Sep 042013

This is a challenge as I’m not a critic of the Shermer rape allegations. I think on the balance of the evidence, multiple corroborated accounts. I have to believe the alleged victims claim, false rape claims are rare, rape is unfortunately not at all rare. However I still say “alleged”, this is because while I believe her and hence think that the allegations are true, I do not know the allegations are true. So the only rational position is one of agnosticism in the absence of overwhelming proof either way. But is the only rational position on belief to believe her? Well I obviously think it is and that has also been extensively covered here. I definitely think that taking the lack of cast-iron proof being present as justification for not believing is irrational. There will never be 100% proof, there will always be people irrationally refusing to believe even the most obvious cases of sexual assault and rape. For example this one of sexual assault, with five eye witnesses and dealt with by the conference authorities very well at the time. In this video she details the atheists and skeptics who minimise, blame her and gaslight her with accusations she is making it up. THIS is the problem in our community, IMO, not publishing claims of rape. Ordinary claims require ordinary evidence to be taken as provisionally true. 

What I’m really annoyed about is the reaction of those who don’t believe the allegations. Just not believing is clearly fine, you can come to a difference of opinion on the evidence, although I’d say most suggesting they don’t believe are those that do not seem to realise the extent of the claims. They don’t realise as well as the unidentified person who is known and trusted by PZ Myers and Carrie Poppy there is a person who is not unidentified, Dallas Haugh. They ignore that in preference of the claim PZ Myers published, based on the trust he and Carrie Poppy have in the person making the claim. Based on the many women who have stories of him being sexually inappropriate around them.  Based on second (update to post) and third independent corroborations of her account. Rape is common, rapists are common, this is not a claim of Bigfoot we are dealing with. But hey, you still don’t believe, that’s fine.

Unfortunately I’ve seen people criticise the publishing of the claim by PZ Myers, its a “witch hunt”, people are being “hysterical” by publishing the claims. This is not at all out of the ordinary, ask yourself how did the Catholic abuse scandals get broken? By people anonymously making allegations, people start to talk about it, more come out and the scandal is exposed. Enforcing silence on victims because they need to meet an almost impossible level of proof, or because they need to have been to the police with these claims to be able to speak out is wrong. We evaluated the claims that abuse victims made before they went to trial and decided given the amount of evidence they are likely true. Sexual abuse, like rape, is not uncommon. These victims almost universally did not report their rape to the police or the proper authorities.

(If you don’t think you know all the ins and outs of rape apologism, please read up before continuing. You are hardly likely to be able to disagree with me if you don’t even know the definition. Especially the examples at the bottom, for example in the Assange case bringing up irrelevant details with no evidence to construct the narrative that the victim made it up is rape apologia)

The focus on why she was drinking with him, it’s her responsibility to not drink too much. As if a woman drinking with a man is somehow responsible for what happens next. This is the worst example of victim blaming and I doubt many people would disagree that this is out and out rape apologism. Women can drink, get drunk and not expect to be raped exactly as I can get drunk and as a man expect not to be raped. This is a basic right and the other implication that she just got drunk, regretted it, then made up the allegations is inventing reasons on zero evidence and therefore rape apologia. False rape claims are, even at the top end of the estimates, very rare. Assuming this is the case because someone was drinking is irrational and not borne out by the evidence. This is exactly what happened in the Steubenville rape case, even though she was so drunk she was passed out. Women should have exactly the same expectations men have of having a drink and not being blamed for what people subsequently do to them in that state.

Why didn’t she report to the authorities? This is an irrelevant question. Like the need for cast-iron proof before believing victims you are imposing impossible standards on victims of rape before you will believe them. Many do report and get an experience worse or nearly as bad as the rape itself. Many do report the first time, then decide given the treatment they got that it is not worth reporting the second or third time that they are raped. Many are in a situation where they know if they report they will by default not be believed, or they deserved it and they would be stupid to report it. To present the situation as if reporting to the police is a cake walk and this victim should have reported it, is to not understand the realities of the situation. That is implying she is lying or she would have reported the accusations. You are making excuses to blame her for her own rape, you are saying she did something wrong in the aftermath of what is probably the worst experience in her life. The victim did nothing wrong, the rapist did everything wrong.

