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 RockMyMonkey.com, sent me a message last night 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 at the hand of Twitter engineer Florian Leibert, at a post-conference party she held in her hotel room after ApacheCon on 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 have 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, make 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.” One could assume that Shirley has indeed filed a formal complaint, but even if she has not and doesn’t plan to, that is completely her decision. There are a large number of sexual assaults and rapes every year that go unreported and there are a great deal of reasons for that; all of those reasons are those of the victim and it never means that an assault never happened or that the person who has been assaulted “had it coming.” More often than not, when a person files a complaint and decides to press charges against their abuser, it is their choice of attire, alcohol level, and sexual history that are put on trial, not the person accused of abuse. Until we stop blaming the victim in a court of law, 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 about her sexual assault? Frankly, because she damn well can. Period. End of story. She can. And she did. Shirley took to her own blog, her own space, to write about her experience. She has the right to do that, as does anyone else with access to the internet. Sadly, with the internet also comes trolls; people who insist on blaming the victim at all costs, who repeatedly claim that, women especially, have what’s coming to them based on what clothes they were wearing at the time of the assault or if they had been flirting, or what they would personally define as flirting, or if they had alcohol in their system. By these people making their narrow-minded and despicable comments known all over the internet, it in fact deters more people from taking to their own personal and safe spaces to speak out about their own experiences. I, for one, am happy that Noirin Shirley felt safe enough to take to her own space and to speak out about her own experience, it may have surely inspired other people who may have went through the same experiences to talk about it and refuse to be silenced.

Tech Crunch, however, is all about silencing, as proven by their deletion of the post about Noirin Shirley and Florian Leibert. Obviously they have no intention of editing their post, or publishing anything about Florian Leibert’s “side of the story.” It wouldn’t surprise me if they went on from here as if they 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 on October 7th at their new headquarters. Their Beer & Data Salon featured four speakers within the tech industry. One of those speakers just so happened to be Florian Leibert. Obviously 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, Leibert is very well-known within the tech industry as an engineer for Twitter. It isn’t a big secret that the tech industry of note is made up of mostly men and thus operates as any other boy’s club, or it just may seem that way since we’re still operating within the atmosphere that any woman who can talk about technology on the same level as a man is considered “hot.” Women are still very much seen as inferior within the tech industry, their experiences and expertise being diminished to nothing but a sexual fantasy by the majority of their male colleagues. It’s pretty damn common for women at fan conventions, tech conferences, as well as in other atmospheres, to be propositioned, harassed, and assaulted for merely being women. 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 just disappears from well-known techy website? Not so coincidental.

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

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