Friday, August 9, 2013

On Harassment and Consent

As many of you are undoubtedly aware, there is a distinctly depressing, but non-surprising unfolding of events in the atheo-skeptisphere. 

"Big Name" players in the movement are being named and shamed for their behavior, with accusations running the gambit from verbal sexual harassment to rape. 

I'm (obviously) a new blogger, so I have zero firsthand knowledge of this in the skeptic communities. I haven't gotten to go to any conventions/conferences yet. However, I have no reason to doubt the accusers/victims claims. Why? I've seen how the authorities and police handle these things in real life.

I was lucky, I made it through high school and college with minimal sexual harassment directed toward me. I was too short, too flat, and too nerdy to even be on the radar of most people I met. I made being invisible an art.

One of my good friends was not so lucky. Most of my memories of my freshman year of high school are of how my group of friends tried to protect her. She was raped by her boyfriend and broke up with him. She reported his behavior to the school authorities, including on-campus cops. They told her that all she could do was try to avoid him. He took her attempts to avoid him as a challenge. He started stalking her. She got a restraining order on him. However, at school, it was deemed 'unenforceable'. When the authorities again refused to do anything, we, her group of friends took her safety into our own hands. We didn't let her go anywhere alone. One of us was there to walk her through the halls in-between classes, to lunch and stayed with her after school until she was picked up, she wasn't yet old enough to drive. This lasted for several months. Those of us acting as her shields got death threats from him. This was finally enough for the school to decide action needed to be taken. He was transferred to a different local school.The harassment described above was my life for the better part of my freshman year. I was not the core focus, but I still had to live through it. This behavior of ignoring personal autonomy simply isn't extraordinary. It is commonplace. Therefore, it is not extraordinary to believe victims when they speak up, even if the person they name is one that might (or might not) be surprising. 

The other side of this discussion has been consent. I'm going to use a cheesy move here but Google defines consent as (v.) 
Give permission for something to happen. Guess what? That means that if consent is not expressly given, you don't have it. It doesn't matter if you're dating. It doesn't matter if one or both were drinking. It doesn't matter if consent was initially given, or given with caveats. Consent can be withdrawn. Consent can be gotten before the act. Consent can't be given if the person is in a state where it would be unwise for them to drive, severely inebriated for example. Consent can't be given in cases of coersion. Consent is an enthusiastic, "Yes! I want to do X with you." If you have any doubt about if you have consent ask, and then respect the response. You may not like the answer, but if it turns out to be "No" then anything past that point is rape. The onus to not be raped is not on the victim. The onus is on the partner/stranger/friend/acquaintance to Not Fucking Rape.

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