In 2008, I made a mistake.
Actually, I made a lot of mistakes, but only one of them has haunted me.
On Wednesday, I learned that there are at least two audio recordings of a meeting at a non-profit. In this meeting my mistake was discussed and now there is the chance that audio could go public.
And at this point, if it did, I’d support it because it would mean I could speak the truth frankly without fear of being sued for libel or slander by people with more resources than I have. It might mean that every few months, I wouldn’t have to deal with someone going, “there is this rumor” or getting out of the blue emails saying, “you know…”.
My mistake was not reporting that a drunken man in a prominent role tried to grab my breasts.
I’m writing this blog post to try and get out the truth, to get my story out before the internet gets ahold of this truth and of me, and before I am judged by the court of the blogosphere.
This is what happened that night:
Dear friend X went to introduce me to famous person A in a bar at a science fiction convention. Famous Person A was quite intoxicated. Instead of shaking my hand, Famous Person A tried to grab my breasts. Another person I had just met, person B, intervened physically. My friend made excuses for the famous person. Person B became a new friend. There was at least one other witness. I moved on with my con.
There are many reasons I didn’t report it. First off, someone physically intervened – B physically placed himself between me and the famous person who aimed his hands at my breasts. Second, the famous person was, um, famous, and I was an adjunct professor at a small university who podcasts; I didn’t want to have to deal with drama that could lead to no future work because a drunk guy acted inappropriately. Finally, on that particular night I had consumed alcohol. There are pictures in which it is clear I have either just gotten off a trans-Pacific flight, or I was tipsy. Sadly, that was not one of the years I went straight from Asia to a science fiction convention. I know enough about slut shaming to know that if I’ve drunk any alcohol I am (according to society & often the authorities) to blame for what happens.
In talking with other women, I’ve been assured I did nothing wrong. I protected myself, and moved on. The thing is, in all the years since 2008, I’ve had a stream of women coming to me saying, “Me too,” and sometimes they say, “Me too, only it was worse and no one intervened.” I have lived with that guilt – lived with knowing that I did nothing but maybe if I had done something …
But it’s actually worse than that. A couple years later, I was asked, “would you be part of this big project we’re trying to get funded.” It was a large group of people, most of whom I have the greatest respect for. It was a tremendous opportunity. But… there is always a but, isn’t there? But Famous Person A was part of the group, and I still said yes. I talked to several of the other men involved and said, “Look, you need to know about this thing,” and they said, “Yeah, we’ve heard about stuff like that before,” or they said, “Yeah, we’ll take care of you,” or they said both. I worked to make that project a success, but when the funding never materialized, I mourned the lost opportunity, but I was grateful to not have to deal with Famous Person A.
The only way I thought I could survive was to chew off my dignity. In order to succeed, I thought I had to make no waves and miss no opportunity. I don’t know if I was right or wrong about what would have happened to my career. I know that I am now a woman with a secure enough position to say, “No more.”
I don’t write this lightly. This is a post that has been maturing inside me for 5 years as I worked to secure my future.
I touched on what happened during my 2012 TAM talk, in which I said: “Here in the skeptics community, we, like every other segment of society, have our share of individuals who, given the right combination of alcohol and proximity will grab tits and ass. I’ve had both body parts randomly and unexpectedly grabbed at in public places by people who attend this conference – not at this conference, but by people at this conference. Just like in astronomy, it’s a combination of the inebriated guys going too far – guys I can handle – and of men in power being asses.” [link] While there were people in that audience who had successfully touched me without invitation or my desire, because someone intervened in 2008, at least Famous Guy A had only grabbed at me. But he could have done more – I was lucky. And, for the women who have said, “It was more with me,” I have mourned and regretted I didn’t do more. It was in part for them that I gave that talk.
I touched on it again in this blog post when in October, Famous Person A emailed me out of the blue. He wrote, “This is a private email for you only. … I hate to disturb your day, but you should know that there are rumors flying about today generated by a woman named Y accusing me of groping a woman (specifically touching her breast) in public at either 1 or 2, and the rumor is that it is you. Y is posting on [social media] that she was specifically told this by B, who of course did no such thing since it isn’t true. … Thank you for keeping this email private.”
He has shared around my response.
