Saturday, August 17, 2013

Poor form Mr Deity, very poor form.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is about rape and sexual assault

I wasn't sure whether to write this post, but then I read this, and couldn't really not write it.

So, for those who haven't had much contact with the organised skeptic scene, there have been on going issues with sexual assaults, including accusations against some big names (who you might have heard of outside of the skeptic scene), alleging that they have raped and/or sexually assaulted people at various skeptic conventions.

First things first, these are all allegations - I have no idea if they are true, however, the responses that followed these accusations, have been pretty much summed up by this cartoon:

I was upset to see the otherwise excellent Mr Deity wade in to this horrid mess. Well, I assume he did, he wrapped it up by talking about why he doesn't believe in the gospel.

He started off by saying that we, as skeptics, should not accept any anonymous report off hand. This is true, it's a good job no one ever listened to Bob Woodward aka "Deep Throat". Imagine what could have happened to President Nixon if they'd listened to that. Geez, it could have been an embarrassment for the whole White House!

Of course you shouldn't just accept an anonymous accusation off hand, but if it's serious, you shouldn't dismiss it out of hand either.

The above cartoon hopefully illustrates the difficult position someone might be in if they have been sexually assaulted by a well known person. If the cartoon doesn't convince you, hopefully this video will (which are actual responses received to the first link of this blog post):

Mr Deity goes on to say, if you're going to talk sh*t, don't do it anonymously. Hopefully by now you can see why some might prefer to remain anonymous - if we assume their stories are true, this means they've already been through the trauma of a sexual assault. Are they really going to want to go through a huge wave of online abuse?

Mr Deity then changes tac, and engages in some victim blaming, letting people know how easy it is to a refuse an alcoholic drink and admonishing those "without a backbone or any sense of personal responsibility" who cannot do this.

Let's be clear: It doesn't matter how intoxicated they are by alcohol or other drugs; what clothes someone is wearing; or even how much they like to have frequent sex with many different partners - if they don't consent to sex, it is the fault of the rapist for raping them.

It isn't always as easy to say no to a drink either, because, unless you are tea total, after your first drink you have already begun to compromise your decision making skills (this being part of alcohol's allure). You shouldn't feel guilty for that - we all have the right to enjoy a night out with a few drinks without the fear of someone else taking advantage of us.

Mr Deity follows by saying that these accusations have also been made years after the fact, which doesn't give the accused a fair chance at responding to the accusations made, and then talks about confirmation bias - likening the accusations and rumours doing the rounds to the Salem Witch Hunts, asking people, as skeptics to "stand up to these anonymous Gospel authors".

This is from the Rape Crisis Centre:

"One reason women and girls tell us they are reluctant to talk about their experiences is a fear of not being believed, or of being blamed for what has happened to them, as well as feelings of shame or self-blame. "

Mr Deity here seems to have managed to hit all those buttons - by casting doubt on the validity of these accusations and engaging in victim blaming, which will naturally lead to feelings of shame and self blame.

No, I don't know if these accusations are true. But given that false reports of rape are generally in line with false reports of other crimes (around 4%) it appears there is a problem with men taking advantage of women at skeptic conferences.

I started off saying I was reluctant to post this. This blog is pretty small fry, but if it takes off, I didn't want to have to deal with the MRAs, online hate and maybe even people like Mr Deity calling me out on their much more widely viewed platforms, with the potential to bring in more abuse. But, to (possibly) paraphrase Edmund Burke, for evil to succeed good people must do nothing.

Mr Deity asks that, as skeptics, we stand up to anonymous authors. Well I say the opposite. Let's listen to them, and give these serious accusations the scrutiny they deserve. After all, we're weighing up some people's reputations against the possibility of sexual predators being free to carry on.

UPDATE: Mr Deity put out a response to all the criticism, and you can see it, and read my thoughts on it here.


  1. Well said.

    Mr Deity - or rather, Brian Keith Dalton since he says it after the episode - has ignored or is unaware of the consequences suffered by victims of sexual assault who speak out and/or report the assault to authorities. These consequences discourage many victims from responding the way that some people insist victims must - by immediately bringing in police, or notifying security, or yelling out, or fighting back.

    It may be some years before a victim has the courage to speak out. In cases of child sexual assault by priests, the average is 26 years. If we applied Mr Dalton's hyper-skepticality to church sexual abuse reports, all priests would walk free.

    Greta Christina has a good article on the amount of skepticism which is appropriate to reports of sexual assault and harassment within the skeptical community:

  2. Regarding your comment "Let's be clear: It doesn't matter how intoxicated they are by alcohol or other drugs; what clothes someone is wearing; or even how much they like to have frequent sex with many different partners - if they don't consent to sex, it is the fault of the rapist for raping them."

    I feel like you are saying the accused has sex with the victim against their expressed wishes. But don't these cases usually happen with someone being intentionally intoxicated to get them to "consent" to something they normally wouldn't, and only later realize how they had been manipulated?

    I'm not trying to totally oppose you here, I guess I just think that instead of saying "if they don't consent" it's more accurate to say "if they are not able to give consent".

    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      In my head, if they don't consent includes the sub set of being not able to give consent, but perhaps I should have made that clearer.

      Also, I was talking more generally, not just in the case of the accused. But yes, getting someone paralytic on alcohol with the intent to have sex with them, when normally they would refuse, is rape.

  3. Well the problem you are forgetting is that the accusation isn't as straight forward as your little cartoon displays.

    The accusation was passed on to someone else, who THEN passes it on to someone else, who decided to blog about it.

    The other part was the wine part, which was in direct reference to the second part of the accusation. That the accused apparently likes to keep wine glasses full at conferences. THAT was all he was accused at in that part of the blog post. This, for whatever reason, is held up in the blog as some sort of proof that the first accusation must be true, however the second part doesn't state any wrong-doings at all.


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