I took down this post. In it, I originally spoke of how many assaults I'd "caught" in EA, and my unhappiness with my experiences with CEA and the Community Health. My message didn't get across and I was repeatedly told I was emotional, hyperbolic, etc. The post failed to convey the value and message I wanted it to convey - which is to start a discussion on assault within EA and whether it was being handled well, and devolved into critiques of me through the very limited information I conveyed in the post; not to say the criticism is or isn't fair, but wasn't my intent to get personal to turn this into a discussion about me. There were also multiple requests for more information about the assaults themselves (which was also the case in the previous forum post I participated in, in which the Time article on sexual misconduct was linked), which I am unwilling to share in a public forum. I've removed it as it is counterproductive and needlessly takes away from discussing sexual assault within EA. 

 I'd like to add - For the commenters (@Ubuntu and @Chris Leong ) saying "if EA were to hire you" - I don't want EA to hire me. I don't want to join CH. I've never applied for, wanted a job with CH, nor do I think I have said anything I spoke to implied I wanted a job with CH? If there's something I said that implied that, I'm sorry, but to be clear I've never wanted a job with EA nor am I in EA. If you mean that I sent a proposal to CEA about developing a policy, reporting system, and training to mean CEA was "hiring" me - I don't see it as being "hired" or wanting to work with CEA.

What I wanted to replace the system of being my being CEA's unofficial report-taker. @Ubuntu I agree with you in that I shouldn't have been the Community Health team's unofficial report taker, and you SHOULD be unhappy that I was doing that. That was one of the intents of my post, to call attention to that. It truly was my mistake to not have stopped doing this work for EA earlier, as it seems completely unwanted by the movement. Replacing my work taking reports and supporting survivors and handing that over to your Community Health team would have taken - a month, max two, to do (that's the "proposal" I mention). I also let Community Health know that I wouldn't refer survivors to them, and I've spoken to why in my reply to @Ben Millwood. You're welcome to disagree with my assessment, but I stand firm in this stance. I believe anyone speaking to survivors should bring compassion and support to that work. Also, I'm 99.9% certain the proposal will going to be declined; and should have stated that earlier. I only sent it as a way to say "these are the conditions in which I can continue helping you, if you don't agree, I will not help you."

Further, while most of you seem to be unwilling to admit you have a problem with rape, as your former unofficial report-taker, I believe you do, and I hope you dig deeper and find more about this yourselves. But either way, I have zero desire to continue long term working within EA, or to be part of your movement. 

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Hi all -

This post has now been edited, but we would like to address some of the original claims, since many people have read them. In particular, the author claims:

  1. They have identified 30 incidents of rape or abuse with strong ties to EA, as well as 14 that are “EA adjacent”
  2. They have been fighting assault in EA since 2016

Here is some context: 

  • The author emailed the Community Health team about 7 months ago, when she shared some information about interpersonal harm; someone else previously forwarded us some anonymous information that she may have compiled. Before about 7 months ago, we hadn’t been in contact with her.
  • The information from her included serious concerns about various people in the Bay Area, most of whom had no connection to EA as far as we know. 4 of the accused seemed to be possibly or formerly involved with EA. CEA will not allow those 4 people at our events (though for context most of them haven’t applied). As we’ve said before, we’re grateful to her for this information. 
  • In addition, she later sent us some information that we had also previously received from other sources and we were already taking action on. We appreciate people sharing information even when it turns out we already have it, but it is relevant for clarifying the degree to which she is counterfactually responsible for our actions. 
  • Based on our records, this is the extent of the relevant information she has shared with us.
  • She referred to some other situations both on the Forum and privately, which did not contain enough information for us to identify the situation or learn more. 
  • We have emailed the author to tell her we will not be contracting her services.
     

We don’t think it’s productive to go into more depth about the author’s specific claims or engage in a back and forth with her, but we wanted to publicly flag that we disagree with many of her claims.


If you have concerns about our approach here, our reasoning etc., please let us know. Please reach out to me by email (catherine@centreforeffectivealtruism.org) or fill in this form (anonymously if you wish) to reach the whole Community Health team. You can read more about Julia Wise and my roles as contact people for the EA community here

Catherine, thanks for taking the time to respond to this.

I think both the TIME story and this thread underscore the need to devote some additional resources to transparent, proactive reporting about incoming reports [1] (in a way that protects the privacy of everyone involved). Every report should be accounted for in some fashion (e.g., "closed due to reported person's non-involvement in EA" is fine; "reported person was an EA, but not enough information was provided even after a follow-up to open a matter" is fine). [2] 

For example, hearing that at least four people will not be allowed at CEA events as a result of reports about sexual assault last year is helpful. Arguably the most significant effect of CEA's actions in reducing future misconduct is general deterrence (i.e., convicing other people that they should not commit misconduct lest they suffer the same consequences), and that only works if the consequences are publicized (as well as they can be). 

In addition to some apparent factual disagreements between CH and the original poster, I get the sense that one of the cruxes here may be a lack of clarity about who is involved with EA. As Julia mentioned in her comments to TIME, that can be a tricky question.

I think it would be helpful to develop and publicize non-exhaustive criteria of who will be considered to be involved with EA for purposes of statistical reporting and potential action. For example, I would consider anyone meeting any of the following criteria to have been involved for statistical purposes (there are probably others):

  • Anyone who was accepted to EAG in the relevant time period;[3]
  • Anyone who worked for an organization during the relevant time period, if that organization received a grant from any of a specific list of funders and could reasonably be considered part of the EA movement (e.g., the Gates Foundation does not count);
  • Anyone who received a grant from any of those funders during the relevant time period;
  • Anyone who is in a position of leadership in an EA group during the relevant time period, where that group that has received funding from a specified funder.

