As you can see from my previous post, there is a lot of information about the sex scandal within the Catholic Church. Since the scandal first came to light in the 80’s, this makes sense. The atheist scandal isn’t even a decade old yet, and most of it came to light within the last three or so years, so there isn’t quite as much information. That said, there is still a lot of information out there. So let’s take a look at what there is.
You’ll notice three names come up quite frequently throughout this post. These three men, Ben Radford, Michael Shermer, and D.J. Grothe, are by now fairly well known as the most problematic figures where sexual assault is concerned. However, they are not the only ones accused of sexual assault. The issue of sexual assault within the atheist movement is so common that Hemant Mehta wrote on his blog “There seems to be something that everyone is talking about, but no one is actually saying it out loud. It seems that are a number of ‘male speakers behaving badly towards women at conferences’” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/05/23/its-almost-time-to-start-naming-names/#comment-536627555. He went on to quote a claim that “’Both female friends and strangers confided in me, telling me stories of speakers that talked only to their chest, groped them against their wishes, followed them to their hotel room, or had goals to bag a young hottie at every speaking gig they did. Once after I had publicly criticized someone on my blog, people made sure to warn me that this person had a skeevy record. I had to request friends attending the con to be extra diligent about making sure I wasn’t alone.’” The fact that people have been telling their stories is the biggest reason why these accusations are so well known.
Since many people have told their personal stories online, I am able to actually share many of them with you. A woman named Alison Smith made an accusation against Shermer: “’I ran into Shermer in the hallway,’ Smith said recently, speaking publicly for the first time about what happened that night. They began talking, and he invited her to a Scotch and cigar party at the Caesars Palace hotel. ‘He was talking about future articles we could write, and he mentioned this party and asked if I could come, and I said yes.’ At the party, they began downing drinks. ‘At some point,’ Smith said, ‘I realized he wasn’t drinking them; he was hiding them underneath the table and pretending to drink them. I was drunk. After that, it all gets kind of blurry. I started to walk back to my hotel room, and he followed me and caught up with me’” http://www.buzzfeed.com/markoppenheimer/will-misogyny-bring-down-the-atheist-movement#27il8dq. Smith had help telling her story online, as did many of the other women. Mehta helped tell a few women’s stories on his blog: “My friend Ashley Paramore made a video talking about a skeptics’ conference she went to at which she was sexually assaulted” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/29/atheist-opens-up-about-getting-sexually-assaulted-at-conference/. That video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK3g86Hp93I&feature=youtu.be. Karen Stollznow had quite a bit of help sharing her story by the bloggers on Freethought Blogs, though she initially shared her story herself: “Karen Stollznow is a big name, popular on the skeptic conference circuit, and has always given the impression of being strong, poised, and confident — which means that I cluelessly took it for granted that no one would ever mess with her. I was wrong. This is never a problem with the victims, but always in the nature of the perpetrators” http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/08/06/no-it-could-never-happen-to-her/. There was also this bit written about Stollznow: “Center For Inquiry’s Ben Radford, whom you might remember as the skeptic who took on a four year old over evolutionary reasons little girls might like pink, among numerous other terrible bits of skepticism and anti-science, has been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting Karen Stollznow serially over a period of four years” http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/2013/08/07/ben-radford-and-cfi-a-point-of-contention/. She is quoted as saying “’Five months after I lodged my complaint I received a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications” and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly reduced the severity of my claims.’” She also said “’In February of this year I drew D.J.’s attention to a very serious matter. At TAM 2010 I was sexually assaulted and harassed by another speaker by the name of Benjamin Radford. I was also sexually harassed by him at TAM 2012. I had attempted to handle this both privately and professionally so as to not embarrass the organizations involved. When Mr. Radford’s behaviour continued I was then forced to file a formal complaint with his employer (CFI/CSI) to resolve the issue. An investigation was performed and he has since been found guilty. (I can supply evidence to attest to this decision.)’” Stollznow’s case is by far the most well known one at this point. The fact that there has been a lawsuit in connection to it is probably one reason why it is so well known. Most of these cases didn’t end so well for the victim. One woman said “’At a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me’” http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/08/08/what-do-you-do-when-someone-pulls-the-pin-and-hands-you-a-grenade/. Stollznow dealt with the assault for four years. However, one woman got “lucky” thanks to the awareness of a friend of hers: “And that’s the entirety of my story: Michael Shermer helped get me drunker than I normally get, and was a bit flirty” http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/08/08/what-do-you-do-when-someone-pulls-the-pin-and-hands-you-a-grenade/. But even in this woman’s case, what happened is still terrible and should not be something that anyone should have to worry abut happening to them.
All of the cases that I’ve looked at so far involve women. However, women are not the only victims of sexual assault that we know about. One man wrote of hisown experience “I was fairly surprised though, when DJ turned to me and said that the reason everyone loved the Skepchicks was because they ‘want pussy.’” He went on to say “This [his personal weight issues] was discussed and DJ then made an hilarious horrendous ‘joke’ about how I should pay him a visit down in Los Angeles so that he could drug me and let some of his friends have some fun with me. You know, in other words so that I could be gang raped” http://www.morethanmen.org/2013/08/07/dj-and-me/. Grothe has been accused of other similar harassment. Shermer, too, has been accused of sexual assault against a man. One accuser wrote “Of course, if you’ve been following the skeptic blogosphere, you are probably aware that Michael Shermer is a rapist.” He went on to say “Note the lack of elaborate conditionals there. This is because 1) the prior probabilities are not in his favor, and 2) I am fairly certain that Michael Shermer had nonconsensual sex with me” http://creativepooping.tumblr.com/post/58606684580/copy-of-suicide-note-from-attempt-on-8-13-2013. This isn’t really relevant to the post, but as an aside, I really hate it when people avoid calling rape rape. We live in a culture where it’s a taboo word. It’s like when the UN refuses to call a genocide a genocide. If we want to put an end to something, we have to bring attention to it and that means calling it what it is. But back to the point. These people, men and women alike, have been victimized by the people who are generally seen as pillars of our community. These are the people who we should be able to turn to for help, not the people we should have to fear.
If you would like some more reading material on this issue, here it is: