Because it Also Needs to Be Said

Yesterday I got immersed in a conversation on about this incident. A female designer working for a Ruby shop in Ohio was sexually assaulted while drunk at a conference by her boss.

This is causing a lot of discussion about whether or not we have a community of “brogrammers” who feel this behavior is appropriate. I have spoken to several female developers who have had it with the community and are planning to leave because of the experiences they have had.

I want to add my two cents in here.

I have no doubt that this woman was assaulted. I have been assaulted many times (I prefer not to get into the details at this point) and the way she describes her feelings and why she behaved the way she did is consistent with every story I have heard from a real assault victim.

Now, I want to point out that a lot of people did the right thing in this situation. A co-worker noticed that things had gotten out of control and came over to diffuse the situation. Justine reported the behavior. The HR department determined that what happened was inappropriate and they let go of the person who did so.


Most assaults that happen are not done by people in public. Had this assault happened in a more private place where others didn’t observe it, I would like to think that the business still would have done the right thing, but the odds are it would have been easier to ignore.

I have been to a half dozen conferences over the last year. I am actually going to another one next week in Boston. I am traveling by train by myself. I have never made a trip by myself before. After hearing these stories it does cross my mind that I am vulnerable. I enjoy going to the bar after the conference and chatting with my fellow attendees. I know that the possibility exists that someone might drug my drink and I would wake up in a room other than my own. I don’t think that is very likely, but I think about it.

I was at a conference in June where there was a lot of alcohol. The party moved to a weird old building on campus in Madison where I and people I had met a few hours ago wandered around drunk after coming in from the rain. I had an amazing time that night, but I knew there was always the chance that something could have happened to me.

I think my risk of being attacked is small enough that I do the things I was to do with my life. I accept that the possibility exists that someone might try to do something to me. I make sure to only spend time around people that do not make me uncomfortable. If someone starts to make me uncomfortable, I leave that situation.

At my last conference, Madison Ruby, I had a person attach himself to me at the end of the conference. After knowing him for all of an hour he acted like he owned me. When I tried to leave him to be around other people he came over and told me that I had “really shitty body language” because he couldn’t read why I had left him.

A friend and classmate noticed this douchebag’s behavior and asked me if I needed help. I said yes, I did. So any time this guy tried to be near me my friend would pointedly insert himself between the two of us. When the guy would be verbally possessive of me my friend would interject himself in the conversation and mess up the guy’s game.

I think what he did was awesome. It really does not take very much to support another person who is being made to feel uncomfortable and do things to make them feel safer. Everyone should do this.

The takeaway I want to interject here is that I feel being a woman who is in programming, engineering, name-male-dominated-field here, is like being a character in a horror movie. Everyone has that thought of watching the blond virgin wandering into the dark alley and you yell at the screen “Don’t go in there!! It isn’t safe!”

No one is (or should be) saying that the woman being murdered by the serial killer in the dark alley had it coming for doing something stupid. No one should say it’s okay for the killer to kill anyone for making a really dumb choice. Even if you put the onus on the serial killer for being 100% in the wrong, the blond is dead.

With Justine, she got about the best result that anyone can hope for when reporting an assault. That didn’t change the fact that she was permanently damaged from the experience.

You need to be more careful.

I wish I did not live in a world where I have to say that, but I do. Don’t close yourself off to every person at any conference, job, or whatever. But do listen to your gut and monitor your relationships to make sure things do not go too far.

Long before this reached the assault stage Justine could have left. She could have said things were too intense and she could have gone home. She tried to stick it out and show it didn’t bother her. That was a mistake.

Again, I am not saying that I think she deserved this or that she is wrong. I am simply stating that bad situations have inertia. They will continue to get bad until an outside force acts upon it to make it stop. If you nip them in the bud early then things are less likely to escalate.

You have control over your body and what happens to you. You do not need to cede your right to control your body to anyone that you do not want. You can leave. You can scream. You have choices. These choices get more and more limited the longer you wait. If something makes you uncomfortable, leave. You will not get anything out of trying to stick out a bad situation.

Stay safe. Be vigilant. Help others who look like they are in distress. Have a buddy to watch your back.