The point of committing to non-exhaustive published inclusion criteria is that it provides something objective to help mitigate factual disagreements like the one we see here and promotes public confidence in the reported data. [4] When there are reports of misconduct in the media, I think it will be helpful to have published objective criteria to which we can refer to determine whether the person was clearly an EA.

There could also be criteria for individuals who are potentially involved, such anyone who applied for EAG at any time, or anyone who more than occasionally attends official functions of a group described above. Those could be decided on a case-by-case basis; the outcome should report the individual as "somewhat involved" or "determined not to meet involvement criteria after individual-specific review" depending on the exercise of judgment. In other words, there should be a distinction between people in the grey zone and people who are clearly not involved.

Finally, you could make clear that living in a "EA house," attending parties thrown by EAs or with EAs in attendance, etc. do not count as involvement with EA for statistical or action purposes. It's understandable that the original poster may be looking at EA more as a social group, but as a practical matter CEA isn't in a position to take any action against these sorts of individuals. I also don't think it's necessary for EA as a movement to somehow accept responsibility for these individuals.[5]

  1. ^

    Given the nature of this thread, this comment focuses on reports relating to sexual assault. However, I think data on reports of non-assault sexual harassment also needs to be provided.

  2. ^

    In my view, CH should encourage and log reports from individuals in the EA community even if the reporter does not wish to name the individual, as long as the reporter provides enough information to conclude that the individual counts as EA-involved as described below (e.g., "was at EAG this year" or "works for [Organization]"). I do think reports from outside the community generally need both an identified survivor who can be contacted and an identified perpetrator to count for statistics.

  3. ^

    The year in which the incident occured, the year prior, and the following year (to the extent the following year has transpired)

  4. ^

    CH would not need to go through the specific exclusion criteria unless it was planning to no-action the matter on grounds that the person accused of misconduct was not involved in EA.

  5. ^

     I default to trying to apply the same standards to EA as to other movements or organizations absent a good reason. I wouldn't (e.g.) generally view actions of a roommate of a member of a church, actions of someone who attends parties with a lot of church people present, or actions of someone who has attended a few worship services as "chargeable" to that church.

Thanks for this! I would broaden this criteria somewhat.

Someone who meets any of the following criteria relevant time period (really like the way you defined the period as "the year in which the incident occured, the year prior, and the following year (to the extent the following year has transpired)"):

  • Accepted to EA-branded events such as an EAG(x), retreat, summit or workshop
  • Worked (temporarily or full-time) for an EA-aligned organization  or  one that received a grant from a list of funders and could reasonably be considered part of the EA movement (e.g., the Gates Foundation does not count);
  • Received a grant, scholarship or fellowship from any of those funders or programs they have funded during the relevant time period;
  • Is an organizer or regular member (as defined by attending some number of events in the given period, or is considered as such by the group organizer) in an EA group that has received funding from EA funders 

Rationale:

  • Expanded EAG to EA branded events because there are lots of other EA branded events, but didn't include e.g. cause-specific events that might have a large number of non-EAs
  • Mentioned temporary work (e.g. contractor) in case it's unclear
  • Expanded grant to include scholarship / fellowship
  • Expanded to include being a member of a group, because i think it's really important to count that person as invovled in EA. Very uncertain of exact boundaries there.  

Thanks -- I figured my list was incomplete. I think there's a potential administrability tradeoff here. It's reasonable to expect CH to check certain internal, critical, and/or easily accessible data. However, I suspect there are might be things that would auto-qualify for EA status under that proposal that CH might not pick up on after a reasonable inquiry into the alleged offender's status. So I think there are things that should auto-qualify, but for which I wouldn't necessarily call a failure to apply auto-qualification a miss.

I struggled with the group inclusion criteria. One challenge is that CH may need to be able to apply the statistical criterion without tipping off to anyone else that there has been a complaint about a specific person. In a large group, CH could get around that by asking for the full active-member list (although that might be a burden on group leaders depending on whether CH was asking for a pre-existing document or asking the leaders to create a list5 that met the statistical criterion). In a smaller group, they would need to find a way to get this information without arousing suspicion that there had been a complaint about a group member.

Finally, you could make clear that living in a "EA house," attending parties thrown by EAs or with EAs in attendance, etc. do not count as involvement with EA for statistical or action purposes. It's understandable that the original poster may be looking at EA more as a social group, but as a practical matter CEA isn't in a position to take any action against these sorts of individuals. I also don't think it's necessary for EA as a movement to somehow accept responsibility for these individuals.

 

I think that since CH does let peopel come to them with issues in scenarios like EA group house or events thrown by EAs (but not parties that EAs are in attendance at) , I'm not sure this makes sense. I think the problem is you can't really separate EA as social group vs EA as professional group, especially in the Bay Area. But it can be really hard to figure out the boundaries here. 

Yeah, I didn't mean to discourage CH from addressing any situations it thought should be addressed. 

I think for statistical purposes the involvement of the alleged perpetrator in "official" EA is a critical line, but other reports should still be catalogued and reported.

Strong upvoted for visibility.

I personally find these kinds of updates and transparency useful, so thanks for the context + appreciate it!

It is a little surprising to hear that the numbers claimed by both sides differ so much from each other - did the total number of cases from them or attributed to them total 30 incidents? What do you define as "possibly / formerly involved with EA"? 

I guess I'm wondering whether this difference is because they only shared, e.g. 5 / 44 cases, or whether all 44 were shared but only 4 of them that fit the CH team's definition of "possibly involved with EA"?

