Open thread: supporting victims of sexual harassment

Some high profile cases of sexual harassment in philosophy have been in the news again recently. But as unfortunate and upsetting as those cases are, part of grappling with philosophy’s sexual harassment problem is realizing that it isn’t isolated to one or two bad cases or one or two bad actors. There are a lot of bad cases. And there are a lot of victims. Some of these victims have asked for an open thread here where we can publicly express support for victims and where we can talk about ways – both public and private – to help people in our profession who have been sexually harassed. This is an open thread for that purpose.

Comments are going to be heavily moderated. This thread is for expressions of support, and for ideas about how we can help victims. That’s it. If you want to talk about due process or hypothetical situations involving false accusations, that’s fine – those conversations are important. But they’re not going to happen here.

48 thoughts on “Open thread: supporting victims of sexual harassment

  1. Victims are fearful of reporting harassment for a variety of reasons — but finances should not be one of these. We should collectively raise funds to help offset, if not fully cover, legal fees that may arise for victims of sexual harassment. With all of the other professional and emotional stressors that accompany sexual harassment, money should not be a mitigating factor.

  2. If you believe her, tell her so. Whether you know her or not, or if you decide to do so directly, or indirectly (maybe by having a mutual friend or colleague pass along a note from you) tell her that you believe her.

  3. Coming forward with evidence of harassment can be a good way to help support other victims of harassment because sometimes one person’s testimony is not enough to get someone fired, but two or three cases are! On this note, anyone with evidence they’d like to share with the University of Colorado’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment, now is a very good time to do so.

  4. Thank people who come forward. They are helping to stop harassment and protect others in the community often at great personal expense.

  5. Too many people are unaware of the rate and nature of sexual harassment in academia.

    when the topic comes up, especially if it is about some particular victim, be firm that sexual harassment is not some rare event, but rather something many, many women experience. Stress that the reason it is not reported has to do with the costs of reporting.

    At some point, describe qsome of the shattering effects of it.

  6. Remind victims (again, and again, and again, as needed) that they are still a part of your community, that they are more than just victims, that they are not “collateral damage”, and that by coming forward, their careers needn’t be over.

  7. If you believe her, tell her so. Also, be alive to the difficulties that may follow in the wake of the story coming out. There will surely be many occasions when a kind word or even simply an acknowledgement of her philosophical presence and abilities will be welcome.

    Standing with victims of sexual harassment is not always an easy thing to do. If you know someone who has put herself on the line for another in this way, be sure to express your support for her, too.

  8. Let victims of sexual harassment know that they are not alone; that you believe them, support them, and are there for them. They are coming forward at great personal costs, helping our profession improve, and slowly making the world a better place.

  9. Thanks for opening this thread. Most of the public support being offered to those who have been victimized by sexual harassment right now seems to be coming from a few people who are already well known for their work on behalf of feminist issues in general, a few others who are well known as frequent public commentators on political and professional matters, and still others (I’m guessing mostly junior members of the profession) writing under the cover of anonymity, presumably out of fear of retribution from more established figures in our community. It would be easy to get the impression that most of the rest of the discipline, and maybe especially folks like me—white male tenured members of the profession—simply don’t care, don’t believe that the problems really exist (or, at any rate, don’t believe that they are as serious as people make them out to be), or are content just to stand by and watch without getting their hands dirty. Whatever awfulness is already involved in experiencing sexual harassment is surely only made worse by experiencing it in a context where it appears that a huge majority of one’s colleagues simply don’t care or won’t believe that it happened. So I’m glad for this thread because it gives people like me a chance to take a very small step toward counteracting that appearance. I do believe that the problems exist and are very serious; I’m deeply discouraged to find myself working in a discipline where these sorts of things have been tolerated for so long (and are still being tolerated by a lot of people); and I wish there were more I could do to be helpful to those who have suffered the kinds of things that are being reported on the “Being a Woman in Philosophy Blog” and in the news about problems at various universities across the US. As I write this, I am painfully aware that commenting on a blog post is, at best, a pathetically small step toward doing anything of serious use for people who have suffered these harms. In fact, it is just this awareness that makes it so very tempting just to carry on in silence. But, then again, a pathetically small step is better than none at all; and I’m hopeful that others will offer support here in much the same spirit.