I have PTSD. It’s origins are complex and old. I had put it behind me completely for years and forgot about this demon. But, after my TAM talk in 2012, I went thru a very special form of hell that brought it back. I got help, and it’s under control, but… there are days, and this email created a week of those days. I responded that it happened (including with the description above), ending it with this, “I appreciate you reaching out to me, and understand that you may have been drunk enough to have no memory of this event. If this is the case, I would strongly urge you to consider seeking help.“ He wrote back to me two more times, asking why I had never confronted him, urging me to talk with him on the phone, talking about how this could devastate his family, urging me to remain silent. I wrote back saying I didn’t want to talk.
The truth is, as I said in my final correspondence, “There is absolutely no way for a woman to walk up to any man, let alone a prominent man they don’t really know, and say, ‘Pardon me, while you seemed to be drunk, you did this inappropriate thing.’ Inappropriate physical contact is so common at these events as to be just part of being a woman in science and skepticism. People drink. Inappropriate things happen, remembered or not, and for the most part we just move on as though it had never happened because otherwise we could never work. In this instance, B perceived the same thing I did and intervened, and, unfortunately for you and I, he is now speaking about it.”
I’ve since learned that Famous Person A has told people I contacted him out of the blue, saying I wanted to make it clear nothing happened. In other cases, he either forwarded my message or an edited version. I’ve seen parts of my message parroted back at me by people I never sent it too. I kept the bastard’s secret for fear of my career, and now I don’t use his name for fear of his attorneys… but my name? That is something people are trying to harm.
I’ve also heard numerous stories about B speaking about what happened. That’s cool as long as it’s among friends and he tells the truth. He was there. He intervened. I’m grateful. Maybe he can convince other men to intervene as needed too.
The thing is, B keeps opening doors for Famous Person A, and providing him new opportunities, and women keep coming forward, not just to me but also to person B, and saying, “This horrible thing happened to me.”
I get it – opening doors for Famous Person A probably helps Person B. I did that too once. But we’re older now, and we don’t need Famous Person A anymore. We’re strong enough to say, “No. This is where it stops.”
On Wednesday, I got an email indicating that there are recordings of B discussing what happened in his non-profit work place. I was cc’d on a chain of emails that resulted in person B denying my experience. I responded with the same “this is what happened” as above. I’ve gotten pages and pages back. And, person B started cc’ing Famous Person A,a man who is known to be litigious. It was clear these emails wanted me to retract my very simple account of what happened in 2008. I eventually wrote to the board of the non-profit because they need to know. If the audio of the recordings go public they’re going to have one hell of a mess, and … I’ve served on the board of enough non-profits to know that if there is even a perceived possibility of inappropriate behavior by organization members, that member needs dealt with before it effects the membership or organizational mission.
Today I received the following threat from the person I thought was my friend, the person who intervened for me, person B. It was in the context of trying to get me to say nothing ever happened. He wrote, “I will also publicly speak about this as necessary, providing all documentation as necessary, including photos, emails, etc., and contact all relevant employers, as well.” He cc’d Famous Person A.
Let me put that more clearly: someone who once prevented something that has been characterized as a potential sexual assault (that is what grabbing breasts is) threatened me while cc’ing the famous person he once protected me from.
(I’ve notified my center director of what’s going on).
The photos – they’re the ones on social media that show all of us tipsy; they are the photos we let people take when they said, “Hey, can I get a picture…” The emails… no idea, and more to the point, I have no idea if they are real or among the “Pamela said in email” messages I keep hearing about that I didn’t write.
I made a mistake in 2008: I went out with friends, I got a few drinks, I didn’t freak out when a famous guy tried to grab at me, and I went on to pretend it had never happened except when asked or when I had to potentially work with the guy.
My mistake was being silent and pretending nothing ever happened. My mistake is not earning enough money to not be afraid of going head-to-head with a famous person who I know can afford lawyers.
To every woman who has spoken to me since then … I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I didn’t do something because – like you are now – I was young and just wanted a career. I’m sorry I let you down, and that you became another, “Me too.”
To my friend B – to B who I thought was a friend – you have power now. You can do so much more good than you did for me that night in a bar. Use your strength to try and make the world better.
We are all, so much bigger on the inside. … Trying is the point of life.
image credit: shahidam
Pamela, do not be sorry. You did what you needed to do at the time. Just as you need to speak out now. I’m standing strong beside you.