They have been fighting assault in EA since 2016....We don’t think it’s productive to go into more depth about the author’s specific claims or engage in a back and forth with her,

Correct, I have been working on rape as an issue since 2016. It was only after the publication the Time article that I went back and counted the number/percent that relate to EA. Re: numbers, I have not shared most of the stories/reports with Community Health. Further, as Catherine said, most of the information - including the information I “shared“ had been shared prior to my speaking to anyone at CEA, as confirmed via email by Julia Wise in August 2022. 

I called myself a "report taker" not a "report giver" or "report sharer" (I know this is a small distinction and I’m sorry for any confusion using it would cause) - and out of an abundance of caution and fear for survivor well-being and limiting my personal exposure to defamation, will not do so in the future. 

My intent with "calling out" Community Health in a forum  was in hope that they would take stronger action against rape. I felt that the forum was a more gentle approach than the media. Apologies for the harm Community Health felt in being called out by me. However, it feels to me that our approaches on rape diverge so greatly that there is no middle ground, and it is not productive for me to ask for stronger action. 

Agreed that it would not be productive to engage or to adjudicate any of my/Community Health's claims. When I realized that, I took down the original post. 

Good luck :)

The information from her included serious concerns about various people in the Bay Area, most of whom had no connection to EA as far as we know.

I'm concerned that predators may be claiming EA affiliation to gain the trust of victims.

I haven't personally heard any instances of this, but it's certainly possible :(

OP strikes me as hyperbolic in a way that makes me disinclined to trust it.

THAT'S A TOTAL OF 44. DENY THE "ADJACENT', BUT YOU CAN'T DENY THE THIRTY STRONG THAT I, A SOLO PERSON, PERSONALLY FOUND.

I can't deny this, in the sense that I don't know that it's false, but OP gives no evidence for this beyond the bare claims. OP doesn't provide any details that people could investigate to verify, and OP writes anonymously on a one-off account, so that people can't check how trustworthy OP has been in the past or on similar topics.

Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying things without proof or evidence - and in fact, it wouldn't shock me to hear that there were 30 incidents of rape or prolonged abuse in EA circles in something like a 6-year period (I've had friends tell me of some sexual infractions, and I don't see why I would have heard about all of them) - but I think one should own that they're doing that.

So much so that your CH team not only tried to take credit for some of my work (SEE HERE - https://imgur.com/Rj5eo24)

That link shows an anonymous commenter saying that they reported people to CEA community health, and Julia Wise agreeing, thanking that commenter, and saying that the reports helped CEA keep the accused out of some CEA spaces. Assuming the anonymous commenter is OP, I think it's misleading to summarize this as the CH team "tr[ying] to take credit for some of [OP's] work".

Why aren’t the orgs speaking to the mistakes they’ve made that led to the publication of the Time article a wake up to do better instead of indecisiveness, defensiveness, and contradicting each other in public comments in this forum (see: Julia and Chana contradictory statements on the dude in London who wanted a young lady to stay at his house)?

I have no idea what these contradictory statements are, altho I admit to not having followed discussion of this topic on the EA forum carefully. The fact that OP didn't link them, and the questionable representations elsewhere in the post make me not inclined to trust that there is such a contradiction.

Point (3) - that EA has used me for free work for six years, AND caused me additional harm on top of that (and no one has apologized when I brought this to their attention over a day ago).

As far as I can tell from what OP writes, the situation summarized here as "EA... us[ing OP] for free work for six years" is that people who have been sexually assualted have contacted OP, OP has reported them to CEA, and people from CEA have had conversations with OP. OP also refers to CEA community health as asking or telling OP to ask people who have accused others of sexual assault to contact CEA community health. I guess this is compatible with something like "We would appreciate it if you asked people to report accusations to us" as well as "Tell people to report accusations to us", but neither strike me as asking OP to do "free work". Unless "EA" is meant to refer to the people who have been sexually assaulted, or unless there's more OP hasn't said, I don't see how OP's summary is at all fair.

I’ve never - not once - had a survivor be unhappy with my handling of their situation, and the survivors have commented in my favor HERE (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/JCyX29F77Jak5gbwq/ea-sexual-harassment-and-abuse) as well, for the work I’ve done for survivors since November 2016.

Not knowing who OP is it's hard to tell whether this is right - but guessing at what username OP used in that discussion, I see one person recommending working with them, which is fewer endorsements than I would have guessed from taking this sentence straightforwardly.

Unlike the folks at RP I’ve spoken to and CH @ CEA, my background isn’t in STEM.

Julia Wise's LinkedIn lists degrees in sociology and social work, as well as experience in social work and mental health clinics. She is on the community health team at CEA, and in fact I think leads it? [EDIT: I've now heard that she doesn't lead the community health team]

Disclaimer: I don't have any particular inside information about CEA community health, and in particular I don't know how good a job they do at things.

It looks like the head of CEA community health is Nicole Ross, whose LinkedIn lists a degree in philosophy, which I also wouldn't consider a STEM subject.

OK apparently Nicole is normally the head but the current head is Chana Messinger, who indeed has a STEM background. At any rate, I think it's wrong to say that the whole community health team has a STEM background, but I guess that's not the most important point for the discussion.

[anonymous]64
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Epistemic status: I've only ever received basic training in dealing with sexual harassment/assault as part of managerial training (for non-EA jobs), but I've handled several cases at work. I'm also a woman with a lot of personal experience of being sexually harassed and assaulted (incidentally at a much higher rate outside of EA than inside, though your reference class may vary).

"I’ve never - not once - had a survivor be unhappy with my handling of their situation"

To add another perspective, if hypothetically the Community Health team were to hire you, there's a good chance I'd leave EA. I haven't worked with you so I'm only basing this on your activity on this forum, but my honest expectation is that such a hire would make me more scared of CH than of being sexually assaulted by an EA. As things currently stand, I personally think EA is extremely lucky to have the CH team that it does.

