Why is it so difficult to report harassment, and what can you do to help?

This is a personal blog and it is from the heart. This incident is separate from the MeToo incident that I wrote about previously.

When I was 24, I moved to Aberdeen, in Scotland, to start a new postgraduate degree in Artificial Intelligence. On my last night in my home town before I left to go to Aberdeen, I celebrated with childhood friends in a local restaurant, which had a little dance floor and a bar. In the bar, I met an ex-boyfriend, and I ignored him. He tried to speak with me, and I told him to leave me alone.

I went up to dance with my friend, and my ex-boyfriend followed me and continued to hassle me. His first punch came from nowhere and I only remember being hit directly in the face, and everything going red, and falling backwards. I don’t remember anything after that punch. I only remember, vaguely, my friend Christine screaming and screaming and screaming and I could only hear her, and everything was red. I remember idly wondering why she was screaming but then I lost consciousness. I only woke up the next day in bed, covered in scratches and bruises and I felt like I had bad whiplash.

After the punch that took me to the floor, he hauled me up by one arm and was punching me with the other. Then, I was kicked about on the dancefloor, unconscious. My ex-boyfriend was pulled off me and he went to the bar. I was taken home by my friend in a taxi. I don’t remember any of it. I wasn’t drinking much because I am not a heavy drinker; it was the initial punch that took me out. I weigh about 100 pounds and I’m not quite five foot two. It was no contest, really.

After that, the bar/restaurant went back to normal; people eating, drinking. I have no awareness of the events after my attack. All I do know is that my ex was told to leave the bar, and some men in the bar followed my ex-boyfriend outside. They beat him unconscious in an act of revenge, which I did not instigate. I do not approve and there is no joy in it for me.

The next day, I decided I would go to the police, after going to the hospital. As I learned about the events afterwards, I began to understand that I could not go to the police. I didn’t want the very well-meaning men to get into any trouble; their attack on him had been down to his attack on me. So, I felt responsible, even though I was not there.

His mother called me to see if I was ok. She told me that she’d raised a monster, and that I should stay away from him. And I did; I never saw him again. I started my postgraduate degree with my body covered in the vestiges of his attack on me. He used to wear a ring and I had scratches from where it landed on my body, with the weight of his fist behind it.

I am writing about it now because, all these years later, I regret not going to the Police and reporting it. I had so many witnesses, and I should not have felt responsible for the actions of the well-meaning men who wreaked revenge on him. But I did. I think that victims can feel that all problems end with them, and that they are the only ones who can fix things even though they are the victim. That’s why you end up absorbing so much.

I never felt any victory that he’d got beaten up. I don’t think he learned anything at all. I learned a few years later that he’d attacked his then-current girlfriend, a woman I vaguely knew. I felt responsible for her.

I don’t think that those well-meaning men should have beaten him up. This deprived me of control of the situation. Revenge was not theirs to give; it was mine to take, going through the courts and speaking to the Police. It is the best way to secure long-term sanctions on their behaviour. I understand that they thought they were doing the right thing. I did not hear about their revenge attack until the next day, and I was aghast. I understand that they felt that they had to do something.

My choice? For me, honestly, being a witness, and making my voice louder, would have been the right thing to do in the longer-term. By taking action in place of me, they essentially took my control, my choices and my voice away from me; my experience, my suffering, went unheard. I was not being allowed to drive the situation, and that’s what I wanted. I wasn’t consulted. I don’t believe women are weak fools at all and I don’t need people to speak for me. I just need my voice to be helped to carry, and, by ‘speaking’ for me, they were taking away from me the very things that would secure the most likely outcome for ensuring that he did not do it again.

Women need to be heard and believed. We don’t need talked for, talked at, or talked over. When we talk about #MeToo incidents, often you will hear women say that they feel better after speaking out. They don’t say that they feel better because someone else did something or spoke for them; they want control back. Loss of control means no options, and not having options is a terrible way to live your life.

By going to the Police and trying to secure a conviction against him, I could have helped to make sure that he would have had a record, which would have warned off future victims. And I was wrong not to see that. In the later incident, the one I wrote about in the MeToo blog, I was very well aware that other women would suffer in the same way I did, so I did my best to make sure it was stopped before it started. That made me feel responsible, and I have paid the price of the highest level of guilt since since I was not successful in the process. Victim blaming can often include the victim themselves, and we do not need told what to do. The world will make you feel small, if you let it.

