What I Wrote To Scientific American
August 12, 2013
On August 8, I wrote to the relevant editors at Scientific American after Dr. Karen Stollznow posted her blog piece about sexual harassment. I did so because Dr. Stollznow’s piece contained several inaccuracies, which were repeated in blogs and then showed up in letters to me. These inaccuracies are damaging to the reputation of the Center for Inquiry, an organization to which I have a fiduciary obligation. I asked Scientific American to issue an apology and make three specific corrections. I did not ask for the post to be removed. In my view, it would have been preferable if it had remained posted, but with the corrections. Scientific American decided otherwise. My email to Scientific American appears below.
* * *
I am writing to you in connection with the blog post entitled "I'm Sick of Talking about Sexual Harassment!" by Karen Stollznow that appeared on ScientificAmerican.com on August 6 (link below).
In this blog post, Ms. Stollznow alleges that she was sexually harassed by an employee of an unnamed organization. However, Ms. Stollznow's references to the organization are so thinly veiled that almost immediately upon appearance of this blog post many identified the organization as the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a nonprofit educational organization of which I am president. See for example this blog post:
As the Skepchick blog post indicates, Stollznow gave "all the clues necessary" for a reader to determine she was referencing CFI.
I am very troubled by this blog post because, among other reasons, it contains several false statements regarding the actions and work culture of CFI. These false statements are extremely damaging to the reputation of the organization. In particular, Ms. Stollznow falsely alleges that:
1. CFI first adopted a policy prohibiting sexual harassment after "Elevatorgate" -- a controversy that occurred in the summer of 2011. This allegation is false. CFI's current harassment policy was adopted in 2007, and a prior, abbreviated one was in place in 2003. By falsely alleging that CFI adopted a harassment policy only in reaction to a 2011 controversy, Stollznow implies that CFI did not take sexual harassment seriously until then.
2. When CFI suspended the employee that Ms. Stollznow had accused of harassment, the suspension was allowed to run concurrently with his vacation. This is false. By making this false claim, Ms. Stollznow implies that CFI was not serious in disciplining the employee. Many of the blogs that have commented on Ms. Stollznow's accusations have accepted her false claim and have ridiculed CFI, with much damage to the organization's reputation. See, for example:
("The company felt that suspending him temporarily while he was on vacation was sufficient discipline.")
3. CFI "has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record of disciplining these harassers lightly and then closing ranks like good ol' boys." This allegation clearly implies that CFI's "history" is extraordinarily bad. This allegation is false. I have been president & CEO from July 2008 forward. During that time, there have been only three complaints involving employees that could be described as involving sexual harassment claims, even under the broadest understanding of sexual harassment. This includes Ms. Stollznow's claim. Ms. Stollznow's claim is also the only one in which there was a specific finding of any sexual harassment, so the allegation that CFI has a "track record" of disciplining harassers lightly is false. No harassment was found in the prior cases so there was no discipline for harassment. (In one of the prior cases, an employee was disciplined, but for numerous other offenses.)
Out of an abundance of caution I will mention one other incident: a few years ago, an employee hired a male stripper to perform during office hours. We would consider this more gross misconduct as opposed to sexual harassment, but, in any event, this incident lends no support to the false claim that CFI treats "harassers lightly." The employee was terminated almost immediately.
CFI depends heavily on donations for its income. Ms. Stollznow's false claims can be expected to have an adverse impact on our ability to raise funds. Indeed, following the appearance of Ms. Stollznow's blog post, I have already received two e-mails indicating that individuals would not support CFI. Ms. Stollznow's allegations also will have an adverse effect on our ability to recruit staff.
I am frankly shocked that this blog post was allowed to appear in Scientific American -- a journal that presumably recognizes the importance of evidence -- without any fact checking whatsoever. Certainly no one checked with anyone in our organization regarding Ms. Stollznow's claims. If anyone from your journal had done so, we could have refuted these false claims. Furthermore, you would have been informed that Ms. Stollznow's allegations were thoroughly investigated by an experienced, impartial, outside investigator. Because of the length of the investigation, CFI expended approximately $40,000 in fees and costs. (Our annual budget is roughly $5.5 million.) The allegation that CFI does not take harassment complaints seriously has absolutely no foundation in fact.
