Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tech Crunch Breaks, then Later Pulls Story of Tech Writer’s Sexual Assault at ApacheCon

Tech Crunch Trial By Twitter tweet A friend of mine, Mark Carras of, sent me a message alerting me to a story that Tech Crunch had published about Google technical writer Noirin Shirley taking to her personal blog to speak out about sexual assault she endured from Twitter engineer Florian Leibert at a post-conference party she held in her hotel room after ApacheCon Friday night.

After the post spread through Twitter, rose to the top of Hacker News, and her blog post racked up over 150 comments (mostly from people who had taken it upon themselves to blame Shirley for her assault, slut shame her, diminish what she went through, and make fun of her), Tech Crunch pulled the story altogether, now only directing to a 404 page.

Mark Carras didn’t print the story on his site, as he runs a website that focuses on the music industry and this story isn’t music-related, but I do want to thank him immensely for directing it to me and for being interested in my thoughts on the subject, and more-so why I think Tech Crunch pulled this story. So thanks!

Firstly, here are the facts we know only from Noirin Shirley’s blog post:

And then I went to the loo, and as I was about to go in, Florian Leibert, who had been speaking in the Hadoop track, called me over, and asked if he could talk to me.

He brought me in to the snug, and sat up on a stool. He grabbed me, pulled me in to him, and kissed me. I tried to push him off, and told him I wasn’t interested (I may have been less eloquent, but I don’t think I was less clear). He responded by jamming his hand into my underwear and fumbling.

I broke away, headed back to the group, and hid behind some of the bigger, burlier infra guys, while Bill sorted out all the people who’d left stuff in my room, so that I could reasonably escape. We headed back, people got their stuff, Bill stayed around, and I slept.

When Bill woke up, I pretended to still be asleep, because I couldn’t deal with speaking to anyone. I sent a mail to our planning committee to say that I’d been assaulted. Charel came to talk to me, and then I e-mailed Nick, who came up and helped me sort things out so I could get to the keynote and feel safe. Florian didn’t turn up today, and it’s probably for the best.

I had a few drinks. I was wearing a skirt of such a length that I had cycling shorts on under it to make me feel more comfortable getting up on stage and dancing. I had been flirting with a couple of other boys at the party.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened to me, at all. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me at a tech conference. But it is the first time I’ve spoken out about it in this way, because I’m tired of the sense that some idiot can ruin my day and never have to answer for it. I’m tired of the fear. I’m tired of people who think I should wear something different. I’m tired of people who think I should avoid having a beer in case my vigilance lapses for a moment. I’m tired of people who say that guys can’t read me right and I have to read them, and avoid giving the wrong impression.

But I don’t give the wrong impression, and it’s simply not true that guys can’t read me right. I don’t want to be assaulted, and the vast majority of guys read that just fine. It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else’s job to avoid assaulting me. Dozens of guys succeeded at that job, across the week. In the pub, in the stairwell, on the MARTA, in my bedroom.

One guy failed, and it’s his fault.

Thanks to Google Reader, if you’re subscribed to Tech Crunch you may still be able to access the now-deleted article. Here’s how it ends:

It is notable that the allegations of wrongdoing now have a realtime venue to play out, primarily because the players in the drama have tech community prominence and are both on Twitter. Neither Leibert or Shirley have tweeted anything since Shirley sent out her blog post about the incident.

I have contacted Leibert for his side of the story and will update this post when he responds. Shirley makes no indication she has filed any formal complaint.

So let’s clear some important stuff up here first.

Noirin Shirley sought the help of friends to ensure she was no longer in imminent danger and she emailed her employer making them aware of what had happened to her. She also added to the bottom of her blog post, “My heartfelt thanks to the Atlanta police for their sensitivity and professionalism,” which does make one assume that she had indeed filed a formal complaint; though even if she had not, that is solely her own decision to make. Most acts of sexual violence go unreported. There are many reasons behind this, and not reporting sexual assault does not mean that an assault never happened.

More often than not, when a person files a complaint and decides to press charges against their abuser, it is their choice of attire, level of intoxication, and sexual history that are on trial, not the person accused of sexual violence. Until we stop placing the blame for an assault on the victim, there will not be an increase in reported abuse. Re-victimizing the victim is not the path to justice, nor should it ever be used as such.

Also, why would Noirin Shirley write a blog post detailing her sexual assault? Why would she put it out there for all to read and be privy to? Frankly, because she damn well can. Period. End of story. She can, and she did. Shirley took to her blog to write about an experience she went through. She has every right to do that, as does anyone with access to the internet and a story to share.

Sadly, with the internet also comes trolls. People who blame the victim at all costs, who repeatedly claim that women have what’s coming to them if they happened to have been flirting, wearing the “wrong thing”, or if they had been drinking. These ill-informed, judgmental, misogynist comments are used as intimidation against women, deterring them from standing up for themselves and talking about what they have gone through. Noirin Shirley felt safe enough to take to her blog to speak out about her assault at ApacheCon, and this radical act of self-love may have inspired others to talk about their own experiences.

Tech Crunch, however, is all about silencing, as proven by their deletion of the post about Noirin Shirley’s assault by Florian Leibert. They obviously no longer have any intention of amending that previous post with Leibert’s “side of the story,” and it wouldn’t surprise me if they went on from here as if they had never published the story in the first place. You can speculate a great deal of reasons for this, but I think it’s because they have indeed talked to Leibert.

After a little poking around here and there, I found that Tech Crunch had a party of their own back in early October at their new headquarters. Their Beer & Data Salon featured four speakers from the tech industry. One of those speakers was Florian Leibert. It makes sense to speculate that someone high up at Tech Crunch has a relationship of some sort with Leibert, which may have led to the deletion of the article.

Another speculation: Florian Leibert is very well-known in the tech industry as an engineer for Twitter. It’s no secret that the tech industry is a boy’s club, with women in the industry facing harassment at much larger, more frequent, and terrifying rates than their male counterparts. Women are still very much seen as inferior within the tech industry, their expertise falling on deaf ears unless a male colleague has something similar to say, and then any credit or qualification most often goes to him.

Women in the tech industry, or who simply have an interest in tech and/or geek culture are rapidly diminished to nothing but the “hot nerd” sexual fantasy by the men who bother to see them. Their looks are put under a microscope and critiqued first and foremost, and see is all a lot of guys of the genre are willing to do. It is all too common for women at tech conferences, conventions, as well as in other atmospheres, to be propositioned, harassed, and assaulted for simply being women and being there. It is for this reason that the Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project & Gentlemen’s Auxiliary was created.

So to get to the point, well-known techy male is accused of sexually assaulting lesser-known techy female and the article mysteriously disappears from well-known techy website. Not so coincidental.

Regardless of the reason or canned response Tech Crunch may or may not ever give for removing the article, removing it in its entirety instead of editing or adding to it reflects horribly on Tech Crunch. It is an action that can only be seen as siding solely with Leibert, an accused sexual predator.

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