This post was written by myself and my fiancee, Sharon, about the alleged sexual assault of Justine Arreche by Joe O’Brien at Codemash 2013. Both Joe and Justine are, like me, members of the Ruby community. Sharon is a lawyer who’s currently supporting domestic violence victims in her work, and feels that domestic violence and other violent acts against women are symptomatic of a lack of respect towards women by men. Misogyny, basically.
I read out Justine’s post to Sharon over the weekend; she was driving at the time. I also told her that there’s at least one sexual assault in the tech community every two months, and that the statistic is probably higher because a lot of them probably go unreported. She was shocked but said that a lot of violent crimes perpetrated against women do go unreported. Often the perpetrator is known to the victim, and this is largely one of the reasons that crimes don’t get reported. Sometimes it’s a breakdown in trust and there’s so much confusion on the part of the victim about what’s happened, who did it, and how to react to it.
Justine’s post is evidence of all of these things. She questioned her own judgments, she apportioned blame to herself for a crime that was committed against her and she didn’t feel she could speak out about it. It wasn’t until long after (9 months) the act had been committed, did she appear to feel she was safe to talk about it. By that stage, the perpetrator (Joe), had well and truly gotten away with the act, it seems.
Justine expresses in her post, something that Sharon sees every day in her work. A woman who feels that she has been the only one to have worn the cost of what someone else has done to her. What someone else chose to do to her.
In Australia, any sexual assault is a crime. A workplace should not cover this up. Any investigation into this sort of matter should include the police and charges should be laid against the perpetrator. Joe needs to be held to account for his actions in a court of law and Justine should be entitled to that kind of justice. She even says herself in her post that:
I want him to recognize the toll he’s taken on my life and how everything has changed for me. How he took so much of myself away from how I used to be.
It’s not clear from Justine’s post whether any legal action has happened. We certainly hope it has. As it stands already, he has committed career suicide for himself by doing this, and worst of all has affected someone else’s potential career. Not to mention the flow on effects of all this as well. Justine became withdrawn from her colleagues, her family, broken up with her boyfriend and still struggles with day-to-day life. No woman anywhere in the world should feel this threatened. Especially in a community which has the mantra “Matz is nice, so we are nice”.
Sharon is appalled to learn that women feel this threatened in the Ruby community. The Ruby community is one that is partly professional, and partly social. To me, Ruby has been like a third family for the past 8 years. Sharon knows how much the Ruby community means to me. I love it to bits, more than because it pays the bills. Programming is something I enjoy doing and I enjoy attending conferences because I don’t feel threatened there. When I hear about other people attending conferences and feeling threatened in any way by anyone, it makes me feel like I don’t want to do those things anymore.
In any professional community, there is no place for sexual violence. Sharon wonders what it is that makes a community accept violence in any way and suspects its because people don’t stand against it when it happens on a small scale. There’s a saying that Sharon really likes: “From little things, big things grow”. If there is a little violence, you can sure bet that big violence will be on its way.
What does this mean practically in the Ruby community? We think, that like any other community, if small things are said or done or encouraged, whether the people are intoxicated or not, it breaks down people’s sensitivity towards those things. We think that encouraging a woman to do bodyshots at a professional conference is a small thing that perpetrates violence against that woman. It is an act of disrespect to that woman as a human being and a professional. Why didn’t the other men in the bar discourage her from doing that? Or discourage other people from insisting that she do that? Would you encourage a man in the community to do that? If not, then why would you encourage a woman? Show some respect.
In Australia, we have White Ribbon Day, which is a male-led movement to end violence against women. This movement aims to encourage men to never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. Sharon and I support the Ruby community thinking about this theology and applying it seeing as the Ruby community is predominantly male and wants to attract more women programmers. Sharon has some pretty strong thoughts on this, extending to other industries as well.
The Ruby community should make the space for women to feel comfortable and that includes making effort to discourage disrespectful behaviour, thoughts and conversations about women. Men generally, but specifically the Ruby community, need to start seeing women not as objects for their own gratification or pleasure, but as other human beings who have thoughts, who can make a valuable contribution to the community – see women like Sandi Metz and Sarah Mei. Women are human beings, equal in every way.
If you see any act of violence committed against any member of this community or others: please speak up about it. Go over to them and ask if everyone’s OK. That’s sometimes all people need. If you can’t go there, talk to someone else about it. The worst thing you can do is to stay silent about it.
This culture of men thinking that it’s ok to make those comments and to act that way towards women, has to be stopped.