The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Sexual Harassment & Assault at Skeptic/Atheist Cons

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2013

I don’t often make posts about this particular topic, though I have definite feelings on the issue.  If you call yourself a skeptic and/or atheist and you’re involved in the movement, you would have to have been living under a rock for the last couple of years to have missed how the issue of misogyny, sexual harassment, and assault has come to the front of much discussion in our community.

What follows is a video made by a very brave woman whom I know, named Ashley Paramore.  I’ve known her for a few years through our mutual involvement in the skeptic/atheist movement.  She is a smart, beautiful, and talented woman who is quite passionate about skepticism/atheism, much like many of the women (such as those ladies at Skepchick and the Women Thinking, Inc) whom I have had the honor of meeting and working with these last few years.

**Please note: what is described in this video may be disturbing to some**

It saddens me to say that I personally know of at least two other women (as well as one man) who were similarly harassed and/or assaulted at skeptic cons in recent years.  In one situation, I actually had to get physically involved to stop the assault and eject the perpetrator from the venue.

Ashley is right: this sort of thing happens a LOT more often than many people might think.  And while I applaud the efforts of various cons to set up methods of dealing with such situations as they arise (and yes, I also have my criticisms of other cons for not doing so), the best thing to do is to create an environment where such harassment and/or assault doesn’t occur at all.  And for that, it takes all of us to be more aware of what is going on around us; it requires us to be willing to call out inappropriate behavior; it requires us to be willing to listen more and treat the experiences of women (and men, too) like Ashley seriously and in a non-judgmental manner; and it means that we need to provide support, either in public or private, for those who are willing to make a stand against such reprehensible behavior.

**On a personal note: I have found, as a man, that my experiences with women like Ashley over the years and their willingness to share their thoughts and experiences (as well as my willingness to listen to them) has served to deepen my love and respect for the women in my life who are closest to me.  It has made me a better husband, brother, son, teacher, and colleague, and I want to say to all of those women something I should have said long ago: Thank you 🙂

7 Responses to “Sexual Harassment & Assault at Skeptic/Atheist Cons”

  1. DrJen said


  2. Val Rendel said

    It’s about time more skeptics/atheists took this issue seriously, rather than denying, dismissing, trivializing, or “disappearing” it altogether. (I’m looking at YOU, certain high-profile skeptics who I’m too classy to name, but not quite classy enough to refrain from pointing at.) Thanks for posting this.

  3. Data Jack said

    This is excellent. Well said as usual, Matt.

  4. Woody said

    It’s such a shame, like in any group or at any venue.
    One of the things that first appealed to me so much about atheism (and skepticism in general) was the concern expressed about how religion seems to want to roll back the advance of the general moral flavour of our times and negate some of the major advances we are making.
    In the same way most skeptics don’t just enjoy ranting disagreement with psuedo medicines, faith-healing, psychic frauds and so on – they can’t help but notice the damage these things do to individuals and the scientific senses of our population. is a great source to examine the kind of facts that really concern us and urge us to help the skeptical & secular causes.
    By the way, Matt, WELL DONE for getting physically involved and standing up for the rights of others. People need to get this message from other people who are not immature and annoying dickheads, but who are real people with real and reasonable minds.

  5. […] that’s a good thing. Right now the atheist movement at major conferences and in organizations like JREF and CFI is being fractured by accusations of sexist […]

  6. Woody said

    I recently realized what a hypocrite I can be.
    When devoutly religious people, confronted by the war, terrorism and other atrocities performed in the name of faith reply,
    “That’s other religious people, way over there”. I disliked that response and didn’t count it as a valid reason to stay loyal to their beliefs.
    Although I was never personally asked about accusations of sexual harrasment at atheist cons and the like, when examining my feelings on the subject my view was not so different, “That’s other atheist people, way over there.”
    Either I should be more accepting of that kind of response from religious people, or less accepting of my own views about ‘the atheist community’ and my part in it.
    For a few years I have taken to visiting skeptical & some atheist sites, recording my feelings sometimes in the comment section.
    While never tagging myself with labels, my thoughts and words give support to the critical thinking and self-examination promoted by many of these sites.
    Considering the rational claims I make and the common effects of religion that I often complain about, I must say that I am an atheist. My comments on blogs like this and the interaction I sometimes have with other thinkers on these sites I think makes me a part of the atheist community at least to an extent.
    Therefore, I must feel and express my disgust about actions and events that happen within that community and not wave-of the crimes/misdeeds as if they have nothing to do with me. Because they occur within a community that I am actually a part of.
    No more denial of the need for my concern and involvement, no more waving off horrible mis-deeds because of distance and offical grouping.
    I am part of the community and it is us, other members, who need to deal with these things. We must make it clear, as the Skeptical Teacher does, that we do not accept mis-deeds within our cause and will do all we can to improve what we see.

  7. […] […]

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