My argument: let’s distribute the burden of correcting and preventing sexual misconduct through collective effort, not letting the burdens and costs fall overwhelmingly on those who have experienced it.
CW: sexual assault/harassment
I work at CEA but write this in an individual capacity. Views expressed here are my own, not CEA's.
I encourage you to reach out to me individually on Twitter (@emmalrichter) if you want to discuss what I raise in this post. I’d love to engage with the variety of potential responses to what I’ve written and would love to know why you upvote or downvote it.
Intro and Context
Some of you already know that I’m a survivor. I was sexually assaulted, harassed, or abused in independent situations at the ages of 16, 17, 18, and 20. I am intentionally open and vocal about what I’ve gone through, including a PTSD diagnosis a few years ago.
Recent events in the EA community have reminded me that the mistreatment of people through sexual or romantic means occurs here (as it does everywhere). Last week at EAG, I received a Swapcard message that proposed a non-platonic interaction under the guise of professional interaction. I went to an afterparty where someone I had just met—literally introduced to me moments before—put their hand on the small of my back and grabbed and held onto my arm multiple times. These might seem like minor annoyances, but I have heard and experienced that these kinds of small moments happen often to women in EA. These kinds of experiences undermine my own feelings of comfort and value in the community.
This might be anecdata, as some people say, and I know obtaining robust data on these issues has its own challenges  Nonetheless, my experience and those of other women in EA indicate that there’s enough of a problem to consider doing more.
I’m writing this post for a few reasons:
- I want to draw attention to the suffering of women here in the community.
- I want to convey the costs placed on survivors seeking justice and trying to prevent further harm to others.
- I want to share just how taxing it can be for survivors to work on these problems on their own, both due to the inherent pain of reliving experiences and the arduousness of most justice processes.
Above all, I want to make this request of our community: let’s distribute the burden of correcting and preventing sexual misconduct as fairly as we can, not letting the burdens and costs fall overwhelmingly on those who have experienced it. They have suffered so much already—they have suffered enough. I hope we can be as agentic and proactive in this domain as we strive to be in other areas of study and work.
Here are sub-arguments that I’ll explore below:
- Before placing the burden of explanation on the survivor, we can employ other methods to learn about this constellation of social issues. We can listen to survivors more effectively and incorporate the feedback of those who want to share while also finding other resources to chart paths forward.
- Good intentions can still lead to negative outcomes. This can apply to both bystanders who refrain from engaging with the subject out of the intention of not making things worse and might also apply to those who perpetrate harmful behaviors (as I discuss in my own experience further down).
Why write about the meta-level attitude and approach when I could have written something proposing object-level solutions?
Because how we approach finding object-level solutions will affect the quality of those solutions—particularly for those who are most affected by these problems. I don’t feel informed enough to propose institutional reforms or particular policies (though I intend to reflect on these questions and research them). I do feel informed enough to address a particular failure mode I hope we can avoid.
Relevant Forum statements
A few Forum comments motivated me to write this post, so I’ll briefly explain their points and how I encountered them.
In his recent apology, Owen wrote: “If there’s anyone else whom I’ve ever made feel uncomfortable or pressured, I’d love to hear about it — I think I might benefit most from a conversation, but I’d also welcome anonymous feedback.”
While I appreciate the impulse to learn from a mistake, this comment felt like it missed the mood to me; it seems to underestimate or not fully imagine the costly work a survivor would do in reaching out to the person that had harmed them.
As laurapomarius put it:
“I'm not sure my anger is appropriate here, but I've been in similar situations as this woman. If one of these people asked me for a conversation about their behaviour, I imagine being impressed/glad by them wanting to change but also feeling a bit like, 'You already made me feel shitty, and now it's my job to make sure you don't do this again?” (emphasis my own).
I recognize that the feedback and input of those who have suffered from sexual misconduct prove necessary in remedying many of these situations. Someone might have to report and describe their experience to seek consequences for the perpetrator, someone might have to help non-survivors understand the emotional experience, and others might need to weigh in on the design and success of potential solutions.
I want to advocate, however, that we should not automatically place the burden of explaining or remedying the harmful situation on the person who experienced the harm. We have many tools and means of learning at our disposal. We don’t need to place the rather torturous choice on a survivor to either stay silent on their experience and risk it happening again or do the painful labor of inculcating a perpetrator in an effort to prevent further harm.
These thoughts led me to the question at the core of this post: whose responsibility is it to remedy situations in which community members have been significantly harmed? Do we want to place that responsibility on those who have suffered, or can we work on other solutions as a community?