After the separate #MeToo incident, I was given some medical counselling. Due to a shortage, during the counselling process, I was paired with a male counsellor and I am going to call him Edward. Edward taught me many things. He taught me that your friends are not the ones who spend time with you or who even like you. Edward helped me to see that I had choices, even though I felt that my choices were taken away from me. Edward helped me to feel as if I had control back, even though the control of everything, even that of my own body, had been slipping away from me. In doing these things, Edward helped me to get my voice back.

I never got to thank Edward. One day, I called to speak to him, and I was told that he’d fallen ill, and he wasn’t coming back. I never called again. One of my regrets in life is that I never got to thank him and I hope that he found someone in his life as precious and supportive of him, as he was to me. There are good people there and they flit in and out of our lives, leaving a thread of love that you can see if you are looking for it.

Inspired by Edward, who strove to ‘to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world’, I am going to put forward a list of what you can do to help. This is based on a few sources, but mainly Rape Crisis Scotland should be credited here.

Do:

  • Listen. Good or ‘active’ listening means you help the victim develop their own
    thoughts so they can look at options and make their own decisions. It’s not up to you.
  • Stay calm.
  • Be comfortable with silence.
  • Encourage
  • Take notes
  • Ensure safety
  • Read this list from RAINN in case an incident has happened
  • Listen. Keep the cakehole shut.
  • Accept and don’t judge
  • Be patient.
  • Take the lead from the victim– it is important for them to feel in control
  • Avoid asking intrusive questions.
  • Learn about sexual violence and its effects
  • Learn about ways of coping with these effects
  • Ask them what they need from you
  • Look after yourself too
  • If you think what you’re going to say sounds thoughtless, it probably is. So shut up.

Don’t:

  • Judge
  • Instruct
  • Decide for the victim
  • Feel responsible
  • Ask loaded questions, opinions and comments such as ‘you could have done such and such couldn’t you?’ or ‘you must be feeling terrible?’
  • Use ‘should’ or ‘if I were you’. If you are going to do tell me what to do, just go away. You are not helping.

I’m going to end, as I sometimes do, with a poem.

“Even in our sleep,

pain which cannot forget,
falls drop by drop upon the heart until,

in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom

through the awful grace of God.” – Aeschylus

So how many badass female inventors, role models do you know? Here’s a handy starter book list to share and inspire

How do you inspire girls to make choices that inspire them? How can we inspire girls to be badass and yes, it is a compliment? How do you give them role models?

There is nothing worse in the world that not having any choices. So let’s give our daughters the chance to have options and choices, just like boys. Don’t filter them out before they get started.

I’m in data and technology (my uncle was at Bletchley Park) and I was inspired to learn to program as an eight-year-old girl by a spy who cracked Japanese codes whilst hiding out in India. I was extremely lucky to be taught by someone who knew Alan Turing personally and was friends with Ludwig Wittgenstein, but many folks don’t know where to start. They just know that they have to harness their daughter’s enthusiasm somehow. And there is nothing wrong with boys reading these books either…. or anyone else. My son can read these books and say ‘wow, Hedy LaMarr was awesome!’ and that’s great to hear, right?

On Twitter, I saw the British historian and BBC presenter Dan Snow post the following tweet:

What Mr Snow may not have expected is that there were many responses about the fact that many inspiring women in history get forgotten, or even written out of history. Think Bletchley Park; how many famous women do you know from there? There were thousands of female workers at Bletchley Park there but we only hear about the men.

It’s time to right this wrong, and Snow’s tweet got me thinking. Some mentioned some of their favourite books that focused on women who inspire, in order to show their daughters a different way. Example:

WE NEED MORE OF THIS! We often talk about girls needing role models, and we end up being caught in a paradox.

How do we inspire girls with role models, if there aren’t any role models? How do we get role models, if we can’t inspire girls?