Part of me has a lot of respect for the compassion that drives your work and I imagine that your kind of approach is what's best in some communities. But I don't think this is one of them.

Hi there,

I have been a funder of both CEA and Rethink Priorities in the past, to the tune of low 5-digit sums per year. I'm personally acquainted with Julia, Chana and Peter, and I trust their judgement to an extent, so I tend to believe that they have good reasons for their actions, even if I don't know what they are yet.

Despite this, if the basic claims you're making (as I understand them) are true:

  • you've been instrumental in getting a double-digit number of abusers excluded from the community over the last 6 years or so,
  • this is a relatively uncontroversial claim that Julia et al would straightforwardly agree with,

then I'd be willing to fund you to continue this work, even if CEA didn't want to pay you themselves. Given your credentials and background, I don't know if I could afford you by myself, but if not I imagine there might be other people interested in contributing too.

I don't want to sound like I'm promising anything. I'm generally nervous of being over-eager to fund things without fully understanding the situation and all perspectives on it. I think there's a reasonable chance that when I ask the CH team about this they have very good reasons for why they haven't had a better relationship with you, and perhaps there could be some reason that funding you to continue this work would be counterproductive somehow.

I also understand that the fact you're not paid to do this work is not your only complaint, and maybe not even in your top three complaints. But it is the complaint that seems easiest to address, especially as a comparative outsider.

No, my main complaint isn't the lack of payment; I was taking reports and speaking to survivors for years prior. What I didn't realize until two weeks ago is that the way in which CH used my work puts me at higher legal liability, so I want to replace it. My main complaint is that the orgs and the folks listed aren't knowledgable on the topic - while I'm sure are lovely humans in many regards - also aren't willing to admit that they're in over their heads and not experts on SA. I don't think it's malice, just - being overwhelmed, carelessness, bad communication, a lack of putting themselves in my shoes or survivor shoes, that sort of thing. Trying to gather more data makes sense, but trying to gather that data to see if it's worth CH's time/resources to take stronger action on SH/SA without addressing the inherent issues with the difficulty of obtaining such data is short-sighted at best, and from a moral standpoint, we should reduce sexual harassment/assault without first needing to see if the scope of the problem is greater than it is for other groups or not. 

My main things are: given that CH seems pretty antagonistic toward survivors or seeing that there's a problem and puts me at risk of legal liability (I guess payment is number 4). Creating a formal relationship with them would lower risk (some information is private, the flow of info from me to CH is better), and for CH, create conditions in which confidentiality exist. And if CH continues to be antagonistic toward survivors, then I'd rather not connect survivors to them. How can I possibly ever send survivors to talk to someone who says she needs to how the accused is beneficial to the movement to make any sort of judgement? I do genuinely want them to more survivor-friendly. I do want them to see that women are being harmed; especially because more trauma comes from mishandling rape cases than from rape itself*. But at the same time, I don't want to spend all that time working with CH without getting paid for my time, nor do I think it's a good idea to try to spend that time unless we have better communication between them & me. 

Definitely don't think you're promising anything! And tbh, I'm not sure how I feel about funding versus getting paid directly for doing work (thus far, I don't charge survivors for my work, and only in the past five months have been charging institutions). 

 

*this is from my experience in speaking to survivors, one of my mentor's 30+ years experiences in advocacy, and data (eg, survivors who file police reports experience PTSD at much higher rates than survivors who don't)

  1. My main complaint is that the orgs and the folks listed aren't knowledgable on the topic - while I'm sure are lovely humans in many regards - also aren't willing to admit that they're in over their heads and not experts on SA. 
  2. given that CH seems pretty antagonistic toward survivors or seeing that there's a problem and puts me at risk of legal liability.
  3. Creating a formal relationship with them would lower risk (some information is private, the flow of info from me to CH is better), and for CH, create conditions in which confidentiality exist.
  4. If CH continues to be antagonistic toward survivors, then I'd rather not connect survivors to them. How can I possibly ever send survivors to talk to someone who says she needs to how the accused is beneficial to the movement to make any sort of judgement? I do genuinely want them to more survivor-friendly. I do want them to see that women are being harmed; especially because more trauma comes from mishandling rape cases than from rape itself*. But at the same time, I don't want to spend all that time working with CH without getting paid for my time, nor do I think it's a good idea to try to spend that time unless we have better communication between them & me. 

If these are your main complaints, I'm a little confused about why you've included RP and Peter in alongside the community health team. I won't speak for the CH team, but I don't think Peter has claimed to be an expert on SA, and I feel confident that he'd be pretty happy to admit this. 2~4 seem also mainly to be relevant for CEA / the members of the CH team, not for Peter / RP.

 

You (ed: missing two words) have until- and to be clear - it could be CEA or RP - to decline or accept my offer by Friday, February 24. And clearly, if it's accepted, there will have to be some sort of mediation or conversation on the topic of healing my wounds/anger with EA.

I do also want to manage expectations - if RP does not accept the offer, it is unlikely to be because decision-makers at RP believe that work to make the community a safer and more inclusive space is not worth doing, or that RP is "antagonistic to survivors", or that you don't deserve some conversation RE: healing your wounds / anger with EA. Some more plausible reasons might include:

  1. Funding this work is not within RP's scope / theory of change.
  2. RP does not have the financial flexibility to fund something like this
  3. RP does not have the capacity to review your proposal and decide if they should fund this within a 1 week period

To be clear, I don't make the decision around whether RP accepts the offer or not, and I'm not speaking on behalf of RP here - I'll clarify and update this post if I've made any mistakes.

I hope, based on the brief conversation we had prior to this post, that you don't see this comment as an attack against your work (but rather a defence of Peter / RP).



