thinking its OK to corner a woman in office, because they'll have better upbringing. If you want to change culture the best chance you have is the educate your children because of all people they will be most receptive of your perspective.

Thanks for the snark anyway, I deserved it because I see family as a good thing to have, and as such I'm a rapist. And thanks for derailing the points OP and I were making. I deserve to be hanged by the side of the road, by social activists like you (according to your profile).

You quoted a bit from the article that had nothing to do with family, and then instead of justifying your point, you just re-iterated it. Then you made up what you thought my opinion of you was. Like, get a grip.

You know what increases in large families? Chances of sibling sexual abuse. http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111312p18.shtml

> social activists like you

You say it like it's a bad thing. :)

You quoted a bit from the article that had nothing to do with family

She suggested a phenomenon and I suggested a cause.

Because there was less rape when there were larger family. Right...

Your sarcasm indicates you think there was more rape in larger families, yet you claim our culture have become a rape culture.

If there hasn't been more rape, then it's just culture, or there is more rape nowawdays, and nowadays there are small families, and there would have been less rape when there used to be bigger ones.

Anywhere you have men and women together there's always a chance of hetero- sexual abuse, you suggest smaller families will reduce chance of sexual abuse, but why not suggest female only offices to reduce chance of work place abuse? Of course that's not the right thing to do, and the right thing to do is to educate men not to sexual abuse in the first place. How are you going to get people to educate their children, if their children spend all day with a 14 year old babysitter watching tv (and you know, porn) while their parents both work, and never visit their aunts, uncles and grandparents?

It's getting to be a long discussion and I'd like to hear more logical and well-argued points than snark and rhetoric from your perspective, if you can leave your email or have a website or something we can continue this discussion there. Maybe you're on mobile, that's why I'm unconvinced.

Who said that you are a rapist, or that being in favor of large families means you are a rapist?

#2 of the recommendations at the end (correction without punishment when appropriate) is an excellent point that I've rarely/never seen discussed in articles like this. It reminds me of a past job where a friend of mine silently put up with (relatively low-level) harassment because she didn't want to get the guy pilloried.

I think one confounding issue with sexism in tech is that companies find it so uncomfortable to talk about that they shy away from real analysis - adopting whatever policy comes to mind without seriously examining what the root cause was and whether they're addressing it.

The only solution is cogent discussion, like this excellent article.

I can't help but think this is a problem in america and not a problem in tech. Over here (UK) I've never seen or heard of anything like this.

I don't know, maybe I'm wrong and I've just never seen it.

Either way, it's not on and it needs to stop

The story in this article is as foreign to me as it is to you. I've worked at various software companies in SV for almost a decade now, and I've also never seen or heard of anything like this. Obviously, it happens, but it's rare enough that one can go their entire career without encountering it. Similarly, 45 people were murdered in SF last year, but I never stumbled across a dead body in my commute.

In fact, the most sexist behavior I've encountered in the workplace was a manager who had a propensity to interrupt women more often than men. I mentioned this to him in private. Apparently, it was an unconscious bias. Afterwards, he made an effort to correct for it.

Outside of the workplace (parties, bars, public transportation), I've encountered much worse: people getting cornered, felt-up, etc. But that's always involved strangers or acquaintances, not coworkers.

And it should go without saying, but I really feel for the author. :(

I have spoken at a professional conference and had about two dozen drunk fully grown men shout-chant at me to take my shirt off, becoming louder and growing more numerous the longer nobody responded to them. Security did nothing, and I was on my own to de-escalate the situation.

Yeah, I mean, fucking hell. Seriously? I don't really understand how this can happen. It's just not thinkable in any professional context I have ever experienced. It's about as unthinkable as if a black speaker got on stage and some racists started throwing them peanuts - those people would not remain in the room very long. If security did nothing, the rest of the crowd would probably forcefully throw them out.

It seems some women (in tech or in other places) live in a very bizarre, warped world full of complete assholes. I can understand that they're very upset about that - I would be too. I would not tolerate remaining in such an environment, it affronts my basic sense of decency as a human being. But - I have never observed anything like this, ever, whereas this seems to be commonplace in that strange parallel universe where these women are living.


Edit: Interesting that when I was looking at this comment just now it was at -1. Now back at +1. Not quite sure what there is to downvote here. I'm not disagreeing with the OP, just saying that in my career I have never observed the kind of disgusting behaviour she describes. Clearly it must be happening somewhere since so many women report it. I just wonder where.

Even if I was disagreeing with the OP, what is there to downvote? Is disagreement no longer allowed on this site?

Not OP, but did write the article. I think everything you've said makes a lot of sense given the data set you seem to be working with, and that most people in the tech industry are very good.

The incident in question was my talk at DEFCON 19 right before the camera started rolling. I want to reiterate that THEY MADE GOOD ON THIS and I am NOT MAD. I feel like everybody learned a lot and things will be better now.

But yeah, there were over 1000 people in the room for that talk, I'm sure if it comes down to a "did it happen" or "did it not happen" we can pull up enough witnesses. That one is pretty cut and dry.

Here's the point series I tried to make in the article: bad things happen, when they happen nobody knows what to do about them, and we won't make systems which handle these problems properly until enough people give enough fucks so that they are actually properly made.

Thanks for the response and the clarification. Witnesses are not necessary... I was just curious where this sort of stuff happens. I don't go to many conferences myself.

Totally agree with the point of your article btw. I've strived to create these systems in my own company (and I think I've delivered on steps 1 and 2 - step 3 indicates an area for improvement for us, though).

In fact, I'm going to forward this article to a couple of people on my team to discuss if we're doing this well enough. Thanks for writing it.

> The incident in question was my talk at DEFCON 19

That makes much more sense. DEFCON, a hacker convention where each speaker seems obligated to comment on how much they've had to drink - while holding a beer. Also, "hacker" being closer to the juvenile antics of webpage defacement - not the making of blinking sweaters with lilypad kits and hot glue.

It bothers me to think that females have some responsibility for avoiding these sort of situations (blaming the victim, etc), but hell - I'm a 30 year old man in the security industry and I avoid DEFCON.

I attended a relatively large tech conference in the U.S. Midwest where the atmosphere was more informal, alcohol was provided to attendees, and every attendee received complimentary passes to the hotel water park. The same conference changed its open bar policy to "one free drink per day per person" after an incident (which was either indecent exposure or sex in public or sexual assault depending on who was telling me the story, still don't know the real version) some years before I attended. I can see an open bar combined with a con atmosphere that goes out of its way to be informal ending up with some vocal, drunk assholes.

I'd challenge everyone who hasn't seen this in the workplace to talk to their close female friends about the issue. You may be surprised by their stories!

I'm using a throwaway here since my normal account is my real name.

My mom went to Long Beach to meet my dad before they got married. He was returning from Vietnam at the end of the war. She was gangraped in a alley by about five guys.

My sister was raped by my cousin when she was 13 and we were on a camping trip. She is 40 years old now and after a night out crashed on a friends couch and woke up to him jerking off on her back (this was a few months ago).

Things like this happen a lot and shit like "I have never seen so it can't be true" are part of the reason why you barely ever hear of it.

If you have a mom and sister the odds are pretty good one of them have been raped.

:( Thanks for sharing.

> If you have a mom and sister the odds are pretty good one of them have been raped.

Dropping truth-bombs are we.

The amount of downvotes I've got on the above comment really speaks volumes about the problem. It is shameful to me that I can get downvotes on a comment that suggests people actively listen to women.

There's some very weird downvoting patterns on these sexism-related threads. A very polarising topic ("you're either with us or against us, and if I think you're against us I'll downvote you as soon as I detect that this might be the case"). Seems to be happening from both sides of the discussion, which makes for some very random votes.

For shame - polarising the discussion doesn't help anyone. :-( Those who downvote reflexively in this manner are precisely the ones who most need to pause, read carefully, and try to learn to see things from more than one perspective...

I'm in America, and I've certainly never had a conversation where this level of sexism was mentioned. The worst I've heard is a creepy coworker who likes to give back rubs. For all the reasons in the article, I think it's something which is not discussed as much as it should be. All I can say, is anyone who does this stuff should not be employed anywhere.