Before you read below… how many women can you think of? A quick poll of people around me produces ‘that woman who invented Tippex and was David Bowie’s mother’ – three things with that; a. stop defining her as a mother b. remember her own name as well c. she wasn’t David Bowie’s mother (!). A quick research shows that Bette Nesmith Graham actually was the mother of one of the Monkees. In a reverse Handmaid’s Tale sort of way, you might call him Michael OfBette. If you haven’t read Handmaid’s Tale, please do; it will make you angry because it is so plausible. It will make you scared for how the world could go, and that’s exactly why you should read it.

Well, the good people of Twitter started to put the world to rights again, when people started to note their own favourite books, which showcase women in a variety of fields. I am listing them here, and please do add more in the comments.

I do not get paid for recommending books because that’s plain grubby and money-grabbing. I’m recommending these because the good folks of Twitter recommended them, and I will be reading them myself.

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – recommended by James O’Flynn

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World by Kate Pankhurst – recommended by James O’Flynn

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath and recommended by Jenny Colledge

Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs by Jason Porath

These books are perhaps more for the adults:

Laurel A Rockefeller writes a series aimed at women in history

As I said, I’m into technology so I have to recommend Programmed Inequality (History of Computing): How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing. Written by Marie Hicks, it will inspire and hurt and you will learn something about how Britain can do better. Plus, WELCOME TO MY LIFE, PEOPLE.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – If you don’t read it, then you have to watch it. It’s painful because it’s articulate, insightful and it feels so close to the surface that you can almost touch the dark reality that’s not so far away from ours.

So, Mr Snow, if you ever decide to do a series on female badass characters throughout history, I think  you’ll have a very interested audience. #SubtleHint

I want better things for our children, boys and girls. If you are reading this far – Well done you – and it gives me hope that we might miss out on the dystopian future in The Handmaid’s Tale after all.

It’s about giving girls choices. If your daughter wants to be a mommy and wear pink, that’s fine. But if she also wants to be a car mechanic or scientist or save the world through environmental science, she shoudl be able to do that too.

 

Cloud computing as a leveler and an enabler for Diversity and Inclusion

I had the honour and pleasure of meeting a young person with autism recently who is interested in learning about Azure and wanted some advice on extending his knowledge.
It was a great reminder that we can’t always see people who have conditions such as autism. It also extends to disability, particularly those that you can’t see; examples include epilepsy or even Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Diversity gives us the opportunity to become more thoughtful, empathetic human beings.

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Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/geralt-9301/

I love cloud because it’s a great leveler for people who want to step into technology. It means that these personal quirks, or differences, or ranges of abilities can be sidestepped since we don’t need to all fit the brogrammer model in order to be great at cloud computing. Since we can do so many things remotely, it means that people can have flexibility to work in ways that suit them.

In my career, I couldn’t lift a piece of Cisco kit to rack it, because I was not strong enough. With cloud, it’s not a problem. The literally heavy lift-and-shift is already done. It really comes down to a willingness to learn and practice. I can also learn in a way that suits me, and that was the main topic of conversation with the autistic youth that I had the pleasure to meet.

I believe that people should be given a chance. Diversity gives us the opportunity to become more thoughtful, empathetic human beings. In this world, there is nothing wrong with wanting more of that humanness.

Open Source Decency Charter Proposal for Dealing with Harassment at Technical Events

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If you’re reading this, you are probably a decent person. You shouldn’t read this thinking that you will be putting yourself in danger if you attend a tech event. I can tell you that I normally feel pretty safe at these events and you can read my story here and I’ve talked about it publicly since I want to do something good with it. Note that I don’t represent any other organization or body or person with this blog. It’s another heartdump.

Most people are pretty decent but what do you do about the ones that are not? How do victims know what to do? How do you know how to help one of your friends?

The vast majority of people want to help and are decent, and that’s why I’d like to propose the creation of an open source Decency Charter to help at technical community events which need support for handling harassment at events.

A Decency Charter would outline reasonable and decent expectations for participants within the a technical community event, both online and in-person, as well as steps to reporting unacceptable behavior and concerns. It’s fairly simple at heart: be decent to one another.

I think that it would be good to have to have something very clear in place that people can use as a template, so everyone can have a voice and feel safe. That’s why I think an open source Decency Charter is a good suggestion and I’d be interested in your thoughts.

This blog post is an attempt to bring a few strands together; namely diversity, harassment in the technical community, and a proposal for a way forward.

