Did you know how to react?

Last winter, I was assaulted at ApacheCon. I was shocked, upset. I had no idea how to react. The conference organisers, a team I was part of, had no idea how to react either.

In the end, I wrote about what happened. I expected a worried phone call from my mother, the most faithful reader of this blog. I hoped that I could pass out the link to trusted friends, and ask for their support without having to explain the whole story over and over.

Instead, it got picked up in the wildfire that is the internet, and I nearly took down the machine it was hosted on, a shared machine belonging to an old Irish friend.

People turned up in droves. Jerks told me I deserved it. They said I should be grateful for the attention, because I wasn’t hot enough to get a boyfriend. They thought it was my own fault for going to a technical conference, and joining in the evening activities.

And reasonable people turned up, saying they couldn’t believe that this kind of thing still happens, either the assault or the violent responses. Many of them just had no idea how to react to this.

Luckily, I have a strong group of awesome and supportive friends. One of them, Valerie Aurora, spearheaded the writing of a Conference Anti-Harassment Policy that was soon adopted by a variety of conferences and events.

Valerie wasn’t ready to stop there, and with Mary Gardiner and a team of advisors from around the worlds of open technology and culture, she established the Ada Initiative.

The Ada Initiative is dedicated to a simple vision: a world in which women are equal and welcome participants in open technology, open data, and open culture. Their strategy for change is simple: give concrete, straight-forward advice to willing and eager audiences. They focus their effort on programs that are scalable, reusable, and effective, and they are committed to providing their work completely free of charge.

Of course, it still takes money to do these things. And that’s where you come in. The Ada Initiative has just opened a limited funding round, aiming to raise the seed money required to bootstrap the legal structures that will enable them to accept larger, long-term funding.

If you want to support their vision, if you think women should be able to attend conferences without fear of being assaulted, if you want to help make sure that the next generation of women are welcomed into computing, consider contributing to the Ada Initiative Seed 100 campaign.

10 comments to Did you know how to react?

  • @Skipass What? “Learn how to ignore them and the bullet will miss you.” I have no words to fully express my confusion. Of course, the vacation from logic, coherence and defensible argument only takes off from that point.

    Noirin, good on you. I had a roommate almost raped by a drunken friend of hers who had fallen asleep in our living room and who she woke up in the middle of the night to find trying to take her pants off. It was her good fortune she had fallen asleep and not passed out, as he was not trying to wake her. It was his good fortune that he left the next morning before she told me about it.

    To this day, he blames her for “sending the wrong signals.”

    Yah, there are some steps to take as a woman to avoid being a target, but there’s a difference between it being advisable for a woman to not be alone with a drunk guy, and calling her responsible for his actions when she is. We can acknowledge the world for what it is, but that does not mean we should accept that is the way it must be.

  • Jubal

    @dev: you should have used /dev/zero – it would have described the amount of content in your commentary much better.

  • Jubal

    @skipass: you’re basing your comment on an entirely false premises and then you proceed from one non sequitur to another. Congratulations. (Also, just a friendly factual observation; you, sir of an unstated gender, are a pompous jerk.)

    As to the false premise: as most of the human population, you’re not living in a natural environment – and there’s precious little natural in the ways societies are functioning.

  • T

    Ooops, just noticed the quota for donors has been filled. Will look into other ways to help out : )

  • T

    Donating right now. I’m full of admiration for the way you and the rest of the Ada Initiative have taken action.

    And as for Pooface up there, I’m donating double what I would have to make up for their horridness.

  • [...] digression: in the case of harassment policies, consider Noirin Plunkett‘s recent “Did you know how to react?” and Bitch Radio’s interview with [...]

  • Thanks for the great post, Noirin. I’m sad to see that first two comments show that the internet is still as full of assholes as it was last November :/

  • Nothing that is enforced will be natural. Although we may express sympathy for the stuff that happened around you, no foundation will solve specific cases in which you’re involved. Jerks should be ignored. Learn how to ignore them and the bullet will miss you.

    In case you decide to play with jerks – you’re on your own. The only reason to write this is because you should realize that any imposed rules take fun of out event, so most people dislike if you want everybody to follow some rules just because you’re don’t know how to play with fire.

    Some of your quotes that leave feeling that you need to realize what is more important to you – becoming a victim or listen to the advice people give to you:
    “I was wearing a skirt of such a length that I had cycling shorts on under it to make me feel more comfortable getting up on stage and dancing.”
    “I had been flirting with a couple of other boys at the party.”
    “I’m tired of people who think I should wear something different.”
    “I’m tired of people who say that guys can’t read me right and I have to read them, and avoid giving the wrong impression.”

    Guys read you all right. Flirting is not the thing you should be prepared after getting drunk on technical conferences.

    “It is everyone else’s job to avoid assaulting me.”

    If you were a biker, you wouldn’t survive on the road with at attitude like “it’s everyone else job to spot me”.

  • /dev/null

    In other words, no charges filed.
    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Jen

    I think a lot of your readers (female readers in particular) would be interested to know what the outcome was, or if a case is pending.

    Did the authorities decide to prosecute the guy?

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