I've heard a girl talk about her rape in a friendly environment where we were all good friends, it became awkward and impossible to go on. If I was in her shoes I would never bring it up again, so the chances of hearing stuff like these is slim.

Yeah I don't generally talk about this because it brings conversations to a screaming halt, and you have to spend all your time comforting whoever you just told.

> I can't help but think this is a problem in america and not a problem in tech. Over here (UK) I've never seen or heard of anything like this.

I asked a friend why she wasn't going to Linux.conf.au. She stopped going after she was sexually assaulted at one.

It's not just a US problem.

Do you honestly think that the UK and America are that different in this regard? Is it possible you're looking for a reason not to contradict the article (not that the event occurred but that it is common or derives from tech culture).

I'd like to say having worked in both Canada and New Zealand over 18 odd years now and I've never seen anything like this also. I read these articles and I'm simply stunned. I keep wondering what the heck is going on in companies/cultures/environments for these things to happen.

Every time I read an article along these lines I feel even more grateful to work in environments where there haven't been glass ceilings, hiring is on merit and the workplaces are incredibly diverse.

Other people have made this comment but I'll repeat it. Have you ever talked about this with female colleagues? It's scary what they tell you. I would say 95% of males get through their entire working career without ever feeling sexually uncomfortable or worse from another colleague at least once. I'd say about 10% of females would say that was true. Seriously, go talk with them.

How diverse is your workplace? I think that a lot of the differences are not in the workplace culture, but how it is reported. I work in the US and I also have never seen anything like this (not that I would have necessarily seen it if it was common, but the same applies to you and other non-US commenter).

In the US, I think the problem is that employers are MUCH more powerful than employees. That probably springs from the demonization of labor unions and weak employee protection laws.

Sexual offenders tend to have lots of victims, so victims are likely clustered around them.

A workplace with one must have quite a few victims, a workplace without one is full of people that never heard anything like this.


Would that make it OK here? If it happened any less anywhere else? Would that make you want to fight against a thing that was wrong any less?

I feel like we all joined this community because we thought we could change stuff.

If it happens at an equal rate, then that means perhaps we shouldn't be focusing on tech companies specifically but in the legal framework that allows this to slip through the cracks. Morality can be on our side all we like, but companies of any decent size are way more interested in the law than morality.

One of the things I found most useful and insightful in the OP is a focus on things we can do to change our organizational and personal behaviors to actually keep people safe and treated with dignity, as opposed to just avoiding legal liability, since that has not succeeded in making people safe and treated with dignity.

A "focus on the legal frameworks" is not the only avenue for action, and may not be the most effective -- whether in the tech industry or elsewhere.

We're talking about the tech industry because it's HN and we're all in the talk industry, that's the one we know.

If we started the conversation with the tech industry -- which we know best -- but used what we learned to expand to look at other industries and environments too, talking to people in them too, that sounds like it could be useful. Instead, somehow here we are bizarrely motivated to expand the focus from the tech industry to 'everywhere' as a means to avoid talking about it at all?

I'm not trying to discourage discussion, but I think history has proven that even strong sexual harassment policies do little by themselves. Some people will harass regardless of the consequences, and companies will do what they can to avoid lawsuits and making waves. Changing behaviors is great, but the best time to do that isn't anywhere near the workplace, it's during the formative years. People don't suddenly start working at Google and decide to sexually harass.

While we can work on our own to try to improve the tech sector, I firmly believe that a more effective solution (for both the tech sector and the country at large) is to address it via legal means and education.

I think this essay is a pretty good foray on the 'education' front.

I liked the essay for having some concrete and practical suggestions for what we can do organizationally and personally, that are neither 'legal frameworks' nor exactly just 'sexual harassment policies'. Did you read that part? What do you think?

I don't know what it's like to be raped or sexually harassed, but I am frequently amused at how skeptics think it's so cut-and-dry to just report the issue. This came up in Kelly Ellis's public revelation yesterday that she had been sexually harassed at Google.

The Twitter thread starts here:


The following is Ellis's statement, and then one of her more earnest "Oh really?" critics:

Ellis: Rod Chavez is an engineering director at Google, he sexually harassed me, Google did nothing about it. Reprimanded me instead of him

Twitter user: That's a very serious allegation. Hope you have evidence to back it up.

Ellis: Lol already dudes going, "where's the proof?" Do you expect women to wear wires whenever they're sexually harassed? Trust women.

Twitter user: there is a difference between questioning and accusations. I'm not calling her liar. Just requesting evidence...In general, to have been a victim of a crime, and not seeing the offender be punished must be awful. But there is a reason...we have the right to a fair trial. We all know the consequences of letting random people on the Internet serve justice.

Again, I've never been raped. But the last time I made a criminal complaint, it was when I was robbed of my phone at gunpoint a few years ago in New York. Granted, I acted quite foolishly...not having my phone, and not having used a payphone in years...My first instinct was to continue heading home, which was about 6 to 7 blocks away, so that I could lookup the nearest police station and walk over there...not realizing I could dial 911 anywhere, or at least go into the nearest storefront. So that bizarre behavior led to me getting quite the grilling from the first detective to respond, who outright accused me of making up the story because I didn't want to admit that I had a rough night with a hooker who robbed me of my belongings (apparently it's weird for a man to walk alone through Greeenwich Village at night)?

Anyway, long story short, no big deal. I knew I had plenty of evidence that this happened to me, including having tracking software on my (Android) phone...and while that was my first time being a victim of a violent crime, I've had enough experience with cops (being a former cops reporter) to understand where the skepticism was coming from, and also, to know that it was pretty tame compared to what other victims get. That said, if that was the treatment that I got, for an extremely cut-and-dry kind of crime (not too many debates over what constitutes armed robbery)...can you imagine the process that a rape victim has to go through? Or in the case of Ellis, someone who experienced non-criminal sexual harassment? Reporting a crime or a violation isn't as simple as hitting a button, it always consists of a non-trivial process (for me, besides the 4 hours of waiting for and then talking to the detective on the night of the incident, I missed a couple days of work to go to the station, fill out paperwork, do more interviews, etc).

To use the parlance of today's times, there's considerable "friction" in reporting an incident, regardless of the complexity of the issue. Whatever your stance on "is sexual harassment a prevalent problem or not?", at least recognize that the reporting of such a problem is easier to think about than to actually do.


To elaborate a little more...in my situation, the choice to report a crime was pretty obvious: I want my phone back, and also, the robber is obviously in the wrong. Quite frankly, I don't think I would've gone to the cops had it been a midnight phone-snatching (it's New York after all)...but since the robber escalated it by introducing a weapon, can't really just ignore the incident.

From my understanding, a rape or harassment victim does not have even remotely such an easy decision. Besides the emotional trauma, there's a huge amount of plain confusion -- rape/harassment is almost always perpetrated by someone who knows the victim, and sometimes someone the victim considered to be a friend. If a friend randomly punches me and takes my phone, after the "WTF was that about?" that I'd go through...I'm not even sure I could just go straight to the cops...Maybe my friend was drunk? Or pulling an elaborate prank? I'd at least want to call him (or email him, since he has my phone). And I guarantee that unless the punch caused serious injury to me, the cops are going to say, "WTF is wrong with you and your friend?", not immediately put out an all-points-bulletin to arrest my friend. And even if he's clearly in the wrong, think about all awkwardness in your social network that comes when the cops do arrive and arrest your friend...and we're not even at the indictment phase yet.

So again, just making assumptions, but when the crime is as controversial and "he said/she said" as rape or harassment...the decision to make a report does not at all seem like an easy one.

The Ellis example is a good one, I think.

She went public with concrete names and bad things that happened to her while working at Google, regarding both an engineering manager Rod Chavez, and a VP, Vic Gondotra. While there were a few of the expected "where's the proof" people on Twitter, as Kelly said, the large majority of responses she got were supportive, from lots of men and women.

In addition, in the google+ thread, several people from inside Google expressed shock (they only heard about it now, it wasn't common knowledge across the company) and mentioned that a lot of noise is going on internally right now about this.

Gondotra isn't still with Google, but Chavez is. I would bet that won't be for long.

Overall, the responses internally at Google were horrible, back then. HR tried to save the company from liability, not help her. But when she went public now, the responses were good, and change might actually happen.

