Noirin’s hell of a time

Warning: this post discusses sexual assault and links to both a survivor account and to hostile comments.

Noirin Shirley’s post A hell of a time in which she describes her sexual assault at ApacheCon on the 4th November and names her attacker is starting to show up in our Linkspam suggestions and so on.

We’ve seen it.

This post has been widely linked by tech news sites, including (trigger warnings for comments at all of these places) Reddit, Hacker News and Gawker and while some respondents have been sympathetic to or angry for Noirin, there’s a lot of victim blaming in the usual ways: “don’t ruin his life over one mistake”, “don’t go to bars”, “asking for it”.

I think this is hard for us to write about, as several of us (including me) know Noirin either online or in person. We want to acknowledge what happened to her and how she responded (go Noirin!) but the ferociousness of the don’t-speak-out wasn’t-that-bad this-is-how-human-sexuality-works get-over-it this-isn’t-news deserved-it has hit us all hard. It feels like we’ve been working our teaspoons super hard for ages, and someone built another dam and filled it up.

And we are just onlookers.

Noirin: sorry about what happened to you, both the assault and the response.

Surely I don’t really need to say this: comments will be moderated. Leaving anti-speaking-out or compulsory-police-reporting or pro-sexual-assault or I’m-not-necessarily-talking-about-this-situation-but-here’s-a-hypothetical-where-the-alleged-attacker-gets-hurt comment here is a waste of your time.

Update: if you have links to share, please place a warning if that link, or any comments it is allowing, are victim-blaming.

27 thoughts on “Noirin’s hell of a time

  1. Tiferet

    I am so angry that this happened, and that people are being such dicks. But I admire Noirin (whom I actually do not know) for standing up for herself (and any of the rest of us who have ever been/will ever be in this position) and for warning other people about a dangerous individual.

    Thank you Noirin. We’re with you all the way.

    And Mary, for creating a space where we can say thank you to Noirin, and that we are sorry this happened to her, without having to worry about some asshole coming into argue with us about that and dilute the energy we want to support her with, by starting the same idiotic arguments that we have all heard a billion times before and which are certainly not improved or made relevant by repetition.

  2. Restructure!

    I have appropriately downvoted/upvoted comments on HN and reddit, for what it’s worth, which isn’t much. It’s so completely disgusting at reddit, where a woman speaking out about rape gets men posting your photos, rating your attractiveness, and then declaring you unrapeable.

    This is why we need the Geek Feminism blog, because those other places are toxic.

    Really, most of those men can’t empathize with people outside their gender. They think that being accused of rape is worse than being raped, because they don’t see themselves at risk of being raped.

    1. Kite

      “They think that being accused of rape is worse than being raped, because they don’t see themselves at risk of being raped.”


      I don’t have too many words right now because I am so choked up with rage over this. I left a comment early on in that article, rolling my eyes at Jo’s concern trolling, and came back to find a torrent of disgusting, hateful, cowardly garbage from a whole bunch of males who couldn’t step back and f*cking look at themselves for one second.

  3. @thorfi

    I saw a link to this elsewhere, and went to comment on Noirin’s blog in support, but her comments link appears to be brokenly redirecting to itself at the moment.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks to her for being brave enough to come out and talk in public, and offer my voice against the nay-sayers.

  4. Liz Henry

    Agreed, Mary. I’m fairly hardened at this point and knew to expect it, but even I was stunned at the ferocity of the backlash against Noirin and her post. It was upsetting. I keep writing responses, some level headed, some very angry, some satire, and then not posting. I did read *everything* on reddit and Hacker News and have a summary post and linkspam coming soon, linking to the negative comments and categorizing them. The comments on HN were better than I expected, with a few notable exceptions. Reading all that garbage, well, not pleasant. It might be a good educational experience for some men to go through it and tally up the categories of responses. It’s an exercise in (il)logic and cognitive dissonance.

    I had a very personal reaction as well. I’ve been assaulted in the community and outside of it, and I thought over the times I’ve named the assaulter or rapist, and the times I haven’t, and the degree to which I took it public or didn’t, and why, and what happened.

    Another level at which the responses were upsetting: Basically, I could see that it was *open season* to assault me or anyone like me. That reddit thread was pretty devastating. I like parties, I am often vivacious, there are existing photos of me dressed sexily out there, as well as photos of me that aren’t super flattering, and I’ve talked about being sexually assaulted before. In the reddit thread especially, quite a few men and women explained that any of those qualities *invalidate any report I might make* of being assaulted. Okay then. So, next time I have something to report, it seems clear that half the geek world are huge rape apologists and won’t believe me and in fact, will attack me in public in the vilest ways possible while telling me I’m liable to be sued for defamation for reporting the original attack. That was enraging and disheartening, and made me think, well, basically, I can just be assaulted with impunity.

