DJ Grothe apologizes to one woman

while leaving several others under the bus, including sidelong stabs at the FtB bloggers in particular. I paste it in its entirety below, though I don’t have a lot of time to pick it apart right this second.

Rebecca: Sorry for not responding to this sooner; I was flying much of the day Friday and got to the hotel late, and Saturday was busy with skeptic events in the D.C. area.

First, let me say how sincerely and deeply regretful I am that I blamed you as the messenger. No woman – no person – should ever be blamed for being a victim or for speaking out about sexism or any social problem. I was wrong to write anything that could even be construed that way, and it was never my intent. I am sorry.

I should also say that I believe I understand why there has been so much vituperation, anger and emption surrounding these issues: we want to protect others from harm (indeed, this is a central motivation in skepticism) and if we think people are being harmed, it angers us. I hope that we may increasingly refocus that anger toward working together on solutions to these problems.

I believe strongly that women’s voices need to be taken seriously in the atheist and skeptics movements, that any reports of harassment or assault at atheist and skeptics events need to be taken seriously and recorded, and acted on effectively, and that those who make reports of such harassment shouldn’t ever be blamed for such. And I am mortified to find out that you have been “groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways,” etc. I had absolutely no idea. It disgusts me and makes me angry to hear it. I assure you that if any such offenses at TAM were reported, the offender or offenders would have been removed from TAM, and/or law enforcement called. I think it is very important that such incidents are reported to security or conference organizers or law enforcement, and that this is the most effective response.

I know that the atheist and skeptics communities have had serious problems when it comes to women’s issues, and this is something I have personally worked to combat over the last decade and a half I’ve been involved, including by making better hiring and programming decisions when it was within my power to do so. One way we worked to combat problems was by publishing a code of conduct for our particular event last year ( Other ways include focusing on these topics on the program: a few years ago, I asked you to moderate a panel on women in skepticism and also run a workshop on related issues, for which JREF was grateful. And we have grown in the direction now of TAM having the highest number and percentage of women speakers at any major skeptics’ conference (50% solo speakers last year were women).

When we ran reports this year and discovered that while 40% of attendees at TAM 2011 were women, but that at the time I made my initial comments in a discussion on a friend’s Facebook wall about these issues, only 18% of TAM 2012 registrants were women, we were deeply concerned. That Facebook wall comment on a friend’s wall was partially quoted and blogged and reblogged a lot last week, and I think this discussion is important, especially if it helps improve the situation at atheist and skeptics meetings – which is our common goal.

My concern was that the message going to women who are not already familiar with the skeptics movement and TAM in particular be balanced. I do not deny that there is a problem with sexism at atheist or skeptics conferences, nor any of the accounts blogged about in general terms by women who have attended TAM or similar kinds of events, but I would appreciate if such reports were balanced with an acknowledgment of the great effort the JREF goes to ensuring that TAM is a safe and welcoming environment for women.

I and the rest of the JREF team are passionately invested in skeptic outreach to diverse communities. Skepticism is for everyone, not just privileged straight old white men. My sharing survey data and other data from last year’s TAM was an attempt to suggest that despite many blog posts and other public messaging focused on how unsafe and unwelcoming atheist or skeptics events may be for women, the data suggest we have at least been partially successful in making TAM safe and welcoming for women. If this data is wrong, due to underreporting, then I think we should work together to correct that. (Unfortunately, the atheist movement has almost a universally bad reputation for being bad to women. Just a couple days ago on a popular non-movement website there was advice for readers about how not to be “creepy” at atheist conventions:

Talking about sexism isn’t the problem, sexism is the problem — I completely agree. But when trying to solve the problem, I believe reporting instances of being groped or grabbed (these may be criminal acts) to be the most effective way to help organizers make sure events are safe for everyone. This week, there were over twenty blog posts about TAM specifically, many containing misinformation. Many commenters on these blogs, mostly on one blog network, appear to believe that going to TAM or similar events in the skeptics or atheist world means they will be assaulted, harassed, or worse. Additionally, the week before that, there were around a dozen blog posts about how if you’re a woman, going to an atheist or skeptic con likely means you’ll be sexually harassed, and how many women have been warned about certain men on programs as likely sex offenders. Many solutions were proposed in these blog posts, even as no one entered into direct dialogue with organizations on these issues, preferring instead to engage in a kind of public messaging which I believe has the paradoxical and opposite effect of making our movements seem less welcoming to women than they are. (I concede that blogging may come more naturally to some folks than direct dialogue, or that vague public messaging about problems may feel safer than reporting incidents to law enforcement.)

Rebecca, you are a talented, funny, influential skeptic who has introduced skepticism to new audiences. I have always admired you for that in particular. Indeed, that is why I have featured you so prominently at TAM in the past. (And I believe that years before I came to lead the JREF, TAM was the first conference you ever spoke at.) You have contributed a lot to our communities of reason over the last few years. That’s why I regret not only how you have been treated over the last year especially, but how issues surrounding feminism in atheism and allied movements — issues for which in some ways you have become the standard bearer — have grown so divisive, with reprehensible behavior on all sides. Invective and enemy-list making. Bullying. Dishonest mischaracterizations. I have to remain optimistic that these are growing pains in our fledgling movements and that civility and honest disagreement over best strategies will eventually win out. People of good will may disagree on which strategies are best to address serious problems, and should be able to do so without being vilified. I believe we need more good will, and less us vs. them thinking, in atheism and skepticism.

Before I close, an important correction to a misstatement of fact in your post: no one reported to JREF staff or hotel staff any incident of assault or sexual harassment at our speakers reception last year, and no JREF staff were told about nor knew about any such incident until last week. In fact, someone was removed from the speaker reception because he wasn’t permitted to be there, and was apparently drunk. In her blog post and in further comments, Ashley says she didn’t feel like she needed to personally report the alleged harassment to JREF staff or hotel staff at the time because she thought someone else reported it, and that it had been taken care of. Unfortunately, neither she nor anyone else mentioned the incident of sexual harassment in one of the TAM attendee surveys, nor made any other report of it at the time. I find this regrettable, because without knowing about it, we (JREF, hotel security, etc.) were not able to do anything about it.

Let me be clear: If I or any of the other TAM staff or hotel staff would have known that someone (or possibly more than one person) had been sexually harassed, or assaulted or otherwise accosted at our speakers reception, we would have contacted security and removed the offender immediately from TAM, and/or called law enforcement. As it turns out, someone was just removed from the speakers reception because he didn’t belong there and seemed drunk. A complaint has since been reported and recorded (last week), and appropriate action will be taken to make sure the person won’t be able to assault or sexually harass again at one of our events.

In light of this new information JREF received this week, we can no longer say that there were no reports of sexual harassment at the event last year. This only motivates us to redouble our efforts to create a space where everyone is safe and welcome, so that we can focus on what brings us together at these events in the first place.


D.J. Grothe
President, James Randi Educational Foundation |
(323) 229-7771 cell | (703) 226-3784 voicemail | (703) 226-3785 fax

I have lots of problems with this apology. Many of them are covered in Stephanie Zvan’s reply. Most of them have to do with the “irresponsible messaging” that DJ’s actually engaging in, and the fact that while apologizing, he’s STILL being churlish about people who are actually trying to work on the problem of harassment in general as though the problem they’re working on is an indictment of TAM in particular.

I appreciate that DJ is apologizing to one of the women he’s mistreated in this. I really do. I don’t think it’s anywhere near broad enough, notwithstanding the “apologize to all women” line. Not where he repeatedly undercuts that part thereafter.

DJ Grothe apologizes to one woman

160 thoughts on “DJ Grothe apologizes to one woman

  1. 151


    Thanks for the encouragement. It’s mostly that I’ve been overindulging a bit. Kind of diving into FTP at the deep end (and trying not to be too obnoxious or splash about too much). I probably will be slowing down for a while. It looks like I’ll be starting a big project tomorrow.