(Disclaimer: Work for RP)

Oh, don't see your post as an attack at all. From what little I know of RP, it doesn't feel to me that RP is right for this either since they're not community-facing and work more on research (though, who knows, two friends at RP said they might so I cc'd/included Peter - so I guess two people you know). Also, Peter & I exchanged a couple emails, and (I don't want to speak on Peter's behalf I'll be brief) - he said SA is something he spends a lot of time on, he wants to do what he thinks is best about SA, he asked what I'm looking to do, and the email I copied here is my response to that. I also copied Peter because I do feel frustrated with CH/feel - and who does one talk to about that? 

Also, I felt that the information I pointed out to Peter are relevant info for EAers to have (eg, about defamation), which is the main reason I included the email I sent to him here. 

AFTER I said that, both Catherine and Julia asked me to send survivors & bad actors their way. I found this really quite not okay. And you're right, that situation is not Peter's fault.

But also, I don't expect CH or RP to accept the proposal, and I'm not going to be bitter when Friday passes in continued silence.  Sending it was basically me saying - here's what I need in return for helping you. I have a 99% expectation that the answer is that EA (as a whole) would rather not have my help if it's conditioned upon reciprocity or admission of a problem. I wanted to state why I was leaving/discontinuing this work with EA,  give a number on assaults so more people would take it seriously (seems like I failed in that effort), and highlight my experience with CEA to show why I think rape will be ongoing problem. 

I'm concerned about situations where something goes very wrong with EA, outsiders notice this and experience+express strong negative emotion, but the expression of emotion causes people within EA to disregard the outsider because "obviously their thinking is clouded by emotion".

It's probably true that strong emotions cloud judgement, but they're also evidence that something is very wrong.

Reduced accuracy, combined with increased potential importance, could mean that the expected value of listening to an emotional person is about as high overall.

I'd hardly say someone who has been catching rapists in your community for six years is an "outsider" who just "noticed" a problem. I've been doing this November 2016. Contrast my# with Julia Wise's appendix of a year of situations (mostly interpersonal conflict, which she lumps together with rape and sexual misconduct, which is in and of itself a problematic stance) to notice which approach is more effect - hers or mine?  

And as I explain in my post, I'm quite intentional in my use of strongly emotive language, to get my point across. Knowing when and how to use emotion is in and of itself a valuable skill - in some professions (such as mine, and the one I'm coming out, as I'm client-facing). I think that CH not being emotional is one of the reasons survivors approach me instead of them, or more accurately, that I've had more than one survivor tell me speaking to me made them feel better than any prior conversation, which pushes my ability to gather and finalize reports to be higher than average. 

Also, this is intended to be a discussion on rape and EA's handling of it, not on emotions. I downvoted to get the conversation back on track. 

Lorenzo Buonanno
Moderator Comment32
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Hey everyone, as usual, the moderators want to point out that this topic is heated for several reasons:

  • Lots of relevant information comes from people's personal experiences, which will vary a lot.
  • These situations can be very serious and disturbing, and readers may have experienced appalling episodes.
  • Harassment and power dynamics are often emotionally loaded and can be difficult to discuss objectively.

Some recent threads on similar topics devolved into fights, sometimes on things very tangential to EA, so we want to ask everyone to be especially thoughtful when discussing subjects this sensitive.

And as a reminder, harassment is unacceptable.

Two questions:

  1. Can you define rape as you use it here?

  2. Also can you estimate how many of the women would have used that term"rape" in reference to their own case? Maybe if not, you can sum up what traumas, misconduct, or injustices they actually suffered?

I ask these because I've been reflecting on this piece this whole weekend, and it seems very unusual that in the Time piece there is nothing one could call "rape" that I remember *, but now here we see claims of 30 actual rapes. I have looked up California law and "rape" is defined how I'd expect (eg, CA does not seem to call all sexual assault or misconduct "rape". Rape is indeed specifically defined as sexual penetration without consent). So I'm not sure what's happening here that 30 so-called rapes are just coming out now.

I admit I do find this number implausible unless you are using a definition of coercion that is so liberal that it automatically means defining any relationship within a workplace or with professional gap as coercion, which I believe most participating women would themselves view as consensual or at least not call "rape" even if they found it disturbing in retrospect.

Additionally, why would you only name rapes and not other SAs? Those would matter too.. It is very improbable (damn near impossible) that a culture with rape does not have an even worse culture of SA. So if there are 30 rapes why am I not actually reading a claim that looks more like "I know of 30 rapes and also 30+X sexual assaults by definitely EA-related people"? That's the sort of claim that, if you could make it, would make sense to make if you are trying to build a case for how terrible EA is for women and how much harm has been neglected. So what is happening here? Is every SA and concerning instance being labelled rape or are the non-rapes being left out? Neither is okay tbh.

It should raise validity concerns for any reader that the Times journalist didn't uncover anything implying that 30 rapes had been committed, even though I think we can all agree that it would have done their central claim a great service and agree that the journalist took great effort to find supporting stories from various places. We'd have expected the journalist to hear about this.

TBH I was hoping someone else would ask for clarity on (1) how you are using the term "rape" and (2) how the women you have spoken to would use the term, because I don't want to be seen as doubting victim claims. I really, strongly prefer that claims are taken seriously. But this is... Just too surprising and demands clarity one way or the other.

I feel the discussion on this post has gotten bogged down in talk of CEA, professionalism, etc. Yes that may be how OP actually wants the discussion to go, but the more important thing for us EAs to focus on is victim experiences. How would the victims describe their experiences? I want to know that.

*(I think you could call one story in the Time piece "attempted rape" although it sounded to be in a non-EA space by an anti-EA man.. a man who has been long banned from EA spaces)

Over the past couple of weeks I've been surprised and distressed by the extent of these reports, a point which your concrete observations have underscored for me.

Having more details about the abusers you've identified and the abuses they committed would help me (and probably others) understand the nature of the problem, and what actions would make sense in response. On the other hand, there are good reasons not to make the list public, not least of which is that the survivors may not have consented to this.

I'm wondering if there is some way we can make more information public without compromising the desires of victims, or exposing victims or others to potential social or legal harm. For example, I could imagine you giving a list of 5 EA organisations and saying how many abusers were working there, or saying how many abusers you know of are attending the upcoming EAG conference in SF (assuming there's a public list of attendees), or how many have taken the Giving What We Can pledge. I also think it'd be important to know how many of these abusers are specifically known to CEA (by known, I mean both their identity and the nature of their actions).

I appreciate there might be reasons to be careful about revealing even this information, but any context like this that you can give would be helpful. 

Was the list of rapists redacted by OP or by moderators?

All the [redacted] parts of this post were written that way by the author, mods did not edit this post and if we edit or remove information, we will always either post a comment explaining what we did, or get in touch with the poster directly. (which we did not do in this case)

Thanks for the quick answer! I suspected as much but wanted to make sure.

No, it was redacted by me after I wrote the post and before I posted it here - the risk is low, but don't want to risk defamation - or derail the conversation about the overarching issue, in that people might start trying to guess/post names based on my descriptions (which happened with the original post about the Time article).

defamation

If someone committed a bunch of money to defend you in a defamation lawsuit, would that help? Do you have a sense for roughly how much money committed would be needed to substantially reduce the risk-to-you of a defamation lawsuit?

My guess would be that potential financial costs are far from the only problem with being sued for defamation.

And even on the money side, that's exposure to 30 separate defamation suits, each of which could easily cost low six figures to defend well.

Do you think it would be helpful to share parts of the proposal referenced in the e-mail with the community at some point? Totally understand if you don't want to, which could be the case for any number of valid reasons (including that it is your proprietary work product). If you decide it isn't a good idea, would it be possible to mention some decentralized movements that you think have more effective policies/practices, so we could look at those to glimpse what a more effective EA response might potentially look like?

Few (if any) people here have professional experience with issues of sexual violence. Some, but not most, of us have some sort of other potentially relevant professional experience. Speaking at least for myself, I don't feel I have a particularly great sense of what to advocate for. The decentralization and associated legal issues seem to make parts of this more complex than it would be at a university or even something like a national chess federation.

Yeah, there aren't very many people with professional experience around SA. 

The proposal is pretty standard stuff (a policy defining consent, reporting process, banning, investigation, evaluation, suggestions for safer events - to ensure that neither survivors nor the accused are subject to arbitrary actions at the whim of the team); training sessions (sexual harassment is required by law in many states, as I'm sure you're well-aware...just that I'm more familiar w/EA and SA than the standard low-cost training - which research shows is not only ineffective but counter-intuitive in that it creates a backlash), a robust reporting system & dissemination (as underreporting is a hard problem; and using me isn't working for me so I'd rather develop something to replace me), and some survivor-friendly language and framing to encourage survivors to come forward. I imagine your professional experience is more relevant to this than most of the other commenters :)

I know the risk of defamation is low if I posted a description of the accused, but it's still not one I want to take - but I considered it because the "30" I mentioned ARE more connected with EA (eg, employees of orgs at the time of the incident, paper trails of orgs verifying that they're connected to these people) - but agreed that the decentralization and associated legal issues make this complex. But that complexity is also interesting IMO.

IMO, I feel like rape is increasingly adjudicated by public opinion rather than law. Given the parameters of the law, it's understandably very difficult to prove non-consent beyond a reasonable doubt. Also, the opinions and biases of juries and judges, eg, the judge in the Stanford rape case is a good example, but I feel like I come across similar opinions from presiding judges of "not ruining a young man's life" once a month or so. 

If you're interested, I found a lot of value in Alexandra Brodsky's Sexual Justice - she's a Yale-trained attorney who makes some great arguments about why we need other processes that aren't the legal system for dealing with this. 

Thanks for the details! Yeah, definitely wasn't suggesting you should list names. It's helpful to hear how you determined that the 30 were more connected, though.

What you've described makes sense to me. As far as appropriate training (and also appropriate employer policies), I think that mandate would probably need to come from Open Philantrophy (the major EA funder) as a condition of its grants. I don't think either CEA or RP would have a great means of enforcing such a requirement. CEA could require training as a condition of attending one of its events . . . but the attendance at those events has been significantly cut due to budget constraints, so it would apply to only a fraction of the population. I would be a bit skeptical of on-line training unless supportive data were available; the people who most need to hear it would be the people most likely to be reading something unrelated in the background.

I think people sometimes tend to focus on the sanctioning/banning at the expense of other parts of a comprehensive response, so I'm glad to see the proposal was comprehensive. I expected it would be, of course. 

I'm sure you have thought through all of this, but for the non-lawyers, here are some more specific reasons that sanctioning/banning can only be a very partial solution. Clasically, there are three reasons we sanction people for the protection of a community: general deterrence, specific deterrence, and incapacitation. (There's also rehabilitation, but rehabilitation of people who commit sex offenses is presumably beyond EA's abilities).