  10. In addition to telling the victim you believe them (which is important advice), I’d also recommend checking out Lackey’s recent post on some of the legal issues that arise and also Heidi Lockwood’s work on this blog on some of the related issues. If you’re involved with a university campus, join the local activist groups raising awareness about sexual assault on campus. If there’s not a group, help form one. If you don’t have time, support the people who do by spreading awareness of their work.

  11. Even if you don’t necessarily believe what someone is telling you when they’re reporting an instance of bad behavior, harassment, or whatever…don’t immediately start expressing doubt or suggesting alternate interpretations. That’s gaslighting. If someone says, “Hey, I just needed to tell someone, but McX grabbed my breast and tried to kiss me,” don’t say, “Wow. I know McX, and he’s never done anything like that before. Did you maybe lead him on?”

    You don’t have to believe the victim, per se, but expressing doubt is really damaging. Sometimes gaslighting and the isolation it produces is worse than the bad thing itself.

  12. Here’s another suggestions just for having conversations about how to address these issues: Do not assume that your interlocutor knows what your background presuppositions and commitments are. I’ve heard folks say, in various venues at various times, that they thought it should have been clear that their expressing disagreement or whatever did not mean that they were not supportive of victims in general or of making philosophy more inclusive, etc. We just aren’t, as a profession, in a place where we can safely make those background assumptions about one another. If you feel the need to question someone’s proposal or suggestion, don’t just criticize it if you are supportive of their aims. Let them know you are supportive of their aims, and suggestive alternatives.

  13. This is from my experience of making sexual discrimination and harassment complaints in a different context (political party, fifteen years ago), so I’m not sure that it will all be relevant, however I think some probably still will be.

    Recognise that the process, as well as the experience is very hard. Don’t say ‘you’re getting a bit obsessive about this’ ‘you seem rather bitter’ ‘maybe you should go on holiday and just forget it’ etc

    In a legal context, my opponents kept trying to have my complaint struck out. The actual wording of this is things like the complaint is ‘frivolous’. Basically there were hearings in which the other side was just out to prove me a liar. This went on for years. All material brought forward is supposed to be made available to both sides prior to hearing, but this didn’t happen all the time. In one case counsel for the other side made claims that were entirely untrue. It’s very difficult to respond to a claim that has no bearing in reality, because you don’t foresee it.

    I think the processes you are talking about are probably better than this, and indeed the one I went through has been improved since then, partly as a result of advocacy by myself and others. However I don’t doubt it’s still hard.

    People were I think, embarrassed, particularly because my case was against prominent figures whom they admired. In that situation, it is just easier I guess to think ‘so and so is a nice person, but she’s getting a bit carried away with all this’ and ‘well she’s not perfect herself’. The last is important. In some discussion I’ve seen lately, there is a tendency to talk about the virtues of the complainant in other ways, such as that she is ‘brilliant’. That’s not the point. I myself am pretty intelligent, but that’s not the point either. It’s not about the complainant being wonderful or perfect, it’s about what happened to her, and being given a fair hearing.

    I’d better stop, because even though it’s a long time ago and I don’t talk about it much now, I could go on for ages. This is not because I’m ‘obsessive’ but because it’s such an important issue, and not enough discussed. So good on you for having this discussion.

  14. I’m grateful to those who dare to assert they have been subjected to harassment, and to those who dare to help them amplify their messages to others.

    My committee members wrote a splendid report which is always available on, “We Can Act,” here;

    Click to access sexualharassmentreport.pdf

    and in it, one member specifically cited the UW-Madison’s “ADVICE FOR CONVERSATIONS,” here:

    Comments in this thread remind me of it, as it says (among other things), “Be respectful. Do not dismiss the complaint as trivial; avoid telling the person to “grow a thicker skin” or saying that the alleged perpetrator “means well, but sometimes slips.” Although they may be intended to help, these comments can make the person feel discounted. Try to keep in mind that what may seem unimportant to you may be offensive or threatening to someone who has different life experiences or less power.”

