Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bad Atheist - No Banana. ACT II scene 1: Upskirtgate

ACT II Scene 1: Upskirtgate (Where things go from bad to worse)

In July of 2011 The Amazing Meeting (TAM) number 9 was held in Las Vegas Nevada. Neil deGrasse Tyson was the keynote speaker.

Sometime during the conference a couple of female-looking people are harassed while at a bar in the Southpoint Casino where the TAM was taking place. This incident, unlike that one which prompted elevatorgate, clearly involved harassment of some kind. One of the harassed women (and I use the term woman to be contextually consistent although the individual has stated that they prefer to be called something like “genderfluid”) recalls clearly asking the harasser several times, in a clear and concise way, to leave her alone. Eventually she, and another woman, left the bar to stop the harassment.

Though this was clearly harassment was it sexual harassment? The early reports left this sneaking feeling that any particulars of the conversation that would define it as sexual harassment, as opposed to drunk-guy-in-bar harassment, would have been emphasized.  But even if it was not sexual harassment it was still harassment. 

The harasser was a well-known attendee of TAM.

The two women reported the incident to TAM conference organizers. In the report the harassed individuals apparently also described “a camera, on a pole, at ankle height.”. This added emphasis to the report of harassment, and she stated that she: “Was really uncomfortable with it and didn’t feel safe.”.

The harassed individuals were unhappy about the way the conference organizers dealt with the situation in the casino bar, and over the following months complained to other attendees of the conference. One of them wrote this:
Two women approach me and another conferee. They are pale and trembling. A man with a camera on the end of a telescoping monopod has been attempting to surreptitiously take photos up their skirts. Yes, he was attending TAM. They had taken concerns to conference organizers and got little satisfaction. Hotel security confiscated the camera. I later learned the individual was well-known and had been complained about in previous years, and yet there he was again.”

The situation is now clearly more than sexual harassment; it is women being assaulted at TAM by at least one upskirt voyeur. Security personnel have physical proof of the assault.  How many hundreds of pictures are on the confiscated camera?  How long will the upskirt photographer be in jail?  How many victims are there?  When the police seize his home computer how many more images will they find on it?  Will they find bodies in his crawlspace?  Is this the atheist "Catholic Priest" scandal?  Will TAM, or any atheist conferences, or even the atheist movement survive this scandal?

The events of upskirtgate broke onto freethoughtblogs (FTB). This is a collection of bloggs that gets more hits per day than I have gotten in the entire time this site has been up.

In late May of 2012, at the European Atheist Convention (or IBKA), Rebecca Watson announces during her address to the assembly that “hundreds of Atheists have sent her rape threats”. Things have apparently gone downhill for her since elevatorgate broke.

On May 30th one of the FTB bloggers, Greg Laden, calls for the resignation of DJ Grothe (organizer for TAM) because of statements he made online. Female registration for TAM 2012 has apparently dropped by 50%. Greg says:
“But I can tell you one thing with perfect certainty: The skeptics movement is currently divided into two very distinct parts: 1) The part that wants women to be not only comfortable, but to lead, and this includes the majority of people in the movement, and 2) The part that wants the old timey conferences to retain their old timey charm as minor meat markets for nerds, that wants to keep its old white guy idols and icons, and that wants to move such marginal and suspicious entities as the Mens Rights Movement to the forefront, and this includes a minority of people in the movement.”

Over nine months have passed, and there have been no arrests.  There is no indication that an investigation is ongoing.  Is this situation going to be covered up?  How high does the blame go? 

On June 1st Rebecca announces she will not be attending TAM in 2012. She blames her non-attendance on the organizers of TAM for blaming the drop in participation on important bloggers like her discussing sexual harassment at TAM instead of addressing the sexual harassment. She mentions a “nonstop avalanche of rape threats” she has been getting.

Rebecca elaborates:
“Over the past several years, I’ve been groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways, told I can expect to be raped, told I’m a whore, a slut, a bitch, a prude, a dyke, a cunt, a twat, told I should watch my back at conferences, told I’m too ugly to be raped, told I don’t have a say in my own treatment because I’ve posed for sexy photos, told I should get a better headshot because that one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person, told I deserve to be raped – by skeptics and atheists. All by skeptics and atheists. Constantly.

