[personal profile] mjg59
(This post contains some discussion of rape and sexual assault but does not go into any specifics)

There was a brief controversy at Linux.conf.au back in 2011. The final keynote speaker gave a compelling presentation on online privacy, including some slides containing sexualised imagery. This was against the terms of the conference policies, and resulted in an apology from the conference organisers and the speaker. The situation was unfortunate but well handled, and that should have been the end of it.

Afterwards, there was some pushback on the conference mailing list. Concerns were raised about the policy being overly restrictive and the potential for it to be used to stifle speech that influential groups disagreed with. I don't agree with these arguments, but discussion of why policies have been implemented is completely natural and provides an opportunity for a community to determine what its expected standards are.

And then Ted Ts'o effectively called rape victims liars[1]. At first I assumed that this was just some sort of horrific failure to understand the implications of what he was saying, so I emailed him to check. The reply I got drew a pretty clear distinction between the case of a drunk college student raping another drunk college student in their room and the case of knifepoint rape in a dark park. You know, the difference between accidental rape and rape rape. The difference between the one any of us might have done and the one that only bad people do. Legitimate rape and the "rape" that those feminists talk about. The distinction that lets rapists convince themselves that they didn't really rape anyone because they weren't holding a knife at the time.

Ted Ts'o argues that only a small percentage of rape really counts as what people think of as rape. Ted Ts'o is a rape apologist.

There's an ongoing scandal in the UK at the moment. A well known DJ, Jimmy Savile, died last year. He grew up in a working class family, but through hard work and natural talent was one of the most significant figures in promoting pop music in the UK in the 50s and 60s, and worked in various parts of the BBC for the best part of 30 years. He spent significant amounts of time raising money for charity, and it's estimated that he raised over £40 million for various causes. Since his death, around 300 people have accused him of sexually abusing them. The BBC is desperately trying to explain why it cancelled an expose shortly before it aired. Multiple people who worked there at the time claim that everyone knew he was involved in indecent activities, but saying anything would risk both their career and the charities that depended on his fundraising. Nobody said anything, and he was allegedly free to continue his abuse.

Ted Ts'o is a significant figure in the Linux kernel community. He has expressed abhorrent beliefs that damage that community. Condemnation was limited to a mailing list with limited readership, meaning, effectively, that nobody said anything. Last week the Ada Initiative published a blog post pointing out the damage that did, and I realised that my effective silence was not only helping to alienate 50% of the population from involving themselves with Linux, it was also implicitly supporting my community leadership. I was giving the impression that I was basically fine with our community leaders telling people that it wasn't really rape if you were both drunk enough. I was increasing the chances of members of our community being sexually assaulted. Silence is endorsement. Saying nothing is not ok.

In the absence of an apology and explanation from Ted, I'll be interacting with him to the bare minimum that I'm compelled to as a result of my job. I won't be attending any Linux Foundation events he's involved in organising. If I'm running any events, I won't be inviting him. At a time when we're finally making progress in making our community more open and supportive, we don't need leaders who undermine that work. Support organisations who encourage that progress, not the people who help drag us back.


[1]The original archive has vanished. I've put up a copy of the relevant thread here. Throughout, Ted states that he's actually arguing against the idea that women need to be frightened of sexual assault, and not against the definition of rape. Except saying things like This one does a pretty good job of taking apart the Koss / Ms. Magazine study, which is the source for the "1 in 4" number. For example, it points out that over half of those cases were ones where undergraduates were plied with alcohol, and did not otherwise involve using physical force or other forms of coercion is difficult to read in any way other than "Half of the people you're counting as having been raped haven't really been raped", and favourably referring to an article that asserts that the rate of false rape reports is probably close to 50% is pretty strong support for the idea that many rape victims are liars.

(Update 2012/10/30: Adam Williamson suggests in this comment that this mail is a better example of Ted's behaviour - there's some explicit victim blaming and a lot of "Is that rape" questioning with the obvious implication that the answer should be "no". Ted Ts'o is a victim blaming rape apologist.)

(Update 2012/11/05: It's been suggested that I haven't been sufficiently clear about which of Ted's statements justify my claims. So, here we go.