    My ideal is to meet assaults with the immediacy and presence of mind Noirin showed. And I’m all for naming the attackers, gropers, harassers, and rapists. In fact, I’d like to declare that I will always in future immediately name anyone who sexually assaults or harasses me. While that’s difficult, the more of us do it, the better, I think. Call them out, and stand firm against the ridiculous storm of blame that follows. I admire Noirin for her actions and her post.

    Two good links I just want to mix into this discussion:
    The Open Source Back Each Other Up Project
    Sexual Assault Prevention Tips That Really Work! (ie, the awesome “Don’t rape her” list)

  5. lala

    I wish there was a trigger warning every time someone made those kinds of comments. If people could just write **Trigger Warning: I am about to blame the victim, minimize the trauma inflicted on her, explain why she deserved to be raped, and proclaim that a rapist has a right to never have his raping be reported** before their comment, life would be a lot easier for me. I’m so depressed now.

  6. Addie

    Rape apologism in the tech sphere… something I knew probably existed, given the shabby response to other sexist incidents over the past year, but was happy to have not had confirmed up until this point of time. What an enormous disappointment.

    Glad to hear Liz is categorizing things appropriately. It’s funny how the classic rape apologists comments are formed in a way that the folks thinking they’re playing “devil’s advocate” are thinking of for the first time. I find categorizing these dismissal / derailing tactics really takes the power out of them, and (as a message to the author using those tactics), reveals pretty clearly that there is nothing novel, clever, or wise about their approach.

    I think I reflect GF’s take on this. This is hard. This is a bit too much. So easy to empathize with, and I’m not sure I could be as resolute. To that end, building that critical mass of people who think she did the correct thing seems really important here. In the future if there’s a blog post like that it would be great to expect the comments to usually be a field of unequivocal support, but it’s sad that for now a bulk of comments full of rape apologism are par for the course.

    1. putnamp

      “Rape apologism in the tech sphere… something I knew probably existed, given the shabby response to other sexist incidents over the past year, but was happy to have not had confirmed up until this point of time.”

      Echoing this sentiment – I was disappointed, and the disappointment grew worse when I realized how unsurprised I was.

  7. Meg

    The responses make me terrified and sad, and mad for the way people are willing to treat her. I am, though, very very glad that she spoke out and named names. I am thankful because this isn’t something I think I’d have seen happening five years ago, and I can smell change in the air. I am thankful that these men might start being afraid of “accidentally” assaulting women, and that fear might inspire even one of them to ask first and take no for an answer. I am thankful that men might realize rape can have consequences, no matter how much they attempt to silence the targets.

    So so sad and scared, I hold on to that slight scent of hope on the wind. Maybe spring will come, born in on the courage of women like her.

  8. Greg Stein

    I’ve known Noirin for a long time. I was there that night, at the room party and at the bar. While I didn’t see what happened, I did see her shaken. And I’m glad that the Apache Software Foundation is a *community* because there were people present to take care of her, watch out for her, and even escort her through the rest of the conference and to the police station in order to give her peace of mind when she felt vulnerable.

    I have no right to speak publicly of Noirin’s past, but prior events have given her strength to speak out. To inform people of her situation, her life, and the issues that she has had to deal with. And it is with that, and the support of her Apache friends and elsewhere, that gave her the courage to stand up and speak out.

    I’ve done my best to comment on blogs, Quora, and Twitter to try and provide some insight to the evening. In short: if a couple dozen of men could respect her and treat her properly, then it wasn’t anything she did: any issue is squarely in the lap of the single person who could not act responsibly.

  9. jon

    What everybody else has said, basically. I don’t know Noirin but admire her greatly for having the courage to speak out … what can we do to help?


  10. Silona

    Man I wish for real identities in this situation…

    So I can make sure to avoid every single person that is less than supportive response to this…

    1. Mary Post author

      Since we’ve written in support of pseudonymity here a lot, I just want to point out that by approving Silona’s comment I am not myself endorsing a call for compulsory use of real names on the ‘net.

      1. Addie

        While I understand Mary’s point (and her support of psuedoanonymity), I do feel the way Silona feels as well – too many men are victim-blaming, diminishing Noirin’s experience, and otherwise engaging in some pretty shameful behaviors – some while using their real names. They’re privileged enough to treat this as some sort of intellectual exercise and don’t think twice about the implications of what they’re saying. I do wish these people had some sense of shame or consequence for what they were saying. It’s totally inappropriate.

  11. Naomi

    I know Noirin. I know her, have worked alongside her. For awhile, we were on the same team.

    Noirin is clever and outgoing, and friendly, and smart, and well-reasoned. She is credible and serious and dependable and generous with her time and experience. Noirin has worked hard for the Open Source community to build things that are of value to many — it angers me that so few of the posts mention her credentials as a serious and strong contributor in the Apache and Open Source communities or her role as a director of ApacheCon. A *director*.

