Ted Ts'o is a rape apologist and why this matters
(This post contains some discussion of rape and sexual assault but does not go into any specifics)
There was a brief controversy at Linux.conf.au back in 2011. The final keynote speaker gave a compelling presentation on online privacy, including some slides containing sexualised imagery. This was against the terms of the conference policies, and resulted in an apology from the conference organisers and the speaker. The situation was unfortunate but well handled, and that should have been the end of it.
Afterwards, there was some pushback on the conference mailing list. Concerns were raised about the policy being overly restrictive and the potential for it to be used to stifle speech that influential groups disagreed with. I don't agree with these arguments, but discussion of why policies have been implemented is completely natural and provides an opportunity for a community to determine what its expected standards are.
And then Ted Ts'o effectively called rape victims liars. At first I assumed that this was just some sort of horrific failure to understand the implications of what he was saying, so I emailed him to check. The reply I got drew a pretty clear distinction between the case of a drunk college student raping another drunk college student in their room and the case of knifepoint rape in a dark park. You know, the difference between accidental rape and rape rape. The difference between the one any of us might have done and the one that only bad people do. Legitimate rape and the "rape" that those feminists talk about. The distinction that lets rapists convince themselves that they didn't really rape anyone because they weren't holding a knife at the time.
Ted Ts'o argues that only a small percentage of rape really counts as what people think of as rape. Ted Ts'o is a rape apologist.
There's an ongoing scandal in the UK at the moment. A well known DJ, Jimmy Savile, died last year. He grew up in a working class family, but through hard work and natural talent was one of the most significant figures in promoting pop music in the UK in the 50s and 60s, and worked in various parts of the BBC for the best part of 30 years. He spent significant amounts of time raising money for charity, and it's estimated that he raised over £40 million for various causes. Since his death, around 300 people have accused him of sexually abusing them. The BBC is desperately trying to explain why it cancelled an expose shortly before it aired. Multiple people who worked there at the time claim that everyone knew he was involved in indecent activities, but saying anything would risk both their career and the charities that depended on his fundraising. Nobody said anything, and he was allegedly free to continue his abuse.
Ted Ts'o is a significant figure in the Linux kernel community. He has expressed abhorrent beliefs that damage that community. Condemnation was limited to a mailing list with limited readership, meaning, effectively, that nobody said anything. Last week the Ada Initiative published a blog post pointing out the damage that did, and I realised that my effective silence was not only helping to alienate 50% of the population from involving themselves with Linux, it was also implicitly supporting my community leadership. I was giving the impression that I was basically fine with our community leaders telling people that it wasn't really rape if you were both drunk enough. I was increasing the chances of members of our community being sexually assaulted. Silence is endorsement. Saying nothing is not ok.
In the absence of an apology and explanation from Ted, I'll be interacting with him to the bare minimum that I'm compelled to as a result of my job. I won't be attending any Linux Foundation events he's involved in organising. If I'm running any events, I won't be inviting him. At a time when we're finally making progress in making our community more open and supportive, we don't need leaders who undermine that work. Support organisations who encourage that progress, not the people who help drag us back.
The original archive has vanished. I've put up a copy of the relevant thread here. Throughout, Ted states that he's actually arguing against the idea that women need to be frightened of sexual assault, and not against the definition of rape. Except saying things like
This one does a pretty good job of taking apart the Koss / Ms. Magazine study, which is the source for the "1 in 4" number. For example, it points out that over half of those cases were ones where undergraduates were plied with alcohol, and did not otherwise involve using physical force or other forms of coercion is difficult to read in any way other than "Half of the people you're counting as having been raped haven't really been raped", and favourably referring to an article that asserts that the rate of false rape reports is probably close to 50% is pretty strong support for the idea that many rape victims are liars.