I request that ScientificAmerican.com issue an immediate apology and a correction which clearly states that:
1. The Center for Inquiry has had a policy prohibiting sexual harassment since at least 2003, and its current policy has been in place since 2007;
2. The employee referenced in Ms. Stollznow's blog post did not serve his suspension during his vacation; and
3. The Center for Inquiry does not have an extraordinary history of sexual harassment claims, nor is there any evidence to support the allegation that it has a track record of disciplining harassers lightly.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this.
Very truly yours,
Ronald A. Lindsay
* * *
Update: As has been noted in the comments, Karen Stollznow is correctly referred to as Dr. Stollznow, not "Ms." (See comment #12 below.) This has been changed in the opening to this post.
#1 A Hermit on Monday August 12, 2013 at 1:45pm
So what were the consequences for the harasser? If there was harassment and the perpetrator of that harassment is still employed while his victim is out of a job what does that say about how seriously this was taken?
#2 Ronald A. Lindsay on Monday August 12, 2013 at 1:59pm
Sorry but I don’t understand what you’re asking. Who is out of a job?
#3 A Hermit on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:04pm
It’s too bad Stollznow’s post is down; when she referred to no policy before 2011 was she talking about policies regarding conferences? because that would appear to be an accurate statement:
Since 2007, CFI has had a zero-tolerance policy for harassment by employees. The policy is set forth in the employee handbook. However, we did not have a policy regarding harassment by nonemployees at our conferences…
#4 Miles Rind (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:06pm
The piece seems to have been taken down from the Scientific American site, which seems to me to make matters worse, or certainly murkier. However, I was able to find a cached version at Google.
By the way, your site, or at least this page, is not letting me log in: the “Register/Login” link above takes me to an error page on the site, and the “Register” link below leads only to Google!
#5 A Hermit on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:11pm
Perhaps I misunderstood…is Ms Stollznow still associated with CFI? (“out of a job” was sloppy phrasing…)
It was my understanding she is no longer doing the point of Inquiry podcast as a result of all this.
#6 A Hermit on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:12pm
Sorry, that should be Dr. Stollznow
#7 Kristjan Wager (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:16pm
CFI depends heavily on donations for its income. Ms. Stollznow’s false claims can be expected to have an adverse impact on our ability to raise funds. Indeed, following the appearance of Ms. Stollznow’s blog post, I have already received two e-mails indicating that individuals would not support CFI. Ms. Stollznow’s allegations also will have an adverse effect on our ability to recruit staff.
You know what else have had an adverse impact on your ability to raise funds? You. You personally. Yet, I don’t see you take any actions to correct this problem.
Also, you know what might affect your ability to hire people? Not firing people who you yourself says have been harassing other people. Why would anyone trust him not to do so again, and you to not give him another light slap over the wrist (which suspending him certainly counts for in my book).
#8 Chris Clarke (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:17pm
So what’s the over-under on CFI tanking as a result of Lindsay’s unerring ability to make the absolute worst possible decision in any circumstance, as evidenced here? 18 months?
#9 Cleon (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:21pm
“Ms.” Karen Stollznow?
Did she surrender her doctorate by pissing you off?
#10 Ronald A. Lindsay on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:26pm
Karen Stollznow has never been an employee of CFI. She was a contractor who did a show for POI once a month in 2010 and 2011. CFI did not renew her contract. In deciding not to renew her contract, I relied principally on the advice of Adam Isaak, then POI producer. So her ceasing to be a POI host had zero connection to the harassment issue. Stollznow has also done freelance work for our publications. Not sure when her last work was done. There is no bar to her continuing to do freelance work.
#11 Ashley Bone (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:27pm
What is going to have an adverse impact on your ability to raise funds is your unerring and grotesque protection of sexual harassers and abusers and your continuing dismissal of the targets of this harassment.