Pandora’s comment on Owen’s apology made me think about this point. They noted that Owen had potentially not learned about gender or power dynamics prior to the incidents and then asked:
“Then the question becomes, why had he not learned these things?”
I know many people in the community are aware of power dynamics, and Julia Wise wrote a Forum post that outlined many of these as they apply in the EA sphere. I don’t know how many people read it or changed their thinking because of it. Even more so, what would push our community to create further resources that can help people be more aware of the negative impact they can have on others? I would love to see not just survivors recognize these harms and work on addressing these issues.
My feelings and arguments above are rooted in painful experiences from my own life. I have spent hundreds of hours of my time and energy trying to correct the harms that others committed against me. I’m angry about it. It hurts. It hurts how I was harmed—PTSD, with its sleeplessness, panic attacks, and hyper-alertness, is obviously not fun—and I would venture that the experiences damaged my cognition and memory for years. The toll of engaging in justice processes and trying to prevent further harm drove me into many deep depressions over the years.
I have sympathy for those who perpetrate unintended harm. This was the case in one experience in my own life, that a loving boyfriend assaulted me in an act of poor judgment and selfishness. I have sympathy for the deep shame and guilt he went through after the fact—though it feels unacceptable to say that. He hurt me and he also deeply cared for me; these two truths coexisted, even if they weren’t comprehensible to those around me. I sympathize with the multifaceted nature of human behavior and emotions.
In that particular situation, he and I spent months after the incident trying to figure out why it happened, what to do after the fact, and how to discuss it with our community. One way I justified my continued contact with him—both to myself and others—was that I was helping him learn and holding him accountable for what he did. I was determined to make sure he learned from what he’d done, determined to ensure he didn’t do it to anyone else. I wrote long letters detailing my emotions. I shared research from psychologists, therapists, and restorative justice practitioners. I put in so much labor trying to control the outcomes of a situation I didn’t want to experience in the first place.
I was foolish to do so. I was 18, so I’ve forgiven myself—but I was foolish. Only after years of reflection did I understand the tradeoff I had made between my time and energy and his understanding of what he had done wrong. Engaging with him so intensely cost my health—physical, mental, emotional, and social. I became withdrawn from friends and family and had panic attacks regularly. I fell into one of the worst depressions of my life. I chose to suffer for what I thought was a noble cause—helping him learn and grow so he wouldn’t repeat his behaviors—but I came close to losing myself.
This has been the case for me when I’ve pursued other forms of justice in the other situations where I was harmed. For example, I reported a professor who sexually harassed and assaulted me in college. I had to see him every day for four months, having panic attacks regularly throughout that time. Seeing him and talking about the situation drove me to tears most days—while I was trying to finish an honors thesis, protect my hard-earned 4.0 GPA, and work three jobs. I reported the situation to the appropriate institutional office; while this did lead to official sanctions that limited his role at the university, it required me to explain the situation in detail over and over to a number of people I had never met before. I was required to detail a timeline of all the times he’d flirted with me, what he had said, the ways he had touched me inappropriately, and the comments he’d made towards me that made my skin crawl. Some mentors and professors at the time were mad on my behalf, knowing that I cared so deeply about my education—and instead, had to devote time and energy to this horrible situation if I wanted certain outcomes.
In this case, the tradeoff was not about this professor learning or understanding what he had done. I tried to set up a mediated dialogue with him on the subject, and he refused to engage. He had no interest in learning and didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. The tradeoff here was between my educational experience and health on the one hand, the potential safety of other young women and the broader culture at the university on the other. A more effective institutional policy or process could have prevented this tradeoff and avoided these risks.
Improving the tradeoff
The realistic tradeoffs as a survivor of sexual harassment or assault often push the survivor to choose an ideal, like justice or safety for others, at the expense of their time, energy, and health. While reeling from the harm of the situation, the person experiencing the harm might engage in a process that hurts them in an effort to ensure their safety, protect other potential victims, educate the perpetrator, or signal that the perpetrator’s actions were harmful.
I see these tradeoffs operating in our community right now. Certain gender demographics are more at risk of harm. We have many people who genuinely want to understand how to address these situations, but maybe they haven’t experienced these issues themselves, or they have a hard time understanding the experiences of those who have. We have people who earnestly want to know what to do to help improve the situation, but they might ask questions in ways that inadvertently hurt people who have experienced these harms.