  • General deterrence happens when someone else learns that the offender has been sanctioned; the idea is that other people will avoid misconduct because they don't want the same thing to happen to them. The challenge here is confidentality and privacy for the survivors, as well as legal concerns surrounding naming offenders. CEA doesn't have any legal privilege to be calling people out for committing sexual violence; repeating a factually incorrect statement will likely be libel or slander. [1] So while CEA could publish summary statistics, those probably don't have the same effect as watching some celebrity go to jail because they didn't file their taxes. (The feds specifically target celebrities for criminal tax prosecution because of general deterrence -- it gets a lot more attention than publishing statistics.)
  • Specific deterrence works when being sanctioned is unpleasant enough that the offender will avoid the behavior that caused you to them sanctioned in the first place. Presumably, a finding that someone committed rape would result in a ban from CEA events and some legally-defensible negative references if someone asks CH about a job candidate or community member. In other words, CEA would use everything in its arsenal on the first offense. The problem is that the offender knows that CEA has nothing left to throw at them for a second offense, so the policy doesn't act to discourage them from re-offending.
  • Incapacitation involves removing the offender's ability to cause future harm. It's not clear to me how effectively the available tools in CEA's toolkit actually incapacitate. The confidentiality issues and legal risks would seem to sharply limit how much CEA can communicate to those who control other EA spaces.
  1. ^

    EVF (the corporation of which CEA is a part) has tens of millions of pounds of exposure in one of the world's most favorable jurisdictions for libel/slander plaintiffs. These factors make its risk for libel/slander much higher than the risk of a private individual. Most private individuals don't have enough assets to be worth suing for libel/slander after you factor in the Streisand effect -- or at least won't by the end of the trial!

What you've described makes sense to me. As far as appropriate training (and also appropriate employer policies), I think that mandate would probably need to come from Open Philantrophy (the major EA funder) as a condition of its grants. I don't think either CEA or RP would have a great means of enforcing such a requirement. CEA could require training as a condition of attending one of its events . . . but the attendance at those events has been significantly cut due to budget constraints, so it would apply to only a fraction of the population. I would be a bit skeptical of on-line training unless supportive data were available; the people who most need to hear it would be the people most likely to be reading something unrelated in the background

 

Oh, I meant training for CH/in orgs, not people at large (especially the CH team, who deals with this stuff internally; I think a lot of the mishandling is due to a lack of information/training). And similarly,  most of the "policies" would mostly set the tone for deterrence, eg, having a "consent framework" and "suggestions for greater safety at events" isn't really an official employer policy, but sets the tone that non-consent isn't tolerated. 

Re: incapacitation, I doubt there's any way for EA/CEA/etc to get to incapacitation. But through my experiences with deterrence, EA/CEA/etc can dramatically lower the number of assaults. 

Working with official orgs to handle sexual abuse cases almost never goes well. For obvious reasons victims want to avoid backlash. And many victims understandably dont want to ruin the lives of people they still care about. I truly wish private processes and call-ins worked better. But the only thing that creates change is public pressure. I would always endorse being as public as you can without compromising victim privacy or pressuring them to be more open about what happened. It is just a very unfortunate situation.

I agree with your sentiment (and upvoted so your comment doesn't get hidden), but (1) victims don't always have a strong connection to their attacker and may not care strongly, and (2) in my six years of doing this, sometimes (not always) private processes work. Mostly importantly, private processes are easier on the survivors, who should take precedence in any process. 

Under my old screen name, I had  3 commenters say they changed their minds about rape, for example. I know my work certainly has changed people's opinions on rape, both at large and within their workplace/community. But to do that, they have to be willing to change and admit they made mistakes. 

The problem here for me is that (1) EA isn't so far showing a willing to begin that process of change - they can't even admit they've got a problem, and aren't willing to say "hey, we f-ked this up, guys, and we're sorry.", (2) EA doesn't want to compromise with me, and so far, just wants to build off my work without any reciprocity, change, learning...and (3) EA literally pays a team to do what they're trying to get me to do for free (yeah, I know that team does more than just what I do, but the point is that they pay people to do what they're trying to gently, perhaps unconsciously, manipulate me into doing for them)- I think in part because they don't value the education, experience, reputation-building, and expertise that allows me to work as effectively as I do).

I agree that private processors are often better for survivors (Though they can be worse). But usually very little changes until someone goes public (at least anonymously). Nothing else remotely reliably creates the momentum to get bad actors out of power. If the people in power weren't at least complicit we wouldn't have these endemic problems. Notably this has already played out multiple times with rationalist and Ea paces. Brent was extremely egregious but until public callouts nothing was seriously done about him. In fact community leaders like eliezer praised his 'apologies'.  Sadly this reality can put a burden on survivors. There isn't really a great approach as far as I can tell. 

CEA pays a team but their main allegiance is to the existing power structure so of course they can't solve the root issues. 

Thanks for all the work you've done. It's not easy. 

Yeah, they can be. I went through a brutal "restorative justice" process myself (I'm trained in traditional law, and at the time, was personally insulted that a bunch of hacks thought they could replace centuries of legal work/thought), with someone EA-adjacent (though I just confirmed that my rapist has some ties to EA via Google; he's one of the 14 and not 30) - I said no for weeks, had multiple people push into a process, went along because I wanted to tell my side, was silenced, and the "mediator" texted me to encourage me to kill myself before I left the country. Obviously, I'm not advocating for that. 

And also, I had no idea to report this to CH. Nor, given how CH is handling this, would I report this today.

I'm not sure if that is inherent to private responses, though. One could imagine something set up vaguely like the "Facebook Supreme Court" (FSC) with longterm funding and independent/external control by neutrals. I'm not suggesting anything about the FSC model other than its externality and independence, but those features would allow us to have more confidence in the process because we would almost eliminate the concern that the processors have "main allegiance  . . . to the existing power structure." Data could get published, including on actions that were taken in response, and the data quality would probably be better for a wide variety of reasons.