CFI is a liability to the skeptical, humanist and atheist communities.
#12 Ronald A. Lindsay on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:29pm
@Cleon. No disrespect intended. People often call me Mr Lindsay and I often refer to myself as Mr Lindsay even though I have a PhD
#13 A Hermit on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:34pm
Pardon my skepticism but I need more evidence…
There is no bar to her continuing to do freelance work.
Except the presence of the person who harassed her…
What happened to him again?
For those interested there is a google cache of the original blog post here: http://www.scrible.com/contentview/page/24IG1900IK14P2M300C3G0BQ4KA426A3:40191410/index.html?utm_source=tb_permalink&utm_medium=permalink&utm_campaign=tb_buttons&_sti=671497
Dr Stollznow refers to CFI’s adoption of a “zero tolerance” policy in the context of attending conference, which seems to be consistent with the statement I linked to earlier.
#14 7x7 (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:38pm
Thanks for posting this information. Hopefully the record will be set straight. Shame on Scientific American for not attempting to contact CFI before putting Stollznow’s post up.
#15 Edward Gemmer (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:40pm
Thank you for clarifying these facts. The allegation that CFI didn’t take these allegations “seriously” seems clearly false.
Also, as a friendly reminder for some, clarifying facts is a good thing.
#16 JustAtheist (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:44pm
“Following “Elevatorgate”, the company introduced a “zero tolerance policy for hostile and harassing conduct”.”
Note the word company not conference.
Reading comprehension is something most people learn in elementary school, you may need a refresher, a hermit.
Separate paragraph from conference fluff she has in the beginning and its a paragraph where the topic turns back to her ordeal.
#17 dawn chessman (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:45pm
why use the word only when referring to how many claims? one is plenty dipshit
#18 Nate W. (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 2:48pm
“When CFI suspended the employee that Ms. Stollznow had accused of harassment, the suspension was allowed to run concurrently with his vacation. This is false.”
Did you provide SciAm with any evidence of this, besides your assertion?
#19 Robert (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:04pm
I suspect they would say they can’t legally share that evidence with SciAm or anyone else. True but not of any help. Richard Carrier’s blog post deals with that law.
#20 Mykeru (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:13pm
Re: #8 Chris Clarke (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013
Ah, Chris Clarke, the man who put me on a Twitter list of “Rape Supporters”. Not apologist, even, but an actual rape “supporter”.
Well, coming from someone who took a brave stand refusing a speaking gig at CFI when no one asked him, it doesn’t sting as much as you may think.
Funny that you wouldn’t have a problem with factual inaccuracies, even slander, provided it fits in with whatever the hell it is you think you are doing. Which, I suspect, you will be the last to figure it out.
#21 Rich Sanderson (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:21pm
PZ already has a post up about this post. As you can imagine he’s stamping up and down on his little feet. vexing about the CFI’s calm and sensible reaction.
He’s has called the recent “revelations” as “fun”. This means he thinks rape and rape allegations are funny, or he’s just trying to convince his brown-sniffing commentators that he’s not weally, weally angwy.
Knowing PZ’s scuzzy character, I would guess the former.
#22 Elizabeth (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:22pm
“Since 2007, CFI has had a zero-tolerance policy for harassment by employees.”
Just FYI, if you suspend someone found to sexually harass someone, that is NOT a “zero-tolerance” sexual harassment procedure. That is most certainly tolerance. Zero-tolerance would be firing. Either you did not have such a procedure or there has been egregious impropriety here. Are you taking a page from the catholic church or what?
#23 Henry Plankett (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:26pm
“When CFI suspended the employee that Ms. Stollznow had accused of harassment, the suspension was allowed to run concurrently with his vacation.”
Here’s a thought regarding that claim. Could it be that the employee took a vacation BECAUSE he was suspended?
I know, radical thought. But did the suspension say anything about the employee not being allowed to leave his house or something?
If you got some time off from work because you’re not allowed to go to work, what would you do with that extra time? Sit at home all day long or (if you maybe got some money saved up or whatever) do a little traveling or something to kill time?
#24 Rich Sanderson (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:26pm
Ashley Bone, that’s rich coming from the group of bullies and harassers who defend Greg Laden, defend the abuse of women on Twitter, and dox and dogpile women they don’t like. Then there are the serious allegations made against PZ Myers and Jason Thibeault, that I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of.
You have been exposed, so you don’t get to throw stones.
#25 A Hermit (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:36pm
Reading comprehension is something most people learn in elementary school, you may need a , a hermit.
Reading comprehension includes the ability to recognize context and the observation about the adoption of “zero tolerance” policy is in the context of the conference incidents.
If you read the link above Lindsay himself states that CFI is adopting such a policy. In 2012.
#26 changerofbits (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 3:44pm
2. When CFI suspended the employee that Ms. Stollznow had accused of harassment, the suspension was allowed to run concurrently with his vacation. This is false. By making this false claim, Ms. Stollznow implies that CFI was not serious in disciplining the employee. Many of the blogs that have commented on Ms. Stollznow’s accusations have accepted her false claim and have ridiculed CFI, with much damage to the organization’s reputation.
Ron, the above probably violates the NY employer non-disclosure laws. You’re officially confirming, as the CFI president, that Radford was suspended while an employee of CFI.
Also, thanks for publically corroborating Karen’s story!
#27 oolon on Monday August 12, 2013 at 4:01pm
Someone hiring a male stripper on one occasion, fired instantly.
Someone sexually harassing and sexually assaulting a colleague, not fired.
Well done Ron, adding that little detail really put it in context. Next time don’t bother picking over the little details as what you nit pick over as damaging to CFI is infinitesimal compared to sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations! Surely??! Especially ones so poorly handled.
This “clarification” where you justify having a post removed from SciAm using legal threats looks rather bad. Free speech is something CFI is meant to stand for? Like not blacklisting people which you assured us was something you’d never do… Let alone for just criticising you…
#28 dawn chessman (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 4:06pm
you should have zero complaints..not three…one complaint is high…your post of only…is ignorance and in this case not so bliss
#29 Insipid Moniker (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 4:10pm
Your response to Dr. Stollznow’s article has ensured that I will no longer support you either financially or with my time unless significant policy and leadership changes are made. You, Mr. Lindsay, and you alone have driven this choice.
#30 Rich Sanderson (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 4:27pm
ool0n: “Free speech is something CFI is meant to stand for?”
Oh Noes! Freeze Peach!
Strange how that works, isn’t it.
#31 Pareidolius (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 4:32pm
Contrary to the old adage, there is such a thing as bad publicity. Most of it seems to come from your utterly tone deaf approach to dealing with women and their issues in our community. From your ill-advised mansplaining speech at the opening of the WIS conference to your tepid response to Dr. Stollznow’s complaint, you sir, seem to be your organization’s biggest liability.
#32 oolon on Monday August 12, 2013 at 4:47pm
@Rich, well unlike banning on blogs and blocking on Twitter, blacklisting people who disagree with you when you are leader of a large public organisation is a free speech issue. Using your legal team to have posts removed that you don’t like is also a free speech issue. Or maybe free expression given Ron and CFI are not the government…
These are issues that, if true, trivialise your concerns about a few people ignoring you on blogs and on Twitter. But nice to see you be so blatantly hypocritical in your double standards and so focussed on your butthurt about being ignored.
#33 Hm (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 4:55pm
* * Post removed at author’s request. * *
#34 Rich Sanderson (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 5:03pm
Come off it, ool0n.
The “freeze peach” hypocrisy has caught you out again. You are in NO position to lecture anybody about “free speech”.
I’m not at all bothered about a being blocked or ignored on Twitter - in fact, there are some FTBullies I’d rather not have any contact with whatsoever (like the violence-threatening stalker Greg Laden). The only issues pertinent with regard to your bot is the deliberate confabulation made between the different levels (as demonstrated by the clueless Paul Mason), the public listing of Twitter accounts blocked (on your page), and the effect the bot has on suspending accounts.
