Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Bullies and predators

You may have heard by now that there is a man who comes to Skeptics in the Pub in London who is making women the subject of unwanted sexual attention. That's putting it politely. He's hitting on women, being inappropriately physical/sexual and generally behaving like a dick.

Michael Story has written about this here. Because of the stupid libel laws in this country, the Offender cannot be named publicly, which makes him harder to deal with.

I'm one of the hosts of London SitP, along with Carmen and Sid. When I started going to SitP, very few women came. Sometimes I was the only woman there at the King's Head in Borough. Over the years, we've worked hard to encourage women to come and now a lot do. We want them to feel safe and comfortable. This isn't a major problem, we don't want to blow it out of proportion, but we do want to act responsibly and nip it in the bud.

This shouldn't need saying but apparently it does - this is not acceptable behaviour. There are no excuses. You are not 'just being friendly'. If you were, you'd be doing it to men too. You are not lord of the manor and women are not your personal fiefdom. Your position in the Skeptic community does not give you immunity. Even though the law may protect you, there are other ways we can deal with you - and we will.

I went on the Slutwalk march on Saturday and listened to stories at the rally of women being raped and sexually harassed because men thought they had the right. Although these stories were at the more extreme end of male behaviour, SitP will not tolerate any kind of behaviour that makes women feel uncomfortable because it's all part of the same loathsome mindset.

This kind of sexual predator behaviour is a kind of bullying and, like all bullies, the Offender is relying on silence. I've been bullied in the past; I know how it makes you feel and I know how hard it can be to do anything about it so I know it's a lot to ask you to speak up. But we will sort this out.

Bullies and predators pick their victims carefully. It is not your fault he does this to you. You have not 'led him on', you do not 'deserve' this. He is the one in the wrong. You're not 'making trouble' or 'causing a fuss' by telling us. And anything you do say will be treated in confidence, so you don't need to fear any personal consequences - which is another way bullies maintain their power.

The vast majority of men at SitP would never dream of doing anything like this but the Offender affects them too, making them question their own behaviour and making them wonder what to do if they witness him in action. But guys - man up and speak up.

I've seen comments from some men who are understandably angry and think the answer is for a bunch of guys to tackle the Offender. It isn't. However good your intentions, don't go caveman as this makes women into feeble little victims who can't look after themselves.

We'll deal with this in an adult way and we'll deal with it together. It will get sorted, we promise.

Carmen, Sid and I really strongly encourage you to tell us if you see or suffer from the Offender. We will back you up and anything you tell us will be treated in absolute confidence. You can leave comments here (which in no way implies that you've been directly affected unless you make that explicit), you can email us, DM us on Twitter or tell us face to face. That's @tessakendall, @carmenego or @sidrodrigues.

But DO NOT name him publicly.

If it turns out there is more than one Offender, we'll deal with that too. If you're not in London and you're having a problem, we can still help but we want to put our own house in order.

The Offender is not some mega-nerd who doesn't know what he's doing but if you're a guy who has problems reading signals and body language, a good rule of thumb is - if in doubt, don't do it.

This is Hayley Stevens' commentary on the situation.

Our next meeting at the Monarch is on October 15 and we hope to see lots of you there. We'll also be at Conway Hall on Sunday for more skeptic fun. I may update this to keep up with any developments so check back later.


  1. Sheesh.
    Go to the police instead of merely publicly whining about it.

    1. A good but tricky point. I'd be interested to know whether any of the victims of this individual have gone to the police about it. And if they haven't already, would they be comfortable with someone else going to the police on their behalf? If it was me, I wouldn't feel comfortable going to the police or to have someone else go without my agreement.

      From personal experience, if I had to go to the police every time someone touched me inappropriately in public, I'd rather just stop going out in public. Women's bodies are public property to a lot of people (NB it saddens me that this seems to be the case). The best thing I can do when it happens to me or if I witness it is to create an almighty scene and hope that someone nearby will back me up. Lucky I'm a loudmouth. I know a lot of women who aren't though.

  2. Sounds like some women need to start wearing hats and hatpins again. If someone leans onto a hatpin "by mistake" it will leave a mark even if they're drunk as a skunk.

  3. Has anybody actually *spoken* to this guy about his behaviour? Because that seems an obvious first step, before talking about it publically and probably putting him on the defensive.

  4. Well, that's all great that the SiTP organisers are going to tackle anything they see or are informed of.

    However, the fact that there is quite a lot of 'noise' in regard to this is actually a concern to me as both a female and a SiTP attendee. Why? Well, if these females have previously not been able to deal with the situation themselves, why have other females/males witnessing it not done so? If someone is genuinely overstepping the mark, it doesn't matter who they are, it should be tackled on the spot. Not endlessly talked of.

    Additionally the 'noise' also concerns me as it may make those who are either genuinely socially awkward(SiTP seems to have a great deal of these)or have fun with innuendo and are quite tactile feel awkward and unsure of how they are permitted to behave.

    Even as a female, should I be changing my manner? I like to think, as we all do, that I can read people. However, I am tactile, I will place my hand on someone, I can't help but call someone lovely/darling/sweet(London bred, so shoot me)within a small time frame of meeting them. Worst still, if there is cheeky bond I am full of innuendo. To my knowledge, I have never made anyone uncomfortable or led anyone down a non existent path. I also naturally tame myself around certain people.

    But, this 'noise' is making me, as a female, probably too cautious of how I interact with anyone at future SiTP's. I dare to think how males may feel.

  5. This seems silly. Whining about him on a blog is not an adult way of dealing with things, management just need to go speak with him at the next meeting and tell him that he has been acting inapproperatly at meetings and that he needs to stop otherwise he will not be allowed to attend. Simple. If he continues then he will be band, if he stops, which I assume to be what everyone wants to acheive from this, then thats great.

    This seems like a typical introvert way of dealing with the problem, by moaning on the internet rather than directly dealing with the problem and getting a resolution. It's almost as if you want the issue to continue.

  6. ^^^^ Spot on. Passive aggressive much?

  7. First of all, thanks for setting a great example and making it your business to deal with this.

    I spent a year in a university society putting up with very inappropriate/creepy behaviour from a man there and kept downplaying it/making excuses/feeling too shy to make a fuss because he was the team coach. This unwillingness to 'make a fuss' was reinforced by the complaints of other women being glossed over and dismissed, but I do take some responsibility now and recognise that my silence only enabled his actions more, and since growing up a bit I'm less accepting of such things. I'd be more inclined now to speak up about it to other group members and not write it off as a non-issue, but if such a group continues to be an unsafe space by ignoring the problem, I've no qualms anymore about getting the fuck out of there and seeking friends/hobbies in a safer and more comfortable environment.

    I'm saying this because I'll soon be joining my local SitP, and I'm very excited about finally doing so; but had I heard they have this resident Offender, I'd think twice about it until I knew the issue was being addressed. And I wouldn't be surprised if this Offender already has deterred women from returning to your group. So it means a lot that you are going to take a zero tolerance approach, because enabling this behaviour has real consequences. I wish more places acted similarly, and who knows, maybe the example that you are setting might play some part in triggering that progress.

    Though I'm still left a little bit curious as to why, if the reports and witnesses of this guys actions have been heavy, he hasn't been warned or banned yet? I know that it can take a lot of factors to get the ball rolling, it just seems unusual in this instance where there appears to be is little ambiguity, based on what you and others have described.

    But I know that that is your business, and I wish you all luck in addressing the problem.

  8. In an ideal world, all bullies would be tackled the first time they do anything but, in reality, it's in the nature of bullying that the victims (and witnesses) are often unable to speak out for a variety of reasons.

    That's why we felt it was important to say that now we are aware of the issue we will not tolerate this behaviour from anyone and we are taking action. There are reasons we can't go into why we are taking this approach.

    We don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable. It's an unfortunate side-effect that some might start questioning their own behaviour but all that's required is that everyone is considerate of others.

    By bringing this issue to light, there is a risk that it could get out of proportion but for the sake of the women affected - and to prevent it continuing - we have to talk about it.

    We need to focus on the future and what outcomes we want - a SitP where everyone is welcome, where everyone feels comfortable and where any problems are dealt with in a reasonable way.

  9. The great thing about holding SiTP in pubs is that he can be refused entry, for any reason whatsoever, even if that reason is "I don't want you here".

    'Pub' may be short for 'public house', but the first word is no more accurate than the second. It is a private venue, and entry is solely at the discretion of the landlord or his agents (read: you).

  10. I wonder what happened with this? What does inappropriate really mean? Almost anything you want it to and the word itself can be applied as a weapon of control; I shudder at the thought of some officious jobsworth accusing me of inappropriate behaviour! That could be applied to a chap simply asking a woman out for lunch...

    I don't mean to undermine what has actually happened in this instance, but I am always curious at how these unfortunate events are handled in these less 'hands on' times. Years ago, a male friend of the woman might have simply squared up to the accused and told him to back off, a method still employed outside of the cloistered atmosphere of intellectual-world.

    I do take my hat off to the organisers and their response; mature and reasonable, and i would like to think that the accused would be horrified to realise how awful he had behaved. On balance, this appears to have been handled very well! :-)

  11. 'a male friend of the woman might have simply squared up to the accused and told him to back off'. So a woman needs a big strong man to protect her? Can't you see this perpetuates stereotypes of women as vulnerable, easy prey? If you think it's about men asking women out to lunch, you've lived a very sheltered life.

    'i would like to think that the accused would be horrified to realise how awful he had behaved.' No, generally they don't, which is the problem. They think they're entirely within their rights to behave like this.

  12. I have been fretting over above response by TK, but on reading it a second time I understand where I went wrong.

    To start with, I probably need to apologise for my clumsy response (Anon 3/7/15)

    I do understand that "man-protects-woman" auto-response is outdated and would perpetuate the streotype, as TK says 12/7/15. I won't defend that as a principle, but I would defend the principle that anyone who can defend someone in trouble, and who looks as though they do need help, should do so, and that is applied equally to any gender.

    My other error was to include a sideline rhetorical thought on how an 'accuser' may misjudge a man's intentions. Probably not clever of me when this is about a real event that happened to people I don't even know!

    I have witnessed similar incidents in the past, once at a party and once or twice in the workplace. In both cases I experienced a sort of "did that just really happen?" moment. In one case, the woman seemed 'happy' to have let it happen (my take on it at the time) and in the other, she was definitly not happy and slapped the guy. So, my dilemma was how to react. Neither case seemed an issue, but similar incidents have resulted in 70s icons going to gaol!

    Interestingly, in one instance, the woman wanted her fellow to 'stand up for her' despite having just slapped the man.

    Probably not that relevant, but interesting that some women will still insist on having a man as her 'champion'

    Again, apologies for any insult and possibly the unfortunate tone of my post :-)