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Some men at ICANN meetings really are assholes

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2018, 11:34:16 (UTC), Domain Policy

Several men have been accused of sexual harassment at ICANN meetings.

A group of women have written to ICANN with five stories of how they were groped, intimidated, objectified or otherwise harassed in violation of not only common decency but also ICANN’s year-old anti-harassment policy.

They’ve not named the alleged harassers, but hinted that they may do so in future.

If we assume the stories are all the unembellished truth — and we kinda have to nowadays — then the behavior described is unambiguously out of order.

Fortunately, none of the allegations rise to the level of the obviously seriously criminal. In these cases we appear to be talking more Hoffman than Weinstein.

But we’re not talking about bizarro Cheesesandwichgate-level interactions either. The stories allege groping, simulated sexual activity, and physical restraint, among other things.

In one allegation, a woman claims a drunk man touched her rear during a social interaction.

In another, a man is alleged to have attempted to let himself into a woman’s hotel room, prompting her to block the door from the inside with a chair, after his earlier advances were rebuffed.

Another woman claims a man she had never met chose, as his opening conversational gambit, to compliment her appearance and inquire after her marital status — during a daytime coffee break for crying out loud — and then grabbed her waist and wrists to prevent her from leaving.

“If you want to start a conversation, ask what I do, what do I work with and why am I here,” the woman is quoted as saying. “Do not acknowledge physical attributes and reduce me to this.”

“If you want to talk to women in a professional setting, do not tighten her wrists, do not grab her waist. Do not ask whether she is married or not,” she said. “Regardless, you should respect her integrity, not her marital status.”

Another man is accused of simulating a sex position with a woman during a cocktail event.

A fifth is accused of “body-blocking” a woman as she attempted to leave a room.

The letter states:

These actions which are definitely categorized as harassment and even assault, would not only affect the woman who went through the incident but it would also lead to several probable repercussions such as (1) Her withdrawal from the community and physical presence. We all know how important being present in meetings is on different levels of engagement in and outside meetings (2) When no solid response from the community is done towards the harasser, there can definitely be an increase in aggressive characters of harassers as there would be no accountability to stop them (3) With the increase in harassment there surely will be a decrease in the representation of young women’s voices in any proceeding which defies the core concept of diversity.

The letter (pdf) is unsigned, and ICANN broke with its usual practice of listing the sender on the correspondence page of its web site.

The letter also does not name any of the accused men, but it and a related comment from a group of women at the public forum at ICANN 61 last week, said the women “refrain from using names for now, in order to keep the focus on the topic and not the person”.

It’s been DI practice to not name either party concerned in such allegations, even when we know who they are.

While the anti-harassment policy exists to deal precisely with the kinds of behaviors outlined in the letter, we reported in November that the ICANN Ombudsman had received no complaints whatsoever invoking the policy, even after the post-Weinstein sea change in workplace sexual politics.

But the letter-writers say this is because the current Ombudsman, Herb Weye, is a man, and women are sometimes reluctant to report such incidents to a man. The letter states:

There should be a woman ombudsperson for harassment reporting. It has been proven by several studies that given the sensitivity of the issue, harassment reports are more prone to be tackled and come forth with, when the ombudsperson is (a) a woman (b) an expert in gender-related issues and mitigating harassment risks

They’re also not confident that the policy, which has yet to be tested, will cause more good than harm.

They also want all ICANN meeting delegates to read the harassment policy as a condition for attendance, and for signage at the meetings to warn against inappropriate behavior.

In response to the public forum comments, ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain promised that the board will respond to the women’s letter, adding that the Ombudsman is taking a look at how the harassment policy has been implemented.

“It’s very important that ICANN is a safe place for everyone,” chair Cherine Chalaby told the women. “The more we raise awareness, the more it is safe.”

The message to certain blokes at ICANN meetings seems pretty clear: stop being assholes.

Like most places of work, the ICANN community is resplendent with examples of people forming lasting romantic relationships — or even just getting laid — but none of them began with a man grabbing a woman’s backside without her consent.

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Comments (7)

  1. R P says:

    Not surprising. Every time I’ve tried to call out celebs such as Mark Cuban who have been accused of similar actions (and who has ties to domain/tech world) the comments on blogs get deleted.

    Those that protect and/or harbor sexual harassers are no better than the sex predators themselves. There are apparently even “famous” domainers who have helped protect harvey Weinstein by trying to discredit his accusers. That is from the accusers’ mouths, not mine.

    All should know who they are doing business with.

  2. Acro says:

    That’s what happens when you invite 2500+ people from a wide variety of ages, races and cultures to have drinks together. The ladies need to name names, so that the men involved get reprimanded or removed from positions of power they might hold.

    • R P says:

      One can’t blame variety of ages, races, and drinks for sexual harrassment. Thats not fair to these women.

      Also, how can you expect these women to come forward in an industry dominated by males? All of us have seen powerful domainers tell newbies they will ensure they never succeed in this business, amongst other very harsh words.

      It might sound easy for these women to speak out but its not. They will potentially face retribution and even blackballed. Wealthy and powerful men very rarely simply man up and admit their wrongdoings. They mostly go on counter offensive. Ask Weinstein’s initial lawyers who were promptly fired.

      • Acro says:

        What is seemingly well-defined as sexual harassment in most of the West, isn’t necessarily perceived as such in other cultures.

        Even certain European countries tolerate flirtatious activity in social gatherings, well above the US threshold for sexual harassment.

        The modern school of thought is, that if the alleged victim, usually but not exclusively a woman, feels harassed, then it’s harassment.

        As these ladies have already come forward with their experiences via the ICANN memo system, and even hinted that in the future they might name their harassers, it’s important to clean house at ICANN: maybe some men are serial offenders. They don’t deserve to be involved in a global community of professionals.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          Acro, you seem to be assuming that the men accused of harassment in this letter hold positions of power or authority in the ICANN community.

          I do not think that has been alleged, and I would be surprised if it were true.

          I would assume the opposite, personally. At least one of the five anecdotes in the letter rules out the alleged harasser having any power.

  3. Mark Thorpe says:

    Stop acting like cavemen, you’re embarrassing the Industry!

  4. Reg says:

    I’m very glad this letter got written and submitted. I don’t have much hope that ICANN will do anything but perhaps it will make people who are being harassed feel more supported in speaking up and people who witness the harassment more interested in calling it out—and those who harass realize that their behavior is unacceptable.

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