Anyway, all that is irrelevant compared to your ridiculous moans about freeze peach here. Even more hilarious is the way in which some FTBullies, such as Ophelia Benson, shout and scream very loudly about “libel”, but then suddenly become very casual with the concept. Funny how that works!
That’s the FTBullies for you - hypocritical double standards ALL the way. Oh, and they don’t care one jot about Karen or any other women. They simply use women for their own ends and to push their agenda. I also don’t need to tell you what happens to women who dissent against them.
#35 changerofbits (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 5:10pm
Lindsay confirms above that Radford sexually harassed Stollznow while working for CFI (under Ron’s leadership of CFI). He even went so far as to make the point that Radford was suspended while he was NOT on vacation!
You can gripe about points #1 and #3 (“he said, she said” at best, Lindsay is just stating these things from authority, not providing evidence, which he could provide, such as the policy docs with dates and and a signed letter from CFI HR on the number of sexual harassment claims that have been made), but point #2 is a simply direct confirmation of the story (vacation while suspended nit pick aside, I could imaging Radford told her that to rub it in her face).
#36 oolon on Monday August 12, 2013 at 5:12pm
@Rich, what was that about libel threats that come to nothing… I think you have some unresolved issues there given your insistence I was to be sued by your friends. But of course only #FTBullies can be hypocritical so it must have been a joke or some other rationalisation I suspect you will invent on the spot.
I’ll repeat that your insignificant issues with me and the block bot show up nicely how petty you are. You are happy to ignore that the leader of CFI seemingly used his legal clout to get a post removed and has blacklisted people who disagree with him. Only you could think a bit of ignoring on Twitter equates to that!
#37 Randy (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 5:40pm
“...I have already received two e-mails…”
Wow. PZ’s audience has really diminished.
#38 rlb (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 5:43pm
CFI has less than 20 employees, right? Three complaints is a lot for such a small company.
#39 A Hermit (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 5:46pm
Oolon beat me to it…
Someone hiring a male stripper on one occasion, fired instantly.
Someone sexually harassing and sexually assaulting a colleague, not fired.
I was wondering about that too…it really raises the question of just how seriously CFI takes this.
I’m curious…was the fired employee (who hired a male stripper) female?
Lindsay considers hiring a stripper “gross misconduct” not harassment. But shouldn’t harassment like that described by Dr. Stollznow rise to the level of “gross misconduct” as well? If even half of what she describes is true that is surely worse than one incident of stripper-hiring…isn’t it?
#40 Blind Labyrinth (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 6:29pm
Here’s our take, Mr. Lindsay. And herein we have a perfectly reasonable question for you.
#41 Blind Labyrinth (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 6:30pm
Put “Sick of Talking About Sexual Harassment” in youtube. You’ll find it.
#42 Blind Labyrinth (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 6:42pm
Gee, what’s this? Gosh, if anyone’s interested, this could be some light bedtime reading.
* * *
“I was sexually harassed for four years,” I admitted to a colleague recently. “That’s awful!” he bellowed in outrage and genuine concern, before he promptly changed the subject. Sexual harassment is an uncomfortable topic to discuss with colleagues, especially when you’re the victim. You’re sharing personal details that they feel they shouldn’t know, and would rather not know. When your usual conversation consists of what you watched on TV last night or what you ate for lunch, it’s TMI to hear about your workmate’s sex life.
On the other hand, we’re so swamped with stories of sexism and sexual harassment that some people have become indifferent to them. Take for example the recent “Twitter shaming”. Adria Richards was at a conference when she overheard two guys making jokes she found to be sexist. She took a photo of the men and tweeted it, along with the conference’s code of conduct that prohibits making “sexist, racist or exclusory jokes.” This incident raised awareness about sexism in the tech world but it also resulted in one of the men and Richards being fired by their respective employers. It seemed to many that the whole issue had gone too far.
Sexual harassment is often trivialized. In a three-part story of The Drew Carey Show, Drew receives a fax with an illustration of a near-sighted caterpillar that tries to have sex with a crinkle cut fry. Tickled by the joke, he attaches it to a staff memo with the innocent intention of giving his workmates a laugh. To his surprise, he is soon reprimanded for offending a female colleague. Drew is insensitive to her reaction, and in defiance he tapes the image to his cubicle wall. He is then sued for creating a hostile work environment. The court is sympathetic to the alleged victim but the overall message is clear: she made a big deal over a simple joke. Moreover, she is a prude.
Sometimes we don’t even know how to identify sexual harassment because its methods are changing. Today, sexual harassment is not always as bold, brazen and blatant as the boss who slaps his secretary’s ass. It doesn’t have to involve leering or groping. It happens in a virtual work environment as much as it happens around the water cooler. More people are telecommuting although physical distance doesn’t prevent staff from being targeted by a harasser. Harassment from afar can include sending unwanted communication of a sexual nature, including emails, texts, instant messages, mail, tweets, phone calls, images, Facebook “pokes”, and stalking on networking sites. Unlike an attempted kiss in the copy room, it can take a long time to establish a record of this kind of sexual harassment. (Just be sure to collect all forms of contact, and never move, update your phone, or experience a hardware crash.)
Confronted with these stereotypes and influenced by the various forces of social conditioning, we often don’t know how to react to sexual harassment anymore. Here are some of the attitudes and opinions expressed to me, both directly and indirectly, when I began speaking out about my situation.
When they didn’t know the details, some people reacted with concern that was tempered with cautiousness. “Could you be overreacting?” or “Maybe you misread him?” There was suspicion over the delay in reporting the incidents, “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” and, “Why did you continue to work with him for so long?” Not observing the harassment was a cause for doubt. “I couldn’t tell there was anything wrong!” Some were prejudiced by their positive personal experiences with the harasser, “I know him. He’s a good guy. He wouldn’t do that!” My claims were also dismissed with the old adage that boys will be boys. “It’s a guy thing,” and, “That’s just how men behave.” One man offered a backhanded compliment, “Hey, what guy wouldn’t be interested in you!?”
As often happens in these situations, the blame is shifted to the victim. Like the woman in The Drew Carey Show, the victim may be labeled a prude or “uptight”. She lacks a sense of humor. She’s crazy. She may be portrayed as a troublemaker by the accused and his supporters. To undermine her claims, she might be branded a serial complainer, where sexism and sexual harassment are often confused, “You know, she’s accused other men of sexism before.”
The case may be demonized as a witch-hunt, and become a cautionary tale told by those who fear that they too could be branded a “harasser” over the slightest comment or glance. “Watch out, or she’ll accuse you too!” I was held up to scrutiny in this way too. According to gossip about me, I gave him mixed-signals, I led him on, I’m flirtatious, and I’m a dirty little slut.
Alternatively, both the accused and accuser are blamed for the situation. Those who didn’t know the extent of the harassment reacted as though we simply don’t play well together in the sandbox. “Why don’t you two just get over it and move on!” The matter was misconstrued as a lover’s tiff, or that we were a couple in an on again, off again relationship. Others didn’t have time for my problems, “I have my own worries.” One person was surprised that I confided in him, saying, “It’s none of my business.” A number of people commiserated but then moaned, “I’m sick of talking about sexual harassment!”
Some were sympathetic, but from a safe distance. They chose to stay out of it, because they “hate drama.” I didn’t ask to become involved in a real-life soap either. I feel stigmatized by those who feel too awkward to face the situation, or me. I had a mutual friend who barely contacts me anymore, as he is unable to take a “side”. Some people didn’t say what they think until they knew what others think. They waited for an outcome so they could align themselves with the “victor”, but there are no winners in cases of sexual harassment.
To some people the news didn’t come as much of a surprise. They “knew” there was something wrong, especially with the benefit of hindsight. “I thought something was up when you two stopped working together.” Others felt they could finally admit to me what they think about him. “I never liked him.” “I’ve always thought he was a creepy guy!”, “He’s a weirdo!” and, “I unfriended him on Facebook because of the sexist shit he says and the perverted stuff he posts.” One woman confessed, “No wonder my female friends roll their eyes at me when I tell them he’s single!” Fortunately, I had the support of friends and family who witnessed the harassment over the years, and saw the distress, frustration, fear, and anger that it caused me.
This man is a predator who collects girls of a certain “type”. His targets are chubby, shy, lonely, and insecure, just like I used to be. In the early days I looked up to him and was flattered that he seemed to respect my work. I quickly spotted some red flags but I disregarded them. These became too big to ignore, so I called it all off. The rejection was ego shattering to him at first, and then met with disbelief. This was followed by incessant communication of a sexual nature, including gifts, calls, emails, letters, postcards, and invites to vacation with him in exotic places so we could “get to know each other again”. He wouldn’t leave me alone. This wasn’t love. It was obsession. His desperation only increased when I met another man. He continued his harassment as though my boyfriend (who is now my husband) didn’t even exist.
From late 2009 onwards I made repeated requests for his personal communication to cease but these were ignored. He began manipulating the boundaries by contacting me on the pretext of it being work-related. Then came the quid pro quo harassment. He would find opportunities for me within the company and recommend me to television producers, but only if I was nicer to him. One day the company offered me an honorary position that I’d worked hard for, but he warned me that he had the power to thwart that offer. I threatened to complain to his employer, but he bragged that another woman had accused him of sexual harassment previously and her complaints were ignored. According to him, she had been declared “batshit crazy”. Then, he saw me at conferences and took every opportunity to place me in a vulnerable position. This is where the psychological abuse turned physical and he sexually assaulted me on several occasions.
There is an increasing awareness of sexual harassment in some domains. For example, safety at conferences is becoming a concern for organizers. This seems to have been incited by the so-called “Elevatorgate” incident. In 2011, skeptic Rebecca Watson attended an atheist conference as a speaker where she discussed sexism and sexual harassment. In the early hours of the morning a stranger approached her alone in an elevator and invited her back to his hotel room for coffee. She declined. During a YouTube video Watson mentioned this in passing as an example of how not to behave at conferences if you want women to feel safe and comfortable, advising, “Guys, don’t do that.” This resulted unexpectedly in an extreme backlash against her, involving threats, abuse and insults from those who thought she was overreacting, seeking attention, or a man-hater.
However, conference organizers don’t always know how to act when they find sexual harassment. They may panic and overreact, especially when they think they discover an incident. A friend confided a story to me that happened at a conference last year. She was talking to a fellow attendee at a bar when she noticed his eyes drop briefly to her cleavage. “Hey, my eyes are up here!” she joked to him. Little did anyone know that a plain-clothes security officer had been enlisted to keep an eye on the attendees and he had overheard this tête-à-tête. My friend was taken to a room where the officer grilled her. What happened? Was she okay? They could remove the brute from the conference if it would make her feel safer.
This melodramatic response affected her far more than the alleged “harassment” and for the rest of the conference she felt like she was being watched. This is not to downplay real incidents of harassment and assault that are far more common than we’d like to think.
Another friend came forward with her story of sexual assault at this same conference. I asked if her attacker was the same as mine and she replied, “No, but the depressing thing is that you’re not the only woman who has asked me this same question, and given yet another name.”
Sometimes an organization under-reacts to the claims. This was my experience. Following “Elevatorgate”, the company introduced a “zero tolerance policy for hostile and harassing conduct”. When I approached them with my accusations they appeared to be compassionate initially. I spent many hours explaining my story over the phone and days submitting evidence. Then they hired an attorney to collect the facts and I had to repeat the process. I provided access to my email account. I also devoted two days to face-to-face discussions about my ordeal. This “fact collector” also collected a lot of hearsay from my harasser, about how I’m a slut and “batshit crazy”. This tactic of the accused is so common it’s known as the “nut and slut” strategy. I soon learned that the attorney was there to protect them, not me.
