This could have been, and IMO should have been, a fairly short conversation in our community. Here’s how it could have played out, IMO should have played out, was beginning to play out before it got derailed: At the Women in Secularism conference, Jen McCreight brought up the subject of sexual harassment at conferences. Some people started writing about it, saying, “Hey, yeah, this is a problem, what can we do about it? Having sexual harassment policies at our conferences would be a good start.” Some organizations that host conferences said, “Hey, yeah, that’s a good idea, let’s do that.”

It could have stopped there. Or rather, it could have moved into a conversation about what the details of those policies could be. Instead, it got derailed into a firestorm, in which the people raising the issue were blamed for making women feel unwelcome at conferences, and women who reported their experiences of harassment were accused of lying, and women discussing the issue were told that nobody would ever harass them anyway because they’re ugly, and codes of conduct at conferences were compared to the Taliban, and people discussing the issue were condemned both for not naming names and then for naming names, and harassment victims who didn’t report to the police were dismissed or treated as liars, and any form of harassment that fell short of criminal activity was trivialized, and women who reported sexual harassment were told that they simply had sexual exploits they later regretted, and people started attacking straw-man versions of these policies and claiming that having an anti-harassment policy meant requiring written consent in triplicate for any sexual interaction or friendly horseplay.

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