I apologise in advance to the very small number of readers (most of them close friends) who will have to suffer through my rant below. I debated not posting this since it really is just a meandering rant, but in the end it’s my blog and I’ll post what I want to.
If you were not on Hacker News or Proggit last night you may not heard this story about a sexual assault during ApacheCon. What makes this story interesting—other than the clearly shocking nature of it of course—is the fact that the victim has decided to post very publicly on her blog about it and go as far to name her attacker—alleged obviously, since at this point this must be treated as an allegation. Though, I think, fair consideration should be granted to the likelihood of it being the truth—a man who was a fellow conference presenter.
I’m not going to name either party, if only to prevent this post from becoming a hit in the search results, so you’ll have to read it for yourself. I don’t think there is much to be gained by taking sides at this point, but I still find it disappointing to read the most upvoted responses in both of the comment discussions. I think these have sad and troubling implications and expose just how disconnected from the real world many men in our community really are. Unsurprisingly, the Hacker News discussion is much more intelligent and reasoned, but the problem in both cases is this implication that there is any argument to be made that the victim bears even a little responsibility for this—again assuming the likely truth behind the allegations—or that it was wrong for her to post publicly about it without bringing official charges first.
As prime examples, first, there is this heavily upvoted reddit comment, which suggests it is wrong for her to post publicly about this without indicating that she has pressed charges or involved the authorities. While it is obvious that an accusation such as this should probably be backed up with charges, it is far from being required. This is made more pathetic given that the author continues to stand by his conviction even after finding out later that official charges have been made. It should be completely obvious to anyone, that victims of assault can and should be allowed to use their blog to speak out publicly, even to the point of wielding it as a weapon to try to take back some of their dignity. It is surprising—well, sadly, not really—that the same reddit community that is lightning fast when demonizing allegations of police brutality during protests, is unwilling to give the benefit of the doubt when confronting accusations of something far more common—though it is perhaps unfair to compare proggit with reddit in general.
The desire among many seems to be to see the accused—likely because of the serious social and possibly professional repercussions he will now face—as something of an underdog in this story and to root for him. This is completely wrong. He is not the underdog, one look at the statistical data regarding violence against women should be enough to make that fact abundantly clear. In fact, in general, in our modern western society, we go to great lengths to encourage victims to speak publicly about their experiences, with out this other victims will also feel there is a futility to speaking out. That anyone in our community—software developers, that is—believes this is, in any way, wrong shows a lack of sympathy for the reality many women face. The support this misguided point of view is receiving in these forums, taints us all an implies that as a community we believe that victims should not speak out unless they have incontrovertible evidence. An attitude that personally, I do not wish to be associated with.
Yes, I do understand that false accusations happen, this is probably the saddest and most troubling fact about sexual assault. However, even the boy who cried wolf was given the benefit of the doubt 2 out of 3 times. So considering the very small minority of cases where the accusations do turn out to be false, even logic would dictate that the benefit of the doubt be given The “screenshots or it didn’t happen” attitude is completely childish.
Hacker News can generally be relied upon for higher level a maturity and seriousness than is typically found on reddit. Nonetheless we can find this fairly popular comment from “captain obvious” where the author suggests that while the story is tragic and likely true, the victim, should take care remember she is ultimately responsible for, and must be aware at all times of, her own safety, “because if we don’t look after ourselves who will?” (paraphrased). Well duh… I can see how relevant and insightful and not totally obvious this statement is. It’s clear to me how much more important this is than the very serious implications of what may—and likely did—happen and what is going to happen next. The comment’s author even admits that the victim did in fact do all she could, which is why it’s so hard to tell why his contribution to the discussion was considered so valuable by those who upvoted his post.
In another comment post the author concerned far more with the fact that her blog post is associating sexual assaults with our beloved developer conferences, and is quick to point out this actually happened outside the conference. I don’t know about others out there, but the meet-ups I attend with fellow conference goers out at pubs and/or restaurants afterwards always make for some of the most interesting and engaging discussions. They are a huge part of the experience and fun for me. Are we really trying to suggest that these events are too dangerous for women to attend? It’s this thought that really angers me so much. The sad reality that we’ve actually got a few members of our community who feel that they’d rather have female attendees avoid the extracurriculars to avoid development conferences—and consequently male developers—becoming associated with sexual assaults.
With all that off my chest, I want to say I don’t want to paint the developer community with such broad strokes simply based on a few socially ‘challenged’ individuals, and I recognise that online meritocracies like reddit and HN occasionally promote, perhaps unintentionally, the collective ignorance of a few and should not be considered an accurate representation of the whole. However, it is still clear we have a serious problem here and those of us still capable of rational thought need to stand up and say something about it. The alternative is to allow those who are not to speak on behalf of us.