It’s not just Noirin.

I meant to write something funny, insightful and biting. But honestly, I’ve lost my sense of humor at the moment. So, here’s your trigger warning about discussing rape, statistics and slut-shaming if you want to stop reading now.

What’s happened is that Noirin was sexually assaulted. And then she named the person who assaulted her.

I’m lucky enough to have never been assaulted at a conference. I can barely imagine the hurt and frustration, because the people who attend the conferences I run or attend are my friends, people I trust, and the violation feels unforgivable. This thought brings me to tears because of the time and energy that I have put into the last six years as a volunteer: creating conferences, giving talks and loving being part of a global community of hackers.

Unfortunately, I know women who have been assaulted. With each day that passes since Noirin’s disclosure, I find out about more women who never told anyone about an assault. I’m very glad that Noirin went to the Atlanta police.

Some facts:

  • According to the US Department of Justice, 127,052 people reported being sexually assaulted or raped in 2009. From 2000 to 2009, the victimization rate from this study went from 1.2 down to 0.5. Yay us!
  • According to the US Department of Justice, only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported in 2004 to law enforcement officials (Page 106, table 91). That pretty much sucks.

And why is it that people don’t report these crimes?

Well, there was a survey recently by the Haven group that has some interesting, if disturbing conclusions. There’s been a lot of coverage of it — the BBC for example.

One appalling quote:

The survey also found more than one in 10 people were unsure whether they would report being raped to the police…

And why won’t people report?

The main reasons were being too embarrassed or ashamed (55%), wanting to forget it had happened (41%) and not wanting to go to court (38%).

So, reader, what can we do about this?

If you encounter someone who has been assaulted, support them! You’re not the police, you’re not a court of law — it isn’t your job to put anyone on trial. What you can do is be understanding, and help the woman report the incident to police.

Also, publicly voice your support. You can simply thank someone like Noirin for their bravery in coming forward, and leave it at that. Valerie Aurora wrote a supportive blog post with the headline “It’s not just Noirin.” You’re welcome to do that too.

There’s an undertow of disgust in the horrific comments I’ve read on Reddit, Norin’s own blog (and wow – I can’t say I’ll have the same bravery if the trolls ever come after me), and in private. It’s utterly painful to read, exhausting and terrifying. To be called a cunt for speaking about one’s experience. Wow. What year is this?

I, for one, am so happy that Noirin had the strength to write so clearly about her experience, and to say what I believe: “It is everyone else’s job to avoid assaulting me”.

One comment that sticks in my head from Hacker News:

We as the technology community need to make sure it’s not a “dark alley” for anyone, for everyone’s sake.

And for the women who are assaulted: there is no fucking way that it is their fault.

11 thoughts on It’s not just Noirin.

Comments are closed.

  1. I’m starting being afraid of women.

    Their fanatic with-eyes-closed solidarity (“oh, some woman said she was assaulted, lets start killing men and burning churches!”) and their tries to shut up all who are brave enough not to take a word on trust make me feel the smell of totalitarianism.

    A man has no defense from a woman. And things getting worse and worse each day.

  2. “A man has no defense from a woman. And things getting worse and worse each day.”

    I’m translating this as “a man has no defense from an informed society that values personal autonomy” and you know what? I’m okay with living in that world, and will fight to keep it.

  3. I have sporadically heard reports of such; a “seldom enough” that makes this fit into a plausible probability distribution.

    I’m uncomfortable with “blind solidarity” – accusation is not quite the same thing as conviction. There’s also something uncomfortable about stigmatizing the accused by naming him, though there is symmetry, in this case, in that Noirin also named herself as the accusor.

    But I appreciate that it’s mighty difficult to muster the courage to report such an assault. There are plenty of excuses to evade the report.

    Sadly, there’s nothing comforting about it all. If things are just as Noirin describes, then assault has been done. If it’s not quite that, there’s a different sort of assault. Also not comforting.

    I don’t know what is to be done to improve things.

    Trying to make it easier to report such assaults has problems, notably worsening the “false positive” problem, making it relatively more convenient to submit false accusations. Teachers notably get hit by this one, where angry children can and occasionally do lie, ruining teachers’ careers.

    Truly, the problem isn’t about reporting such events – it is that there are sick individuals out there that Do Wrong. That problem isn’t solved by changes to solidarity or to crime reporting or such, alas.

    If we knew how to fix the broken people that do this sort of thing, we’d really be onto something.

