I have mentioned before that I am a rape survivor.  And that is why I was horrified to see Richard Dawkins display an amazing amount of ignorance and victim-blaming over the last week.  I asked Stephanie Svan to help me put into words what I was feeling, and the result is below.  If you wish to have your name added to this letter, visit Almost Diamonds for the original post.

I have added a photo of me from that time period.  [edited to add–have removed photo of me, since some people have copied it and been innapropriate.]

This is the face of “shutting up” and trusting, Professor Dawkins. This is a photo of a girl starting down the road of science. Within 2 weeks of arriving at college, she learned that women in science have a lot more to deal with than just nasty chemistry lab partners.  I almost flunked out my first year of school–and yet amazingly, it was not until years later that I realized that my assault was probably the reason.

Why? Because I was so deeply enmeshed in a culture that wanted me to shut up and be nice to men–which you are promoting and supporting with your comments— that I didn’t know what to do when a boy invited himself into my apartment.   And why I kept trying to be polite and asking “Please don’t do that.”  And why I thought for many years that what happened was my fault.

This is why I am so very unhappy and feeling betrayed by you.   Stephanie says this in a much more moderated way; I just wanted you to hear from me directly, in addition as a signatory to this letter.

Comments here will be moderated as I see fit.  Do not even think of trying to mansplain this to me.

The Letter:

Dear Dick:

At your request, we write to you to tell you what it is that you do not understand about elevators, invitations, and sexual assault. Who are we, and why are we in any position to tell you anything? We are atheists and skeptics, but more relevantly, we are victims of sexual assault.

There are two important things to note about Rebecca Watson’s experience. The first is that she had spent much of her evening telling the people around her, “Please don’t hit on me,” and finished by saying she was done talking and wanted sleep. This was ignored by the man now widely referred to as Elevator Guy. (Yes, it’s been established that he was in a position to hear her. Yes, it’s been established that he followed her out of the space in which she’d been saying this and got on the elevator with her.)

She had said, by unequivocal implication, “No.” He ignored this and did what he wanted to. This is important.

The second important thing to know is that her response was to say publicly, one more time, “Please don’t do that. It makes me uncomfortable.” That’s it. That was her entire response to Elevator Guy beyond telling him she wouldn’t go to his room.

For that response, Rebecca came under considerable fire. This is also important.

The entire drama-filled discussion came about because Rebecca asserted her right and the right of other women to say, “No,” and be heard. It happened because she asserted that men, as well as women, have a role to play in maintaining that right.

Then you spoke. Then you, widely regarded as one of atheism’s leaders, one of the Four Horsemen, decided you needed to say something about this.

You didn’t have to do that. If you felt, as your comments seem to indicate, that too much attention was being paid to this event, you could have simply declined to add yours.

However, that wasn’t what you did. Instead, you said that Rebecca, who was voicing our concerns, was thereby telling other women with other concerns that they were whining. Or perhaps that the rest of us who supported Rebecca when she was criticized for expressing her preferences were accusing these women of whining.

Even if you had stopped there, this would merit an apology. Not only has Rebecca spoken out loudly against female genital mutilation (drawing the ire of those who told her she wasn’t paying enough attention to the boys) and other religion-driven wrongs against women and girls, but her demand that women’s self-determination be respected is exactly what needs to spread in order to prevent the ills you mention. If this is an issue you care about, instead of a distraction from Rebecca’s point, you should be thanking her for her work instead of emphasizing the “chick” in the name of her organization, diminishing her stature.

Then, in response to complaints about that, you told us all that what happened to Rebecca–having her clearly and repeatedly expressed preferences about being hit on ignored–was “zero bad.” It should be clear by now why that requires a correction from you. It also calls for another apology, whether or not you knew the facts above when you wrote your comment. If you didn’t know, you weren’t in any state to lend your position and reputation to any characterization of what happened, much less the mischaracterization you used.

That is where you injured us, the victims. You have made one more space blatantly unsafe to us. We don’t mean safe as in free from any kind of sexual interest. We’re not asking for that, and we don’t want it. We mean that you, a leader in our community, made free with a woman’s experience and rewrote it to suit your own ends.

You decided you knew better than she did what had happened, and you were comfortable explaining it to everyone else. That is part of how communities are ruined and ultimately shaped to support sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. That is how offenders operate and how they are excused. That is how the world that hurt us was built. And you have added to that.

That is why you owe us an apology as much as you owe Rebecca. When may we expect it?


Stephanie Zvan, survivor of teen sexual assault
Bug Girl, survivor of a date rape in 1980
Abigail Marceluk Parker
Chris Tucker
Elyse Anders, rape survivor
Dana Hunter, raped at age 18
Megan Wells, survivor of teen sexual assault
Tracy Walker, raped at 15
Danarra Ban
Paul Mannering
Andrea Gatley, sexually assaulted at age 14. In an elevator in a hotel.
Carol Levesque
Anneliese Bowman
Debbie Hadley, lucky to have fought off two sexual assault attempts by men who didn’t believe no means no
Cori Frazer, survivor of childhood sexual abuse
Leilah Thiel, sexually assaulted at age 16
Helen Krummenacker, victim of repeated schoolground gropings
Edie Howe, assaulted at 7, 9, early teens, by both husbands, by strangers three times
BeardofPants, survivor child sexual abuse, age 7
Julia Heathcote, survivor of sexual assault by her PhD advisor
Rebecca Dominguez, survivor of sexual assault and date rape
Monado, survivor of groping (age 13), rape threats for refusing one of those innocent invitations to go for a ride (age 16), partner rape (age 35)
Doubting Thomas, gang raped at 18
Anarchic Teapot
Amanda W. Peet, date-raped at age 25
Alice, raped at 16, assaulted at 19
Melanie Mallon
Susan Silberstein, survivor of husband and stranger rape
Stephanie Zierenberg, victim of acquaintance rape at 24
Janice Clanfield
Kelly Sexton
Lynn Wilhelm, date raped in the 80s
Robin Buckallew, victim of childhood sexual assault, age 7
Catherine Ann, date-raped at age 30
Shoshana Kane, biologist, atheist, skeptic, rape survivor
Solvei Blue, survivor of sexual assault at age 19
Dr Fiona Wallace MB BS(London), MA, assaulted age 14 when babysitting – by the child’s father
Nicole P., repeatedly raped by ex-fiance
Dorothy M., victim of kidnapping, assault and rape, daughter of a victim of child molestation, mother of a victim of date-rape
Sandy H., survivor of childhood sexual assault
Anne Marie Newman, victim of acquaintance rape, sexual assault by a “friend,” and sexual harassment at work
Alianna B., stalked and sexually harassed for 3 1/2 years
Calebandrew, rape at the age of 15
Catherine Schneider, sexually abused by father from birth to age 14; raped by teen boyfriend age 15-17; gang raped by acquaintances age 22
Skepticalbunny, date rape survivor in 1982
Emily Dale, raped at age 16
Professor Anonymous_Female_Voice_Specialist, BS, MA, first sexually assaulted at age 3 or 4 and several times thereafter, at various ages
Nichole Filbert, sexually assaulted and raped in the process of leaving abuser
Nikoel Stevens
Carolyn, raped on 30th birthday
Maggie Champaigne
Sarah Killcoyne, sexual assault survivor
Emily F, rape survivor
Dianne K, molested at age 9, groped on the bus at 14
Kate W., molested at age 14, groped by multiple strange men, assaulted at age 25
WMDKitty, survivor of domestic assault
Jan Bunten
Bethany Baker, sexually assaulted at age 14
Wilma Janssen, assaulted multiple times, first time at 17
Chris Rhetts
Lee Ruby, survivor of childhood sexual abuse
ChristineCCR, raped, stalked, and sexually harassed
Jennifer Forester, raped by multiple partners
Lynne, raped and multiply assaulted
Cafegirl1995, raped at 13, assaulted at 14
Gwen Olson RN, sexually assaulted by a coworker
Lia C., molested at age 10, groped and ejaculated upon while riding the train at age 19, and date-raped at age 26
Katherine Ann B., survivor of multiple partner sexual assaults, two assaults by strangers, and kidnapping and assault by ex-partner
P. Adams, date raped at age 18
ephymeris, raped and molested repeatedly as a child, raped as a teen
CathyC, survivor of childhood sexual abuse and multiple sexual assaults
Sue Williams, date raped at 20, assaulted multiple times
Jennifer Haden, molested as a child and recently drugged and assaulted
Alexandra B, drug-raped at 18, other various sexual assaults
FranW, raped at age 25 by partner’s contrivance
Jafafa, sexual abuse victim ages 11-14
Mrs. Carol King, first sexual assault at age 7 with more following
StarsEnd42, sexually assaulted on very first date ever, sexually asaulted again at a conference
PixelFish, sexually harassed, verbally and physically, by fellow students and coworkers
Cripdyke, incestuous rape at age 10, domestic sexual assault ages 21-22
Rune C. Olwen, survivor of a Catholic abuse family and repeatedly attacked since;
one of the women who invented women self-defence
Whiteman, sexually abused by father from the ages of 12-15
Rebecca G., survivor of childhood molestation from 5-7, date rape at 16 and at 17, and sexual assault by a colleague in grad school
Nepenthe, repeated partner rape at age 20
Claire D, survivor of repeated and regular rape and gang rape between the ages of 12-15 and date rape at ages 16 and 18
Kate A., survived rape at 19 & multiple assaults
Jenny W, raped at age 14
Ellid, assaulted twice by her own husband in her own home
Sarah, survivor of molestation at 3 & 5, rape at 5, and threats of sexual assault from classmates from 8-17
Aimee McDowd, survived rape at 8, 12-13 repeated molestation and rape again at 15, escaped attempted abduction at 16
Can’tSayWho, raped by friend of 10 years
Kristin, survivor of sexual assault, age 4 and 20
Cynthia Wood, groped by a teacher at 12, raped by a boyfriend at 15
Kay, raped by a partner, groped countless times
Brigitte Hentschel, raped twice, once by a casual acquaintance, once by an ex-boyfriend; sexually harassed and groped countless times
Margaret L, sexually assaulted at 13, raped by a coworker at 22
Elizabeth C., molested as a child
Sarah Rean, molested from infancy, raped at age 18, and assaulted
Michelle, sexually abused by grandfather 4-12
Juliet, sexually assaulted at age 17
Rae, stalked by someone everyone insisted was harmless until he stabbed a stranger
Dr. Dory Green, sexually assaulted at 21 by a casual acquaintance in an encolsed space after politely turning down his advances
Jessa, drugged and raped at age 12
Tamsin, sexually harassed in elementary school with the help of a teacher
Alumiere Sg, sexually abused age 13 – 17, raped as an adult
Melissa Faulkner, sexually abused by stepfather for almost a year, age 12
mouthyb, BA, MFA, PhD (in progress), molested at age 9, raped multiple times
Allison, molested ages 13-14, raped at age 22
Sarah J., molested at age 7, assaulted in 2009
Rob, raped at ages 11-13 by a school official
Kathi, raped at age 12
Faith L., sexually assaulted at 11 and 12, raped at 16, assaulted at 18
Gayle Peterson
Jane P., sexually abused at age 6, raped at 8 and 13
Marley, raped at age 16
Heidi H., raped age age 16
Anonymouse, sexually assaulted at age 17 and groped by a college professor age 18
Demetria, survivor of sexual assault July 10, 2009
Joey Nichole Thomas, survivor of child sexual abuse between the ages of 5 & 6

Posted by Bug


  1. Are you fucking serious?? I had no idea this amount of douchebaggery existed from such “exalted” towering figures in the skeptic community. I’m not really “in” the community, so I don’t know. But thanks to your bravery, we can call out this crap. Thank you so much for speaking up. Honestly, I’m completely dumbfounded and so sorry you, and others, have had to endure abuse AND continued harassment from supposed leaders. I don’t know you but I’ve followed your blog for 4 years, thanks for standing up!

  2. Double like. These efforts make a difference.

  3. I am dumbfounded by Dawkins and commend you for bravely speaking up.

  4. I was reading the thread when Dawkins wrote his comment. I couldn’t believe it was him. It had to be a troll impersonating him, it had to be! I was so disappointed when PZ confirmed that yes, it was Dawkins. He owes an apology to the entire community, and to all of us women lurkers, as well. Once again, someone we trusted has turned on us. Is there no safety anywhere?

    I am inspired by the women who haven’t allowed themselves to be shouted down. Bravo!

    Susannah Anderson (another rape & assault survivor.)

  5. You go, girl! Enough of us showing folks the reality may, eventually, lead to a world in which most men get it, and young women aren’t so dreadfully vulnerable to attack.

  6. To expect empathy someone this vain and self-promoting is unrealistic. I admit his intellectual brilliance, but he will never be able to comprehend another person, certainly not another gender….it just won’t happen. Still, I think there’s hope for the future; some of us have changed, others will, and the public school system in this country is working hard and headed in the right direction. I’m sure that works better for an old white guy like me than it does for women but all we can do is keep up the fight.

  7. I am so proud of you, ladies. You have taken a very emotionally charged subject and explained it logically and without the rage I imagine you felt upon first read (as I had that feeling of rage as well).


  8. Logically and brilliantly said. Thank you.

    assault and rape survivor

  9. You are one of my personal heroes, and I can add this to the long list of reasons why. Thank you for inspiring me to be the best person I can be.


  10. What an eloquent, clear, and appropriate response to Prof. Dawkins. Nicely done!

  11. I commend you on your bravery. The way in which you use your right to freely state your position in demanding the inalienable right to force people to hear it so that you can abuse that right to exclude from the conversation anyone whom you deem unworthy to have an opinion is a testament to your values. This is why you aren’t taken seriously.

  12. […] – Stephanie of Almost Diamonds  and Bug Girl  – wrote an open letter to Richard Dawkins (here and here respectively) to which a flood of other women skeptics and science nerds have co-signed […]

  13. Michael H Anderson July 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    @Justicar – nailed it. “When may we expect your apology” – when Hell freezes over seems an apt response. Dawkins wasn’t “supporting sexual assault” – what a steaming load of delusional shit.

    This whiny post-hippie culture of entitlement: its day is nearly over thank God (in whom I’ve never believed). More and more people are on to you, and are fucking fed UP.

  14. Michael Anderson: You seem to be claiming that it is somehow wrong to tell someone that they are behaving badly (which is what started this whole thing: one woman pointing out that a particular man was behaving badly, and what was wrong with his behavior). I don’t care if only 1% of the people in any given group are jerks, those jerks need to be told when they need to shape up.

    Like now. I think you are behaving badly. You are doing the exact “mansplaining” that BugGirl already predicted was going to happen. Cut it out.

  15. Thank you for speaking out.

    Unlike many others, I am not at all astonished by Dawkins’s douchbaggery in this matter. He has an astonishing and unparalleled gift for making concepts that are amazing and beautiful, but to laymen obscure, accessible to anyone. For that I am grateful to him and will always be in his debt. But he has never given me reason to think that he is, on a personal level, anything other than shallow, vain and, beneath the superficial charm that many middle-class English people are trained to display, a bit unpleasant. (I hasten to add that I agree with him on the almost certain nonexistence of any sort of deity; I do not think ill of him because he is on the “other side”.)

    Dawkins likes telling the story of an elderly scientist who, having heard a guest lecture by a young colleague, arose to exclaim that he had been wrong lo these however-many years, but that the younger man had now shown him how he’d erred — at which the audience burst into sustained applause at the old man’s display of scientific self-correction. I’ve always assumed Dawkins tells the story because it makes him feel satisfied to be the sort of person he imagines himself to be. So, let’s see if he really is that sort of person, rather than one who merely takes comfort in self-congratulatory tales.

  16. Michael Anderson and Justicar:
    I have removed several of your more offensive comments as I said I would in the OP.
    This is intended to be a safe and supportive space.

    If you want to attack survivors and mansplain, get your own damn blog and do it there. I have not “forced” anyone to read this open letter.

    I suggest you may wish to think about what it says about you (and your attitudes about women) that it’s acceptable to visit and display your asshattery on an extremely personal post like this one.
    I mention this on the off chance that there is still something human in you, somewhere.

    All comments are now on moderation.

  17. That some men, especially wealthy white anglo-saxon ones, cannot comprehend what women go through everyday is somewhat — albeit unfortunately — understandable. But it is a sad world in which a girl says something to the effect of “this kind of situation makes us women uncomfortable. Please don’t do it” and that causes so many men to actually become *angry*.

    As a fellow surviving rape victim(*), I hope that you no longer think that what happened to you was your fault. I’ve been there.

    And as a dad to a young girl, I get it and desperately hope that soon everybody will get it as well.

    (*) As a boy, for nearly 3 years at a Catholic school by the head disciplinarian. This is also the first time I ever wrote this in a public forum.

  18. Roberto (and others)–you are not alone! While it breaks my heart to see that so many women and men are coming forth and identifying as survivors (I’ve updated the signatory list), know two things:
    1. There are people out there that “get it” and that are on your side
    2. We are survivors, and despite what happened, have moved on to do awesome things IRL and online.

    Totally inadequate to express what I’m feeling, but hopefully you get the general idea of what I mean.

  19. I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for women, and men, who have suffered sexual abuse, it’s truly sad, and an unforgivable crime. And there is no contradiction in saying that the response to Dawkins’s post is blown out of proportion. The shaming language and flat out hyperbolic distortion–supporting sexual assualt? Victim blaming? Do you realise the magnitude of what you are saying, directing such vile accusations at a brilliant man with no malice in his heart? This was handled very poorly and immaturely.

  20. Primateus–we are talking about rape culture here.

    Rape culture is refusing to acknowledge that the only thing that the victim of every rapist shares in common is bad fucking luck. Rape culture is refusing to acknowledge that the only thing a person can do to avoid being raped is never be in the same room as a rapist. Rape culture is avoiding talking about what an absurdly unreasonable expectation that is, since rapists don’t announce themselves or wear signs or glow purple.

    Did you even read the letter? I suspect not.

    Sure, Dawkins is smart. But that does not excuse his saying things that are ignorant and pointing out that HIS language is shameful. Telling women to shut up and stop complaining, and saying that escape from a potentially dangerous situation is as easy as pushing a button? That is really stupid, frankly.

  21. I’m not a survivor but I know some, but my mother was sexually assaulted when she was a teenager on a bus by strangers, my best friend in University was raped, along with her sister and brother, by her father over a prolonged period, and my last girlfriend was raped.

    I’m sorry to say that, even knowing this, I didn’t ‘get it’. I understood that there were ‘evil’ people in the world, that did horrific things to other people, but I thought yeah, lock up the ‘evil’ people and it’ll be solved. Because I don’t have to live with it, I didn’t understand that women have to go through routine sexual harassment and sexual assault 24/7 or have to live with the fear that the person following them might not just be going in the same direction but might actually be a rapist, because of their own past experience or the experiences of so many other people.

    Having the grim facts of sexual assault and rape figures placed in front of me, with personal stories of constant unwanted sexual attention, and the shitstorm that blew up when people, largely men, accused Rebecca of actual fear mongering for effect opened my eyes.

    I’d like to think I know better now, and it’s people like you, Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight and a lot of other bloggers and commenters that have been patient enough to explain it for me even through a tirade of abuse and belittling, and brave enough to share your experiences that I do ‘get it’ at least a bit now. Thank you all.

  22. There is nothing else I can add here to support your collective awesomeness. I hope this letter and brouhaha will open a few minds, male and female.

  23. Richard Dawkins advocates being offensive to people with different views on religion, so I’m not exactly surprised that he was offensive to people whose world views are different from his.

    After reading all of the associated materials, I’m really not sure what the fuss is about. Rebecca Watson’s comments are good advice. One should always pay attention to context. When a woman is alone with you late at night on an elevator, that is not the right time to start making advances. Just like if you are in a men’s restroom all alone and a man enters, starts using the urinal right next to you and then starts a conversation about dildos. Not. Appropriate. Context.

  24. […] example of why the skeptic movement is a highly unsafe place for me. Sure, there are tons of wonderful, amazing people, but there are also people who make “jokes” like […]

  25. […] Fortunately, posts at Pharyngula, Bad Astronomer, Shakesville, Pandagon, Greg Laden’s Blog, Bug Girl’s Blog and countless other sites have risen to her defense, and Rebecca has of course been more than […]

Comments are closed.