It’s a shame that we have to encode decency into technical events.  More and more workplaces are being embroiled in sexual harassment cases. According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2017, over 50% of workplaces have had an issue with sexual harassment. I think it would be good if people could adopt a Decency Charter, since it sounds more positive than a Code of Conduct. The inspiration came from Reid Hoffman, who talked about a Decency Pledge in his article The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs where he talks about sexual harassment of women in the industry. I’m grateful to Reid Hoffman for his article because it does help to have male voices in these discussions. Simply put, his voice will carry further than mine, and with way more credibility.

Followers of my blog will know that I’m trying to get support for a Diversity Charter to support diversity at events. As an additional add-on, I’d like to propose a Decency Charter as well, which gives people a template that they can use and amend to monitor their event, as they see fit. I’d love your ideas and please do email me at jen.stirrup@datarelish.com with your thoughts, or leave a comment on this blog.

I am going to start to list a few things here from the viewpoint of someone whose head is bloodied, but unbowed and I want to use my voice. Everyone’s experience is different but I thought that this might help in shaping a Decency Charter that sits alongside a Diversity Charter. So, what do I actually want?

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As a starter for ten:

I want to feel safe and comfortable – Make it easy. I don’t have to have to think about it too hard if something happens to me or one of my friends – I need something that is so easy that I don’t have to look far to know what to do. I need to know what to do when something happens. I want to have a ‘home’ to go to, if something happens – that can be a location, or a person to call. I want to talk to someone. I want a number to call that is very visible on my event pass or pack so I can find it easily. I don’t want to google around for a form to fill in because that introduces a delay when it goes to an organizer, plus I am worried about putting my concerns about an individual or an event down in writing in case it gets in the wrong hands. This won’t secure my safety after the event, and that worries me, too. If I make a complaint, I can’t be sure that it would be successfully resolved and all relevant data removed, or handled confidentially. Google forms are so easily digested and forwarded by email and, like feathers, it could spread. I just want to talk to someone, in my own time. So, before, during and after the event, I’d ideally like each event to have a named panel of people who will listen to my concerns and they can act upon them in a clearly documented way.

I want others to feel safe and comfortable – I expect people to be able to answer accusations made about them. I don’t want people to think that the Microsoft Data Platform community, for example, is some den where there is a lot of harassment. There isn’t, but I’d like to see a Decency Charter in place in case there is.

I want to have a voice – I don’t want my voice taken away from me. I don’t want other people to speak for me. It’s easy for people to propose things without asking victims what they want, it’s very easy to dictate an approach from a point of privilege.

I want other people to have a voice – because everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves.

I expect confidentiality. I don’t expect people to repeat private details or rumours. At best, it immediately breeds distrust and you will never earn it back. At worst, you can deeply impact someone’s life by handling issues insensitively, and this cuts both ways. An accusation can’t be a condemnation, and there also has to be a balance with protecting people at the same time. Gossip doesn’t make me trust your processes in resolving things, and it has to be well thought out from all angles.  People can see how people behave with one another, and it’s a halo effect.

I expect you not to judge.

I expect to be able to get help right now, and have event organizers and volunteers who can support me if I need it. This is simply making sure that event volunteers are trained in knowing who to alert when something happens and responding thoughtfully and without judging, and, ultimately, centred on sensitivity.

I expect to be able to get help after the event, and have event organizers and volunteers who can support me if I need it.  I think that having an easily-available contact in place, well after the event, would be a good step. Event organizers usually have to clear things up well after an event, so this isn’t an onerous issue at all.

So how could this shape up?

I’d like to propose that, along with the Diversity Charter, we roll out an accompanying Decency Charter, similar to OpenCon Community Values or  the PASS Anti-Harassment policy. The PASS one is a good model but it only affects PASS events, and I’d like it to be an ‘open source’ way forward for community models. I think that, if we offered a ‘package’ of a Diversity Charter plus accompanying Decency Pledge, then the community have a template of ‘add-ons’ that they can choose to flex and use for their own events. They are absolutely welcome to change and adapt as they feel fit. I think it would be great to get a version 1.1. out there for the community to review and we can see what changes I get back.

What problem does this solve?

People don’t know where to start so we can give them a hand up.

As part of the speaker selection process, speakers can submit their past speaking experience as part of the speaker selection process. Organisers can choose to follow up with those past events to see if there are any issues with speakers; in any case, they should be doing their due diligence on speaker selection anyway, so it should not cost much effort  just to ask if there were any other issues that they should know about. It’s hard to deal with attendees because they are harder to police, and they can provide anonymous details at the point of registration. However, sending a signal with a robust Decency Pledge would send a message before people turn up to the event, and they should agree to adhere to it as part of the event registration process.

It’s so much easier to talk facts to someone, which is why I think organizers can offer contact details in case anyone wants to get in touch with them after the event.

Here are some resources to follow up:

PASS Summit Anti Harassment Policy

Enforcing a Code of Conduct

Responding to Reports of Harassment at Tech Events

I also want to add these resources in case this blog triggers anyone:

Male Rape and Sexual Abuse – because men can be victims, too.

Supporting a Survivor. 

I wanted to put this poem here, which is Invictus by William E. Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

You’ve got this.

I’d love to know what you think. Please contact me at jen.stirrup@datarelish.com and I’ll be pleased to know your thoughts.

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#TSQL2SDAY 96 – Folks Who Have Made a Difference

This post is part of TSQL Tuesday, a monthly blog party. This month’s topic is “Folks Who Have Made a Difference”, by Ewald CressHere is my first TSQL Tuesday in a long time – way too long, actually.

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Diversity is so important to me; tech community is a place for people to grow and there are plenty of good hearts in it. I want everyone to feel welcome, really.

The reason that I got into community was that I attended my first ever community event, SQLBits in Birmingham. I was nervous and ready to leave when this super friendly guy came up to me, explained he worked for Microsoft and he chatted away and basically he made me stay for the next session.

He sat with me through the lightning talks session and he made me feel welcome. He’d gathered up a few ‘strays’ like me and I had a really nice day; and it helped me to go back.

thanks-1804597_1920That gentleman was Andrew Fryer and I have never forgotten his kindness and he’s inspired me ever since. Andrew probably doesn’t even remember, and it may have been a little thing to him. But for me, it was huge and it helped change my life. If we can all do ‘small’ things like this, they add up, right?

If it wasn’t for Andrew saying hello that day, I would have left and never gone back to any events, probably. So I want to say Thank You to Andrew for reaching out that day, and for all of his support ever since.

 

 

An MVP for 7 years – what’s next?

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Well, it’s been a hard year, for a number of reasons, but I appear to have come out the other side.

Looking forward, what comes next?

New things!

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As some of you know, I care deeply about diversity in technology.

I have set up a Diversity Charter Slack channel to encourage user group leaders to talk about diversity and how we can encourage user group leaders to think about these issues.

I have set up an effort to have a Diversity Charter that user groups can use. I need help with things like logos, thoughts on a website and so on – so please do help if  you can!

The Diversity Charter looks like this, so far:

We believe that all members of the technical community are equally important.
We are part a tech community where we value a diverse network, and learn and share from one another:
regardless of age,
regardless of colour,
regardless of their ethnicity,
regardless of their religion or beliefs,
regardless of disability,
regardless of gender or sexual orientation,
regardless of their race,
regardless of their ability or lack of ability,
regardless of nationality or accent.
We are a diverse tech community where we are all individuals with differences, but we are all members and we can all learn from each other.

I look forward to your thoughts. Please do join my Slack channel diversitycharter.slack.com/ or ping me an email at diversity@datarelish.com in order to get an invite.

I will continue to help share my knowledge through blogging, writing, speaking, presenting, and increase my online presence. At heart, I am a content producer. It’s what I do, and it’s what I love.

I will continue working hard on the PASS Board. I just attended a Board meeting, which took place two nights during the week in the PST timezone. I am based in the GMT timezone, so I had a few very late nights or very early mornings, depending on your view. My recent focus is as a ‘trusted advisor’ capacity so I am helping to drive the new developer initiatives and business analytics initiatives in a strategic manner.

To keep the community fresh, I will continue to try to help to develop other community leaders. I have nominated a lot of people for the MVP Award this year, including David Moss,  Tomaz Kastrun and other people that I won’t mention, because they weren’t successful this time.