In this mail, Ted links to and endorses this article. He explicitly links to it because of its treatment of rape statistics. Quoting directly from that article:
the rate of false reports is at least 9 percent and probably closer to 50 percent
Ted explicitly endorses an article that claims that a significant percentage of reported rapes are false. The study that generated that figure is held in poor regard by other researchers in the field - Australian police figures indicate that 2.1% of rape accusations were classified as false. Ted asserts that he was trying to argue against poor use of statistics, so it's a fair assumption that he agrees with the alternative statistics that he's citing. Ted believes that many rape victims are making false accusations. Ted believes that many rape victims are liars.

Again in this mail, Ted argues against a claimed figure that 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted. One of his arguments is that Also found in the Koss study, although not widely reported, was the statistic that of the women whom she classified as being raped (although 73% refused to self-classify the event as rape), 46% of them had subsequent sex with the reported assailant. Ted disagrees with a statistic because some rape victims subsequently have sex with the reported assailant. This means that Ted believes that this indicates that they were not really raped. Ted is a rape apologist.)

Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-30 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I've already posted about this in a thread, but I think it deserves a top-level comment, as I missed it for a while.

I think Matthew didn't actually call out the worst post Ted made in the thread. For those uncomfortable with the 'rape apology' allegation as it relates to the posts Matthew cited directly, I encourage you to read this post, which to my mind is far worse and constitutes much clearer evidence for the accusation:


There is no excuse for this kind of 'thought experiment' bullshit. The post harps extensively on hypothetical scenarios that intentionally blur the very edges of the issue of consent. Most damagingly, it _repeatedly_ more or less baldly states that women who are raped when they are drunk are partly to blame for getting drunk (this is couched in a silly rhetorical trick of sex reversal, but the intent is clear):

"And if he was still raped, does he bear any responsibility for put himself into a situation where Alice could ask and ask him until he said yes?"

"All aside from the legal question, there's also the question, in the Alice and Bob thought experiment, regardless of whether Alice is guilty of raping Bob (assume that Bob was inebriated and couldn't give consent, and she knew that Bob was drunk), should Bob be faulted for putting him into a situation where he was so drunk that he couldn't take responsibility for himself? What if it was pretty clear that he regularly did this *because* he could lose control and not take responsibility for what he did? Suppose he hadn't yet had sex without giving consent? Would, should he, face opprobrium for his actions? If yes, does that magically go away once he is raped, and is now a victim, since that would now be blaming the victim?"

"Personally, it's not an issue for me because I strongly don't believe in going to parties where a lot of one-night stands are negotiated, nor do I like situations where a lot of alcohol is consumed. So I'm also predisposed to not have a lot of sympathy for both parties --- male or female, attacker or victim --- who put themselves in such situations."

This is unacceptable, intolerable and a clear case of 'rape apology'. Having sex with someone without their consent is rape, and rape is never the fault of the victim. It is completely unacceptable to assign blame to a rape victim for being drunk. I think this is clear and inarguable. Don't blame victims, and don't excuse people who do. Having read that post, I agree entirely with Matthew that Ted was making apologies and excuses for rape, I think that was and is unacceptable, and he should apologize for it.

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-30 08:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Two drunk people having sex is stupidity, not rape. And if society decides to call it rape instead, then when happens, both parties should be prosecuted for rape.

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-30 09:48 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It's amazing how often the 'two drunk people' canard seems to come out. Four people in this comment discussion so far.

None of the studies Ted cited reflected the 'two drunk people' scenario. Most of the hypotheticals Ted posited did not involve a 'two drunk people' scenario. Please stop bringing it up. It is not relevant and you are derailing.

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-30 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It's not a canard, it's actually a very common situation, and its possibility was implicit in one the mentioned studies, namely the Koss one.

One of the questions was "8. Have you had sexual intercourse when you
didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol
or drugs?". In such situations, it's quite likely that the man was also drinking. This by itself, does not imply that there was no rape (I believe someone already pointed out Ts'o was wrong by claiming this).

On the other hand, we cannot say that it's *always* rape -- and this is what Sommers (linked to by Ts'o) points out. It is conceivable that both Alice and Bob were drunk, then had sex, and afterwards either Alice or Bob or both thought "I shouldn't have had sex with that person; if I hadn't drunk alcohol I wouldn't have had". That is definitely not a far-fetched, hypothetical situation.

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-31 12:01 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"It's not a canard, it's actually a very common situation"

I have not seen anyone cite a shred of evidence of this. It just keeps getting airily asserted.

I'm not going to debate hypotheticals back and forth because again you are *fundamentally missing the point*. In this sub-thread I already said that I'm much more bothered by the _later_ post in the thread than by the one that cited some academic argumentation about a few specific studies. I think there's some valid dispute about methodology going on there, but it's very specific and requires careful handling, and I don't see any profit in anyone who isn't actually involved in studying the incidence of rape diving into that debate. In the later post I specifically cited at the start of this thread, Ted is not talking about studies of studies or survey methodology, he is positing hypothetical situations that he made up off the top of his head. He mentions the 'two drunk people without clear positive consent' scenario only briefly. The most problematic parts of the mail do not involve that scenario. I quoted, verbatim, the precise excerpts of the mail I find most objectionable, and they do not involve the situation you describe. Banging on about a different hypothetical situation from the ones Ted posited does not defend Ted's post in any way.

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-31 01:12 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Drunken one-night-stands happen. If you refuse to believe this because you "haven't seen evidence", then I don't know what to say.

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-31 01:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
They happen. What is being asserted with no evidence is that this has anything to do with rape. Lots of people seem *really keen* to play up the hypothetical scenario of two drunk people having sex in the context of a discussion of rape.

The game seems to be 'hey, let's imagine the most questionable possible hypothetical scenario which someone might possibly describe as rape, and that will prove...something'. What?

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-10-31 01:36 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
BTW, you're still insisting on derailing tactics. I posted a tiny sentence with a throwaway comment on this single scenario you keep harping on, and then a giant paragraph where I stated very clearly and concretely what parts of Ted's posts I had particular issues with, and what those issues were.

Which you utterly and completely ignored.

Can you please engage with the substantive argument and stop playing games with the least significant and most disruptive scenario you can imagine?

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-11-02 11:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] np237.livejournal.com
Sex with drunk people is sex. Raping drunk people is rape.
Is the difference that hard to understand?

When you drink too much, you have to accept that your inhibitions will be lowered, and that means you may have sex you will regret later. It doesn’t mean you have to accept sex with people you will say no to anyway. Remember that apart from “rape drugs” such as GHB, drugs will not make you suddenly accept to do things that are contrary to your will.

Drinking will not turn magically you into a rapist either. If you have rape pulsions you cannot control when you are drunk, then not only should you never drink, but you also need urgent psychiatric assistance.

This whole “drunk sex vs. rape” argument is really just an excuse to minimize the amount of people who are raped and the damage they suffer. None of the women I know who have been victims of rape or sexual assaults were in a situation where alcohol could serve as an excuse.

Re: Further post in the thread

Date: 2012-12-09 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Why aren't women required to be responsible for their alcohol consumption? Are we small children? Are we unable to moderate our drinking? Are we unable to think rationally or make safe choices for ourselves? Are we just stupid children that require a big strong man to moderate our behavior for us and to tell us when we've had enough alcohol? I'm really curious here.

If women are truly EQUALS then we should have equal responsibility when it comes to common grown up decisions such as how much, where, and how often to engage in drinking and with whom.

No woman should be getting drunk with a man she doesn't 100% trust, period. This doesn't make ANY of his actions okay if he takes advantage of her, but please don't condescend and patronize to those of us who are actually smart enough not to get drunk with strange men so we can cry wolf in the morning.

I don't believe Ted is making excuses and apologies for rape. I think he's being clear that when there are two grown adults in a situation one has responsibility for not knowingly putting themselves in harms way.

If someone stole my car and I didn't lock it, while it's not my fault some asshole stole my car, most people would look askance at the fact that I hadn't locked it and would tell me so.

If someone broke into my house and I didn't lock it... same thing.

I really don't understand how so many men cannot see how fundamentally patronizing it is to act as if I am responsible for locking my car door or my house and that if I am robbed without doing so that I do have SOME partial responsibility in making that crime easier to accomplish. But yet... I'm not responsible for my own level of drinking.

In the car or house scenario... even when you tell me I should have been more careful, it's still a crime. I'm a victim. The sentence is still the same... but I could have been more careful.

And yet... I can drink as much as I want with whoever I want in any dangerous circumstances I want and if I end up raped... well... let's not blame the victim. The amount of hypocrisy in that and the patronizing condescension to women is just unreal.


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Nebula. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

Page Summary

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags