Sexual Harassment at DefCon (and Other Hacker Cons)

Excellent blog post by Valerie Aurora about sexual harassment at the DefCon hackers conference. Aside from the fact that this is utterly reprehensible behavior by the perpetrators involved, this is a real problem for our community.

The response of “this is just what hacker culture is, and changing it will destroy hackerdom” is just plain wrong. When swaths of the population don’t attend DefCon because they’re not comfortable there or fear being assaulted, we all suffer. A lot.

Finally, everyone at DEFCON benefits from more women attending. Women “hackers”—in the creative technologist sense—are everywhere, and many of them are brilliant, interesting, and just plain good company (think Limor Fried, Jeri Ellsworth, and Angela Byron). Companies recruiting for talent get access to the full range of qualified applicants, not just the ones who can put up with a brogrammer atmosphere. We get more and better talks on a wider range of subjects. Conversations are more fun. Conferences and everyone at them loses when amazing women don’t attend.

When you say, “Women shouldn’t go to DEFCON if they don’t like it,” you are saying that women shouldn’t have all of the opportunities that come with attending DEFCON: jobs, education, networking, book contracts, speaking opportunities—or else should be willing to undergo sexual harassment and assault to get access to them. Is that really what you believe?

And in case you’re thinking this is just a bunch of awkward geeks trying to flirt, here are one person’s DefCon stories:

Like the man who drunkenly tried to lick my shoulder tattoo. Like the man who grabbed my hips while I was waiting for a drink at the EFF party. Like the man who tried to get me to show him my tits so he could punch a hole in a card that, when filled, would net him a favor from one of the official security staff (I do not have words for how slimy it is that the official security staff were in charge of what was essentially a competition to get women to show their boobs). Or lastly, the man who, without prompting, interrupted my conversation and asked me if I’d like to come back to his room for a “private pillowfight party.” “You know,” he said. “Just a bunch of girls having a pillowfight….fun!” When I asked him how many men would be standing around in a circle recording this event, he quickly assured me that “no one would be taking video! I swear!”

Aurora writes that DefCon is no different from other hacker cons. I had some conversations with people at DefCon this year to the contrary, saying that DefCon is worse than other hacker cons. We speculated about possible reasons: it’s so large (13,000 people were at DefCon 20), it’s in Las Vegas (with all the sexual context that implies), and it’s nobody’s home turf. I don’t know. Certainly the problem is rampant in geek culture.

Aurora also mentions the “Red/Yellow Card project” by KC, another hacker: warning cards that can be handed out in response to harassing behavior. The cards are great, and a very hackerish sort of solution to the problem. She gave me a complete set—there’s also a green card for good behavior—and I have been showing them to people since I returned. I haven’t heard any stories about them being given out to harassers, but I suspect they would be more effective if they were given out by observers rather than by the harassed. (Bystanders play a large role in normalizing harassing behavior, and similarly play a large role preventing it.)

Of course, the countermove by harassers would be to collect the cards as kind of a game. Yes, that would reduce the sting of the cards. No, that doesn’t make them a bad idea. Still, a better idea is a strong anti-harassment policy from the cons themselves. Here’s a good model.

More resources: here, here, and here.

Posted on August 15, 2012 at 8:57 AM218 Comments


Jesse Krembs August 15, 2012 9:20 AM

One of the issues with the Green-Yellow-Red card set up is that is becomes a game to collect them all. While anti-political correctness is very much with in the DefCon milieu, certain line-cross behaviour is not. If you feel that your being treated inappropriately, say something, call people out on there shit. People will get the hint. Suffering in silence will not help.

My thoughts are my own, not DefCons

yoshi August 15, 2012 9:20 AM

Who I really wish would grow up at DEFCON is the EFF. Once again they have a fund raiser in which one of the prizes is a picture with one of the strippers DEF CON hires every year.

And I agree its not just DEFCON. Last years THOTCON in Chicago was horribly sexist and even though this years improved considerably – it was still staged in a venue which was all muscle cars.

LittleBoyBrew August 15, 2012 9:25 AM

The skeptic community has been embroiled over the issue of harassment at skeptic conferences for most of the last year. The skeptic community is a male and often geek dominated one, would it be too big a generalization to say the security world is also? It is difficult for men to realize their privilege in these arenas and change their behavior accordingly. Too much denial has gone on, but it seems the ship is slowly turning.

Sue Young August 15, 2012 9:38 AM

I was at Thotcon and I liked the cars, as a middle aged female geek I was not harassed, it seemed pretty typical to me, very few women, lots of beer, some interesting talks.

When I was a young scientist I found that threatening to break a nose really caused harassment to stop. I recommend it. Make a scene, it does work.

Kirill.B August 15, 2012 9:53 AM

This is all just weird. No matter the place and time, this is sick. Unthinkable in Russia.

Figureitout August 15, 2012 9:57 AM

Like the man who drunkenly tried to lick my shoulder tattoo.

–Even when I’m drunk drunk I don’t try to lick shoulders and if a girl goes for that well you may want to see a doctor :/

Ladies, ear-piercing screams combined with pepperspray should do the trick and as a last resort act like you’re trying to kick a “field goal” inbetween the “goal posts” 🙂

Jarrod August 15, 2012 10:15 AM

I was recently at a training event for up and coming security pros. I was pleased to see that about 20% of those there were women but disappointed that the ratio was still so unbalanced. Where I work, there is one woman out of eight in security and the rest of IT has only a handful, most of them in either administrative or help desk roles. A recent Slashdot article basically asked how sexist behavior could be brought to a tolerable level when the team’s first female would be joining. Most of the crowd basically told the submitter to grow up and learn to be professional.

Security is a growing field, one of the few that will probably see significant growth in the next few years in terms of people needed. If we males can’t learn to be men, we’re alienating most of half of the population and making our jobs that much harder.

Andrew G August 15, 2012 10:24 AM

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

–Edmund Burke

I think the security community is overlooking the opportunity to treat this as a security problem (which it is) and solve it.

Doktor Jeep August 15, 2012 10:27 AM

Geeks being slobs? Most geeks are afraid of women, and would not even try to flirt, or have I been away too long?

I think it shows that there is an abundance of feds at these cons. The whole idea is dumb anyway: show your name and face at a hacker con. Good idea. There is a certain “get away with anything” attitude in law enforcement these days. I just don’t imagine people who work in this field having this kind of mindset.
They are either feds or posers.

derpsauce August 15, 2012 10:27 AM

Sounds like a typical nightclub or student bar shenanigans. If you think this is bad look up what happens at cosplay cons, lulzcon or any other con with a large/ b/ presense

Albatross August 15, 2012 10:33 AM

I’m glad LittleBoyBrew brought up the similarity between this story and the issue of conference sexism reported by Rebecca Watson that has been shaking up the skeptic community for the past year. If Watson’s experience is repeated, Valerie Aurora is in for a backlash of sexist slurs and accusations that will make the behavior of conference attendees seem pleasant by comparison. I would be extremely pleased if the InfoSec community could instead respond professionally and respectfully.

Pat August 15, 2012 10:34 AM

re: @yoshi

Having never attended DefCon, I was less than thrilled to read your report of the EFF’s behavior there. I’m a long time member of and contributor to EFF, and am greatly disappointed to hear of this.

I just now composed this email to their general contact address, I would urge other EFF members to likewise express their disapproval:


I am a long time contributor to and member of EFF, and I greatly admire and support the work that you do and support the policies and education efforts made through this organization.

However, I recently heard a report of some less than desirable behavior from the EFF, reported here:

Specifically, it was reported that the EFF offered a prize at a DefCon fundraiser, a photograph with a stripper, that I consider to be both sexist and offensive.

I feel this is an important issue: we cannot stand in support of greater privacy and individual rights online while taking actions that reduce rights and/or support offensive stands in other areas.

If this report is accurate, then I am greatly disappointed that an organization I otherwise admire greatly would indulge in such actions. Please address this issue.

— Patrick Spinler

vwm August 15, 2012 10:35 AM

Why are you giving the red cards to the offender (as a possible collectable)? Just have the bystanders show it to him, like a referee in soccer would. It’s important to humble the offender there and than.

Also, I guess a slap in the face by the harassed might be superior to any card game: it does not trigger collection habits, it makes pretty sure, the right one is laughed at afterwards.

Getting groped or interrogated about ones breasts justifies that kind of self-defence (IMHO).

Zach August 15, 2012 10:35 AM

I’ve attended defcon off and on since DefCon 6, and am friends with many women there. Most of them find the characterization of DefCon by Ms. Aurora to be belittling to them. They feel like reducing women to victim status diminishes their own accomplishments. This issue is not as black and white as Ms. Aurora makes it out to be.

michael August 15, 2012 10:37 AM

DefCon has always been a frat party, and it’s only gotten worse. I can only assume that those who are surprised have never been to one before.

The idea of geeks as awkward zit-faced kids with pocket protectors was never true, and believing it only creates a cover for the brogrammers who have always been the real geeks (well, since the mid-80s, anyway).

Want to fix DefCon? Don’t have it in the strip club/hooker capital of the world.

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 10:42 AM

The curious thing about those colour cards (and I’ve noted this before) is, by nature, any time you hand them to somebody else you’re due at least a ‘yellow’ one yourself, since you’re clearly breaking reasonable social boundaries. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t feel the need to take a contrived way to go about it, in the form of handing out cards.

I like the concept, the idea that people should be speaking out if they feel offended – but the cards are just a cheesy proxy which actually make the situation worse. You’re not just expressing you’re offended, you’re also implicitly insulting the person you’re handing it to by saying “I can’t actually speak to you as a fellow human being, so here’s a passive-aggressive card so I don’t have to socially interact with you”. It’s a poor substitute for simply speaking up, which has all the same benefits and doesn’t share this problem.

Perhaps the ‘cutesy’ factor will work in its favour as a way of invoking a crowd to act, at least until the novelty wears off.

nycman August 15, 2012 10:47 AM

Were these examples during the conference sessions or the evening/late night social events? I’d expect boorish behavior in any alcohol fueled event with a big gender imbalance. These just happen to be defcon attendees, but doesn’t this sort of stuff happen at any random bar anywhere? A drunk guy asks to see your boobs or asks to lick your tattoo. Geez call in the lawyers and scream harassment. Don’t like it, walk away from the guy. It’s a social event, people will say anything, but it’s probably not a great idea to label it harassment and put it into the same category as more serious, real harassment.

sl@ck August 15, 2012 10:51 AM

I understand the plight of the original author but I wonder if there is a disconnect between what DEFCON is (A giant party for a community) and what some people think it is (A professional conference).

DEFCON is a social gathering/party for hackers (It just happens to have security talks) and because of that you going to have drinking, parties, etc. The chance to run into individuals who are unsavory characters is probably pretty high. It’s not really a professional conference.

BlackHat is the professional conference designed around networking, security talks, vendor demos etc.

DEFCON is like going to a club/party but one designed for the hacker community. Expecting everyone to behave in a professional manner is probably expecting too much. Just like a club/party you gonna have some stupid drunk individuals.

XJ August 15, 2012 10:52 AM

how sad. :/ this behaviour is unacceptable, lets create a wallofshame for them, and make their photos public. >:T

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 10:52 AM

“Also, I guess a slap in the face by the harassed might be superior to any card game: it does not trigger collection habits, it makes pretty sure, the right one is laughed at afterwards.

Getting groped or interrogated about ones breasts justifies that kind of self-defence (IMHO). ”

Anybody touches me and I don’t care what their gender and what they’re reasons are – you’ve just escalated an awkward social situation into the potential of physical threat and completely changed the rules of engagement. I won’t necessarily wait for a hand to strike me (and thereby be in a position to judge its intent) before reacting to it, unless I have some other means to determine I’m not in danger. Only an idiot would assume a person isn’t a threat solely because of their gender.

The idea that physical contact is acceptable when it’s from an offended woman is a throwback to the days of ‘gents and ladies’. It has no utility in an equal society – it’s actually the people who support and practice gender equality who are going to react badly to it.

Geoffrey Kidd August 15, 2012 10:54 AM

Every lout (regardless of gender) should be asked the question:

If you cannot respect others’ rights, why should anyone respect yours?

Steve Boyko August 15, 2012 10:59 AM

This isn’t limited to the hacker community. Witness ReaderCon among many others.

sl@ck seems to imply that since DEFCON is a big party, you should expect this behaviour. This kind of behaviour should be unacceptable everywhere and we men need to speak out about it, everywhere.

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 10:59 AM

@XJ How do you ensure due process?

Or do you just label anyone who is accused of a certain type of unacceptable social interaction and then arbitrarily subject them to another type of unacceptable social interaction as ‘punishment’?

If you do that, the community’s self-protecting behaviour suddenly becomes at least as bad as, probably worse, anything its individual members are doing in this context. The cure becomes worse than the problem and the community hemorrhages members.

abadidea August 15, 2012 11:02 AM

“They are either feds or posers.” – Doktor Jeep

“no true scotsman”. Being a legitimate, respected member of the hacker community does not magically prevent you from also being a sexist or from having exceptionally poor behavior around women.

I’m not saying this has or hasn’t happened at Defcon specifically, but it is a very common problem that the well-established members of a community who act inappropriately towards women are never strongly chastised for it by their employers/organization/convention they’re speaking at/etc because they’re too famous and the people who can do something about it don’t want to alienate them. Their public reputation stays clean, or takes on a patina of “ladies’ man”, but the women around them warn each other to stay the hell away. Sad But True.

XJ August 15, 2012 11:06 AM

@Danny how about security cameras? bait-girls? spot-the-harasser game? (lol?) i dunno, not my problem, but its not acceptable. be creative, find a solution. ^^

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 11:12 AM

“I’m glad LittleBoyBrew brought up the similarity between this story and the issue of conference sexism reported by Rebecca Watson that has been shaking up the skeptic community for the past year.”

Feminists are hugely over-represented amongst skeptics. It makes it difficult to assumes other cons are necessarily going to behave in the same way. I feel, personally, the hacker community is probably handling this more cautiously/logically than the femi-skeptics did.

“If Watson’s experience is repeated, Valerie Aurora is in for a backlash of sexist slurs and accusations that will make the behavior of conference attendees seem pleasant by comparison. I would be extremely pleased if the InfoSec community could instead respond professionally and respectfully.”

You’re conflating the skeptical/InfoSec communities and the wider internet community. You don’t see anyone at QEDCon coming out with those kinds of slurs. As for accusations, I’d hate to see a skeptical society where all manner of accusations weren’t welcome – because that’s rather the point!

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 11:16 AM

@XJ Ah, the ‘it’s really quite difficult so I’ll delegate it to some authority and hope for the best’ approach. The attitude of budding serfs everywhere.

jday August 15, 2012 11:16 AM

At the comedy jam event they started off by making fun of harassment and saying that it shouldn’t ever happen. They then went into a presentation where it included a hilarious picture of a woman in a torn shirt and skirt tied to a server rack and blindfolded. In the case of Defcon, at least this year, they were participants in the harassment, from the events/descriptions/pictures in the official pamphlet to the actual sanctioned events. Hacker jeopardy included a female participant who helped their stripped take off some clothing, and the host hilariously responded “now it’s your turn.”

If they want to solve the problem, they need to start with themselves. Leave the conference goers alone and reform the presenters, the events, and themselves. After that we can talk about the attendees if there’s still a problem.

Coyne Tibbets August 15, 2012 11:23 AM

The red/yellow/green cards are a good idea. If Defcon really wants to clean up its image, I would suggest that next year the ability to give these “cards” be integrated as voting into the Defcon badges.

It’d be slick to have a green/yellow/red light on the card to tally votes: Should encourage good behavior.

Coyne Tibbets August 15, 2012 11:35 AM

BTW, if the security staff really did those “exposure” punch-cards then a ban against that security provider, or reprimand/termination of an appropriate supervisor, should be seriously considered.

Even if the cards were intended as nothing more than a type of “scavenger hunt”, having an entry of that type on the cards invites harassment and is therefore incitement to harassment.

vwm August 15, 2012 11:38 AM

@Danny, I have to admit that I have never been at DevCon or even Vegas, so maybe I get the whole situation wrong.

I never said, “physical contact is acceptable when it’s from an offended woman”. I said it is acceptable, when it’s form a person that is being groped (i.e. physically contacted or threated herself/himself) or seriously insulted. As long as the attack is ongoing, that’s plain self defense.

And you are not entitled to counter attack a stranger that pushed you away after you started licking her/his tattoo, are you?

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 11:51 AM

@vwm ‘Acceptable’ or ‘legitimate’ has nothing to do with it. Escalation through the use of physical force is only a good idea if you think you can end the scenario optimally through an escalation of physical force. In these instances the answer is very likely to be ‘no’, for the reasons I stated.

If you want a crowd to act then start shouting. Make a fuss. Don’t perform an action that increases your physical danger and muddy the waters about just who is the bad guy. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a crowd are much less likely to assist you and may choose to actively assume you’re as part of the problem. If you’re unlucky, the person you just attacked will interpret it as assault and react accordingly. Either way, not an optimal move.

It’s worth noting regardless that whilst perhaps self-defense is defined differently in the US, I don’t believe what you’re describing is self-defense where I come from. If my assumptions are correct, you would end up with a charge of assault and/or battery.

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 11:52 AM

I should add assaulting someone is response to being “seriously insulted” is patently not “plain self-defense”.

Northern Realist August 15, 2012 11:54 AM

That such behaviour occurs when geeks gather is unfortunately not surprising — but that it is tolerated by event organizers is surprising, disapppointing, and completely uinacceptable. (And all those self-proclaimed geeks still wonder why they can’t get a date or meet someone who wants to get into a relationship with them – DUH!!!)

In most jurisdictions such behaviours are considered criminal offences, and the DEFCON organizers should step=up and be responsible about addressing this. In fact, there should be flyers handed out at registration, mentions in the start of opening sessions, posters at all venues, etc., that DEFCON is a harrassment-free zone and ANY such behaviour will not be tolerated and offenders WILL be reported to the police.

x August 15, 2012 11:57 AM

You’re not just expressing you’re offended, you’re also implicitly insulting the person you’re handing it to by saying “I can’t actually speak to you as a fellow human being, so here’s a passive-aggressive card so I don’t have to socially interact with you”. – Danny Moules

That’s not a bug, that’s a feature. Not having to socially interact with harassers to get them to stop — how could it be anything but a feature, if it works? The message to harassers should be “you need to stop”. Any way to effectively send that message is good.

More social interaction with harassers is not what someone being harassed wants. Escalation of the situation (i.e. some of the more extreme reactions, especially physical reactions) is also not what someone being harassed wants, it’s probably what they fear.

The card idea is at least on the right track. Shut down the situation, if possible.

anon August 15, 2012 12:01 PM

Pat – Not that I am in support of any form of harassment, but I’d like to know how you found the photograph, which you have never seen, as you did not go to defcon to see it, sexist and offensive.

Danny Moules August 15, 2012 12:12 PM

@x Which is fine if we assume the person in question is always clearly guilty – but that’s not the case. We have intricate social behaviour for a reason.

If I see my friend getting insulted in that way and he/she hasn’t done anything to deserve it the person who is doing the harassing is actually the party handing out the cards and they’re going to open a can of worms. If they didn’t like that social interaction how are they going to feel about my immediate response? Or my blog post? Or my discussions with their friends about their behaviour? Or, perhaps I’m violent and just don’t accept that behaviour towards my friends, it’s zero-sum.

(This is hypothetical, BTW. For those who aren’t aware, when I use ‘my’ in these posts I’m not actually that person.)

Not insulting people is a standard for all bad social situations because it allows a situation to die down. If you insult someone and aren’t entirely, 100%, legitimate in doing so, you’ve done the opposite of what you intended to accomplish. You’ve escalated the situation. If it’s a feature, it’s a detrimental ‘feature’.

The idea that passive aggression is inherently better than, say, shouting is erroneous because it’s trivial to misconstrue.

vwm August 15, 2012 12:15 PM

@Danny we are clearly not talking about the same setting. Seems like I have a more serious offense in mind, while you envision the proposed reaction more serious, than I do.

Joe Buck August 15, 2012 12:18 PM

If the cards bore the same consequences as they do in football (soccer), then someone receiving a red card, or two yellow cards, would be kicked out of the conference for a day. This would make it harder to “collect them all”.

sine nomine August 15, 2012 12:18 PM

i love allies. really, as a woman who’s spent her adult life in the tech industry, i get a warm glow every time i see guys calling out bad behavior. you guys have to keep doing that, because they actually listen to you. it makes lots of us love you.

it’s frustrating, though, when allies propose simple solutions to complex problems. if insisting they respect our acheivements worked, don’t you think we’d’ve done it by now? this is not fun for us, and if there were a quick and easy way to make it stop we’d’ve been all over it years ago.

the only way to make it stop is to make that kind of behavior unacceptable in the community, and since women are not being heard by the community a lot of the time, we need men to do a lot of the heavy lifting. men who are behaving badly need to have people whom they respect say to them, “you are being an asshole.” if they respected women we wouldn’t have this problem. men have to take a stand.

also? kicking people in the balls, screaming, etc, might sound potentially useful, but 1. women should not have to go to those lengths to have their personal space respected, 2. screaming and kicking people are not professional behavior, and 3. do you have any idea at all how much time some women would have to spend doing this? i’d like to think men are capable of modifying their behavior without the threat of physical pain. then again, given how little the situation has changed over the years, maybe some aren’t.

sl@ck August 15, 2012 12:19 PM

@Steve Boyko

Yes this type of behavior shouldn’t be condoned and we should speak out when we see others do it but expecting DEFCON to be a professional security conference is foolish.

There are many different groups that attend DEFCON and not all of them play by the “rules” so to speak. Beyond asking the conference goers to behave which can be done and probably should there is little enforcement mechanism that would prevent it completely. Also knowing some of the goons if someone went to them (like the dude who liked her shoulder) and complained that person would have been in trouble.

In a conference of 13,000 you can’t expect a volunteer staff of maybe 50 to catch everything.

sl@ck August 15, 2012 12:23 PM

There are many different groups that attend DEFCON and not all of them play by the “rules” so to speak. Beyond asking the conference goers to behave which can be done and probably should there is little enforcement mechanism that would prevent it completely. Also knowing some of the goons if someone went to them (like the dude who liked her shoulder) and complained that person would have been in trouble.

Err liked really means licked (oops on spelling) and person = dude who assaulted her.

Bhaggy August 15, 2012 12:24 PM

Sexism is endemic in InfoSec. Go to any exhibition or con and there’s booth babes by the handful. I recently rejected a vendor for a $six figure partly due to their choice of a burlesque after show evening.
I guess the reason Hacker cons and particularly Defcon is that there is an abundance of alcohol compared to other events. It doesn’t excuse that sort of behaviour but it might go some way to explain in.

Nick P August 15, 2012 12:30 PM

Re: Figureitout

“Ladies, ear-piercing screams combined with pepperspray should do the trick and as a last resort act like you’re trying to kick a “field goal” inbetween the “goal posts” :)”

He beat me to it. 🙂 Temporary solution that should help quite a bit. Practice some groin kicks and throat shots before the trip. Pepper spray might hurt nearby people. Stun gun is better idea, esp if groin kick precedes it.

Nick P August 15, 2012 12:47 PM

The real issue is what michael at 10:37am pointed out:

“The idea of geeks as awkward zit-faced kids with pocket protectors was never true, and believing it only creates a cover for the brogrammers who have always been the real geeks (well, since the mid-80s, anyway).

Want to fix DefCon? Don’t have it in the strip club/hooker capital of the world.”

Nobody goes to a frat party or social hangouts near strip clubs expecting proper behavior. Even stranger to expect respectable behavior from a crowd known to be full of hostile individuals. Put the two together and throw in some extra craziness, then you have DEFCON. Then women go there & are shocked when they are mistreated? It’s expected at such a place, like it’s expected at the aforementioned places.

So, if you want respect toward women, you have to change the venue and whole setup like michael suggests. The target atmosphere or image should be more like a hackerspace than a strip club. Get women geeks involved in setting it up so it can be tweaked to attact both genders equally well. I vote Valerie Aurora & Jeri Ellsworth. 😉 Have strong policies that are enforced regarding sexual harassment. I’d also suggest a quota that goes for a good gender mix, with the final talley a compromise based on who actually wants to show up. eg might not be enough women applying.

Any thoughts or suggestions? Ladies, first. 😉

Name is Alias August 15, 2012 12:48 PM

While there is a clear end of the spectrum that is never ok, how would one go about dealing with the gray areas? I know more than one woman who would consider any complementing of their outfit/body harassment, how do you draw the line between legitimate harassment and failed flirting? Especially when the situation changes the divider. Walking up to a woman and complementing her dress in a bar is more clearly OK than doing so in the Q/A part of a security presentation.

br0wnd August 15, 2012 12:50 PM

I’ve been to Defcon many times, both as attendee and speaker, and I never noticed the problem until I went with my fiancee. Her experiences were not unlike those mentioned in the article, and made for an all-around unpleasant experience. I’ve not been back since, and have no desire to again.

What really disturbs me is how the staff is part of the problem, and airing issues with them redirects you to the staff, ie, the problem itself. Its shameful.

I also don’t understand the “well what do you expect” opinion based on reputation/location/etc. That’s not really an acceptable mindset at any time, anywhere, when discriminatory or downright criminal practices are being exhibited. The hacker world shouldn’t bring itself down to the level of Augusta National Country Club.

Lynn August 15, 2012 12:50 PM

The first and last time I will ever attend one of these hacker con’s.
I broke a guys finger because he couldn’t keep his hands to himself.
If these conventions want to be taken seriously they will seriously deal with this issue. Until then this is nothing more than a bunch of boys behaving badly.

Sean Palmer August 15, 2012 12:51 PM

Never, ever kick a guy in the balls. You wouldn’t recommend raping a woman to put her in her place.

Wael August 15, 2012 12:57 PM

@ Nick P

Lets have a trial run of DefCon in Saudi Arabia. Rape = death penalty there 😉
And it’s done with a sword in a public square. And people are forced to watch it.

Wael August 15, 2012 1:02 PM

@ Nick P

Any thoughts or suggestions? Ladies, first. 😉

Sorry I replied before any of the ladies. How rude of me!

vwm August 15, 2012 1:07 PM

@Danny, oh, and, in Germany, self-defense does actually include defending ones honour (§ 34 BGB). So while (not afterwards!) someone is insulting you, you might take reasonable action to stop him (or her). Naturally, judges are quite picky on “reasonable” and on whether the insulting was still ongoing.

Moderator August 15, 2012 1:08 PM

@sine nomine:

i love allies. really, as a woman who’s spent her adult life in the tech industry, i get a warm glow every time i see guys calling out bad behavior. you guys have to keep doing that, because they actually listen to you. it makes lots of us love you.

it’s frustrating, though, when allies propose simple solutions to complex problems. if insisting they respect our acheivements worked, don’t you think we’d’ve done it by now? this is not fun for us, and if there were a quick and easy way to make it stop we’d’ve been all over it years ago.

This is a great point, and I’m quoting it to help make sure that people see it.

Generally, before you make a comment to explain that All You Need To Do Is…., please take some time to ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is this such an original idea that it’s unlikely anyone has thought of it before?
  2. If the answer to (1) is “no,” what reasons might there be that this has not already happened?

Actually, that could apply to a lot of threads, not just this one.

Moderator August 15, 2012 1:17 PM

Also, please make sure you actually are focusing on real-world problems and solutions rather than indulging revenge fantasies.

BEG65 August 15, 2012 1:17 PM

What I find interesting are the number of suggestions for things women can do. When it is the men whose behavior needs to stop.

ken August 15, 2012 1:17 PM

Kudos to Bruce for calling a spade a spade. First time Defcon attendee this year. The problem starts at the top. I was appalled at the sexist and homophobic language and gestures that permeated a number of the Defcon 101 presentations on day 1. And this came from some of the leaders of the event. It comes as no surprise to me to now read about occurrences of physical harassment. I cannot encourage young female students to attend this event until the culture changes. The culture change is needed at the top, and shame on the silent majority for tolerating this for so long.

Nick P August 15, 2012 1:18 PM

@ Wael

“Lets have a trial run of DefCon in Saudi Arabia. Rape = death penalty there 😉
And it’s done with a sword in a public square. And people are forced to watch it.”

Haha. Nice idea. However, I only want the creeps to be paranoid: Saudia Arabia might make quite a bit of the crowd uncomfortable, esp. those working on privacy technologies. 😉

“Sorry I replied before any of the ladies. How rude of me!”

Well, none complained. So… (to the bouncers) “No, that won’t be necessary guys”

Brian M August 15, 2012 1:21 PM

the man who tried to get me to show him my tits so he could punch a hole in a card that, when filled, would net him a favor from one of the official security staff

Just… wow… That’s a very serious problem. It is very sparse on details tho; was it sanctioned by the organization, or was it just someone on the staff doing it on his own accord? If its the former, then there needs to be backlash from the community against the organization. If its the later, then the organization needs to take steps, such as a reprimand or otherwise. I don’t think we have all of the details on this.

Also, don’t do what the Skeptic community did… Positive messages, and none of this “everyone is sexist” bull. I would be willing to put money on the notion that 95%+ are perfectly well behaved and find this type of behaviour to be unacceptable. Messages of “guys, stop this” = bad. Messages of “guys, if you see this, stop them” = good. It’s not accusatory, and is, instead, productive. But, I will be watching this intently to see how it plays out.

you’ve just escalated an awkward social situation into the potential of physical threat and completely changed the rules of engagement.

Some real TSA level commitment there… Violence is always the answer… rollseyes

I also want to point out that you say its an issue in the community, but I don’t think its a special case. It is an issue everywhere, but we are security professionals, we can do better. I fully expect the security community to come up with some good ideas and find a solution that works for everyone (who isn’t just a groppy douche).

Mark August 15, 2012 1:23 PM

This is a made-up controversy, brought by social activists who want to feminize the tech industry. No thanks.

Wael August 15, 2012 1:25 PM

@ Moderator

real-world problems and solutions


It starts by educating children and instilling in them morals and values. It has to do with changing TV shows and movies not to glorify this type of behavior. Sounds like a long term solution to me. Good luck!

This reply is also a direct response to @ BEG65’s

What I find interesting are the number of suggestions for things *women* can do. When it is the *men* whose behavior needs to stop.

Angelina August 15, 2012 1:41 PM

My entire tech career has been to put up with inappropriate behavior. From teachers using near porn as part of the educational curriculum to the idea that I’m there for anything other than my career (addressed to the idea of failed flirtation).

Several conferences I’d love to attend haven’t been when I could go, and now seeing how wretched I’d be treated… seems unlikely I’d attempt it. Creepy, and kinda sad.

@mark: Feminize the tech industry? You mean other humans who don’t look just like you get a job? I find the fems who feel they are on a violent personal mission and in your face about sexism kind of ugly too, they are the yin to this bad behaviors yang. BOTH behaviors are disrespectful and gross to be any where near. The problem is ANYTHING but made up. It is VERY real.

Rebecca August 15, 2012 1:41 PM

I was hit on by some blazingly drunk Defcon guys every night, but that’s no different than any other time in Vegas, regardless of conference or if there for a leisure trip. I am not forgiving this behavior by any means, but it’s not a professional atmosphere.

Some encounters I had:

The first night with coworkers I attracted a hacker from Spain to my table which turned into a huge argument about capitalism at 2:30am. I actually enjoyed that, but there was a lot of yelling and finger pointing. We had attracted the attention of four whole Pai Gow tables due to all the yelling, and somehow no security.

The second night I attracted a guy from San Diego who was about 8 drinks overserved and couldn’t walk. He looked like a zombie. Again, Vegas. He swore wouldn’t tell us what he did. We got his business card. The third night I attracted an enlisted army guy who was coming on very, very strong.

Nothing too bad for me personally and I never felt uncomfortable more than just average paranoia of not using my phone, laptop, or using a credit card. I’m sad to hear about the behavior but also want to say some of us didn’t have any problems there as women. I saw plenty of women this year too, which was awesome!

Bruce – saw your Q&A and it was great!

Moderator August 15, 2012 1:43 PM

Wael, real solutions are indeed difficult, which is why I’m asking people to to focus on them seriously rather than posting unrealistic scenarios of punishment and revenge. Also, your comedy routine with Nick P. is not improving the thread either. I’d appreciate it greatly if you both would step away from the thread now and let other people talk.

Wael August 15, 2012 1:43 PM

My last comment about DefCon:

I never attended it, and never will after reading these comments. I was not impressed with their “achievements” anyways. Nothing there for me to learn. Overhyped event…

Nick P August 15, 2012 1:47 PM

@ Moderator

“I’d appreciate it greatly if you both would step away from the thread now and let other people talk.”

Certainly. 🙂

mcb August 15, 2012 1:47 PM

@ Scott

Women in technology need respect.

To be all it can be – and nothing it shouldn’t – technology needs women.

sprawl August 15, 2012 1:50 PM

Makes me wish some technological equivalent of the red-card system were feasible. Defcon attendees exhibiting inappropriate behavior would be given anti-achievements (denouncements) and once their CreeperScore passed a threshold they would face sanctions…

Irene August 15, 2012 1:52 PM

This is endemic to the tech industry, and to the security industry – after nearly 20 years I’ve seen plenty of it across the board. Unfortunately, violence doesn’t work. Slapping, kicking, throat-punching someone who gropes you is very likely to get you badly hurt. The most effective response I know is (in a loud, disgusted tone) “Get away from me, you PERVERT.” That makes the offender into a laughingstock.

The straw man argument of comparing assault and harassment to an overreaction to a compliment is easy to discredit. Guys, would you say to a colleague, “Hey, those jeans make your ass look great.” “That t-shirt really brings out your eyes.” “Beautiful tie, man.” If not, then you simply should not use those remarks to a woman, either. Her dress, her hair, her eyes have nothing to do with her reason for being there. And are, quite frankly, none of your business. If you must compliment her, compliment her skills, her tech talk, her presentation style.

Figureitout August 15, 2012 1:54 PM

Nobody goes to a frat party or social hangouts near strip clubs expecting proper behavior.

Re: Nick P

He’s right, that’s like the cardinal rule of self-defense. Be aware of surroundings and situations you put yourself in. Last I checked, Las Vegas is known for its depravity; and it sounds like DEFCON attracts this behavior.

Just because we’re talking about geeky guys creeping out girls and licking shoulders (WTF?!) doesn’t mean it doesn’t go the other way. Anyone ever had a girl stalk you or “mistakenly” try to “touch” you? How about not even mistakenly and grabbing very blatantly for it? And if I say something, what would people say-“Oh, right. That’s what every guy wants.”–No, it’s not; I want dignity and respect.

Stay classy people, wait until you catch her (or his) eye. It makes for much more satisfaction.

Banasidhe August 15, 2012 1:55 PM

Quick note on the Kickstarter incentives from the EFF Summit that @yoshi mentioned.

First off, the pictures were not of “hired strippers” as is stated. They were of Beer Betty and Vanna Vinyl, from Hacker Jeopardy. And niether of them were hired. They are both volunteers. And for the record, Beer Betty is also the main organizer/producer of the EFF Summit. If it weren’t for “Betty” and her husband, there wouldn’t BE a Summit. The photo-op was an “EFF’s theSummit” Planning Group decision (of which I am a member). Not an internal EFF call at all. Please do your homework before you accuse the EFF of sexism. The photos are of DefCon “Celebrities” who SUGGESTED IT THEMSELVES and they were done with playful intent.

lif bar August 15, 2012 1:59 PM

I know places that if I will go to – I will be beaten up. My point is – If you can’t deal with it – DON’T GO THERE. Simple. Does going there is life or death decision? NO. So stay away from there.

I am so tired of ” all men are sexist, they objectify rape and harass women” BS. How many times I was harassed by woman? MANY. Who cares? NOONE.

Rowan August 15, 2012 2:07 PM

“Nothing too bad for me personally and I never felt uncomfortable more than just average paranoia of not using my phone, laptop, or using a credit card. I’m sad to hear about the behavior but also want to say some of us didn’t have any problems there as women.”

I…wow. That a paragraph detailing the list of unwanted and persistent intrusions into the commenter’s social space, not to mention feeling the need to safeguard your basic possessions in a way that would never occur to most men, is summed up as “not having any problems” leaves me chilled. This is the culture that we as women are so immersed in every day that we begin to view it as “normal”.

It may in fact be “normal”, but it’s certainly not okay. I know this may be an ambitious goal given where DefCon seems to be starting from, but maybe we can aim to make it a safer place for people of all genders than the “normal” world?

lif bar August 15, 2012 2:09 PM


“Just have the bystanders show it to him, ”
Really? Do you know how often women start scenes just to make bystanders kick the hell out of some nothing wrong doing dude? It’s time women started defending themselves than making retarded people on high moral horse do stuff for them. After all – women as strong as men.

chuckufarley August 15, 2012 2:10 PM

Notice all of these incidents had one common factor – alcohol. If you want to keep these conferences professional, maybe you shouldn’t have them in Vegas and get shit faced drunk!

Eddy Van Halen August 15, 2012 2:19 PM

The lack of women is a huge reason why I skip Defcon. Not because I want to pick up women, but because any good social group has women in it.

It is creepy to go from party to party filled with just guys.

Good time to chill by the pool and sober up after Blackhat.

oopz August 15, 2012 2:28 PM

“It’s the men that need to change.”

No, it’s some men that need to change. Stop lumping us all in with the socially retarded idiots.

Rowan August 15, 2012 2:32 PM

And here we go with the cries of an epidemic of false accusations. The incidence and severity of people being damaged by false accusations of harassment is minuscule compared to the actual, real incidents of harassment faced, mostly by women, every day. Campaigning against anything being done about sexual harassment because of the chance of false accusations is like supporting the TSA xraying shoes because they might catch a shoe bomber, to use an example that may resonate with readers of this blog.

rebecca August 15, 2012 2:34 PM

Rowan – I’m talking about paranoia about being at a hacker conference. Nothing to do with men. I had no problems with men at Defcon. I did get hit on. I don’t view that as a problem because I was never uncomfortable.

Banasidhe August 15, 2012 2:41 PM

Full disclosure:

I have been attending DefCon since DCIV and I’ve had my share of confrontations with drunk idiots who think their flirting methods are acceptable. A well worded put-down almost always keeps these guys at bay. A well placed arm-bar or knee typically takes care of the rest. I played Vanna Vinyl at Hacker Jeopardy for three years (and Beer Betty once). I had hordes of guys asking me for photo-ops when I was all dolled-up for HJ. 99% of them didn’t recognise me during the day when I was in shorts and a tshirt w/no make-up.

I love DefCon and have no intention on not attending until DT calls it quits. It’s the one week out of the year that I get to spend with my friends and adopted from all over the world. DefCon has never been a “professional” conference. It’s a hacker convention/weekend long, cut-loose party with talks. (There are talks at DefCon? 😉 If you want professionalism, attend the BH conference the week prior.

DefCon may have a higher percentage of jerks in attendance, but they’re also 13,000+ strong. The jerk/nice guy ratio goes up the more attendees you have. Especially at a convention like DefCon, which is, in a lot of cases, the first Con a lot of these guys have ever attended. If we, as a community, as well as individuals, teach them, by example, how to behave at DefCon, they’ll behave better at the smaller conferences, where the community is more tight-knit and can self-police easier.

sine nomine August 15, 2012 2:43 PM

we desperately need guys who are willing to call out sexism when they see it. even more desperately, we need guys who won’t immediately reject the idea that they might have done something sexist themselves even if they didn’t realize it.

for women, speaking out is scary. you may be told that you’re overreacting. someone may suggest that chocolate would help that pms. an acknowledgement of the problem might be immediately followed by, “but that’s just how it is and there’s not much we can do.” the worst, i think, is when you get up the nerve to say something and are told there’s no problem at all.

if i approach you about something, it is because my discomfort in the situation outweighs my fears of being dismissed as a troublemaker or patted on the head. it is a hard thing to do; please realize that i am not doing it lightly. before you get defensive, ask me to explain why it bothers me. ask me what would be a better thing to do in the situation instead. ask me what i would like to have happen.

(this applies to allies who want to rush to our defense, too. i love you, but please let us set the agenda. don’t talk about what women want until you’ve spent a lot of time asking women, “what do you want?” you get better results than we do when you ask for change, so let’s make sure you’re asking for things that we really want.)

@mark, i did not realize that treating colleagues with respect regardless of gender was a feminine thing. it would explain a lot, but i don’t think it’s true. all i want is to be treated as if my brain is worth more than my boobs. i really don’t think my boobs should have anything to do with my work life unless i’ve got a job writing topless sql.

@rebecca, i’m glad you were lucky enough to avoid the sorts of things many many other women had to put up with. please remember that your good experience doesn’t change anything about the very bad experiences of other women. you did not directly encounter the problem in ways that you noticed, but the problem is there and it is real. for the last several years i’ve worked for a small software house, small enough that no one can afford to be a sexist jerk. it’s awesome and i love it, but working in happy-unicorn-rainbow-land doesn’t exempt me from caring about how women in tech are treated in general. i might want another job some day.

hackajar August 15, 2012 2:45 PM


The event itself was harmless, and very pro people, without any strippers or gogo dancers dancing on platforms or stages. This is not what the EFF wants, nor does organizers of event promote.

The kickstarter offered photo’s with DEF CON celebs, who kept their clothes on 100% of all public appearances (I cannot speak for what they must do, when they have to take a shower in private).

@Patrick Spinler

It is a bit irresponsible to use a comment made about a post, and mask it as if Bruce himself said it, in your proposed letter to the EFF.

Also, shouldn’t you contact the organizers of the event ran for and not ran by the EFF first?

In addition, if an excuse of I didn’t know it was someone else running event is used, does that not imply you are just shooting blind accusations without actually doing research into girls finding a cleaver way to support the EFF?

theSummit EFF Fundraiser Founder
NOT an EFF employee

Eddy Van Halen August 15, 2012 3:06 PM

@Irene: “This is endemic to the tech industry, and to the security industry – after nearly 20 years I’ve seen plenty of it across the board. Unfortunately, violence doesn’t work. Slapping, kicking, throat-punching someone who gropes you is very likely to get you badly hurt. The most effective response I know is (in a loud, disgusted tone) “Get away from me, you PERVERT.” That makes the offender into a laughingstock.”

That sounds like the best solution I have read on here or thought of.

A guy groping a woman like that has very little self-esteem and would likely burn in shame at such humiliation. This would also bring to notice everyone else around without starting a fight.

“The straw man argument of comparing assault and harassment to an overreaction to a compliment is easy to discredit.”

I see a few posters doing that and I think it is obviously disgusting.

My impression is that they have such little sexual experience and depend so much on all male herds they belong to, that their need to say what ‘all male herds want to hear’ absolutely out weighs their ability to decipher the different between right and wrong.

Though defcon does seem to me as a sea of virgin men, the majority of them are introverted and probably even sensitive.

Then, you have that minority who feels they are themselves the world’s biggest victim and so go around whining about imaginary complaints and ruthlessly rm-f anyone that can hope to hack.

They can not help but project their own inadequacies on any legitimate complaints and causes.

That sort might very well look for women and home in on them to prove themselves to their male buddies or simply to victimize someone.

Hopefully, these sorts get weeded out over time.

Daniel Franke August 15, 2012 3:19 PM

When I observe harassing behavior on the internet, my own form of “red card” is to link the harasser to Unfortunately this is a sufficiently common occurrence that I have that number memorized.

Lollardfish August 15, 2012 3:20 PM

It’s interesting to me to see a number of high profile responses to group sexist dynamics all at once.

  1. The New York Times article on sexual harassment in online and competitive gaming.
  2. The Readercon harassment decision and fallout
  3. This DefCon piece

All three emerge out of male-dominated communities with a high degree of overlap, though very different kinds of entry points. What’s new here is not the harassment, but the public calling out of said harassment. Even more, the discussion on boards just like this one of harassment as endemic to a culture (gaming, sci-fi fandom, hacker), and worthy of eradicating, gives me some hope for cultural change.

Cultural change never happens easily. It also never happens naturally. But you can norm behavior through coercive means (explusion of offenders, public commentary on offensive speech like the card system, even rules and laws). Spend enough time pressuring harassers and calling out harassing behavior, and we’ll get real change.

There is, though, a sub-text that sexualized content is necessarily pro-harassment. I’m not so sure it has to be, but perhaps that’s another topic.

RB August 15, 2012 3:32 PM

The problem is real, but DefCon and friends are simply magnifying lenses (albeit highly effective ones). That is to say, this issue is one with our society at large and not directly with our vocation or conferences.

Should it be solved at the vocation/conference level? Most likely, but merely because it’s a convenient chokepoint, not because such behavior is systematically encouraged (or really even ignored) at that level.

Chives August 15, 2012 3:57 PM

I am very disappointed. I have read many of Bruce’s articles for the past 3 or so years and have been very impressed by his work, only to see this get recommended to me.

Either you purposefully picked up a controversial cause to drive traffic to your site or you innocently picked up a controversial cause to drive traffic to your site. Your article does not add anything new to the topic matter and in fact just repeats what has already been said. I have read the original articles, I don’t need John Madden explaining to me what i read. You would be hard pressed to find a single person in the tech industry who did not read them, seeing as they trended at the top of HN for days.

If you actually wanted to make a difference, you would be talking to the people at DefCon or starting a boycott, or 1 of 9000 other things. Instead, you create a flame bait blog post and innocently wait for traffic to flow to your site. I now doubt every single statement you have ever made, you have sold your soul for the sake of traffic and comments and subscribers.



Keith K August 15, 2012 3:59 PM

If you have to change the entire culture of an event so that a certain group of people feel more welcome there, then clearly you just need a new event.
Super crazy scenario that can be compared:
What if white supremist made some WhiteyCon and at first nobody cared about it, but years later all of the redneck companies started hiring people that go there and suddenly it is seen as a ‘resource’ rather than just a private interest event. Will it suddenly come under attack by other groups to completely remove the core element so that other groups of people could join?

Granted this scenario is completely over the top, but I don’t think the people who make up the majority (per the article) of the event are going to just change; They would leave.
The problem is that aggressive and competitive personalities (nerds or not) are the type of people who make defcon and the entire field of security research what it is. We can’t remove that without destroying what makes it so successful.

History has an unending list of amazing things created by ‘assholes’ that fades into mediocrity once it is changed to be accessible by everyone. Unless you can make it so that women (sex) isn’t a desired object it is just going to keep happening.

Alathon August 15, 2012 4:00 PM

There seem to be a few different “we”s in this conversation. Some who want to change DefCon into a professional InfoSec conference with an emphasis on career-building and connections, some who like it as the social get-together & party for hackers who mostly don’t get to see each other in person, and victim-feminists who see another chance to get their two cents in.

For my part, I think the InfoSec Professional crowd ought to refocus on their own events and accept DefCon for what it is, rather than trying to hijack it’s cachet and trying to turn it into something that better suits their interests and comfort zone. It was a party first, and the people who want a party have dibs.

What I think the victim-feminists should do is unprintable.

Davi Ottenheimer August 15, 2012 4:08 PM

Well, the easy answer is to apply DEFCON solutions to DEFCON problems.

The “Wall of Sheep” mentality is corporal punishment at heart. Therefore, put anyone caught harassing others into stocks or pillory for public display for the rest of the conference. It would be best to strip them to their underwear for humiliation, approximating shock equivalent of a clear-text password scrolling up the big screen.

Unfortunately that calls into focus whether the Wall of Sheep tactic is really effective or is just a form of bullying. I’ve seen studies suggest shaming actually has a reverse effect and increases anti-social behavior / leads to higher risk

Alternatively, a harder solution might be clarifying authority and hacking together a more modern enforcement method.

Lollardfish August 15, 2012 4:09 PM

A few points.

@Chives – Not all the people who read this blog are in the tech industry. I’m a professor and hadn’t seen the story. Now I have. If you think “driving traffic” is Bruce’s agenda, you’ve probably not been a regular reader for very long. But if you think ignoring a major story in his industry would be standard practice here, well, then you probably haven’t been a regular reader for very long.

@Alathon – Does having a party mean you necessarily have free rein to touch anyone anywhere? I’ve been to a lot of parties over the years. Some of them involved public nudity and significant public displays of affection. And yet at none was it assumed that I could touch anyone, anywhere, without consequence. Having a party doesn’t mean tolerating harassment.

Tommy McGuire August 15, 2012 4:15 PM

I admit that I’ve never been to a DefCon, and that a “weekend long, cut-loose party” is not really my scene. On the other hand, I don’t really care what other people do. But if Hacker Jeopardy is an EFF fundraiser, I rather think the EFF doesn’t need any more of my money.

Oh, and @hackajar, when you wrote “The kickstarter offered photo’s with DEF CON celebs, who kept their clothes on 100% of all public appearances (I cannot speak for what they must do, when they have to take a shower in private)”, I suspect you have not done a Google image search for “defcon hacker jeopardy” recently. (Note: NSFW)

Anonymous August 15, 2012 4:16 PM

@Chives As a woman who faces this kind of “stuff” on a regular (though thankfully decreasing as the years pass) basis, having someone who has serious throw weight in the community say “this kind of behavior is bad” is a very good thing. For the folks pointing out defcon is a “party,” not a “conference” – how does this make this kind of behavior acceptable? Would you like me to come up behind you and slather some disgusting substance on your shoulder? Ridicule your appearance or treat you like an object that has no brain, never mind being? Yeah, didn’t think so. If you’re a guy geek you’ve put up with this kind of behavior from people in the world and look forward to cons as a place to get away from that. How on earth could you think its alright to make that kind of environment just as f’ed up as the rest of the world to other people just because we don’t have a Y chromosome? Seriously? That people do this kind of thing in the dark and while drunk or just high on being at the party is one thing. Stuff happens and some of that stuff is very bad and we just try to limit the damage. HOWEVER, that other people, in light of day and apparently with forethought think this is okay and not only that, object to it being called unacceptable behavior is…well, that’s appalling.

Alathon August 15, 2012 4:27 PM

@Lollardfish – Nope, and you sure as hell don’t lick someone without invitation. But that’s only a fraction of the behavior that’s being complained about and described as harassment. The whole “harassment” thing is a bit of a non sequitur.. this is a party, not your workplace, but the workplace definition of harassment is being used extensively as a way of skewing perception of the event.

Given the various anecdotes that have been presented about this DefCon, I’m not seeing a pattern of truly egregious behavior. I need more than “there were a couple assholes”, especially without context. Get enough people drunk and you’re statistically guaranteed some misconduct, and what I’ve heard matches my ‘edge of the bell curve’ expectations for such a large event.

What I am seeing is outrage from people who appear to have distorted ideas of what DefCon is.

hackajar August 15, 2012 4:33 PM

The key points some are trying to make, and get muddled down, I would like to attempt to make their point in a different way:

  • There is a LARGER issue with treatment of females in the world (Bars, parties, conferences, college, etc.)
  • Is DEF CON worse or better then the larger issue?

IMHO it is better then college dorms, it has improved year over year at DEF CON, to the point where more women are comfortable to attend.

In reference to kcdotcdot’s comments Bruce has referenced. I actually remember the “pillow fight” incident. It was at DEF CON 18, at the Rivieria, 2 years ago. Dumping old issues as if they were current issues makes the issue sound bigger then it really is! Also, it is just like saying “I do not like America, because they have slaves”. Yes, ONCE that was an issue, but CURRENTLY it is not.

LilJinni August 15, 2012 4:34 PM

Hello Yoshi, Patrick, Everyone,
I am a primary organizer for the EFF thursday night party, theSummit. And feel there are a couple of things here that need to be clarified.

  1. While we raise money for the EFF and they graciously suport us we are not directly affiliated with the EFF. And if not for anything else all feelings regarding theSummit should be directed at me and my associated of Vegas 2.0 as we are the responsible party.
  2. There were no strippers at theSummit. All woman were clothed.
    We have a reputation for running a classy event focused on giving attendees the opportunity to meet speakers.
  3. The photos in question were a selected perk to a kickstarter we offered. Something only 10 people purchased. They were NOT conducted at the summit.
    The photo was not with a stripper but (and I quote) “…with two of Defcon’s lovely ladies: Vinyl Vanna & Beer Betty”, long time persona’s of DefCon and Hacker Jeopardy. While “Vanna Vinyl” is known to strip (although not completely) WHEN the photo opportunity occurred was up to the paying party.
    This years “Vanna Vinyl” was fully clothed through out the rest of the conference.
  4. Regarding the comment of a woman being assaulted at the “EFF party” by being grabbed at the waist, licked, and propositioned. These are acts that I will not condone. And while, as a woman, I know telling authorities is not always the best response here, I am in shock that this is the first I have hear of any such acts occurring at theSummit.
    We have staffed security through out our event in plain cloths, lab coats, and even red shirts – it should also be noted that its not hard to find a female in these rolls who will help you out, including myself.

    As an organizer however I am disappointed that I am only now discovering these actions occurred. Half a dozen emails have recently flooded my inbox alerting me to to this blog – many from woman of the community. And while I do not take these situations lightly I wish the community would not either. — complaining to a blog over a year later is hardly constructive. Of all industries out there – InfoSec is one I would hope could understand the importance of time laps from a incident to action.

On a more personal note, for all of those who have not attended DefCon yet, I hope you are not so discouraged as to not attend. Obviously it is minds like yours that there is a lack of presence of. So be the change you want to see!!!

DefCon is what YOU make of it.


As a woman at con, Im quite proud to say I have never been offended at DefCon. But I also make it that way. I befriend the red shirts and gentleman, I introduce myself to many of the woman I see, I avoid parties of certain nature, and I find that 95% of the men at DefCon are complete gentlemen. It is truly one of the few times a year I NEVER have to open a door, as they are all opened for me.

Lollardfish August 15, 2012 4:39 PM

@Alathon – One comment and then I’ll stop posting.

I don’t see the workplace definition of harassment in play here, although I my lens could be colored by having recently spent more time reading about Readercon and gaming (as I posted above), which are analogous but not identical events.

The issue here seems cultural, not legal. Your response is typical – just a few bad (drunk) apples. Just victim-feminists trying to repress natural male urges. But you are resorting to defense mechanisms that elide what seems to be going on here.

Let’s assume that there are only a couple assholes (if you dig into the blog posts that seems to be an inaccurate assumption, but it’s useful for the lesson at hand, so we’ll stick with it). One asshole licks a woman on the shoulder. The question isn’t to what extent is that asshole’s behavior statistically within or outside the norm of behavior at Defcon … the question is what do the bystanders, the organizers, the promoters, the people who come and spend money at Defcon, the bloggers, the celebrities, and you …

What do you do about it when you see a man harass a woman?

Do you stop it?

If you do, congrats. You’re going to piss people off but do the right thing. If you don’t, you’re typical … but also at fault.

I try not to be at fault in my life. It’s not easy. Good luck to you.

hackajar August 15, 2012 4:43 PM

@Tommy McGuire

So your premise is that “Something done in the past, not currently, speaks for the current issues, period”?

The CURRENT fundraising efforts made by Hacker Jeopardy team, for – not on behalf of – EFF are null in void because of something that happend in the past?

Further, under your logic, I should not vote for a candidate if he accepted money from someone I didn’t like? What does the receiver have anything to do will the goodwill of the giver? Have you even looked at the major funder list for EFF? Have you looked at the policies and political affiliations of those givers? Is this really the issue you have? Or are you just saying threatening things hoping the EFF will be scared people will stop supporting them, and thus, take action on your behalf, towards organizations that you do not see eye to eye with?

Petréa Mitchell August 15, 2012 4:48 PM


Thank you for being willing to speak up.


Bruce’s latest book is about how social structures work to defeat bad behavior– how much more on-topic could he be than this very post???

Mishehu August 15, 2012 5:04 PM

To those who say that the location is part of the problem, I say “nay”. It sounds like there is a recurring theme here. This theme is a social breakdown that starts with the attendees and follows a further breakdown by the staff/organizers by their lack of properly handling these situations (and even worse by pouring gasoline on the fire).

What needs to be enforced is this… “Want to see naked boobies? Go to the strip club. But the female attendees and staff deserve your respect, and being a drunken idiot does not give you a free pass to be at best highly inappropriate and at worse physically invasive. Do that again, and you will be barred further entry to Defcon events with no refund.” There is a time and a place for all things. Obviously, I am not for “zero tolerance” policies, as those also mean “zero intelligence”. I figure as long as it’s not something requiring police involvement, a single warning should suffice.

Anybody who says that stopping this behavior would ruin hacker culture is off-base. It is only a part of hacker culture as long as we allow it to be. Just as segregation was a part of American culture but is no longer (and are we not a better American culture now in that regard?).

sl@ck August 15, 2012 5:23 PM

@Lollardfish seriously that is a loaded question. If you saw it at work? Of course you’d say something.

What about if you saw a man hitting on a woman at a bar or a nightclub? You’d probably get the bouncer which @liljinni the organizer of theSummit said there is plenty of.

I’ve never seen issues during the day at DEFCON (Again there is always a subset of issues at a gathering this large) however much like a club or bar there are always a subset of problems as the night rises and drinks pile on at both official and non-official parties.

theSummit and other official parties are more then willing to deal with issues that arise which was raised by @LilJinni and others if it was brought to their attention.

DEFCON is a volunteer ran event originally started as a party for friends. It has evolved to include security talks but at it’s core it’s always been about friends getting together and sharing experiences.

Expecting it to be a professional conference staffed by hired help is pushing it (PS All staff at DEFCON are volunteers and not paid minus DT).

Now society in general does need to do more for sexual harassment but suggesting DEFCON is anything worse then what happens at the local bar is disingenuous.

derka August 15, 2012 5:25 PM

Remember DEFCON is not for stuffed shirt middle mgt technocrats, corportists, whitehat drones or the timid who defer to authority. It is also not a university, there is no ridgid freedom inhibiting code of business conduct. If some drunk elf lord is annoying you then react the exact same as you would in a club, bar or the street. Douchebag security scavenger hunt aside this harassment is invented.

Ryan August 15, 2012 5:40 PM

Unless they can grow gray beards, women will have a hard time becoming crypto gray beards.

tz August 15, 2012 5:43 PM

So Defcon should introduce security theater in the form of platitudes?

The acts describe in the second excerpt violate CRIMINAL LAW. What the women should do is not try to get the conference organizers to play nanny, but CALL THE POLICE!. REPORT THE CRIME. PROSECUTE.

And even prosecute “The Defcon Security Team” if they do such things. Does her phone not have a video mode? OK, record that and livestream.

If the drunken rude bums don’t fear jail, or the police, why do you think they are going to fear conference “we won’t tolerate this!” boilerplate?

Ah, the freedom the destruction of Christendom and the rise of free-sex feminism has brought us. Perhaps too much freedom. What was the book you just wrote?

Rick Moen August 15, 2012 6:45 PM

@Lollardfish: ‘All three emerge out of male-dominated communities with a high degree of overlap.’

Polite correction: Literary science fiction fandom (as typified by volunteer-run SF convention such as Readercon) stopped being male-dominated in the 1970s, and never turned back. If you check some of the writings of Lois McMaster Bujold, you’ll encounter fascinating descriptions of the sudden and dramatic change (of which she herself was a part).

Also, the prevailing culture about harassment (in literary SF fandom) changed many years ago, too. It’s absolutely no longer regarded as in any way cute or endearing when a Big Name Author indulges wandering hands, for example. (Just ask Harlan Elison about that.) Yes, the bad apples continue to be a problem, and we’re lately trying to move more forcefully to correct it.

Rick Moen

catgrin August 15, 2012 6:49 PM

“sl@ck’s” comment (and attitudes like it) are a major part of the reason that these behaviors are allowed to continue.

DEFCON is a social gathering/party for hackers (It just happens to have security talks) and because of that you going to have drinking, parties, etc. The chance to run into individuals who are unsavory characters is probably pretty high. It’s not really a professional conference.

That’s not necessarily, so – it’s definitely a source of networking, with all the benefits that apply. It allows men and women who attend a chance to gain those benefits that they might otherwise never hear about. It’s both.

Even so, why should a party atmosphere be fun for men and a hazard for women?

Not only that, I am guaranteed to attend only one Con per year – a movie festival hosted by a theater that serves alcohol in it. For the full week, I am at a location where the festival is sponsored by beer, and beer is not only consumed – it’s sometimes actually given away free! There are several very drunken parties – often held at a full bar owned by theater in the same complex as the theater itself.

In my five years of attendance, I have NEVER heard about a woman being mistreated at any of the parties, or the arcade, or in the dark of the theater during the week long festival. Apparently movie fans are more interested in movies and fun than in harassment.

Anon August 15, 2012 7:11 PM

What possible motivation would society have to make hacking more socially acceptable?

Looks to me like working as intended. In time they will alienate a large enough contingent of society that the whole movement will quietly go away.

Dennis Groves August 15, 2012 7:54 PM

I am compelled to say that the women of OWASP are amazing, and in our community we not only appreciate them but the hold positions of power and influence. In fact OWASP is literally run by women.

If any women would like to find a home in information security, where women are as respected as any other professionals in the field; we will welcome you with open arms at OWASP!

Dennis Groves,
Founder of OWASP

sine nomine August 15, 2012 8:03 PM

okay, i really am going to step away after this. sigh.

“suggesting DEFCON is anything worse then what happens at the local bar is disingenuous”

“not worse” <> “acceptable.” if i steal a doll from a kid i’m not any worse than the guy who stole his candy a moment ago, so i’m good? you cannot excuse bad behavior because other people are doing worse things elsewhere. if a cop pulls you over for speeding and you tell her that it’s not any worse than what the other drivers are doing, she will roll her eyes and hand you a ticket.

“rigid freedom inhibiting code of business conduct”

treating other human beings with basic respect can seem freedom-inhibiting if you prefer to be a douchebag, yes. otoh, it’s hard to get much accomplished if you’re working with a room full of douchebags.

“not try to get the conference organizers to play nanny, but CALL THE POLICE!”

dude, seriously? pick one. either it’s serious enough that the police should be involved or it’s trivial enough that bringing it to the attention of the organizers would be asking them to play nanny. you can’t have both.

i’d like you to try an experiment. get a female friend to call the police and report that a stranger just licked her shoulder. hold your breath until they arrive. start breathing again before you pass out, because you cannot live without oxygen for that long. women who have been raped have a hard time getting the authorities to listen; you think the cops will take a report of shoulder-licking seriously? you think someone is going to go to jail because he licked a stranger’s shoulder? it was a horrible thing for the guy to do and it would have creeped me out for weeks, but it is not something your local law-enforcement officer is going to consider his problem. this is squarely in the realm of internet law. it’s not a practical or useful suggestion.

also, i can’t stop giggling at the idea that a bunch of hackers would be more afraid of the police than of social disapproval. someone you really respect saying “that was a dick move” is much more effective than some random cop (who wouldn’t show up anyway) lecturing you about personal boundaries.

John David Galt August 15, 2012 8:49 PM

Some of the behavior you described is indeed unacceptable and should result in appropriate peer pressure. But criminalizing it or even expelling people for it (when “it” stops short of violence) is excessive.

Too many countries and venues already engage in this kind of politically-correct cultural warfare against guys being guys. It’s important to stop it from spreading. Everyone who attends conventions and other public events should grow a thicker skin, or stay home. The feminazis are the real bigots.

Zian August 15, 2012 10:24 PM

I’d like to back up Mr. Groves’s comment. I attended an OWASP conference <3 years ago and I observed no sexual harassment.

joe August 16, 2012 12:32 AM

The most depressing thing about all this is the huge amount of denial I see in the comments.

If this community (the hacker community at large) is 95% constituted of males it is auto-evident that there is some huge gender problem here.

And the comments here are just a confirmation.

Victor August 16, 2012 1:23 AM

@sine nomine

“even more desperately, we need guys who won’t immediately reject the idea that they might have done something sexist themselves even if they didn’t realize it.”

I am afraid that I might have been an accidental stalker and probably a few women have felt harassed by me in the past. It seems that nobody is willing to talk about the guy side, where the guy is behaving badly without realizing it at the time. I am not sure this really fits the topic of the discussions here, but if there is some interest, I can write more details.

R Cox August 16, 2012 1:33 AM

First, the predictable comments blaming women and femi-nazis. Sad. When someone runs a red light and kills the passenger in your car, is it your fault? No. The women are just trying to do their job, just like everyone else, and they have to deal with little boys groping them.

Second, I don’t think this is a problem with just geeks. I think that geek women are just unusually empowered because technical fields focus more on real skills rather than soft talents like developed abs and big breasts. Therefore employers, contractors, educational administrators are much more likely to respond a female complaint. It is much easier to replace a well developed body than it is to replace a well developed mind. This is good news.

So to fix this we have to fix society. Many boys are told that it does not hurt to hit on a girl because the worst they can say is no. In high school girls are all too often placed in a position where they are sex objects, and boys are expected to compete for them. How many colleges still handle date rape internally instead of involving the police?

I understand that some may be confused when at a evening party at a conference. It seems like a social situation so why not hit on every chick in hope of getting lucky? I suppose they have the same problem differentiating an office party from a purely social outing with friends. I suppose that differentiating context is no longer a critical skill in technical professions.

Jeff H August 16, 2012 3:02 AM

I am reminded of the Smut On Rails incident (Martin Fowler wrote a great piece about that) which caused Mike Gunderloy to leave the Ruby on Rails community.

As Martin wrote then ‘I can’t choose whether someone is offended by my actions. I can choose whether I care.’

It really depresses me that some commenters are actually defending the sort of behaviour outlined in Bruce’s article. Making excuses like ‘It’s Las Vegas’ or ‘you should have a thicker skin’ or ‘it’s not a professional conference’ – no. Sorry. Not acceptable. Conferences are about bringing different people together, or they’re not conferences, they’re just clubs. Pick what kind of environment you want to have, but you can only pick one.

Anon August 16, 2012 4:00 AM

“The community continues with more alienating events, encouraged by the fact that those who are more sensitive are no longer around to object. This encourages more departures as people don’t want to be associated with such a community. Thus develops a positive feedback loop making the rails world increasingly brash and unwelcoming for many of us.

I have a different vision – one that sticks it to the suits so hard it will make their eyes water. How about a community where women are valued for their ability to program and not by the thickness of their skin? How about a community that edgily pushes new boundaries without reinforcing long running evils? Perhaps even a community where women reach equal numbers? Such a community would hand the suits the defeat in the long battle women have been fighting for centuries. I’d love to be part of that.”

This is sure some pie in the sky reasoning. So of you need to get out some, and have some real life social experiences. Even the people who you would say are the perfect example of “good people” engage in startlingly nasty behavior. We need change, but you’re only seeing the symptoms.

Mike B August 16, 2012 7:04 AM

I blame the con being in Las Vegas which will taint anything that is hosted there with Las Vegas style morality. For that and other reasons Las Vegas is on my blacklist and I will never attend a con, conference, workshop, symposium or other event there.

I don’t understand why this and Black Hat are located in Vegas to begin with. I guess one reason is so all the hackers can go try to scam the casinos or something, but considering that 90% of the attendees are going to lose money in their gambling attempts I don’t really find that argument convincing.

Hopefully once the water runs out and Vegas turns back into a desert these two conferences can move to more sensible environs.

Clive Robinson August 16, 2012 7:11 AM

One thing I note from this thread so far is that people are making a lot of assumptions (on both sides) and some are calling the results excuses.

What I have not seen much of is comments along the line of “people are a product of their environment”.

Most but not all children learn what is good and bad behaviour as they grow by making mistakes and being corrected or observing others make mistakes and seeing those people. being corrected.

People are a product not just of society as a whole but the various micro societies they live and work in.

People also assume incorrectly that human drivers that are effectivly hard wired into the brain by evolution can be repressed or controlled. History has shown that whilst a very few (saintly?) humans can do this the vast majority cannot and when society tries to repress basic human drivers in some people the drivers escape in other usually more undesirable directions.

As others have noted above some behaviours are becoming nolonger acceptable in society in general, unfortunaly some micro societies for various reasons lag behind the norms.

For instance any one who has worked on a “dealing floor” back in the Thatcher/Reagan years will know the very low levels of respect with which women were treated. And it is not hard to find such behaviours and attitudes still very much engrained within such institutions today.

So the question should then becomes why do such attitudes and behaviour persist in micro societes or societies in general?

There are many answers to this, but in part it’s by social education and in part by acceptance both on the part of those managing such people and by those working with them.

Unfortunatly in some careers it is a Macho/Ego attitude problem of “I’m a success with money, therefore I’m a success in all areas of life” and as has been pointed out there are always a few people quite happy to pander to such egos for their own benifit.

This has a knock on effect in that such behaviour becomes associated with success and is seen almost as a “perk of the job”. For instance there are certain clubs and other establishments in the UK frequented by Premier footballers (soccer players) where such behaviour is effectivly required otherwise they “lose face” infront of their peers. Which gives rise to other Macho behaviour, such as “champagne duels” which are far from rare and from which the establishments profit greatly as they can end up costing the participents over one hundred thousand pounds in very very over priced fizzy wine which usually remains opened but not drunk.

In other cases the Macho comes about in other ways, it is not unknown for “coding duels” to take place especialy in those who very probably have poor or no social communications skills. These often form marathon coding sessions where participents “pull all nighters” and survive on highly caffinated drinks and high Fat/Carb fast food. They feel in some cases that as they are “Masters of the Universe” over technology they should reap the rewards of such in other areas of life just as the footballers and City Boys do.

The reality is they have neither the personality or the money to do any such thing. This lack of reality however does not stop them behaving in the same bad way, only they are not likley to find those who pander to their desires as in effect they do not have the money, social graces/tallent or physical attractiveness and lets be honest “sexy code” is only sexy in their and their peers minds.

There is also another facet to the aspect of lack of or no “social communications skill” in the stricter psychological meaning. Some people (~2% of the general population of which ~80% are male) just do not develop social communications and this is recognised as being part of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders. It just so happens that this trait often goes hand in hand with a great deal of attention to detail or even “savant” ability that makes them good engineers and programers (12-250% more prevelent than the normal population). It also accounts for why less than15% of ASD sufferes can hold down full time jobs, and if they can rarely if ever get promoted into management positions. It is why in some parts of the world Autisim is recognised as a significant “disability” just the same as those people with significant physical disability.

All of these things are factors of the problem not excuses and unless we discuss them rationaly and effectivly emotionlessly we will fail to resolve the issues of what are currently considered socialy undesirable behaviours.

A August 16, 2012 7:38 AM

Bavig read the original blog post, i wonder how many others did. One creepy guy out of 13k acted creepy. Now, for some unknown reason, the other 12999 people are painted as creepy, and part of some dark evil?

I grant you that the behavior was bad and needs correction, but aren’t we blowing this particular incident out of proportion? Kinda like what tsa seems to do?

A August 16, 2012 7:39 AM

To expand pn my previous post, brice claims that ‘this is a real problem for our community’. What is the nimber of creey people per capita in our community. And how does that compare with other communities and he larger community?

mashiara August 16, 2012 8:44 AM

WTF is wrong with some people ? Were you not raised to be gentlemen ? (a redundant question this day and age it seems even though I’m very young compared to some of the regulars)

horrible behaviour is horrible behaviour and while history and circumstances might explain some if it it definitely should not be acceptable. If you see a wrong you should at least speak up.

I agree that listing definitely unacceptable behaviour will help, if only because it makes people think about the issue.

I also think that focusing on rare cases of gross overstepping of bounds is detrimental: 1. it puts everyone on defensive (“I’m not like that”) 2. it shadows the smaller violations that make bulk of them problem.

I also think that there is a limit to much much the current norms in these subgenres should be changed towards the ultra-PC. And for every gross violation (which are rare) there is also a “victim” feeling harassed for something that would be acceptable in all but the most PC settings.

Clear communication is key here, the victim (I hate that word btw) needs to say to the harasser that he (gender indefinite pronoun, let’s not go to the ey stuff here) needs to stop right now. The situation might not warrant it being done in a publicly humiliating fashion (which might just escalate the problem) too, use your intelligence.

The decent people the harasser considers his peers need to speak up too, again maybe privately first, public humiliation puts people on very defensive mode and then they simply cannot see their errors.

I know firsthand that clear communication is important because for a while I was courting a girl I knew and didn’t realize she wasn’t really comfortable with that (she never said anything about it and I’m quite bad in reading social situations), I needed other people pointing out what I could not see myself. Of course I felt horrible, not just because of the rejection, but because of how uncomfortable she must have been.

“Friends don’t let friends be creeps” applies even when no malice is actually intended.

Pete August 16, 2012 8:55 AM

So apparently members of a community which prides itself on not playing by the rules are – Surprise! – not playing by the rules.

Does this excuse their behavior? Absolutely not. In fact, it makes the job of Defcon organizers more important with regards to setting the tone of the conference. As others have said, moving away from Las Vegas might be a start.

Patrik August 16, 2012 8:58 AM

Isn’t there an overreaction over these incidents very much like any other rare and unpleasant incident, like terrorism? Someone at a convention somewhere touched somebody else, the news is spread like wildfire, echoed on every blog and news outlet and now organizers rush to implement all kinds of regulation that actually will not solve the problem but shows that “they take it seriously” etc.

All incidents occur outside of the convention center out-of-reach of the organizers, at bars with drunk people. But hey, as long as we feel safe…

Adam D August 16, 2012 9:21 AM

@A: It’s enough of a problem that people are put off attending. To me, that’s sufficient for it to mean it needs addressing.

