Why We Publicize Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

dam with water coming through dramatically

Content note: sexual harassment and assault, denial and gaslighting of same.

The dam is bursting.

In the last few days, several accusations of sexual misconduct on the part of Richard Carrier have been made public. Stephanie Zvan has collected and summarized the current ones to date; Skepticon has banned Carrier from their conference, “partly because of his repeated boundary-pushing behavior, including towards someone involved in Skepticon.”

I want to take a moment to talk about why we publicize these accusations. Tl;dr: We do it because we’re trying to make the community safer.

Those of us who talk about sexual harassment and assault, and other problems in the organized secular movement (and everywhere else, for that matter), are often accused of doing it for our own gain. We’re accused of doing it to increase traffic and boost our careers. And we’re accused of doing it to bring down people we don’t like. I’ve already addressed the first accusation: today, I want to speak to the second.

Richard Carrier was a friend of mine, as well as a colleague. We weren’t close friends, but we had a good social relationship and a good professional relationship. He’s been to multiple parties at our house (a fact that now gives me the creeps: I hate the thought that I may have exposed my friends to his behavior). We worked together at Freethought Blogs for a long time; we collaborated; we promoted each others’ work. And he was a public advocate for feminism and social justice within organized atheism. I was extremely distressed when I started hearing these accusations, and at first I didn’t want to believe them. But I heard more than one accusation, and some of my own conversations with Carrier made me uneasy about his sexual ethics. That’s when I began distancing myself from him, personally and professionally.

I’m not publicizing accusations against him because I don’t like him. I stopped liking him because I started hearing these accusations.

I’m going to say that again, in large boldface capital letters, since it seems to be all too easily overlooked:

I’m not publicizing accusations against him because I don’t like him. I stopped liking him because I started hearing these accusations.

Anyone who thinks that feminists spoke out about Michael Shermer and others because we didn’t like them: do you think that’s what we’re doing with Richard Carrier?

We boost the signal on these accusations to make our community safer. When victims speak up and name their harassers and assailants, other people know who to stay away from. And when we create a culture where victims’ voices are heard, amplified, and believed, perpetrators feel less safe perpetrating.

It’s distressing just how many of these stories I know about; just how many leaders in the secular movement I’ve heard these stories about. The problem isn’t limited to this movement, of course — it’s everywhere in our culture — but it’s distressing to have it happening in your own backyard. It’s distressing that people in this movement have to keep each other safe with a behind-the-scenes whisper campaign. It’s distressing that when victims tell me their stories, my commitment to respecting confidentiality means I’m endangering other people by not warning them. It’s distressing to have to be civil to people I know to be harassers, assailants, rapists, because their stories haven’t been made public yet. It’s distressing that there’s a hierarchy of safety, that the people outside the whisper-campaign loop are the ones who are most in danger. And it’s distressing that the people who are afraid to come forward publicly aren’t wrong. They will be blamed for their assaults; they’ll be told that literally no matter what they did or how they responded, it was wrong and makes them less trustworthy; their stories will picked apart, with minor errors about irrelevant details used as evidence that they can’t be trusted; their accusations will be treated as more implausible than Bigfoot. If the person they accuse is powerful enough or famous enough, they will be harassed and smeared.

So yes, I will continue to boost these signals, even when they’re about my friends and colleagues, people I admire and like. When victims of harassment and assault come forward, and when their voices are heard, amplified, and believed, it makes it easier for others to come forward. It makes it harder to assault and harass. It chips away at the dam of silence.

The dam is bursting. Perpetrators — we are coming for you.

Related post:
On Being Disillusioned By Heroes… or, No, I Am Not Bloody Well Happy to Hear Horrible Things About the People I Admired

Why We Publicize Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

14 thoughts on “Why We Publicize Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

  1. 1

    I am greviously disappointed to hear this, having been a big fan of his work, even having a brief correspondence with him in the year before his doctorate was awarded. But you are right – ignoring the elephant in the room leads to the perpetuation of the behavior. We must fight this sexism and male privilege wherever it exists, no matter how painful.

  2. 2

    I’ve never heard of Richard Carrier before, so I have no sense of what sort of reputation or front he had before.

    The default to silence and, at best, rumor is part of the whole mechanism of abusive power. No matter how bad the idea of calling out the pitchforks and torches on the wrong person might be. That too, is part of being ethically responsible.

    Some day, someone might be the target of an accusation rooted in personal spite. That’s an argument for MORE reporting, not less. The more frankly and easily such things can be brought up, the less likely the worst case scenario will be, and the more quickly the public space can adjust to a better grasp of the situation.

  3. 3

    Thanks for posting this. I like a lot of Carrier’s work, especially his work on the historicity of Jesus. It has filled gaps in my knowledge and understanding. I think he seems to not take criticism well and he seems to take great delight in attacking other scholars’ work. I hope he decides to work on these parts of his personality as well as the sexual advances.

  4. 8

    🙁 Don’t know what I don’t know. What’s been publicized seems inappropriate and consistent and there doesn’t seem any willingness for him to acknowledge that he’s the one who needs to change here (I agree with others that sometimes his style of communication indicates that this is a broader problem for him). I’m glad the community (or at least this bit of it) is taking the situation seriously.

  5. 9

    Unfortunately this behavior is far too common and must be called out. Unwanted unwelcome sexual advances are usually fueled by exaggerated senses of self entitlement . Usually most perpetrators are very selfish . They must be called out

  6. 10

    I’m comparing the comments in PZ Myers’ post on this to those on his ‘I’d Do Anything…’ piece on Carrier using his blog to look for a romantic partner.
    I’m pleased that “marinerachel” was vindicated. I’m intrigued by those commenters who felt uncomfortable about speaking up, and thus kept silent.

    It’s no secret that Pharyngula’s comment section is toxic, but knowing that atheists felt intimidated giving an opinion on a blog because of other atheists is really grating. I’m glad to see the back of that site and the people that comment there.

    Carrier himself appears to view any restriction on his conduct to oppressive or at least misguided. If I were in charge of a college or high school, I would not employ Richard Carrier. I wouldn’t describe Carrier as a predator, but I would put him in the “sexually aggressive” category. This is not the sort of person who should have authority over young women.

  7. 12

    In response to accusations of sexual misconduct, I hear a lot of people retort with the “Innocent until proven guilty!” canard or reiterate that they’re just “accusations” and “haven’t been proven” or even accuse others of being “unskeptical.” Bullshit! As if we can’t form opinions without an official verdict from a judge or jury. This is a total misapplication of skepticism. The presumption of innocence is a legal procedure to ensure fair trials, not something we must all be bound to in our personal opinions.

  8. 14

    Dr Julian Abel Constantine Gojer of Toronto Convicted of Drugging and raping two woman and killing a third one with the drugs he used to render his victims unconscious before raping them. Date fall of 2000. Psychiatrist gets off with a slap on the wrist and works as a psychiatrist regardless of criminal negligence against him.

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