I want to advocate for a third way, a potential way around the tradeoffs I’ve described that I think bystanders and the community at large can work towards. I advocate for not fully placing the burden of education and improvement of community norms on those who have experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination within the community. I ask that we approach these issues the way we approach other community issues, recognizing that the behavior of a small number of bad actors must be absorbed and corrected by more responsible actors within the community. In allocating collective effort to this issue, I hope we can create protective norms, practices, or processes that take care of those affected and encourage the kind of behaviors we want in the future.
The main goal of this post is to prompt a shift in our attitudes towards these subjects, but I’ll provide more concrete points for those who wonder what to do in response:
- Approach conversations with those who might have a personal perspective on this subject with care, compassion, and gentleness.
- Some women have experienced sexual misconduct and might find the question jarring if it’s coming from someone they don’t know very well or without conversation surrounding the question. Others may have experienced sexual misconduct and have no difficulty discussing the subject. Others might be annoyed by the assumption that being female means they’re an expert or authority on this subject.
- While being female does correlate with a higher likelihood of having experienced sexual misconduct, men and people of other genders also suffer from these issues.
- Sometimes how you ask a question or raise a subject, especially when the topic emotionally affects an individual, can have a significant effect on their ability to engage in the conversation. (I am one of these people when it comes to this topic!)
- If someone seems upset or doesn’t want to discuss it, respect that choice.
- An example of language to raise the subject that feels kind and gentle: “I’m concerned about the situation that was shared recently on the Forum. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on that? I know it’s a hard subject, totally fine if you’d rather not discuss it, just thought you might have some good insights.”
- Set a timer and spend fifteen minutes thinking about this subject. What are concrete actions that might help the situation? How can you find out more about the topic? Some of Clearer Thinking’s tools like the Decision Advisor could help push your thinking and brainstorming. Consider how you approach other kinds of human suffering and apply the strengths of those approaches to this issue.
We’re a community based in altruism, in being generous and caring about the well-being of all people. We should take responsibility for the harm people experience in this community and take responsibility for preventing it when we can. Especially where we can do more, we shouldn’t let the survivors of misconduct among us shoulder the burden of improving things.
I don't like how Forum acknowledgments can feel name-droppy sometimes, so going to thank a few people for their help with their initials. Big love to RB, RR, MD, FL, and SH for their support, edits, thoughts, and encouragement.
Separately, I’m interested in writing a post clarifying why it’s hard gathering good data on this and the mechanisms that can suppress people’s willingness to share their experiences. Please reach out to me if you have input on this or questions.
I use the word survivor to define anyone who’s experienced sexual harassment, assault, or intimidation.
Thank you for so much for articulating this in such a thoughtful and considered way! It must have taken a lot of courage to share these difficult experiences but I'm so glad you did.
Your suggested actions are really helpful, and I would encourage anyone who cares about building a strong community based on altruism to take the time to think on this.
As someone who has had a similar experience with a partner I trusted, this paragraph felt incredibly true:
"The realistic tradeoffs as a survivor of sexual harassment or assault often push the survivor to choose an ideal, like justice or safety for others, at the expense of their time, energy, and health. While reeling from the harm of the situation, the person experiencing the harm might engage in a process that hurts them in an effort to ensure their safety, protect other potential victims, educate the perpetrator, or signal that the perpetrator’s actions were harmful."
I spent the weeks following the incident going over the facts in my head, considering his point of view, minimising the experience, wondering if I should have been more direct (anyone who has met me in person will know that's not something I usually have a problem with), discussing with friends who were disgusted by the story, then finally organising a meeting with him to outline why his actions were unacceptable, the next steps he needed to take and to make clear that he was not to contact me again.
I'm lucky that I have an incredible support system, had read enough on consent to feel able to stand up for myself and that he was immediately full of regret and shame. I am lucky that I have been able to process what happened with professionals and my friends to the extent that I am in a great place now. But I am forever changed by it and would unfortunately rank that short event as one of my clearest memories.
Hopefully, readers of this comment can see that this is not a reasonable process. I would be horrified if someone I loved told me that this had happened to them and that they were planning to mediate the aftermath like I had done.
Harms can be caused by poor judgement and selfishness in the moment. Actions that the individual might regret or feel shame over and potentially learn and grow from. However, the responsibility to protect other people, educate the perpetrator and repair the damage should be distributed.
The purpose of this comment was to give an additional piece of anecdotal evidence of the problem. I don't have any clear answers nor am I qualified to say what should be done in an ideal world here. If you'd like to discuss anything I've written here, feel free to DM me here or on Twitter @glpat99
Thanks again Emma - this is such an excellent post.