This isn’t to say that you cannot say in general victims should go to the police, if they can. Don’t say some who is a victim should have reported. The more reporting the better. But to ignore the reality of being a rape victim and the horrendous treatment they receive more often than not when they do report is giving rapists an excuse. With a tiny probability of actually getting justice, it is an unfair standard to apply to them. I’m sure everyone would agree on this in Saudi Arabia where you are stoned to death if you are raped for adultery. Or if “lucky” you have to marry your rapist. The situation is better in the western world but better is nowhere near good enough to expect people to report their assault. Again, consider the very well corroborated sexual assault claim I linked to above. Five eye witnesses, the conference people dealt with it well, and she still gets people from our community blaming her and claiming she is lying. She still waited over a year before talking about it, why? Because she knows how it will be dealt with, and that is the best one yet in terms of the nastiness of the reaction. Expand that to rape, where the alleged Shermer victim has been raped and in this case the conference organisers did not handle it well. Can you really blame her for not reporting? Should you blame her for not reporting? Or consider it in anyway indicative of a “false rape claim” …. Absolutely not!

(Image Source:

So I had a run in with some people saying that her not reporting at the time (despite her saying she did report it to the conference organisers who were dismissive) is somehow relevant. It isn’t and the way this point was phrased was pretty awful in my opinion…

Hysteria is from people who cry rape without reporting it to the proper authorities.

So I said IF they really think that this victim, or any other, not reporting their rape to the authorities is hysterical, the psychological condition not “funny” … Then that person is a shitbag and a rape apologist. I fully stand by that statement, IF that is what they mean. Even IF they are just saying that this particular victim should or had to report her attack to the police then that is also rape apologism. What I said -

You are a shitbag and a rape apologist if you can say that anyone not reporting rape is hysterical. #fuckyou

A charitable interpretation (I’ve been given) of them might be that they were saying PZ is the person who “cried rape” and was “hysterical” because he didn’t report it to the authorities… If so then what the fuck does that mean? Nothing to do with him, he has to respect the wishes of the victim. She wanted to publicise her account because she claims to know Shermer is still doing the same thing to this day. She wanted to warn other women so he cannot do it any more.

So please in these arguments online consider the very real possibility that this woman is telling the truth.  What message does she get when her community is criticising her for not reporting at the time? Or criticising her for drinking with him? What message does she get when her community is condemning her for coming forward and raising money for the person that attacked her? You have to consider that it is a very real possibility, that she is telling the truth. Not to mention Dallas Haugh, who also did not report, who also has his community raising money for the rich man he is accusing of rape. Where is the support for him? The legions raising money for his civil suit against Shermer? I would think he’ll drop it and give up, I seriously hope not but given the total lack of support. Who would blame him? Who would be surprised if any future victims in the community shut up and say nothing in preference to facing the angry mob blaming them for speaking out.


Comment policy: People indulging in rape apology will not have their comments published. Read the link on what rape apology is. If you think drinking is relevant, not reporting is relevant, you are making a claim that better have the worlds best stats to back it up as the evidence is not on your side.  If you think rape victims should stay silent until they have taken their accusation to the police you are ignoring the realities of the justice system. This is my blog and I don’t care to entertain rape apology today, take it to your own space.

If you are here to argue over the details of who said what in regard to the Twitter conversation referenced then don’t bother. I’ve documented it and unless or until the person involved clarifies, in detail, neither of us can know what his intent was.

 Posted by at 11:26 am

  7 Responses to “How to criticise the Shermer allegations without being a rape apologist”

  1. Great piece oolon, thank you for writing it up.

  2. Well said, oolon. That chart’s a great piece of graphic design – do you know where you got it? I can’t quite read the wee URLs at the bottom on this laptop. Small screen. :)

    I’m wondering if they offer it in printable resolutions.

  3. [...] makes it easier to just point them to that rather than have the same argument over and over. I also blogged about the wider issue and incidentally mentioned my run-in with Len and his entourage. He went [...]

  4. [...] about the Shermer rape allegations and the awful response to this in the atheist community that I blog about here. The libel threats that came as part of that original Storify are partly written about as an edit [...]

  5. I wish I understood why people think it’s acceptible to bring up the 90% statistic as if it has any relevance in any 1 particular case. Such a textbook case of people becoming blind to poor arguments once they’ve picked a side.
    I hope a similar type of reasoning is used against these same folks one day so they can see how hideous it is to be convincted by statistics.

    • You’ve never come across the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” then? Cos you do know the opposite is also true, for an ordinary claim to be believed you don’t need a whole lot of evidence. However in rape cases the burden is put on the victim, regardless of how unlikely it is she is making it up.

      No one is saying don’t evaluate the evidence, but your approach should be to believe unless there are good reasons not to.

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