  15. One of the things that been most eye-opening – and most upsetting – for me in trying to support victims is just how pervasive the bad effects of sexual harassment can be to a victim’s ability (or desire) to do philosophy.

    A friend who’s a victim recently said to me that people, especially men, who find out what she’s been through often try to support her by telling her of hard things that happened to them when they were starting out in their career – an illness, a divorce, stuff like that. But as much as she appreciates their attempt to empathize, it’s also frustrating, because dealing with sexual harassment is so unlike dealing with difficult personal circumstances that are mostly separate from your work. Sure, if you’re sick or going through a divorce it can affect how much work you can get done or your enthusiasm for what you’re doing. But the bad effects of sexual harassment can be so much more pervasive and more insidious than that. Sexual harassment can make your question your ability or your right (and certainly your desire) to be in the field. It can – if the harasser was an advisor or mentor – make you leave behind huge amounts of your work because you just can’t bear to think about those topics anymore, since you can’t think about them without thinking about what happened. It can shake your confidence in what you do in ways that are difficult to recover from.

    I think, for those of us who haven’t been victims, part of supporting victims has got to be recognizing just how limited our understanding of what they’re going through really is.

  16. I want to echo what Mike Rea said. I believe there’s a real problem. I want to be part of the solution and not the problem.

  17. What Mike Rea and Ross Cameron said. There’s a real problem, and I want to be part of the solution and not of the problem.

  18. Thanks for opening this thread. I especially appreciated magicalersatz’s comment (as one of those people who have experienced sexual harassment and assault in philosophy, I share the view that it shapes the way one thinks about the profession and about doing philosophy in deep ways that are hard for others to fathom). One thing that I would like to point out (that should be obvious but is not) is that many of our students and colleagues are closeted victims of sexual harassment–that is, we often don’t know about cases of sexual harassment. It’s important, I think, not just to tell victims of harassment that you believe them, but also to think carefully about the way we talk about sexual harassment and assault in the profession. Expressing doubt or disbelief about x being sexually harassed to y may well make y less likely to report her own experiences to anyone. This should also be obvious, but given my experiences it is not, even among the well-intentioned.

    Another thing that may be controversial, but I’m going to say anyway: women often warn one another about the creepy, the harassers, and even the rapists in philosophy. Sometimes when I receive such warnings (“stay away from X when he is drunk”, etc.) from women with tenure, I become somewhat frustrated. I know that power relations are a complex thing in our profession, but one way for women with tenure to help more junior women in the profession is to do something more than be another voice in this quiet whispered network. I think many women are doing much more! But one thing we can do is try to figure out ways to do something concrete about the high-stakes game of telephone we are playing.

    I am hesitant to post this because I think that women are already so burdened in our profession to be the ones who make change. And of course it applies to men with such knowledge too. But the unfortunate truth is that men often genuinely don’t know about the quiet whispers. It’s important that men demonstrate that they are trustworthy enough for us to share these things with so that they can do some of this work. I think publicly making a commitment to caring about this stuff and wanting to change it is a big step towards that–so I don’t take Mike Rea’s comments here lightly. It may seem cheesy, or not enough, but I think making such public statements, in conjunction with demonstrating that one is trustworthy, thoughtful about these issues, etc., in other ways, goes a long way towards helping making the whisper-network a bit more public and concrete.

  19. I want to second anonymous grad student’s comment. Though I haven’t been assaulted in philosophy, I am an assault survivor and I have been harassed in philosophy. I think the fact that there are so many women in positions like ours is one reason that conversations about climate issues in philosophy often go south. Some people want to have abstract theoretical conversations about counterfactuals, about how we should respond in one situation given that in other situations something has been different, and so on, but for some of us (me at least) these conversations just aren’t theoretical. They’re about my life. They’re about my career. They’re about my well being. And the same for many of my friends. For those who think urges to be sensitive are silencing or impinging on your free speech, please remember this (and maybe read Rae Langton’s work to understand more how some expressions can be silencing of others).

    The point about how this can affect your work is so important. There have been so many times where I have felt just completely unable to write (because I’ve worried that anyone who’s said I have interesting things to say might have had ulterior motives, because working on certain topics reminds me of horrible experiences, because I am worried that what I am good for is being an activist or an ally rather than an intelligent philosopher), or even read philosophy (citations of harassers sometimes give me nausea).

    Here’s one thing that I found super helpful: A faculty member (who had no advising relationship to me) offered to read drafts of papers for me, would give me comments, and offered to give me “deadlines” for things that I was working on that didn’t actually have deadlines so that I would have benchmarks for getting things done. This sounds silly, but with what I was going through at the time, it was just so incredibly hard to sit down and write, and this was immensely helpful for my productivity.

  20. I am very grateful to those who come forward and report. It takes courage. The discipline needs this to happen. We understandably focus on the horrible impact of sexual harassment on philosophy and philosophers, but it is important to also keep a bigger picture in mind. Sexual harassment does not just harm women in philosophy. It harms women. It doesn’t just harm philosophers as a group or the discipline. It harms all people and all of our institutions. Addressing it here is part of addressing it everywhere.

    I also want to express my support for those who decide not to report. We know there are reasons for this, and we know that carrying on during or after harassment, whether or not one reports it, takes courage.

  21. Thanks for your comment, AnotherStudent. That’s such an interesting perspective on how mentors and faculty can help. And it’s also a really helpful perspective on conversations about sexual harassment.

    I’m often troubled – and I’m not a victim, so I can’t imagine how bad it must be for victims – about the way these conversations often go not merely by the way they tend to focus on counterfactual situations, but also that the counterfactual situations that inevitably come up are pretty far removed from the actual world. People often bring up, for example, the scenario in which a single false accusation ruins a man’s career. And while I absolutely think that we need to have that conversation and think carefully about that case, it can be unbearably frustrating to have that conversation *every damn time* the topic of sexual harassment comes up. And that’s especially true given that so many of us know of way too many cases in which multiple complaints of sexual harassment (from different people, year after year, displaying an obvious pattern) have been upheld against particular people and their universities have done jack shit about it.

  22. Another side to the whisper network that could lend support: When I was a grad student a very well known philosopher (and it turns out well known harasser) gave a talk on our campus. Afterwards I joined a few other grad students to ask the famous man a question. He commented on the insightfulness of my question and then asked me if I would like to join him at the faculty dinner that was taking place afterwards. I was beyond excited and shared the news of the invitation with one of my male professors. When he heard it he laughed and said, “Oh I’m sure it wasn’t your question he was interested in! Be careful!” I was crushed. Embarrassed I slunk away, avoided the dinner, and stewed about my naiveté for a long time. If my professor would have understood both my excitement as well as his colleague’s history – he might have addressed a warning to his colleague and provided some support to me.

  23. Thank you for this thread, and to [magicalersatz] for carefully overseeing it so that it’s a safe place to show support.

  24. > If you want to talk about due process or hypothetical situations involving false accusations, that’s fine – those conversations are important. But they’re not going to happen here.

    Thank you for taking a firm, pre-emptive position. I know these kinds of conversations are hard work to moderate and this kind of approach makes the space much safer for everyone.

    . . .

    Hello from the trenches. I just had a huge career setback because of a gendered abuse situation (in a different field), and I’m now dealing with the personal and career repercussions as I put myself back together.

    This week a friend (who is fully informed about what happened) called to say she’d run into the person who had caused me so much trouble (I don’t even have the language to name what he did) at a professional event: how he was a great speaker and a really nice guy to socialize with and it was so hard to imagine that he did what he did. And I got off the phone and felt sick…

    Please don’t give the targets of harassment or abuse unsolicited updates about the person who hurt them. We are really trying to move on with our lives and don’t need the reminders.

    If you are our friend and you are hanging out and making nice with someone who hurt us, please have the decency not to inform us. Otherwise we’re put in a position where we may have to cut you off as a friend out of a need for self protection–and we need friends.

    Please don’t tell us how the person who hurt us is “nice” or “charming” or “accomplished”. That doesn’t negate what he did to us–even if it seems to mitigate it for you. In real life, villains don’t wear black hats, twirl mustaches and kick puppies. It’s quite possible for some people, particularly psychopaths and sociopaths, to act in socially acceptable ways in public and yet do awful things to individuals in private.

    Other suggestions:

    When things were at their worst, I set my email to auto-forward incoming mail from certain people (and then auto-delete the local copy) to a trusted friend who volunteered to filter them for me. If you can act as a filter for a friend in this kind of situation, I don’t know how to say what a tremendous help it can be.

    If we leave a job, a department, an organization, and you know why we left, please don’t whitewash what happened when you communicate with other people. There is a difference between “leaving” or “moving on” and being forced out. Please know that if you erase the truth of what happened to us in an effort to be discreet, you are further perpetuating the violence against us, however well intentioned or just awkward your efforts might be. If you have a friend in this situation, please find out how they would like the official public version of the situation represented, and abide by that. Please be aware if what you are saying is further erasing the truth in a way that is detrimental to your friend.

    Right now I am faced with informing people I worked with closely and responding to vast numbers of people I’ve interacted with professionally who are reaching out to me–about what happened, my new circumstances, etc. Different people get different versions depending on how well I know them, how much I trust them, and the nature of our relationship. The task is HUGE. If you are a close friend with a similar network, ask if you can help deal with communications–especially if there are people you can notify, possibly with a pre-approved text. Your friend may or may not want the help but if s/he does, you’ve just taken your friend out of the nightmare of reliving the experience several times a day for weeks on end and of dealing with the impact of other people’s emotional reactions.

    If you are in a position to offer a reference that sidesteps or discreetly handles the harassment, please do so–whether you are an organizational senior, peer, or junior.

    Further to anonymous grad student’s comment on the whisper network: please recognize that the direct targets of harassment may not be in a position to speak out publicly, and you might not be either. We understand that. But before you hang out with our harasser at a bar after a conference, or tell everyone he’s a great guy, or invite him to a panel, or recommend him professionally, please recognize that you are not only telling us implicitly that your need to kiss up to someone powerful in the field is more important to you than our friendship or what’s happened, you are also enabling our harasser’s behavior.

    Further to AnotherGradStudent’s comment on being afraid to write: I find myself in a position where so many innocuous and everyday actions as part of my professional life may likely be taken as a provocation by my abuser. (Yes, the dynamics are much like domestic abuse.) As a result, I feel professionally like I am in a very small box. I invest a huge amount of energy considering my public speech and actions. If your friend or colleague has been harassed and you feel s/he is more circumspect than usual, or more paranoid, or less professionally productive–that’s one of the many unwanted potential consequences of harassment. What can you do for a friend in this situation? Maybe, after consultation, be a signal booster and amplify any positive news and messages. Make sure sympathetic people know about the good work she’s doing and help reinforce and re-establish her professional credibility.

    Thank you to magicalerstz for starting this discussion, to the many insightful commenters here, and my sympathies and best wishes to the commenters and lurkers in similar situations. I’m a longtime FemPhil reader and your many thoughtful discussions here about harassment have been a great source of comfort and support to me as I go through this.

  25. You’re welcome, Eleanor! I hope you don’t mind, but I edited your comment to remove my real name – I know it’s more or less an open secret who I am, but I try to keep my name off this blog to keep down the number of creepy anonymous emails I get. . .

  26. I very much appreciate the concrete suggestions of what to say and not say in order to be supportive. We should share them widely with colleagues. Philosophers, even well meaning ones (like us), aren’t known to be particularly socially adept.

  27. Thank you for the conversation here: it is heartening to see a constructive conversation taking place about such important issues. One suggestion I have is this: remember that each person is unique, and so each victim’s needs might be different. Because of this, it might be best in many cases to ask a victim what would most support her: does she want to be anonymous or not, does she want public support or not, does she want to talk about what happened to her or not, and so on. It is also helpful to keep in mind that the answers to these questions might change over time: while public support might be unwanted at one point in the process, for instance, it might be welcome at another.

  28. Ann: I echo Jennifer’s response: “I’m here to help however I can. Is there any way I can help?” Definitely let them decide how they want to proceed, and be prepared for things to change over time.

    So…everything Jennifer just said :)

  29. Following up on Jennifer and Rachel, yes–do ask if there’s anything you can do to help (assuming you are willing to actually follow through with helping; I have had people offer then fail to follow through, and found that quite devastating) but I would also offer suggestions for what you could do to help. Some people won’t feel comfortable asking for help or may not have ideas about what would be helpful to them.

  30. There is another point I’d like to make about confidentiality. Again I don’t know what the situation is now in the cases you are considering, but when I was involved, there was a lot of pressure to sign confidentiality clauses in return for payments, personal apologies and so on. I signed one, partly out of exhaustion, and have really regretted it since.

    I don’t think everything needs to be made public, but it is very important that there is an agreed statement that is actually agreed equally by both sides, not that the complainant is under pressure to sign (the shut up and go away clause). If these are still being used, then any support that people can give in terms of
    A – helping the person to hold out for a genuinely acceptable statement, that admits liability, not a cover up
    B- getting a proper, public apology (private apologies are pretty useless)
    C – advocating for an end to the ‘shut up and go away’ settlements (they are also bad from a precedent point of view, as well as the effects on the complainant, who may get hurt money, but still feel hurt in fact)

    I’d be interested to know if these issues are still relevant. If not, please feel free to see these suggestions as being of historical interest, and give support in the way that people currently dealing with these situations think best.

  31. What women in philosophy are trying to do is to shift the burden of proof: women who say they have been sexually harassed are to be believed, the people they accuse have to prove they weren’t. This means assuming that the targets of harassment are telling the truth and need support. So those of us who know about it have to report it, to our department chairs. It can’t just be whispered about and graduate students warned sotto voce whom to stay away from. If ever there was a case of speaking truth to power, this is it.

  32. One other aspect to the whisper network being referred to on this thread is that this is how we often put victims in touch with people who can be supportive and who might be able to help them in some way. And while I think this is a good way of helping some people, I worry about victims who don’t know who to turn to.

    So for any victims reading this thread I’d just like to say this publicly. My name is Elizabeth Barnes, I work at UVa, and if you need someone to talk to I’m happy to be that person. You can get my contact info on the UVa philosophy website. I can try to put you in touch with people local to you who might be able to offer some assistance. You’re not in this alone.

  33. DK: I thought your suggestions were very helpful, as was your description of what it is like to live through the aftermath of this kind of situation. I was especially struck by your remark about finding yourself in a very small box professionally, constrained by the need to self-censor your interactions with others. I am very sorry this has happened to you, and I hope you can find a way out of the box soon.

    Elizabeth Barnes: I’m not a victim, but I wanted to thank you anyway for your extremely generous offer. I know that getting involved in these difficult situations can be exhausting and will not directly benefit you in any way. But it will make the philosophical community a better place, for victims and for all of us. Thank you.

  34. Hlinde, can I ask you to clarify what you mean by this: “the people they accuse have to prove they weren’t [sexually harassed].” Because I agree wholeheartedly that accusers should be believed and supported immediately, and that others who are aware of harassing behavior are obligated to report it. But the second half of this worries me. Is this a shifting of the burden of proof? Isn’t it up to the governing body to investigate the occurrence for the purpose of imposing sanctions, rather than the accused?

  35. A lot of us (grad student females) don’t want to report it, because we aren’t sure that the punishment will fit the crime, or we don’t trust the official university channels, and so on. Or, in my case, I thought there would other better ways to try to make the behavior stop, which is what I wanted anyway. I believe this should be respected, and people shouldn’t be pressured into reporting when they don’t want to.

    This is part of the reason the “whisper network” exists — because people don’t want to make official complaints. But I think we really ought to be careful about that too — sometimes things can be misrepresented in the retelling, which isn’t good for anybody.

  36. hlinde, I appreciate that your remark at 32 is intended as support for accusers. But I do not think you are in a position to speak for “women in philosophy” — a large demographic with varying positions. It is certainly false as a generic claim that “women in philosophy” believe an accused person should “prove” they are innocent. I sure hope that I can support the victims of sexual harassment without expecting everyone accused of this particular offense to have at their disposal the means to exonerate themselves.

  37. Hi, everyone! I’m a little concerned that this may be shifting from a conversation about how to support victims into a conversation about burden of proof. Burden of proof issues, and other issues of process are not the topic here– as was noted in the original post. So let’s drop that bit of the discussion, OK?

  38. Another echo for Mike Rea’s comment! At this point one really has to have one’s head in the sand to deny that there is a massive problem. I am trying to learn how best to be part of the solution.

  39. As someone assaulted and harassed in philosophy, remember that the administration is out to protect the institution. Speak up. PLEASE. Three friends witnessed one of the events–they all spoke up. And they all ended up leaving.

    But the institution does NOT have your back–or at least, I should say, don’t assume it does. In my case, person X admitted everything and was given a reprimand.

    So–my very biased experience:

    1. Listen.
    2. Follow the person harassed wishes, if comfortable. I requested a half-hour after the second incident (in 2 weeks) and a well-intentioned friend called to report it right away. I was pretty thrown and trying to get myself calmer. I didn’t. But–over time–I was able to realize friend did what he thought was best and I harbor no ill will towards him. Would it have helped if I reported it (as in, empowering?) I have no idea. I think it would, for me, but every person who is harassed is different.
    3. Advisers and colleagues treated me like an outcast. I was mostly ostracized. Some were blatant about it. “I could have told you this would happen.”

    (Why didn’t you?!)

    So…listen. Boycott classes if you can. Shame the perpetrator, not the victim.

    And help the victim if they decide to return and have issues with letters of recommendation. This isn’t something that just goes away. There is PTSD in some who have been harassed, and that doesn’t necessarily go away even if we appear “fine.” Don’t tip-toe around it, but ask. Listen. Treat them like they are people, not something to be handled with gloves. And speak out against it.

    I will note I had no desire to report it. But it was escalating, and I was scared. I knew it was ethically the right thing to do and I really was fearful of where this was going.

    (Clearly, a touchy subject for me.)

  40. I’d just like to register here that one valuable thing this thread is showing is that there’s disagreement about how best to support victims of sexual harassment – and no surprise that there would be, given how complicated the issue is! So I think it’s really important that we have open and honest conversations like this.

    Speaking for myself – without trying to turn this into anything like a debate about burden of proof! – I think it’s very important that we not treat women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment or assault with immediate skepticism. But I don’t think that entails, by any means, the idea that it’s up to those accused to prove their own innocence. I think we can support victims – and *believe* victims! – without committing to something that strong. (I also suspect that Hilde may have made her comment in haste, and may not have meant something that strong.)

    I also think we need to respect the autonomy and wishes of victims who don’t want to report through any official channels. (Though there are complicated legal issues here if the victim is a student at a university you work at.)

    This is such a complicated, thorny issue – with so many terrible consequences – that we should expect divergence of opinion about the best ways to deal with it. But I hope we can all agree that *something* needs to be done, and that these kinds of conversations are an important part of starting to grapple with the issue.

  41. I don’t have any experience with sexual harassment in a Philosophy context. These are some vague thoughts based on experience with supporting sexual abuse survivors in other contexts, and they’re almost completely uninformed by any academic knowledge of the subject.

    I think it might be helpful to distinguish between various roles we might be asked to play. If someone confides abuse experience to me – as a friend, or co-worker, or maybe because I’m filling some more official welfare role – then I have a support relationship with them, and as part of that support relationship I need to err really strongly on the side of accepting and believing what I’m told. I don’t think that’s really an epistemic matter – though the fact that she’s statistically likely to be telling the truth certainly helps. It’s a support and welfare matter: accepting someone’s account of what happened as true is going to be really important to helping them cope, and the relationship I’ve accepted with them means that helping them cope ought to be my priority. That probably, and appropriately, commits me to being an advocate for them if there’s any kind of formal process.

    I’m in a completely different position if I’m required for some reason to adjudicate an abuse/harassment case. There it really does seem to be an epistemic (and due-process) matter. (I guess it follows from that that people in support roles shouldn’t also be in adjudication roles over the same matter.)

    I’m in another position again if I’m a third party in some public case. If I don’t know any of the people and don’t know the facts, I’m inclined to think I should avoid weighing in (I’ve avoided commenting on any of the particular philosophy scandals, I think). If it’s my department, I don’t know what the right thing to do is, and I guess it depends on the situation. (That’s really unsatisfactory, I know.)