Five months after I lodged my complaint I received a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications” and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he was on vacation overseas. They offered no apology, that would be an admission of guilt, but they thanked me for bringing this serious matter to their attention. Then they asked me to not discuss this with anyone. This confidentiality served me at first; I wanted to retain my dignity and remain professional. Then I realized that they are trying to silence me, and this silence only keeps up appearances for them and protects the harasser.
The situation has disadvantaged me greatly. I have lost a project I once worked on, I have had to disclose highly personal information to colleagues, and I don’t think that I’ll be offered work anymore from this company. Perhaps that’s for the best considering the way they have treated me. I have since discovered that this company has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record of disciplining these harassers lightly, and then closing ranks like good ol’ boys. Another colleague assured me this was better than their previous custom of simply ignoring claims of sexual harassment.
To avoid becoming sick of talking about sexual harassment we need to feel some empathy for the victims. It may be harder to empathize with a colleague or an acquaintance, so think about how you would feel if this harassment was happening to your wife, husband, daughter, son, brother, sister, mother or father? Then we need to remember our broader responsibility to protect people in our workplace, communities and society. Underestimating the dangers of sexual harassment, and downplaying or ignoring claims, only serves to embolden the harassers. If they get away with sexual harassment, or they don’t even recognize their behavior, they are at risk of doing it again. Let’s not be sick of talking about sexual harassment, but be sick of being silent about it.
#43 Pitchguest (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 7:11pm
You mean the YouTube video that contains a crappy song, but no actual question?
Brilliant. You’ll go far.
#44 Laurence (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 7:35pm
The fact that her harasser still had a job after the investigation amazes me.
#45 Blind Labyrinth (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 8:14pm
“You mean the YouTube video that contains a crappy song, but no actual question?”
“Why does Radford still have a job?”
—- is asked four times in the song.
We’d trust your musical judgment about as far as we’d trust your infinitesimal powers of observation.
#46 Blind Labyrinth (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 8:14pm
“The fact that her harasser still had a job after the investigation amazes me.”
#47 Blind Labyrinth (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 8:21pm
Oh, I see pitchguest is a regular member of that den where all the lonely, sad, pathetic, woman-hating, misogyny-propagating, comic-collecting, Ayn Rand-worshipping fanboy atheists congregate (i.e., the slymepit). Say no more. These are where the boyz go who found the atheist/skeptic movement not because they want to create a more just, secular, constitutional society, but rather because they need a sanctum sanctorum for their smug, self-superior intellectual masturbation. The need to feel superior to someone is what attracts misogynists to this movement in the first place. They already feel superior to women, and then they get to feel superior to religious people in the bargain too by joining up. Far from worthy allies, they are a big part of the problem of the 800 lb. gorilla in skepticism’s room.
#48 Pitchguest (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 9:13pm
Blind Labyrinth -
Woman-hating AND misogynist? We must be moving up in the world.
Now, it’s amusing each time you chuckleheads attempt to give the Slymepit a collective face, and libertarian seems to be your boogeymen, but don’t you think you could’ve chosen your timing a bit better when we just recently finished a discussion on Ayn Rand where many found her writings wanting? Indeed, you could’ve, but I realise the propensity you have for fact-checking and it isn’t world-class, is it?
(Speaking of which, I admit I did skip parts of the video and I must have missed the particulars. But it still a crappy, and additionally - boring - song.)
Also, comic collecting? What in blazes is wrong with collecting comics? Them’s fighting words.
#49 dawn chessman (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 9:44pm
can you answer me why only was the word you used for three too many complaints? how many do u require?
#50 P Smith (Guest) on Monday August 12, 2013 at 11:39pm
Lindsay is slime. If he really wanted to address the issue, he would have agreed to Ophelia Benson’s planned meeting for Karen Stollznow and Radford to discuss the facts and find out what really happened. Instead, Slimey ran away from it and now “writes” a hit peice attacking Ms. Stollznow.
Ron Lindsay has as much credibility as Hal Lindsey.