  4. Another Man —
    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree that I wish we had more ideal protections for all people involved in a sexual assault.

    But the fact remains that women who choose to speak out – regardless of whether they name an accuser – are shamed into silence. I don’t think acquiescing to the shaming solves anything.


  5. I’m don’t see “blind solidarity” here, but maybe I am too sensitive to straw man arguments.

    The potential abuse of false accusations seems quite obviously to be a lower risk than being sexually assaulted, first as so many assaults go unreported and secondly, as even in those cases where it is reported and the justice system and social networks of the accuser and accused remain tilted (by intent) against the accuser.

    All of this is to say that there might be a bit too much protest and not enough patience in this argument.

  6. I think fear of wrongly being accused is just bullshit. Women should stand up more for themselves and I applaud Norin for doing it. The people who are vocal in their criticism of Norin are a vocal minority IMO, sadly the majority that agrees about the needed changes aren’t very vocal enough.

    If people are wrongly accused they should have the balls to defend themselves. If you have nothing to hide, what do you have to fear ?

    I am a man who finds this kind of behavior appalling – being drunk is no excuse. If people do not posses enough self-control then they should not drink.

  7. Another Man: One problem is that specific instances can be a bad time to discuss general issues; there’s certainly a lot of legitimate concerns around how we handle accusation vs guilt (often badly in a trial-by-media sense and so on), how we make it more possible for people with legitmate complaints to come forward and have them taken seriously, and a whole bunch of other stuff. However, as soon as I saw Noirin’s post, a couple of comments in, one person had immediately delved into that discussion, which seemed a bit tone-deaf.

    To draw a parallel: I have a very negative view on the US invasion of Iraq. If a US friend, aquaintance, or, hell, complete stranger, mentioned their kid had been killed there, I would not be piling in with my views on mhy that invasion was wrong. Perhaps that makes me a little less morally pure or committed to that opposition or whatever, but it seems to me that as a basic matter of compassion and reasonableness a certain breathing space between a traumatic event and any discussion of a bigger picture is in order.

    A second thing, one I find more disturbing than the first is the vitriol heaped on by people who don’t seem to have any basis for it. I could understand if someone who had been accused of sexual assault comes out swinging. I cannot see any justification, except perhaps having been falsely accused in the past, for people who are totally unrelated to the accused person pouring the kind of bile and vitriol that inevitably comes up in these sorts of situations. That free-floating hostility is something people ought to be thoroughly ashamed of. I edge toward thinking it ought to get you excluded from civilised society.

    Frankly, this sort of behaviour strikes me as far more enabling than anything other than active cover-ups. The suggestion that it’s totally unreasonable to even object to sexual assault, much like the hysterical attacks on anyone could finding fault with the imfamous “Porn Star” Rails presentation just seems to me to feed into the idea that people need to put up with whatever behaviour a bunch of people ranging from the grotesquely clueless through to the sociopathic care to dish out.

    SteveL: Having seen the effect on people hit by demonstrably false accusations I would suggest the effects are hardly “negligible” – unless you include being hounded out of your job and moving to another city on a provably false accusation that people refuse to let go of as “negligible.”

    Given the barriers to coming forward and the preponderance of sexual assaults over false claims thereof I would certainly agree the *risk* of that seems much lower, of course.

    But we fear what we fear, what may happen to us, and, crucially, what gets our attention. As a parent, I’m supposed to fear my 3 year old being abducted, murdered, and so on. That’s what hits the papers. But, given that I don’t abuse her, which is one of the real risks for a child her age, the things most likely to harm her are accidents around the home, or some dumb fuck running a red light and plowing into the side of my car. If she got abducted, it’d be all over the papers and TV. If she’s killed by a dumb fuck, it won’t even rate the inside page (especially if the driver is a middle-aged pillar of society rather than a young hoon). And “false accusation of rape” or “conviction overturned” is front page news, “sexual assault”, alas, is not.

  8. Rodger: I neither said nor meant to suggest the effects were negligible. But the effects on victims of sexual assault are no less severe.

    We are in violent agreement on the point of out-sided fears.

    Given that I’m not sure it warrants much more attention.

  9. I feel like half the men I know have worn a skirt and enjoyed a beer at the same time (see: every Halloween party ever) but no one would condone sexual assault in that situation. Sadly that leaves us with unadulterated misogyny as the only possible motivation for the vitriolic responses Noirin’s received.