Pamela – I wish I had some wise counsel on what to do or to say. I can only say that 1) any mistakes you made at the time were to try to protect yourself, and 2) you are not to blame for the bad behavior of others. As always, I look forward to working with you on good projects together.
This floors me and I am terribly sorry not only because this has happened to you, but because after so many years have passed you’re still forced to deal with the fallout. I share Beth’s sentiment that you have nothing to apologize for. I too stand strong beside you.
I’m not sure that given those circumstances, I would not have done the same thing. Sometimes the shock of something horrid overwhelms us and we just want it to go away. There is no shame in you keeping silent then, and there is no shame in speaking out now. Just as women told you “Me too” then, women will tell you now “Me too. Thank you for speaking up.” Your bravery in this situation (and you are brave) is that you have told the truth.
Sending love and light to you.
I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m glad you’re speaking out, and standing up for yourself. I can only think that Person A is running scared, as the subject hasn’t been dropped by the others involved. I wish you all the best.
Pamela, I understand, from a far different perspective. I’ve had my ‘personal space’ invaded at sports observational events, when I was a fan of the opposing team. Yes, it could be termed as ‘Sexual assault’, and yes, there were people in position of authority and power over my position.
As for me, there were no scars, I chose to just imagine what a fool was the Person.
I’m sure I could have made more of it, I chose to make less of it.
I do understand that Women have endured subjugation throughout time, and this in no way legitimizes the taking of indecent liberties.
I’m just purposing that there are degrees of personal space invasion, and as we all have the ability to retreat to just out of arms length,as long as that is all that it takes, we can choose the degree to which we feel assaulted.
I have the ability to grant the permission to which someone may upset me, as long as there is that option.
I am truly sorry you were assaulted, and that you’ve had to harbor this pain for so long, and that it could enhance, or ruin career opportunities.
I’ve no idea what that would be like, and I’m sure there are many other Men that do not,either.
Your speaking out should open the eyes of Men everywhere.
The mistake was his, in not being able hold his liquor. And if that many women are coming forward, he probably needs to go to rehab and dry out or take the financial resources that he would use to “lawyer up” and hire a sober coach. You did what a lot of women do who are “fledgling” anything in order to protect your career. I operate in women’s minister and I encourage women to speak out. If more women would get past whatever fears cause us to stay silent about these incidents, the powers that be, in these incidents, would have to do something to protect the interests of the women who work with/for/in conjunction with them on projects, etc. If nothing else it would force the “the famous A’s” of the world to shape up or ship out. I’m that person B turned on you like he did. I, like you, hope he’ll grown a pair and see that the right thing to do would is stop enabling this guy in his behavior toward women.
Agreed with above – this is not your fault. You don’t control their behaviour. They do and should have.
As the others have said, you have nothing to apologize for. It was, and is, a difficult situation that was dumped upon you and you have dealt with it as best you could, considering the array of people standing against you.
So many women have stories like this. Not always with Famous Person A, whomever he is…. And you are speaking out now. Perhaps, even though this is a lousy moment for you, this may help someone else to stand up earlier next time.
Wish i were there to offer my support.
Pamela, I was at your 2012 TAM talk and I’ve heard others talking about your experience. I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this. Have you considered crowdsourcing funding for an attorney? There are SO many people who support you and I’m sure plenty of people, besides myself, would contribute if you ever decide to go that route.
This sounds flat, but I’m really sorry for what you’ve gone through. I wish there were more I could say, but as some stranger on the internet the best I can do it let you know that your strength and honesty mean a lot to me. The goal of these people is obviously to now silence you. Your refusal is a vital act of rebellion. A little bit at a time we can try to change the skeptic community, our male driven disciplines, the world. We’re in this together sister.
By omitting the name of the man who attempted to assault you while drunk, you have put many prominent men in the skeptical community under suspicion. I have little time to socialize in the skeptical community so I haven’t heard any rumors or gossip regarding this other than other high profile accusations. I read your post and started rattling off names of men in my head. Is this about Michael Shermer? Neil deGrasse Tysson? the saintly Phil Plait? Wil Wheaton? All these people with families and others fit the vague description of Famous Person A.
I wish you the strength to get through this. No woman deserves what far too many of us have experienced.
It pains me so much to read this. I am constantly so angry and frustrated by how many men behave, and are protected by those around them. The truly sad and disturbing thing is that I don’t know a single woman, not one, who doesn’t have a similar story to tell. Every woman I know has been sexually assaulted in some way.
I hope you don’t mind me using your forum here to say something to any men out there who are reading this, but I try to speak up about this issue wherever and whenever I get a chance: Men, please listen, really listen, to what women are saying about sexual assault. Next, don’t stay silent. If you see another man behaving like this, speak up and make sure it doesn’t go unnoticed or unreported. When you are with your male friends and something related to sexual assault comes up, in whatever context, speak up. Let the other men in your life know that sexual harassment and assault are unacceptable.
Pamela, thank you for everything you’ve done to spread science and, even though it is painful, your experiences with sexual harassment. You are making the world a better place for everyone.
You made what you thought was the best decision at the time under very unpleasant circumstances, so there’s no point in playing Monday morning quarterback now. It doesn’t sound like you had any good options open, anyway.
Amazes me that people can’t be more honest. Even the mayor (former mayor) was honest enough to admit to smoking crack while drunk. And as much as that made him the butt of Internet jokes, he is looking pretty good compared to Person A & B here.
It’s one thing for it to be he said vs she said, but when their are many she’s lawyers or not A ( & B ) won’t come out of a fight looking good.
I am so sorry this happened to you, and you have nothing to be sorry for. I was also groped by a speaker at a convention, and was too afraid to bring it up to the organization, and I still get the shakes when I think too long on it. Be brave.
I am so sorry that you had to go through that in the first place and that this individual felt that somehow his behavior was appropriate. Drunk or not. I am more appalled at your supposed friend and his lack of integrity in outright lying about the situation. You are an incredible person and I have admired your position on the dignity of each individual, the importance of bringing up girls to know this and boys to behave accordingly. I have also found inspiration in your faith and how science inspires it. Fight the good fight and thank you for sharing.
I’m very sorry to hear about all that you’ve had to go through. And still are, unfortunately.
I can relate, to some degree, with having a very different experience with someone’s behavior than what most people see. It’s hard for lots of us to believe someone can be very different. I suppose that’s largely what makes gaslighting so common and effective.
So, best wishes. I do hope it gets better for you sooner than later.
In this whole area of women’s lives, there is no action that someone will not consider a mistake and guilt a woman for. Had you freaked out when Famous Person A grabbed for your breasts, many would have considered that a mistake…and blamed you for years. Shrugging it off and going on has always been the acceptable behavior for a woman in such situations, as it was when my mother was regularly harassed at work by someone more powerful, wealthier, who pursued every female, remotely attractive or not. As it was when I myself evaded such things as best I could and just figured “cost of doing business.”
Now, in today’s climate, there’s a little–not a lot–of social and institutional support for women who are groped or otherwise harassed by lecherous men. It still happens at SF conventions; it’s still known to happen; excuses are still made for Famous Males. (It still happens in offices, in churches, on the street, on public transportation…) You did what you could at the time to protect yourself from the fierce social disapproval you knew making a big deal of it would bring down on you. It wasn’t easy; it hasn’t been easy; for that I grieve, as I do for every single instance. I commend your courage in talking about it now, when the Famous A still has more resources than you do, still threatens your ability to make a living, to get along with the people you want to get along with.
In situations like this, it’s hard to know instinctively what to do. Even worse, abuse-enablers like Person B constantly change their story about what they think victims ought to do in such situations. You are not and never were in the wrong about anything regarding your harassment. Anyone without an anti-woman agenda can see that.
I am appalled that this kind of thing has happened to you, and that it continues to happen to so many women. I don’t know how I can help other than to voice my support, but you have it.
So sorry that you still have to deal with this, if only we had a community that dealt with harassment in the open and decisively there wouldn’t be such shitty situations. The aftermath of an incident like this is a big part of the effect on the victim, this couldn’t have been handled worse by those in charge. People support you, know that. And as for rich harassers with their litigious nature … Well, this should put any of them on the back foot. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/give-a-voice-to-harassment-victims
Wow, this whole situation is going sideways quickly. I’m glad these recordings have given you a much stronger hand. Remember, you not only have a lot of friends and defenders out there, you’ve picked up even more since this last came up, and the fact that you’ve broken your silence will help even more speak out and support you directly or otherwise.