    The other thing is that the whole trust dynamic is a very complex one in the way it weaves through class, privilege, power and personal relationships. I’m finding it kind of fascinating but it’s too complex to get into here and now and I don’t feel ready anyway.


  2. 153

    @Pteryxx 138:
    I know you posted this comment elsewhere, too, but afaik I can comment closest here. Thank you for all you did calling RAINN, (and from there) your local rape crisis center, and for reporting what you found. The resources you discovered sound like they could be very helpful for training conference staff and more. I hope leaders take note.

  3. 154

    Grothe wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him.

    He’s saying whatever he thinks it will take to get us to shut up.

    The really insulting part is that he thinks we’ll fall for his slop.

    Boycott JREF entirely until they fire him.

  4. 155

    AnyBeth, you’re welcome. Seriously, it was just a phone call that anyone could have made, y’know? (Well, two phone calls.) But I might have just happened to be the first, or the loudest, to go and ask.

  5. 156

    I believe this apology is, at the very least, a good start; and DJ pretty much admits that. It may not be complete, but what there is, is sincere. It doesn’t sound like a notpology of the “I’m sorry you chicks are so thin-skinned” variety. I also think that it’s a bit harsh to say DJ is “leaving several others under the bus;” He addressed Watson by name because he had used her comments as a specific example to make his case.

    It’s up to Watson to accept the apology or not. I can’t tell her she SHOULD accept it, but I think she CAN accept it without giving up anything important, as long as all parties understand there’s still work to be done.

    …but I would appreciate if such reports were balanced with an acknowledgment of the great effort the JREF goes to ensuring that TAM is a safe and welcoming environment for women.

    As the leader and public face of the organization in question, that’s DJ’s job. Let’s hope he does it well.

  6. 157

    I am getting sick and tired of reading conspiracy theories about why DJG’s assholery *must* be because he answers to misogynists. It seems like dudes are the ones mostly speculating about the role of JREF management in DJG’s actions.

    First hand experience in dealing with dudes (in the context of alleging harassment) makes me believe that he just doesn’t fucking understand the problem, but is so convinced that he does (he is a man, after all, and this feminism thing can’t be horribly complicated) that he continues to make an ass out of himself. Theres nothing calculated about saying “oh my we must be having some kind of horrible misunderstanding! now let me repeat the same position I had before…” over and over again. Why would DJG or men in general understand this problem well without a lot of serious study? It is virtually impossible to understand it without being willing to listen to women and believe them, something he is not currently willing to do. At this point it would be embarassing to say he doesn’t get it because he has insisted so often that he totally does.

    I would imagine that the management at the JREF doesn’t give too much of a shit about women in the first place, and probably doesn’t even have this problem on their radar. If they are aware of it they don’t think it is a big deal. Most people don’t care about offending feminists, even ones from their own conference. If they really cared I would imagine they would get someone from the PR industry to tell him how to deal with it properly instead of letting him make the same mistake countless times.

    Accusations that he answers to the people at the JREF forum are ridiculous. Why would he care?

  7. 158

    I think there actually is a pandering component from which he derives his anti-feminist sentiments regarding the people who get his ear repeatedly (I’m trying to give him some credit here — if he came up with that ex nihilo, that’s significantly worse than just being clueless). I also think that why he’s wrong almost doesn’t matter in comparison to the fact that he’s wrong, and the further fact that he refuses to acknowledge that some of us aren’t letting go of the shitty statements he made throwing those bloggers and harassment victims under the bus.

    Ultimately, he answers to the JREF board of directors, who will obviously know what’s gone on here and see that he’s screwing things up bigtime. If numbers tank, both because the good people who recognize this situation and are pulling out are being vocal about it, and because the asshole contingent can’t make up the lost funds, then DJ will apologize. I strongly suspect that’s why he apologized to (only) Rebecca.

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