This is quite obviously not a safe space for me or for other women who want to be free of the gendered slurs and sexual threats and come-ons we experience in our day-to-day lives. But apparently, DJ thinks I am lying about that, since apparently my feeling that the freethought community is not a safe space is “misinformation.” I should apparently put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t happen, because by reporting on my treatment, I am creating “a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.””.

FTB bloggers like Gretta Christina unload a can of what they think is whoop-ass. Gretta writes an entire blog post devoted to attacking TAM organizers. She repeatedly says “Grothe was told that a male attendee of TAM was using a camera on the end of a telescoping monopod to surreptitiously take photos up women’s skirts”. They would NOT get away with covering up this criminal behavior. 

On June 17th FTB hosts a video chat where they discuss sexual harassment. On the video Rebecca names the upskirt photographer as a “Dr Buzzo” and states that he has been sexually harassing women at TAM. Rebecca describes him as “Please don’t ever leave me alone with this person. I mean...he is scary”.

The curtain goes up on this scene.  Rebecca has now been physically assaulted at meetings for years; a seemingly important fact that she forgot about in Dublin.   Now rape threats are pouring into her mailbox constantly and they are all from skeptics and atheists.  Hundreds of atheists are now actively threatening her.

The Atheist Community is apparently a very unsafe place for women indeed, and it is getting more unsafe with each passing day.

Coming Soon: ACT II Scene 2: Thundergate


Joshua M. Kreeck said...

I have to say I'm very interested by this story. I've been trying to follow it online since yesterday and I have to say it's at the very least a neat little study in group dynamics. I don't have enough info to really make a judgement but it does seem that harassment has occurred and then when that information was relayed it became almost a game of telephone, as internet flame wars usually become with neither side backing down. Ultimately it seems that a stronger reaction to claims of harassment would have nipped this in the bud. However some of the reactions appear to be very poorly thought out and the irony is that it's from a group of people who praise thoughtful consideration above almost all else.

adult onset atheist said...

I’m glad I was able to get across the “game of telephone” aspect in the spin-up of this thing. It can be difficult when each event can appear reasonable in its own light. How many events do you use? How long can you make the post? I usually err in making posts too long as it is.

Several anti-atheist writers have taken note of the discord accompanying these events; especially the call for a boycott of Dawkins. People have been trying to take Dawkins down for years, and would love it if hate from other atheists helped.

One of the sticky aspects of this harassment is that it occurred in a bar. Many people at conferences go to bars to act stupid with each other. Regulating harassment without regulating stupid behaviors is more nuanced than dealing with harassment in the non-bar-scene portion of a conference.

Joshua M. Kreeck said...

Yes you did very well, your write up yesterday made me look into the subject further, which I suppose is a compliment of a sort.

Discord towards Dr. Dawkins seems to have been building for the last four years or so. People put off by the "militant" tactic have been complaining. He certainly is very pointed. Then so is Ms. Watson though. Proudly so.

I agree that it is very difficult to regulate, from an organizers standpoint, activity that takes place after convention hours and even then I'm not sure it's their responsibility. Though I would say even if you feel it is overblown, allegations like that are serious enough to address at the convention. It just seems to me that I would have made a public statement, requested a sit-down with the accusing parties in private to allow each side to explain themselves or some such thing. As I've said I don't know enough to make a personal judgment though. The incident that sparked this, elevatorgate, does seem harmless to me however I can see how it would appear threatening or at least worrisome to a young woman who probably very well knows her statistical chances of sexual assault and or rape. Her initial comment of "guys, no." does seem to imply just a general annoyance rather then fear, which it seems to now imply. and Dr. Dawkins should probably have stayed out if it altogether. Snarky as it was, he must have known that his statement would produce a response. This does, after all, appear to be right in his area of expertise. Perhaps this is all a study in memes.

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