    I’ve held back on a more public response because I don’t know whether she wants more comment at this point. Noirin, say the word and I’ll cc this all over my blog and twitter.

    This is not about character. But to those who would make this about character, I want to say this: I know Noirin personally. She is the kind of person I would expect to speak truth. She’s a good judge of character, someone who carefully considers the use of words, the kind of person who makes a community richer by her presence in it. She is lovely, smart, and very very fierce.

  12. Laughingrat

    Her talking about this is really brave. I’m sorry people are being jerks about it. I hope the support she’s getting is offsetting some of the hate.

  13. Rogue

    I just wonder how many of us will go through this. There are more and more women describing this kind of behaviours. And there are a great amount of guys who only injure, insult and lynch the person daring say something from this kind. Personally, I am not in communities anymore: people didn’t want to hear this, so they made me leave. This is easier, isn’t it?
    I am not talking about these mean men outside. But reading regularly suchlike testimonials makes me really wonder how to keep it cool and how to not be afraid of getting involved. It is not only the assault, one can live through this. It is how people you are close to and work with react: when they leave you alone and don’t talk to you anymore and make you quit what you like doing, how is one supposed to live through this?

    Anyway. We all need to stand up and stop secrecy on this issue.

  14. AMM

    I’m not very good at expressing sympathy in print, so I’ll just say: Noirin’s experience sounds pretty awful, and I think it’s terrible that she had to go through it, and worse that so many people would run around saying that she had no right to speak up about it. It somehow seems even worse by the fact that, from what I’ve heard and read over the years, her experience is not that uncommon. What is uncommon is that she would speak up about it and that she would name the guy, knowing (I’m sure) what kind of a reaction she would get.

    And some of the reactions were pretty weird, with “logic” so skewed that I began to wonder if _I_ was crazy or something. Things like, “don’t tell us what you personally experienced, because how do we know that you didn’t make it up” — if I really try to figure that out, I’m afraid my head will explode. I wonder if they’re training to work at the Ministry of Truth. I can’t help feeling that their real goal is to brainwash Noirin, and women generally, into believing that what happened to them didn’t really happen.

    I’ll say that, as a man, I appreciate that she has spoken up. Even though I know generally that women frequently have to deal with being sexually harrassed and assaulted (and worse), it’s hard to stand up and say, this should not be happening, if you can’t point to specific cases. I’m sure that some of the women I know have suffered similar treatment, but none has told me about it, and I don’t seem to be the kind of guy that these men would brag to. I’ve evidently lived a sheltered life.

    1. Cynthia L.

      “And some of the reactions were pretty weird, with “logic” so skewed that I began to wonder if _I_ was crazy or something. Things like, “don’t tell us what you personally experienced, because how do we know that you didn’t make it up” — if I really try to figure that out, I’m afraid my head will explode.”

      Oh my, yes. THIS.

      I really regret reading some of those threads. I thought I was feeling tough tonight and I could handle it, and I wanted to scoff at the jerks and their jerkiness. But instead I’m left just feeling unsafe and dispirited.

      I have experienced various points on the rape-harassment continuum both in the geek world and out. Looking back, I really regret not speaking out more. More often than not, I wanted to just move on and not cause myself any more trouble. I would never tell someone else that doing so is a shameful choice–I wouldn’t even remotely think it. But sometimes I judge myself that way. In any case, it sure is amazing when women do speak out.

      Thanks GF for having a safe thread here.

  15. Alice

    It is great to know there is a community here that can listen, understand and support.
    The comments I read on other blogs defied belief. I was reminded of the quote by Aurde Lorde, “What woman here is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?”

  16. kaberett

    I have been thinking about this a lot.

    I have the sneaking suspicion that the people crowing “innocent until proven guilty” are very likely to be the same people who would then victim-blame anyone else who got assaulted by the man in question.

    And… argh.

    Noirin is being brave and marvellous.

  17. Deb

    I can never get the logic of why any thinking person could ever believe the “she made it up” fantasy when the harassment women receive in exchange for speaking up is so vicious and so apparently inevitable.

  18. dawn gabriel

    Note from Mary: I’ve edited to remove an ableist term.

    What strikes me as [Mary: incomprehensible] about this is that I cannot fathom one single reason why Noirin would be lying about this. We *know* what happens to women who speak out about sexual assault (this), and it’s damned hard to do it. She gets absolutely no benefit from “pretending,” to be a victim here. The reaction of the community makes me feel terribly, terribly sad.

  19. Lukas

    How embarrassing.

    Guys like this give the IT industry a bad name and quite likely scare women away from pursuing a career there. With a percentage of, like, 99% males, the IT industry is an awful place to work in as it is.

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