Stay tough. We’ll get through this together.
I’m, just, kinda out of words.
My support for you in these rough times.
First of all let me say I’m am sorry this happened to you. Gives all men a bad light….and it should…most men are pigs….they get away with shit like this all the time….don’t let them…thank you for your courage….it appears to me that when a drunk jerk off…famous or not….gropes you your response should be a knee in the small head he thinks with….easier than social media disaster.
Please don’t be sorry. Persons A and B should be sorry. Many have been in these shitty situations, and they would have been more empowered to speak if people with the power weren’t apathetic/negligent/nefarious. Stay strong, and thank you for writing this. Many, many people support you.
I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having to deal w this. Sending you love and support. If there’s more that we can do please let us know. In the interim, know that you don’t stand alone.
Hey, you may not remember me, but I’m the guy with the Borzoi and the Gordon Setter who played with your dogs in the park near Tufts, around 2005, who talked to you about whether, when a particle behaves like a wave, the particle could be going faster than light if it’s tracing the wiggles of the wave going lightspeed, and you educated me about the wavefront being the particle’s probability, not the particle itself….or something like that. All the very best with this struggle, and kick some ass if you can.
Bad shit, someone and their mates using their social power to trivialise you as a person. Person B turns out to be Person Wasp. The rest of A is his problem; he could have apologised, and I’m sure that would have ended it then, and reinforced you personally. He chose not to, and he is the smaller for that. You being tipsy (or even smashed) in the first place isn’t an excuse for him or his acolytes- in fact the opposite. we have a duty of care for the helpless. OK, I’m English, hetero and irresponsible, but they are wrong and you are right.
Thank you. Please don’t be sorry.
I’m sorry that you have been treated like this. It is unconscionable of the people who have done this.
Pamela, I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this. It should never have happened. I personally don’t understand anyone who thinks they can touch someone else physically without permission (male or female) and without expectation of some sort of feedback or payback. I also feel the same way about talking about others, whether directly with someone else, via ink, or online.
We (you and I) have met before, and I find you delightful. That’s something I can appreciate (and do) without physical contact.
That “person B” has turned on you is a shame.
Based on all that I read in social media (and have asked some female friends about), it appears this happens to many, if not most women in their lifetimes at least once.
Society must change this.
Consider starting a defense fund, like that the one linked to by oolon. I’m sure you’d get a lot of support.
To the extent that we can, we all have your back. You’re right, it’s time this harassment stopped. Past time, actually. You have nothing to be ashamed of, even the silence. “Famous person” on the other hand, has plenty to be ashamed of and needs to publicly account for his actions. His organization needs to immediately begin the search for a replacement.
Well, two things. First: this is outrageous. Frankly, if you’d slapped his face I’d be leading the cheers. This is garden variety abuse of power, and it is never acceptable.
Second: PTSD is a beast. You can manage it and damp it down, but it tends to come back, albeit less severe each time. I’ve had it and I support a charity that helps combat veterans who have it massively worse than me. But there’s a well enshrined principle of law: the thin skull rule. You take your victim as you find them: if they have a thin skull (or emotional skin) and you cause them more harm than you’d expect, it’s your own damn lookout.
The fact that you’re emotionally vulnerable does not make any of this your fault: it’s his. He is totally to blame. It’s not your fault for not talking about it, it’s his fault for being a dick. You should not have to grow a thicker skin or penetrate the barriers to junior people reporting more established people for inappropriate conduct. Instead, everybody should act to others as if they are emotionally vulnerable, because some people are. It is not your fault. Understand that: you won’t stop blaming yourself, but anyone reading will, I think, not join in that blaming.
Thank you for sharing, and I hope you can be strong. We’ve seen this play out before, it is not pretty.
Just wanted to add one more message of support.
I hope whatever happens you can carry on doing what you want to do (and if that includes making awesome content for me enjoy then so much the better).
I know you know this, but it bears repeating: He is the one who should be sorry, not you. You have a right to defend yourself by being quiet. I’m very sorry that you no longer have that option, but I’m very glad that you bring so much courage to the fight. You deserve the deepest respect, not the crap you’re having to deal with.
I am so sad to hear that you had to suffer through this, not only the initial incident but the bulls hit that has followed. The fact that people (OK, mostly men) think that they can act this way is absolutely disgusting, disrespectful and abhorrent, be it intoxicated or not. Be it in a position of power or not. There Is No Excuse. I understand the reason for placeholders instead of names, but this should not be tolerated by anyone or from anyone AT ALL in today’s society. The way some people with influence (money/power/respect) feel this standing allows them to act in any way they feel is ridiculous, and the whole “slut shaming” idiocy is outright insane! I sincerely hope you are able someday, somehow to even the scoreboard, and also let the world know what a scumbag F.P. A is without fear of costly and humiliating litigation. I have been a longtime listener/reader of your work and completely agree with the above messages of support.
You are not to blame, you should not have to deal with this crap, he is an *expletive deleted*, and he should be f****** ashamed of himself, the same as all the other utter b@$stards who think they can get away with this. My heart, hope and thoughts are with you and everyone else who has suffered at the hands of similar people.
You have more supporters than those few who have taken the time to post, I’m sure I speak for them when I say we support you fully in whatever manner you see fit to deal with this.
Thank you for speaking out, Pamela. Drunk, sober, famous, unknown, doesn’t matter. Inappropriate behavior is still inappropriate. This needs to be brought out into the open whenever and wherever it happens.
Any recordings would be discoverable in any lawsuit. If the recordings “disappear”, that is obstruction of justice, no matter what their content is. That is criminal, not civil. Are the various people protecting famous person A, B, C, etc. willing to risk criminal jeopardy to protect a famous person?
I hate that this has happened to you, that this is still happening to women all over conventions, in work places, and pretty much everywhere. The curse of being a women is when we are in these situations we have no right way to act. Speaking out, making a scene, or anything else at the time would have made your name famous for this scandal, people would have made excuses for Famous Person A, and your contributions to science would be overlooked. Being quiet means others deal with this and feel like they are alone, Famous Person A gets to a point where they can bully you into not just silence but turned into a villain that is “making stuff up.” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Know that you have my support and those involved are just morons. Then again, are we surprised?
Oh, and never apologize, you aren’t the one who should be apologizing.
You do not know me and you do know me. Just as I know you. We are both women in a culture that oddly boasts it’s egalitarian ways, while subltly promoting a way of treating women that runs just under the polite current of our social construct and isn’t nice or good or kind or even respectful.
The mistake I hear you saying you made, was not standing up for yourself in the moment – “take your hands off my breasts, now.” Steady, eyes piercing his, settting your boundary with confidence. No matter who he is. Every single woman I know has subtle and not so subtle things like this happen all the time. The fact that we turn to other males – friends, co-workers, boyfriends, husbands, sons- for protection is really unbelievable in 2014. My voice, your voice, can be strong and steady. For women to feel they are violating something precious or untouchable by telling a man to stop,back off, do not touch, is crazy!
This post of yours is brave and courageous. Stay in the truth. Do not be afraid. All will be well. The topic of women standing up and saying something when men ride the boundaries and cross them has been rumbling around in me all week. After several discussions and now after reading your blog, I will stand up and speak the very next time – I don’t care who it is.
peace be with you as you go forward……V+
I’m sorry you have to deal with this again. All I can say is appreciate everyone leaving encouraging comments. I was physically and sexually assaulted by a former military director for an atheist organization and I was black listed, humiliated on-line, and drug through 2 investigations and a year of court all to hide what he did. I didn’t have anyone reaching out to me to say they were sorry or asking how I was. Everyone scattered when it came out the military was investigating it.
After that experience all I can say is don’t play into their games. Let them hang them-selves. You seem to be handling it the best you can and I hope you are able to find closure and focus on the things you love.
Rather than saying “don’t apologize,” I want to recognize and honor your apology. It’s the sort of apology that isn’t about feeling good about feeling bad, but rather aims to make change. That’s what I read in your message.
Although it’s inevitable that a lot of bottom-feeders will put you on a poster for their cause(s), it’s separately true that if you name names–and I think you should, but I don’t pretend it’s my decision–you’ll have a lot of support, financial and otherwise.
Science and skepticism are about honesty. Thank you for being honest.