Prominent feminist atheist Bible scholar Dr. Richard Carrier PhD posted “How to Do Wrong Right,” a very helpful essay in which he bravely describes situations in which he was both the perpetrator and victim of violations of propriety at atheist conventions and other related events. He wrote the essay for our benefit, helping the rest of us understand how we can negotiate the “flirting ladder” without committing sexual harassment or sexual assault.
As other feminists such as PZ Myers, Stephanie Svan and Greta Christina have pointed out, events held for the secular and skeptical communities have been rife with sexual assault and sexual harassment, in spite of the policies they have managed to put in place over and above the law, which already condemns sexual assault and many forms of sexual harassment.
Mr. or Ms. Event Organizer, Richard Carrier describes some serious situations that have happened at your functions that have gone unreported to local law enforcement agencies. You’ll no doubt agree that attendees at events and conventions have the right to be safe at your productions. Carrier has done the hard and brave work revealing these incidents:
Was this sexual harasser punished? Why didn’t the organization disclose the incident?
Carrier himself suffered sexual assault. The organizers were made aware. The perpetrator was not reported to local law enforcement, nor was she purged from the event. Perhaps worse, the onus was put on the victim to report instead of event administration resolving the situation. Shameful.
Surely you see the problem of putting the ball in the victim’s court. Not only was he gaslit into apologizing to his sexual assaulter, but the convention organizers have an obligation to make attendees feel safe. As Richard Carrier put it in 2012:
The sexual assaulter clearly was not dealt with in an effective manner, as she revictimized Dr. Carrier later in the evening.
Why hasn’t the community gotten wind of any police reports relating to these many incidents? To my knowledge, conventions have not adopted a Clery Act-like model, making public record of the sexual assault that takes place during their events. Why not?
Dr. Carrier is so prominent in the community and beyond in part because of his honesty. He describes some of his own violations of convention/event policy:
Many in the community have asserted that unofficial afterparties, Scotch and cigar parties and afterhours pub conversations in an elevator are nonetheless governed by event policy. Does your harassment policy make the distinction clear if your organization believes there is one?
Dr. Carrier reminds us that women are capable of engaging in long and exciting conversations, as this is something we all often forget.
Still, Dr. Carrier describes making unwanted sexual advances with, one assumes, a fellow event attendee. Was this at your convention? Did the victim feel secure enough to tell you she was violated? If not, why not? What can you do to change?
Dr. Carrier made a sexual advance while seemingly aware that the event had a policy against making sexual advances. Thankfully, a bystander noticed that Dr. Carrier had made a pass and immediately ended that line of discussion upon realizing that kind of attention was unwanted.
First, we must congratulate Dr. Carrier again for his bravery in revealing he had been censured by the event staff. The incident raises more of those important questions. We’re lucky a bystander informed on Dr. Carrier, but did the victim herself know that she had recourse? Was the policy announced before each talk, or at least before and after the keynote address or equivalent? The event was in a pub; did alcohol play a role in the situation? In light of the fact that alcohol loosens a persons inhibitions…should organizations hold events in pubs? Should they facilitate alcohol use at all? Is it enough that only the event staff, the offender, the informant and victim knew about the transgression?
As Dr. Carrier made clear in 2012:
Mr. or Ms. Event Organizer, you’re trying to draw a parity of women. That requires a “no douchebags” policy. If an attendee knowingly violates event policy, should he or she be invited back? Doesn’t such a lapse compromise the safety of others in the future? Don’t you want these meetings to be welcoming and fun?
Where Did All Of This Sexual Assault and Harassment Take Place? (Why Don’t We Already Know?)
Dr. Carrier made it clear that “many” of his “friends and girlfriends have been sexually assaulted at conferences in just the last three years”. Why have so few of these cases been reported to the local authorities? Luminaries such as PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Jen McCreight and Dr. Carrier himself have been extremely vigilant in informing the community about accusations about some men in the community, but it seems that many sexual assaulters have not only gone free, but the community has not been warned about their activities.
Mr. or Ms. Event Organizer, you have an obligation to keep attendees safe from sexual assault. Many people have been sexually assaulted at atheist/skeptics events in the past three years. Whether or not your event or organization is on this list, what is your responsibility to report threats to public safety that may have occurred? If you don’t take a stance and don’t report, why not?
Mid Valley Humanist, Atheist, and Freethinker Colloquium
Purdue Society of Non-Theists
Now What? What Are Your Obligations?
Mr. or Ms. Event Organizer, in light of the fact that there is so much sexual assault in the atheist community that has gone unreported and unprosecuted, what can you do?
Here are my modest suggestions that you’ll implement if you care.
Establish a Clery Act-Style Reporting System on Your Web Site
Every visitor who finds their way to your site should be able to tell very quickly and very easily how many incidents have occurred that violated your sexual protection policies. We need to know the number of incidents, the severity of the incidents and some sort of easy-to-follow trail as the accusation made its way through the criminal justice system.
These reports should be displayed prominently on the front page of your organization’s site; why should people need to dig around to find such information?
Coordinate with Local Law Enforcement to Investigate all Claims of Sexual Assault
I must disagree slightly with Dr. Carrier; allegations should not be handled in-house by organizations that have a vested interest in perpetuating the silence we’ve been hearing for at least the past three years.
Local law enforcement agencies must be notified of all allegations of sexual assault as quickly as possible so these professionals can decide whether criminal charges should be pursued. Mr. or Ms. Event Organizer, you do a fantastic job of arranging for speakers, locations and everything else necessary to put together fulfilling atheist events. You are not equipped to bring perpetrators of sexual assault to justice.
Perpetrators of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Should Not Be Allowed to Commit Further Offenses
What’s the point of having these wonderful and powerful policies if we don’t enforce them? As Jezebel reports, men who commit serious violations tend to do it again. We need women to feel safe, not to look around, wondering if the men around them have committed violations of the sexual harassment policy in the past. Apologies and promises not to re-offend do not eliminate the victim’s pain, nor do they do the community any favors. Do we really want to perpetuate the perception that atheists and skeptics are tolerant of sexual assault?
We need to end the silence. Look at how effective the mainstream media has been in illuminating the campus rape epidemic. Many single accusations have been bandied about the community, but it’s clear from Dr. Carrier’s statements that the majority of sexual assault goes unreported and worse: unpunished.
Section the Last and Most Important
Mr. or Ms. Event Organizer, you don’t have to do anything about this problem in excess of your legal obligation to provide a safe environment. But if you ignore the rampant sexual assault that Dr. Carrier has exposed, you need to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’ve done to end it.
I hope you like what you see.