Thanks for bravely sharing this. I'm really sorry to hear what you've been through.
This passage resonated with me:
This kind of stuff has happened to me too. Each incident has felt too minor to do anything about, primarily because if I did, I'd then have to think about it as a Bad Thing That Happened, rather than an awkward interaction; something to forget. So there is a death-by-a-thousand-cuts element to all of this, where no individual interaction has risen to the level of wanting to make a fuss, but in combination, these things change how I perceive myself in EA spaces (more male gaze-y) and how I act (a bit more guarded).
And then I felt sad reading what followed:
Because it felt as if you were writing for a reader who might be inclined to doubt you. (Sorry if I am projecting; it's just that some people have raised this sort of objection.) So I just want to say: I think that in the context of an issue that is notoriously hard to study (as you note), our experiences—and the experiences of the many other women who have shared their stories—do provide strong evidence of an important, systemic issue. Thanks again for speaking up.
(I'm making a separate comment for a separate point)
Something I think about a lot, with regard to this, is secrecy. I feel like there's a big culture of secrecy or confidentiality around both questions of sexual misconduct, and other issues in the community, and I wonder whether we might be a healthier community if there was just more open, specific, name-attached discussion of bad things that people in the community have done. The problem, of course, is that calling for survivors to make open accusations plays into the same dynamic you are criticizing here - of placing most of the burden of getting justice on survivors.
For example: I personally know of someone in the community who has done some bad stuff. Not 'calling-the-police' bad, but 'I kinda wanna hang a red flag on him' bad. And part of me wants to just, idk, make a public post about this, or tell everyone I know: not because I want to ruin his life, or because I'm angry/vengeful, but because I want to protect others, and I think others might want to change their interactions with him, if they knew. And part of what prevents me from doing that is that it's not my story to tell; but part of it, I think, is a feeling that 'call-outs' of that kind are too big and dramatic and overkill-y, if the harm hasn't crossed over a certain threshold. But is that right? Do people have the right to be protected from people's reactions to their actions?
Similarly, I notice that when you described two (!) instances of sexual harassment you experienced at the recent EAG, you didn't say who it was. And it's completely your right not to reveal that and I really don't intend to pressure you to do so, but I have to confess part of me is like 'what the FUCK, after ALL that's happened and all the discussions we've been having, people had the audacity to behave like that?! Name and shame!'
And I have similar questions in my mind about stuff NOT related to sexual misconduct. For example, I've heard some bad stories about people's experiences working for EA organisations, and I wonder whether we might be a healthier community if more of these conversations were openly had.
Anyway, this makes me think that something the community could do is ensure to survivors (and others who've suffered bad behaviour) that telling people what happened, with their own and the perpetrator's name attached, won't harm their career. I'm not sure how to do this. One part is probably just expressing support for survivors and believing reports of misconduct by default (rather than having scepticism as a default). This might be another reason to distribute power more equitably within the community - if more people run organisations, control money, and have social power, then it might feel less costly to piss off one powerful person. Another part is perhaps for powerful people to make convincing signals that they won't punish people who criticize them and call them out for bad behaviour.
Anyway, very confused about all this. I'm interested in people's thoughts.
Thank you for writing this and for posting it here. Thank you for sharing your own story and experience.
We all have a responsibility to this community, and to every community we're part of. I've been thinking for a while about bystanders, and how to encourage folks to think about "community health" not as law enforcement or emergency services, but as the atmosphere that we are all engaged with (for better or for worse, whether or not we realize it). The metaphor of a collectively shouldered burden is really good.
I hope your post is widely read. Please know that I appreciate it.
I think you explained this really well! Thanks for writing this.
I agree: Detailed feedback from survivors is not the only way for perpetrators to improve their behavior. (I think this also applies more broadly with social skills; direct feedback from people you've hurt is definitely not the only way to get better.)
You already provided some good ideas in your post, but here are more ideas on how non-survivors can improve the situation.
Here are things that perpetrators could do besides soliciting direct feedback from those they’ve harmed:
These ideas could also be helpful for people who are concerned they’ve caused harm but aren’t sure of it. Or for people who are concerned they might cause harm.
For EA event organizers
Here’s an anecdote: I’m female and I used to organize local EA events. One time, one of my attendees made a weird flirty comment towards me, and it seemed suspicious, but not that bad on its own. But it inspired me to contact CEA about this attendee. I heard other (worse!) reports about him. So I banned him.
Oftentimes, when I’ve gotten sketchy vibes from a guy, later info has revealed that he treats women poorly. Sketchy vibes aren’t sufficient for a ban, but they are a good indication that you should pay attention and ask around.
For non-perpetrators and non-organizers
For those who have caused, may have caused, or feel they may cause harm, I'd add:
Critically examine your use of alcohol and certain drugs, and whether you should reduce or stop any use of them. To be clear, the use of alcohol or drugs is not in any way an excuse for misconduct. But you should consider whether your use of alcohol or drugs may have an adverse effect on your agression, impulse control, judgment, or other factors that increases the likelihood of future harm.
I think this is potentially very good and helpful advice if quite controversial. Alcohol is endemic in our society, but it seriously compromises your judgement! I say this as someone who has historically benefited a lot from alcohol as an aide to getting over social anxiety - it can be useful but it's a very double-edged sword.
That suggests another possible suggestion for community leaders: organise more dry events. Most meetups would probably be totally fine without alcohol, even social mixers (controversial!).
I really like the below list of advice. I mostly endorse it. But I don't think calling these people "perpetrators" will lead more to read this useful advice. For people whose behaviour causes harm feels like a frame that a reader could look at and say "yeah, that's me".
I just meant to use the same language as the OP, but that is a reasonable point. If someone writes a more polished guide for this kind of thing, different wording could be used.
I think parts of this could be turned into a list of general advice for people who initiate romantic/sexual relationships. And then there could be a sublist within that for people who think they may have caused harm. Does that sound better? (Glad to hear other feedback on this!)
(separate reply to allow separate [dis]agreevoting)
I think I'd like to see a system where community members who have caused, may have caused, or feel they may cause harm could anonymously self-refer themselves for services from an appropriate professional (with community financial support to the extent necessary). I don't have much to say about what those services would entail, and it would presumably depend on the situation -- but I suspect challenging beliefs associated with toxic masculinity would be a major component in many cases.
This would be orthogonal to other forms of community response; it is by no means a replacement for either addressing reports or for more generally-targeted prevention efforts. Given how often sexual misconduct and assault goes unreported, there may have been a number of instances before a report is made. I'd just like to find some way to be more proactive in trying to stop additional harm at an earlier point in time.
Differently but same idea: men's groups. Part of the problem with masculinity is that men don't actually talk about it. And it's often easiest to learn from people you feel similar to and respect.
EDIT: I see you suggested the same thing further down so I just agree with you :)
Thanks so much for your bravery in sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences at EAG and the afterparty. I care about and value you a lot as a community member and a colleague and it makes me very sad to hear that you were uncomfortable.
As I mentioned in my other reply, we are working with the community health team to investigate the EAG incident, and I plan to do what I can to help.
I'm not sure about this suggestion, but I wonder if as part of the EAG survey, it might ask if you had an uncomfortable experience with someone.
I know someone who at this EAG, had an uncomfortable experience, but on the minor end of the spectrum. I don't think they considered reporting it to CH at CEA until they heard that someone else independent brought up that they had an uncomfortable experience with the same person at that EAG. On its own, an incredibly minor experience that would seem excessive to bring up to CEA. But hearing it as a pattern of behavior made it more concerning.
So given that reporting to CEA can feel too serious for many offenses, maybe filling it in a survey would be a place people could report more minor experiences like this?
I think another barrier to reporting minor incidences is the potential reportee wouldn't want too serious of sanctions to he taken against the person. A lot may just want someone in a position of authority to say "hey, you may not realize, but you're making people uncomfortable"
I'm a little worried that instilling this policy would lead to a hostile atmosphere or something where fingers are pointed at each other. But maybe worth testing this at an EAGx or something? Not sure.
As an extra data point - I had a couple of extremely uncomfortable conversations with someone at an EAG a few years back and didn’t report it, because I tend to think it’s my fault/ I might be misinterpreting things/ I don’t want to escalate things. I was relieved to later find out the person had been banned from EAG for making various women feel uncomfortable. I wished I had erred on the side of reporting (maybe with no steps taken if it was just my report), and was very glad CH exists!
Would it be helpful for CH to publicize a policy that explicitly commits to honoring the affected person's wishes as to the limits of any investigation and response, at least for less serious reports?
For instance, a reporter could limit their report to background use only, to help CH identify a trend if there is a future report involving the same person. Or could limit the action to, as @Tiresias said, having someone say "hey, you may not realize, but you're making people uncomfortable."
Thanks for your suggestion here — we currently have a 'least valuable experience' question in our post-event feedback form, but your suggestion is an interesting idea. We’re now discussing it internally. (For context, I work on the events team at CEA and have been the community health contact person at previous EAG/EAGx events.)
I think figuring out whether something is a serious enough issue to talk to the community health team about can feel hard for several reasons like those you’ve mentioned. In general, the more serious something is the more likely it is you should tell the community contact. Additionally, the more upset you are about the incident (even if it might not be perceived as serious by others) the more likely it is you should tell the community contact, especially if being upset is making it hard for you to participate in the event.
As you and other commenters have implied, we generally like to hear about incidents even if they seem minor, in order to keep an eye on patterns of behaviour. Sending a short text/whatsapp to the community contact number might be a low-cost way to let us know about things that feel minor. There are a variety of possible actions we may take depending on the severity of the incident(s) and other context. We’ve sometimes just made a note of the incident, and don’t act unless other complaints about the same person come up. We’ve had conversations like you’ve suggested, gently letting people know they’ve made an attendee uncomfortable. On the other end of the spectrum we’ve permanently banned people from our events for more serious incidents or repeated patterns of unacceptable behaviour. And there are various intermediary actions we’ve taken too.
I strongly +1 the comment and really resonate with the below statement in particular.
Often I've felt strange about reporting minor instances where I felt a little uncomfortable and have also been unsure along the lines 'is serious enough? is a strange vibe reportable? etc'. Especially because in many of those situations I don't think the person/people were intentionally making me uncomfortable and just unaware. But at the same time, many people (me included) find it hard to straight up say 'hey you made me uncomfortable doing X ' and so a CH team mediator or anonymous comment form makes sense to me.
Thank you for writing this. I've been thinking a lot about what 'average EAs' (as opposed to e.g. formal Community Health) can do to make the community better - with regard to sexual misconduct and other things. If there is anything that you, or other survivors reading this, would like me to do to ease your burden, let me know (for example, spreading warnings about people, or communicating with people who've harmed you, or people in power, on your behalf, or anything else you might think of). I'm also just happy to hear people's stories.
I'm a little scared to write this. This topic is always really hard to discuss well. I drafted this comment about 3 times.
Thank you for writing about your experiences. I think that a really healthy thing for our community here is empathy - that we spend the right amount of time empathising those involved, because how readily people come to mind affects our actions. Most of what gets written is either news articles or apologies, so unless I ask my friends directly, I don't often pieces written by women in language that's easy for me to empathise with. I'm sad these things happened to you, but thank you for taking the time and effort to write this. I think it's much easier to not book that flirtatious meeting when I have read the outcome where someone is further exhausted by it happening.
Sometimes those who have faced situations are the experts. "[let's not let] the burdens and costs fall overwhelmingly on those who have experienced it" is something I want to say, but I think those people are really well placed to make these arguments, so I am unsure. In particular, there is no way that I could have covered this with the nuance or grace you have. While we might not want women to spend effort doing this kind of explaining, they are, in my experience just a lot better at it. I don't know the answer here, but thank you for taking the effort to create value.
So what ways could others get the same benefits without the effort being placed on those who have had experiences?
I think that both parties in this current sexual norms discourse find this discussion exhausting. I do think the ability to safely push back is part of the trust required to change ones mind. I think you've modelled that superbly. But I think it's just so hard to do on a topic like this. I think it's worth noting that some of those who are trying to disgree with, say, the Time and Bloomberg's articles, are also scared of their lifestyles changing or of social opprobrium. This in turn makes all involved in the discussion tired and defensive.
Thanks for writing this, for being so clear and vulnerable and for saying on twitter that it was okay for people to disagree. I think you've been just hugely competent here in a way that's underrated.
As an analagous story, I spent time reading first hand accounts of those who had lost money on FTX because I wanted them to loom much larger in my mind than those I was mainly empathising with - SBF and EAs involved. This sounds humble braggy it's not. I just imagine I am more liable to ignore the suffering of those involved than is true to reality.
This feels like an ugly thing to say. But I think it's true.
Feels like there is a counterargument like "well you should just listen to what women say" though A) I literally don't think women's views are the only ones that matter here, though they matter a lot and B) EA women do not speak with one voice
I am probably couching my views a bit here, so as to write something that I don't think I will regret, but I feel a lot more comfortable discussing here than on some other articles.
Hey Nathan, thanks for sharing even when it's hard. I'd be curious to hear more about "I think that both parties in this current sexual norms discourse find this discussion exhausting." I think there are tremendously simple norms at play here, from Emma's accounts of EAG in this article:
Don't use Swapcard (or other clearly professional infrastructure) to try to get dates / flirt.
Don't immediately start touching people until there's a clearer context / consent for it. If you're in doubt, either ask or don't touch them.
If someone tells you to stop doing something, stop doing it.
There are definitely a few more norms that should be added to this list.
But I don't think these are too hard or exhausting to think about or follow. And, of course, it goes without saying but I imagine it's way more exhausting for sexual harrassment victims than for non-victims. Curious what I'm missing?
Whilst I agree this should be a norm, and it is often actually written in participant guides as a norm, it's increasingly clear to me this is not a norm - and it's definitely not one that's been picked up by the 95% percentile
So unfortunately there's a lot of work to do here
I’d like to clarify that “using the event app to request meetings for romantic or sexual reasons” is clearly listed as one of the behaviors that “don’t belong at EA Global or related events” in our Code of Conduct (also found on our FAQ and registration form). Agreeing to this is a condition of attending, we take violations seriously, and we are working with the community health team to investigate this incident.
If people are having a hard time understanding or following that rule, I wonder if establishing a bright-line collorary would help, something like: In addition, if you use the event app to obtain a meeting with someone, you may not -- at any time between the day before the event starts and the second day after the event ends -- suggest or propose a romantic or sexual encounter with that person.
The rationalization I could see people trying to use on the current wording is that it focuses on conscious intent when using the event app. They could tell themselves (or maybe even believe?) that they did not ask for the meeting for romantic/sexual reasons.
Yeah, we should probably do something about that. My guess is that Community Health is on this (EDIT: they are on this, sorry I missed that message!)
I imagine there's a few things CH could do if they learn the identity of the offender - my guess is an appropriate reaction would be a warning or maybe just ban them from the next EAG, followed by permanently banning from EAG for repeated offending.
Surely directly violating the code of conduct you explicitly agreed to is an auto-ban for the next conference? I’d reserve warnings for things that are negative behaviour but not explicitly prohibited
And that should be stated upfront to more effectively deter violations.
Yeah I'm just going to retract my comment entirely because it looks like I misunderstood the situation.
l agree that I'm sure it's exhausting for Emma and other women to talk about this. That Emma has done so so well is to her extreme credit. I think this is a really good piece.
But I guess Emma's exhaustion comes from a fear of sharing something vulnerable or
perhaps of not being taken seriously. Perhaps of the difficulty of writing on this forum in the
My fear is different. It is of being disliked and becoming a pariah. I feel it in my spine and across my back. What if I misphrase this idea l'm playing with and everyone thinks I don't take women's sadness seriously?'
Perhaps one might respond "Maybe don't play with ideas then?"
But then I don't feel like I'm in a discussion, in this dicussion I feel like I'm being told to agree or shut up. I sense others feel it even more than I do.
I am not comparing the size of different emotions. Just talking about how I feel. I imagine those feelings make it harder for us to come to useful agreement here.
Thanks for sharing this, Nathan. As for me, I experience some anxiety that I might mess up posts or comments on this topic even though there are several factors that should make me less anxious than the average reader (e.g., I am mostly psuedonymous, I am not a career EA, my ideas are pretty mainstream-for-the-wider-culture, and I'm a professional writer). So I suspect that what you're experiencing is pretty common and is valuable to share with others in the community.
I think it's important for men of good faith to have a safe sandbox to think through some of these issues and learn how to be a better ally. In the area of sexual assault prevention, men who do not engage in problematic behaviors play an important part in many mitigations, like bystander intervention and combatting toxic masculinity. So, to the extent practicable, I think it is really important to avoid creating disincentives for men to engage on these issues -- like fear of being seen as insensitive or worse due to a good-faith mistake.
But in the course of developing in this area, men will sometimes phrase things awkwardly and will sometimes say incorrect things. Maybe the Forum isn't the best sandbox; I think I like the idea of a men's group of sorts -- I would favor having a trained facilitator involved in that. That way, the inevitable moments of awkard phrasing or error can be gently addressed without expecting women or non-binary people in the community to take on the emotional labor of addressing them.
To be clear, I definitely do think you take women's sadness seriously.
Also I certainly hope nothing I've done has implied that you should agree or shut up - that's not my intention at all.
I really do think benefit of the doubt is important. If you misphrase an idea and then concede that you misphrased it, I will understand that and not change my respect for you. I misphrase ideas all the time.
I mean I'm not sure I take women's sadness seriously enough. That's part of the whole complexity here. This isn't just an abstract discussion for me and I guess many others, it's a discussion about my actual actions and if I change my mind my behaviour changes, sometimes significantly (I definitely flirted with fewer people at EAG after parties as a result of this).
I know that's not your intention, but I want to flag that that's how it feels. I don't think Emma could say anything that would get her cancelled here. Me? No I'm pretty sure I could easily earn scorn if I'm not careful.
As for misphrasing, I agree, though there is a discussion on twitter that suggests screenshots of the forum are fair game. I disagree - while public, this is a different kind of public than twitter. If screenshots are fair game then rephrasing or retracting is out the window.
I think your feelings are genuine, but I'm unfortunately not sure what to do about them besides what I'm already doing, which is try to be empathetic and welcoming.
I had a conversation with someone that went like this:
Them - "Man, the EA Forum is like if all of EA had a water cooler to chat by"
Me, sarcastic - "Great, yeah, real smart of us to have a water cooler that is surrounded by journalists"
I think this gets at an important point that is pretty stifling / chilling, since the norms we've cultivated may not be upheld in other venues. I think it's important to have these conversations in public so everyone can hear, but there are real large costs to that.
Another option: maybe have a moderated conversation in an offline space and then edit it before publishing?
I mean, in some sense I revel in this. If we can figure out how to do this discourse better than we can manage something that the rest of the internet can't. Perhaps we can have men feel comfortable to admit failures in public without destroying them for it but taking responsibility and growing and staying part of the community. What a world.
Yes, it may not be a good idea.
Thank you so much for the time and energy put into this post! I have lots more to take in, but I wanted to highlight some points I took away on my first read through
One thing that seems especially noteworthy about the general framing of this post, and this statement in particular, is that it's describing a healthier community that only needs a little extra effort from each individual. This reminded me of what I see as norms around welcoming new people to EA groups. At least in my experience, most people see the importance of tailoring conversations with new people toward their interests and avoiding unnecessary jargon. Since many people are both capable of having this type of conversation and recognize its importance, there are many people that feel license to make this person more comfortable, and no individual has to be the one to do it on a given day. There are also tons of people that developed introductory curricula to be even more welcoming to new people, and train group leaders to do a better job of this in their individual groups. It seems like applying a similar level of care to sexual misconduct reinforces your concrete points of how we could get to this healthier community: treating each individual with compassion and putting in the time to think about how to do this better.
Another example of norms that feels in the right direction is how the EA community addresses burnout. EA seems to stigmatize driving people to burnout a lot more than other groups I've been apart of. This also gives me hope that EAs could realistically handle situations like the ones described in this post better than other communities. This feeling especially resonated with the final line in the post
Thanks for the post and vulnerability! I wanted to add one piece.
I'm speaking from my own experience here. For me, a difference between a "correct" and "incorrect" reaction to a misconduct is a person whose emotions and needs you focus on. Long story short - under no circumstances, when you are speaking to a victim you should be the most important person in the room. If, for whatever reason, you cannot do that (and it's totally ok to feel that way), I'd suggest stepping out from the conversation.
Some people may want to give away control and ask others to react - absolutely, you should then react. But because they need it and it's right for them, not because you want to.
So, listening to a person who reports misconduct, the actions you take and the words you say should not be about your shock and stress, your values, your need for action, your need for justice, your relationship with anybody or something similar. I'm not saying "don't have those" or "don't set boundaries". Obviously, you are going to have those, and if for whatever reason the situation crosses your boundary, step out of it. For me personally, angry, aggressive reactions, when I feel I totally loose control on what happens next are as problematic, as disbelief. And - here, it is very personal - disbelief is sometimes easier, as at least I know why I feel violated.
In my opinion, after a situation when somebody crosses your boundaries, you may need empowerment (again, you may need it, I'm not speaking for everybody). So taking your agency from you is bad, doesn't matter what form it takes. For me, each time I healed from sexual abuse or misconduct, was the moment when I felt in a position of power over my perpetrator. And some of my abusers were actually quite powerful people for me at the time, not only physically, but also when it comes to a position in the society. It may be personal, but I feel it's important to mention that some people may feel that way as well. If I feel that I'm in a place where - when I speak up - people may start trying to forcefully take care of me, I won't speak up. Which is not ideal.
(That being said, if the majority of victims decide they want a system which reacts for them, please set up such a system, I'm just not going to use it)
It is similar case as patriarchy, you know? The core of patriarchy is a man trying to decide what is good for a woman. The solution is listen to her. Forced protection without respect is only slightly better than ignoring.