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.