    I guess the worst position is if I actually end up being in a support role to A who’s made an accusation against B, where I know B well as well. I *really* don’t know what to do there in general. (I’ve been in that situation and I ended up cutting ties with B fairly dramatically, but I think that was because I contingently trusted A rather than as a result of some general principle.) I suppose it’s almost analytic that difficult positions don’t have easy resolutions.

    Apologies if this is unhelpful or uninformed.

  42. David Wallace, I just want to express disagreement with the last part of your comment. I think it’s very important that the philosophical community not avoid involvement in discussions of public scandals. I think if we, as a community, have a problem, then we, as a community, should not just hang back and wait for things to sort themselves out–especially when universities have such an egregious track record of responding to misconduct. I do understand this is obviously very tricky, but I still think we have significant responsibilities as third parties. For more explanation see, e.g.,

  43. I understand the point. (I assume you mean my penultimate, not last, comment?) But I do want to distinguish (i) how I respond to some act of sexual (or I guess other) abuse that I actually encounter myself; (ii) how I speak *in general* about abuse and (ii) how I respond to some public case I hear about. In (i) and (ii) I certainly agree that it is bad to be silent or to ignore the issue. The difficulty with (iii) is that I don’t *either* want to in any way publicly doubt the testimony of someone who describes themselves as an abuse survivor, *or* prejudge guilt of another named person. It would be hideous, having found the courage to make an accusation, to find the accusation being debated over the Internet by complete strangers. But equally I’m uncomfortable simply taking as read its truth. Hence silence.

    I accept there are disadvantages with that strategy too. I don’t want to (further!) cross magicalersatz’s perfectly reasonable don’t discuss due-process line so I’ll stop there.

  44. Let me just quickly explain that by “shifting the burden of proof,” I meant that the reaction to accusers shouldn’t be one of suspicion, as if they are liars until proven truthful. And that may, of course, mean that the person they are accusing isn’t guilty, because the accuser may have made a mistake. But I do think, especially in the current climate, that it’s best to assume that accusers are honest. And no, of course I can’t speak for all women in philosophy, nor did I mean to. I was talking about the many women and the male allies who are trying to improve the climate for women in philosophy.

  45. David, thanks for stopping by and thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    I’d like to ask that we draw this aspect of the discussion to a close, because we really are straying into the realm of discussing due process, burden of proof, hypothetical cases, etc and I want to keep this thread as removed from that as I can. I’ve approved some comments that were borderline cases, and I fear that was a mistake. I apologize. Moderating is hard!

    But one thing I’ll say on this matter is that this is yet another example where the hypothetical cases we like to entertain as philosophers are often pretty far removed from the actual cases that present themselves to us. We do need to think – somewhere else!!! – about how to collectively handle a case where an accusation really is just a “he said/she said”. But so many of the public cases we’ve been dealing with in philosophy aren’t like that. They’re a “she said, and this other she said. . .” or “different she’s have been saying for years. . .” or “she said and then he responded by saying on the internet that there’s no such thing as sexual harassment” or. .. etc. So speaking in support of victims, in many of these cases, pretty clearly isn’t a matter of simply believing a woman over a man in a simple, textbook he said/she said.

  46. I’m a man in philosophy, and I echo Mike Rea’s comments. I have read every comment in the thread and bookmarked it so that I can revisit it every so often, in the hope that I’ll know what to do when I have the opportunity to help.

  47. I don’t know if anyone is still looking at this thread, but I have come back because I’ve recently become aware of this article
    – which raises some of the troubling issues around confidentiality and the ways it can be used.

    I think there needs to be a lot more discussion around confidentiality. This is something that people could do in general to support those who have experienced sexual harassment. I would like to comment more on my own experiences but am restricted in what I can say because of a clause that I agreed to at a time when I was tired and vulnerable. This in itself prevents people who have been through the process from giving support to others. We have to be careful of everyone’s rights, but I fear confidentiality does tend to work in the interests of maintaining power differentials in this area.

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