As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. The article here is correct to say that it's scary to be a whistleblower, but Kelly Ellis shows it's possible to be brave, and that the industry and community will in fact react positively when you do.

> While there were a few of the expected "where's the proof" people on Twitter, as Kelly said, the large majority of responses she got were supportive, from lots of men and women.

You raise a good point, but the problem is that not all supportiveness is equal.

There are a lot of people who share their opinions when an incident like this goes public, and depending on what communities you happen to draw the attention of, the response may well be more positive than negative. But there's a much smaller number of people (like bosses and future bosses, for instance) whose response will have a real, tangible effect on your career and future.

If those few people happen to be an unlucky random sample -- like, say, the HN commenter who said about Kelly Ellis that "the only thing I have learnt from this and the Adria Richards nonsense is when I am hiring I will screen for radical feminism" -- then the supportive comments from complete strangers don't mean much. And so it's understandable why someone would be reluctant to take that risk.

The reluctance is understandable. But we can't understate the positive: In that very google+ thread, more than one former colleague from Google said something to the effect of "I've always considered you someone to try to hire for my future startup, and I still do."

In other words, even if some wary bosses would see any whistleblowing as a risk factor, the fact is that the large majority of responses she got were positive. People believe her, and people strongly feel she got treated unfairly. She's also, according to many accounts, a talented engineer. Signs for her future employment are very positive.

She also mentioned herself that her current job at Medium is with a very supportive team. (edit: i misunderstood something here)

Once more, none of this is to diminish the understandable concerns with going public with allegations. But in the Ellis case, I think we see that the overall outcome can be quite positive. It's good for the whistleblower, it's good for the tech industry as a whole, it's really just bad only for the small amount of bad people we need to get rid of.

I don't work at Medium. I'm taking some time between work right now. I don't think I could have written this if I had a job with a conventional employer. No matter how great my employer is, if the post got popular, it would be pretty irresponsible and could hurt my employer. I'd at least talk it over with my coworkers and have addressed it directly in the article.

Oh - sorry! I must have misread something.

Most likely the New York police department you spoke with were under strict orders to reduce the number of reported muggings in their area. Police officers in NYC boroughs have reported the requirements that they refuse to take reports, when the statistics are not in their departments best interest. I have no comment on the relevance to the canonical issue, but this friction you speak about from your mugging is due to corruption, not normalcy.

You bring up a good, valid point, but one that is mostly orthogonal to the issue at hand. To the victim, it doesn't really matter if the friction faced is caused by malice or bureaucratic ineptitude...whether it's the detective who personally doesn't give a shit, or whether it's a detective with a heart-of-gold-who-normally-would-givea-a-shit-but-doesn't-want-to-be-the-squeaky-wheel-tonight...the result is the same to the victim.

Also, in defense of the NYPD detectives, I do not think it was "corruption" that caused the issue...again, things are rarely so black-and-white, good-and-evil. The next day, I was assigned a more enthusiastic detective, and a week later, the suspect was caught by an alert detective who was made aware of the suspect's description. The better explanation is that my story fit the pattern/biases of the initial detective who feels he's seen this shit before, etc. etc., and in his years of work, feels he's entitled to some skepticism.

But again, whether it's the result of actual "corruption" or just "normalcy"...who can really tell the difference?

  Do you expect women to wear wires whenever they're sexually harassed?
Since the twitter response is predictable by now, and sexual harassment tends to occur over repeated interactions, it's surprising that woman haven't started to make recordings of sexual harassment before making allegations about it.

I don't know about America, but in my country that would likely be illegal. You can't just record everybody without consent.

In the US it varies by state.[1] In "one-party consent" states, you can record any conversation you yourself participate in. California is an "all-party consent" state, though, so this approach wouldn't work for most tech companies.

[1] http://www.gshllp.com/download/general_firm_documents/WEB%20...

[2] http://blog.ogletreedeakins.com/sixth-circuit-rules-employer...

"I have been raped by a colleague — not just once, but several times over months."

As much as I want to read this as hyperbole it doesn't look like that's the case. I guess it may be because I consider myself a level-headed person, and have (to the best of my knowledge) never even interacted with someone that vicious.

A person like that doesn't deserve just to be reprimanded. They should be in jail.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact