TBT: “Consent Is Hard”

A repost, because people never do stop bringing this up.

There’s some interesting conversation going on in the comments on my post, “An MRA Speaks on Rape.” It’s interesting not for how it starts–which is the typical fretting about potential edge cases in consent–but because of where it goes from there.

It started with the standard misdirection:

Wel I have some reservations against calling “having sex with an intoxicated person” rape. Does that mean that if both persons were intoxicated they raped each other?

Photo of a red cocktail in a rocks glass on a white bar napkin. A lime wedge and cranberry seeds float at the top.
“The Normandy at The Normandy” by Ben Zvan, used with permission

I pointed out that that wasn’t what was being discussed. It is, after all, a very different thing to say that one may be too intoxicated to effectively give or withhold consent (as federal definitions of rape do) and that no one who is intoxicated can consent to sex. Someone else wasn’t keen on me keeping the thread on topic, however:

Given the numbers of people who go home together after meeting at bars or clubs or parties or other places serving alcohol–given the number of people who go out to such places in order to meet someone–and the countless stages of intoxication, and of comparative intoxication, of visible intoxication, questions of who’s buying the drinks, what each person’s goals are–of all the conversations to cut short with simplistic and sometimes unkind responses, this is not one.

I think that there are questions in there to be fleshed out. Because that’s the kind of statement that sounds good and solid, and can block a further conversation if it’s not deconstructed. I’d have looked into it.

Declaring an area crystal clear does not in fact, get rid of that obnoxious blurriness.

A number of commenters made excellent points, and they’re all well worth reading, but I just want to say this up front: If you find the topic of consent to be difficult to sort out, you’re going at sex wrong. Continue reading “TBT: “Consent Is Hard””

TBT: “Consent Is Hard”

Doubting the Messenger

Let’s start with disclosures, since at least Sarah Morehead, the person at the heart of this story, is trying to make this a personal dispute rather than whistleblowing on financial and organizational impropriety.

I’ve never met Sarah Morehead that I can recall. I might have, since I attended the conference that was a precursor to Apostacon in Omaha in 2012 and we’ve been at other conferences at the same time, but it would have been in passing only. I interviewed her by phone for Atheists Talk radio regarding her work with Recovering from Religion. I was ambivalent about her work, supporting Recovering from Religion while not being very impressed with the celebrity-driven direction Apostacon took. Nonetheless, last fall, I reached out to her about the possibility of her doing a workshop at Skepticon with Secular Women Work.

I’ve worked with Steph, putting her in front of audiences for both the Secular Women Work conference and the workshops at Skepticon. We’ve socialized at CONvergence, and I expect we will again.

Of the Omaha/Apostacon crew, Josiah Mannion is on my very short list of favorite people. We’ve geeked out about organizational effectiveness together for a couple of years. I’ve made sure he and his camera could get to several conferences and conventions, including raising money for us to travel together to the Secular Social Justice conference in January and report out. We’ve traded critique and advice and personal confidences. I just conspired with a bunch of other local atheists to get him up to Minneapolis for a week, where he stayed in our guest room. If I’m going to be biased anywhere in this, here’s where.

I’m Facebook friends with many of the rest of the interested parties without having met them more than briefly at best. The main exception is JT Eberhard, with whom I had a fairly public falling out a few years ago.

All that said, my introduction to allegations of financial mismanagement against Sarah Morehead didn’t come out of Omaha. Continue reading “Doubting the Messenger”

Doubting the Messenger

The Ogvorbis Boondoggle

A couple of days ago, I posted a piece thinking through what it means to provide a haven for rapists. Someone left this comment on the post. Pitters have poured massive amounts of time and energy into spreading this idea that it’s worth looking at in detail.

Of course, the burning issue is whether the support and protection of Ogvorbis, a confessed child rapist, here at FreeThoughtBlogs, makes some bloggers such as PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and you, “a haven for rapists”. This depends on what the likes of PZ means by “a haven for rapists”.

We know for sure that FTB most certainly is a “haven” for at least ONE rapist, and a couple of others who have been accused of rape. Continue reading “The Ogvorbis Boondoggle”

The Ogvorbis Boondoggle

A Haven for Rapists

There’s been some chatter about “a haven for rapists” lately. Even a demand that I say something about the topic. So here goes.

Picture of two rowboats in a small natural harbor.
Safe Haven” by Liam Moloney (CC BY-SA 2.0)

My first thoughts on “haven for rapists” is that, in order to know whether something is a haven or not, I would first have to know what such a haven looked like. So what is a haven? According to the several dictionaries I consulted on the matter, a haven is a place of safety.

In the current context, that’s probably worth emphasizing. A haven isn’t a gathering place or a hangout. It’s a place of refuge, originally a port, but now any shelter. It remains a haven whether it’s used or not.