The problem with that is most accusers would want anonymity/privacy. This is why I suggest conveying information about processes through a policy (as I mentioned above, I was assaulted by someone "EA-adjacent", and had no idea where to report; and a policy is more fair to both the accusers and accusees), working with third parties that survivors can approach and CH can interface with, and disseminating only information intended to keep the community safe is the better approach. 

Definitely -- I meant anonymized summary data like "there were X individuals reported for sexual assault, Y number of individuals were banned from CEA events as a result of those reports, Z number of individuals were not acted on because CEA determined the individual was not connected to EA in a way that CEA could take any meaningful action." How much could be said without compromising anonymity/privacy would depend on the specific data, and we should always err on the side of protecting that over publishing information.

That's one of my big issues with the way things are now: you're basically suggesting what I'm suggesting - that things not be as arbitrary as they are now. 

I'm not super familiar with the practices of call-in culture though I'm aware of it. While I'm sure there are some communities that have practiced methods similar to call-in culture well for a long time, they've been uncommon and I understand that call-in culture has in general only been spreading across different movements for a few years now. I also expect this community would benefit from learning more about call-in culture but it'd be helpful if you can make some recommendations for effective altruists to check out.

I hope that effective altruists might take a moment to reflect on the fact that a well-known advocate for sexual assault victims is currently expressing displeasure with the incidence of misconduct within effective altruism, expressing frustration at the difficulty of driving positive change within this area, and being downvoted for their trouble. At the same time, a post is shooting up the rankings which has this to say about the recent TIME magazine story: "My guess is that people are making the error that if you inspired this level of vitriol, you must be at least somewhat at fault." 

 Is this the face that the movement wishes to present to the world?

I almost never engage in karma voting because I don’t really have a consistent strategy for it I’m comfortable with, but I just voted on this one. Karma voting in general has recently been kind of confusing to me, but I feel like I have noticed a significant amount of wagon circling recently, how critical a post was of EA didn’t used to be very predictive of its karma, but I’ve noticed that recently, since around the Bostrom email, it has become much more predictive. Write something defensive of EA, get mostly upvotes, potentially to the triple digits. Write something negative, very mixed to net negative voting, and if it reaches high enough karma, possibly even more comments. Hanania’s post on how EA should be anti-woke just got downvoted into the ground twice in a row, so I don’t think the voting reflects much ideological change by comparison (being very famous in EA is also moderately predictive, which is probably some part of the Aella post’s karma at least, and is a more mundane sort of bad I guess).

I’m still hopeful this will bounce back in a few hours, as I often see happen, but I still suspect the overall voting pattern will be a karmic tug of war at best. I’m not sure what to make of this, is it evaporative cooling? Are the same people just exhausted and taking it out on the bad news? Is it that the same people who were upvoting criticism before are exhausted and just not voting much at all, leaving the karma to the nay sayers (I doubt this one because of the voting patterns on moderately high karma posts of the tug of war variety, but it’s the sort of thing that makes me worry about my own voting, how I don’t even need to vote wrong to vote in a way that creates unreasonable disparities based on what I’m motivated to vote on at all, and just voting on everything is obviously infeasible). Regardless, I find it very disturbing, I’m used to EA being better than this.

Personally I downvoted this post for a few reasons:

  • insufficient details to evaluate the claims
  • claims are not stated clearly
  • I found it hard to follow because it contained various abbreviations with no explanation of them
  • assumes reader has context that is not presented in the post

To me this reads more like publicly posting content that was written only with an audience of folks working at CEA or similar orgs in mind. So I downvoted because it doesn't seem worth a lot of people reading it since it's unclear what value there is there for them. This isn't to say the intended message isn't worthwhile, only that the presentation in this particular post is insufficient.

I'd very much like to read a post providing evidence that there were many instances of sexual assault within the community if that's the case, especially if it's above the baseline of the surrounding context (whether that be people of similar backgrounds, living in similar places, etc.). And if CEA has engaged in misconduct I'd like to know about that, too. But I can't make any updates based on this post because it doesn't provide enough evidence to do so.

I wouldn't put myself at risk of defamation by writing a post detailing SA in EA, nor do I want to speak for CH's take on this, which is why the evidence feels so scant. With SA, it'll always be hard to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, so even if I gave you some evidence, you could refute it.  

Also, this probably the post speaks more strongly to people who were following the post on the Time article (esp my posts) but doesn't make a lot of sense if you just dropped in now. 

I too have noticed thatseveral critical posts have recently gotten net negative karma early on. I don't think people should do that unless the post is just awful, quite half-baked, in bad faith, or rule-breaking. (This is intended to be somewhat higher than my standard for when pushing a post into negative karma more generally is appropriate.)

The mods redesigned the frontpage to de-emphasize community posts because there was a general consensus that they were starting to crowd out object-level discussions. I think that was the right call, but it makes it easier to bury community posts early (in light of the new + upvoted sort criteria). The people who are voting early do not seem fully representative of the community as a whole, and having posts buried due to unrepresentative votes is undesirable.

What amazes me about what you're saying is that - many, many times, in this post and my previous ones, I tell people that reporters are reading the forum. So your last comment - about face the movement is presenting to the world - is particularly striking. 

And also, I called out CH/EA for ostracizing survivors, but it's buried in this post and was more clear in my last one - I emailed this to them 2 days ago and haven't heard back yet. 

And whether this gets downvoted (so the public sees EA as problematic, and potential victims stay away) or upvoted (so EA wants to do something and change) - I'll get my point across.

If CEA hires, someone for this activity, it should be someone they have absolute confidence in given its sensitive nature. I think it’s reasonable for them to not hire someone even if they have 80% confidence in them. So it’s possible you’re both doing a good job and it’s reasonable not to hire you, which would be painful, but unfortunately that’s how reality is sometimes. Anyway, regardless of what they decide, I hope things work out for you.

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