This raises the question of what endangers rapists.* What would they, in particular, need to be safe from? Continue reading “A Haven for Rapists”

A Haven for Rapists

Dawkins Tries Again

First we had Dawkins trying to suppress the allegations against Michael Shermer by exerting his influence behind the scenes. Then we had him try to suggest that date rape isn’t so bad. Then we had him try to suggest that people who have been plied with alcohol by others remain responsible for…something (terrible analogy) and that feminists don’t respect women if they believe it’s possible to victimize them. Today, we have these:

As I pointed out to Dawkins on Twitter this morning, we have significantly more evidence against Shermer than that.* As I promised him, here is an enumerated list. Continue reading “Dawkins Tries Again”

Dawkins Tries Again

Dawkins Throws Himself on a Grenade

Last night, we saw the Shermer allegations hit the broader media. Knowing that the women whom Shermer had targeted were using their names in the article and having a pretty good idea what it said, I’d already written a post telling people who had previously dismissed these claims to think hard about their reactions to the article before going public with them. I read the Oppenheimer article to be certain it said what I thought it must, but my post went up within half an hour of the article.

I’m more than aware that Richard Dawkins has no obligation to read the free advice I give, much less take it, but I have to believe it would have been better if he had in this case. He and Twitter are not on good terms most of the time. This morning was particularly egregious. Continue reading “Dawkins Throws Himself on a Grenade”

Dawkins Throws Himself on a Grenade

After the Shermer Article: What Do You Decide?

An article has just been published on Buzzfeed about sexism in atheism and skepticism, the allegations against Michael Shermer, and the protection he’s received from some portions of the movement.

It isn’t as though this information is particularly new. Some of us have been talking about this problem for years. We’ve had details on Shermer’s behavior for more than a year at this point, and we’ve seen the responses to that as he has continued to make appearances at conferences and been added to secular think tanks.

This situation is new in some respects, however. These allegations have not just appeared in a blog. They’ve been public for more than a year in some cases, and with a New York Times columnist prepared to listen and take their claims seriously, these women have used their names. The journalist in question, Mark Oppenheimer, has a history of uncovering abuse in other communities, prompting reform.

That makes this yet one more important decision point for people in these movements. Continue reading “After the Shermer Article: What Do You Decide?”

After the Shermer Article: What Do You Decide?

I Believe You–It's Not Your Fault

Lindy West was at Women in Secularism this year. I already knew she was funny, but meeting her confirmed it. Hearing her talk confirmed that she’s perceptive and thoughtful. Her new project, a blog called “I Believe You–It’s Not Your Fault” confirms that she is awesome.

The blog is already booked with stories for the next six months, but submit your story if you have one. She is particularly looking for stories that “nontraditional” abuse victims can recognize themselves in.

I Believe You–It's Not Your Fault

Sexual Assault Plus

I don’t usually do reposts so soon after the original publication. This was originally posted last fall, when Dawkins was talking about “mild pedophilia. He’s ranking rape again. It’s worth pointing out that Dawkins isn’t doing this because no one provided him with any better information. He’s been told this is inappropriate and why, in great detail.

Yesterday, Richard Dawkins issued an apology. In talking about his own sexual assault at a young age, he had generalized their experience from his. He was relatively unaffected by the experience and expressed his opinion that the same was true of “all of us”. He apologized for doing so.

Dawkins’ apology was very welcome, if incomplete, as was his admission that he should not speak to the experience of other victims of sexual assault. Alex has a pretty good take on what it missed. I don’t agree 100%, but I’m close enough not to quibble. Instead, I’d like to dig into this idea of degrees of assault. What Dawkins has had to say on the topic isn’t entirely wrong, but his naive take on the topic obscures as much as it reveals.
Continue reading “Sexual Assault Plus”

Sexual Assault Plus

The Elided Rights of Accusers

There is a strain of thinking that I see repeated over and over as we work to change the culture around rape, as we work to see that people who bring accusations of rape don’t automatically become treated like suspects themselves, that they have equal access to institutional protections and remedies. This has been particularly evident in statements from those who oppose the White House Title IX initiatives addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

The clearest statement of this argument I’ve seen came from Joseph Cohn of FIRE in The Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of years ago, though I’ve seen it in various forms since.

Under the new standard, if it is determined that an accuser’s claims are a fraction of a percent more likely to be true than false, the accused may be subjected to discipline, including expulsion.

Unfortunately for students’ rights, a long line of institutions have adopted this low standard under federal pressure. In fact, a review of policies at 198 of the colleges ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report reveals that 30 institutions—including Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia—have changed their standards of proof following OCR’s mandate.

That’s too bad, because colleges should be free to grant their students more robust due-process rights—and the federal government should not stand in their way.

This argument is generally presented in gendered terms, though it isn’t here. While this article refers to “students”, it is usually “men” standing in for those who are accused of sexual assault. Their alleged victims are in turn presumed to be women, though the women/accusers themselves are rarely mentioned in the formulation of the argument.

There are a number of possible reasons for the invisibility of these presumed female accusers. Women’s rights are often viewed as “special” rights, along with the rights of other marginalized populations, so human and civil rights arguments tend to focus on men. People these days do tend to notice when you argue for men’s rights over women’s rights and apply a bit more critical thought to an argument that does this. Talking about women as alleged victims quickly brings to mind a number of well-publicized stories that look nothing like false accusations to even unsophisticated audiences, and that doesn’t help garner sympathy for the accused.

Whatever the reason, we cannot allow this particular argument to stand on its own. Arguments for the rights of the accused have to be considered in the context of the rights of the accusers.

Why? Because the only way to guarantee that there will never be a negative outcome for an accused innocent is to guarantee that there will always be a finding of innocence. Continue reading “The Elided Rights of Accusers”

The Elided Rights of Accusers