@Patrik: I think the problem is that these incidents aren’t rare. Look at the list of stories just one attendee gives in the OP. All that happening to one person (and being actively encouraged by the site security) mean we’re not talking about a “a rare and unpleasant incident”.

chrysippus August 16, 2012 10:06 AM

@derka: “If some drunk elf lord is annoying you then react the exact same as you would in a club, bar or the street.”

This presupposes that I as a woman have a pre-existing mechanism for dealing with harassment, and that the problem here is merely my failure to deploy that mechanism appropriately. But for the love of God why should I be presumed to come to the situation already in possession of such a mechanism? The notion seems to be that harassment is intrinsic to being female, that I will necessarily experience a constant (even if low-grade) background harassment in my life such that I could not possibly avoid having already developed defensive techniques.

Though this may empirically be true, it is morally outrageous. I should not be obliged to approach my daily life prepared for attack, and any environment that assumes otherwise is unacceptable.

Sam Axe August 16, 2012 10:58 AM

I’ve been to DC a few times and it’s a place that going in, people must know that the con will be attended by every spectrum of society, from the most polite persons to the most extreme exhibitionists. Every time I’ve met up with friends there and we had a female co-worker(s) or friend(s) in the group I, as well as all the guys in the group watched out for them. Anything goes at DC in vegas and it’s just a fact of the environment. So it’s upon all the respectful men attending to watch out for the ladies attending.

If a lady is being harassed do something. She didn’t ask to be targeted and hopefully your good deed will at least lessen the bad feelings she has about attending such conferences and being targeted by disrespectful persons.

I do enjoy DC, I always end up meeting old friends from around the world and meeting new ones, which alone is great reason to attend, but there are some things i would change. That’s a whole other topic though.

Eric August 16, 2012 11:00 AM

After reading some of the hotlinks in the above article, I see clearly the sexual harassment being described is just that: sexual harassment. These incidents aren’t merely failed attempts to flirt, a misunderstanding of desires, or stepping on the other’s toes at the dance. If it were something as innocent as asking someone you’re already talking to “what are you doing tonight,” and it’s not reciprocated, I would chalk it off as harmless interaction. But there are people who are physically touching women, or saying obscenely lewd things to them, at these cons.

Alex August 16, 2012 11:17 AM

It looks like the main thrust of the argument for reducing the “brogammer” element to these kinds of conferences is a mix of:
– missing out on interesting voices from talented woman programmers who don’t care for the environment and avoid the conferences
– the unfairness of an environment where there are no alternatives – women who skip out on the conferences have significantly reduced access to resources and opportunities

There’s an obvious assumption which no one seems to have mentioned, though – the assumption that the perpetrators, those who create and maintain the environment, can change without much cost to themselves or the community.

Will the community lose anything (in terms quality and/or quantity of attendees) with these kinds of changes?

I’m not trying to troll here. Attendees are international – including people from countries where the acceptable norm of behaviour is different; we’re also mostly hackers – not ones to waste a lot of time learning social skills.

M. August 16, 2012 11:30 AM

I read the linked blog post. To me it seems the perpetrators were drunk. In this way I think the described environment is comparable to a generic place and time anywhere in our society, where there is a large group of people who are drunk and do not know each other well.

If there is a solution, it would be equally great for both sexes. Most of us would probably agree that on any Saturday evening, bar closing time, one is far more likely to receive verbal abuse, threats or violent assaults, if one is male.

Or, perhaps I have misunderstood the issue, and the victims of abusive behaviour in Defcon are mostly women?

Priest August 16, 2012 11:58 AM

Hello Bruce. I was sorry I didn’t get a chance to catch up with you this year. Perhaps next year…

By the way Priest here. Yep. That Priest.

Def Con has a zero tolerance policy regarding harassment of ANY kind. If an attendee of either gender (last I checked it was two but if there is more my apologies) feels in any way harassed, sexually or otherwise, every staff member of Def Con and specifically the Security Goons stand ready to address the issue quickly, professionally, and courteously.

To be clear ANY harassment of ANY kind is treated as a very serious matter and will be addressed immediately and with the appropriate level of response to the action(s) on the part of the person(s) committing the harassment.

If an attendee does not feel comfortable speaking with a Security or other Goon for whatever reason or is unable to find one then I would ask that they find me and I will personally deal with the issue. If they cannot find me then I would ask they go to the Info Booth or Dispatch (Dispatch is located behind Human and Inhuman registration and is staffed from shortly before 1000 hrs to well into the wee hours of the morning) and have me paged over the radio.

As to the nonsense that has been spreading about how Security Goons specifically and Goons in general are not interested/actively harass/etc… That is absolute nonsense and quite frankly it’s insulting. Our mission and the reason why we take the time off from our lives is to ensure that the attendee’s have a safe and enjoyable time at Def Con. For us it really is a labor of love and devotion to the community in general and to Def Con specifically.

Rowan August 16, 2012 12:26 PM

Priest: You’re putting the lie to your own words. On the one hand, you say that any allegations of harassment are taken seriously and responded to appropriately. But then you call the reports of Security encouraging harassment “absolute nonsense” and completely dismiss them without, it would seem, any consideration at all.

A better response would have been: “And because we take such matters seriously, I will be making a thorough investigation. If any Security volunteers or staff were involved, they will be disciplined or removed, as appropriate.”

moo August 16, 2012 12:46 PM

@Stephen Morley:

That image of Lena has been used many many times in computer graphics circles, usually as a demonstration of the properties of image compression or image filtering algorithms. It dates from the 70’s, and is as ubiquitous in computer graphics as the Utah teapot.

Anyway, what’s the problem with it? Your post implies that you disapprove of using this particular image for some reason. The image was originally published in Playboy magazine in 1973, but the researchers who first scanned it cropped out the naughty bits. Good test data was not easy to come by in the 70’s (you couldn’t just download an image from the internet, or scan one with your own scanner..) which probably contributed to its wide reuse. More recently, graphics researchers continue to choose this image not out of some misogynistic spite, but rather because it has “a nice mixture of detail, flat regions, shading, and texture that do a good job of testing various image processing algorithms.”

hackajar August 16, 2012 12:47 PM


So I should walk down street with sign that says how much money is in my pocket and all purses and bags should be clear for everyone to see contents? Should all locks be banned?

To say that you should not be on guard for a well documented crime is pretty obtuse.

Adam D August 16, 2012 12:48 PM

@Alex: If we’re inviting people from anywhere, US or Timbuktu, they should be held to decent standards of behaviour. I wouldn’t expect a mugger’s behaviour to be explained as “oh, that’s just what it’s like where they’re from”, and I don’t think it’s an excuse for anyone else either.

@Priest: Your comments about security being willing to address reports of harassment seem disingenuous when the security team is actively encouraging harassment with the competition mentioned in the OP.

hackajar August 16, 2012 12:59 PM

@adam d

The cards were not official and, when discovered by head of security, was banned and originator of cards was removed from staff.

Priest August 16, 2012 1:08 PM

Hello Rowan and Adam,

Other than the well intentioned but not very well thought through”show me boobs” issue that came up last year I am not aware of any cases where Goons actively engaged in our encouraged harassment. If you have specific cases and can provide me with enough information where the Goon(s) engaging in it can be identified I promise you it will be addressed. Security Goons are held to a much higher standard than attendees are and any issue that comes up is investigated and where appropriate action is taken.

As to the “boob card” canard, as I mention above it was well intentioned but wasn’t well thought out. As is the case with many things the thought process was that it would not be just about women and that men or even Barbie dolls (and there was one case of such) would be part of it and it would be a way to make relations between Sec Goons and attendee’s something other than what it normally is. That being at a time of trouble of some kind. A way to “humanize” the Goons.

Unfortunately in practical application it didn’t turn out the way it was thought it would, was very offensive to some people, regardless of it being offensive or not was not appropriate, and was quickly addressed by senior staff both last year and reenforced this year with a very specific briefing to all Sec Goons on appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior.

To turn this isolated incident into an indictment against the Security Goon team as a whole and to claim that is is proof of a systemic and persistent issue speaks very poorly of those who would try to do so. In essence said people have either a hatred of the Goons because they were on the receiving end of Goon attention because they were doing something they shouldn’t and thus want revenge or are pushing an agenda with the philosophy that the ends justify the means to which I would refer them to Nietzsche’s quote regarding the Abyss and say “Shame on you!”.

As I have said at previous conventions we are doing the best we can with what we have, we will make mistakes, and most importantly we will address those mistakes as they happen. This applies to the aforementioned. We caught it, investigated it, addressed it appropriately, and will ensure that that it does not happen again.

So again if you are able to provide me with specific examples of specific Goon’s, Security or otherwise, who have encouraged and/or engaged in harassment of any kind it will be addressed promptly and appropriately.

That said if you come up with some half baked commentary about a friend of a friend’s girlfriend (or boyfriend) who was harassed by a tall short thin fat light dark bearded clean shaven full head of hair bald guy in a red shirt that could have been a Goon in the right lighting I would say “Shame on you!” And that you are pushing an agenda rather than raising a real concern.

Marsh Ray August 16, 2012 2:06 PM

I propose a hack to solve this: some percentage of men going to hacker conferences go dressed as women.

  1. It shows that there are men around brave enough to take a stand against harassment. This display will discourage harassment and may even help more women attend.
  2. It provides a cover of chaff for those women who do attend. It obligates the creepers to think twice before making an unwanted advance, i.e., imposes computational complexity costs.

Lest anyone think I’m just making an excuse to do this, I’ve never dressed as a woman before. But I’m always up for a social engineering hack for a good cause.

Who’s with me?

Peter A. August 16, 2012 2:12 PM

@Mike B. “I don’t understand why this and Black Hat are located in Vegas to begin with”

There are a couple of reasons.

  1. A flashy place-name attracts attendees.

  2. Low hotel rates. While I have no info on all-place-out conference rates, I expect them to follow low individual room rates. The hotel owners simply try to attract people with low room rates in hope they make up the loss with gambling income.

Rowan August 16, 2012 2:32 PM

Priest: I’m happy to hear that the incident was looked into and the offender removed from Security. It’s curious to me that you didn’t mention that in your first comment, choosing instead to focus on how “insulted” you felt by the idea that your organization’s culture may have contributed to the reasons why the incident happened.

I know it’s not easy when an organization and event you’ve spent a lot of volunteer time on is criticized or there are incidents that reflect badly on it. However, I have to say that your defensive and angry tone in these posts is likely to discourage many people from believing that you welcome feedback and further reports of disturbing behavior.

By coming out swinging, you’ve made it sound like your first priority is defending, rather than bettering, your group.

Quadling August 16, 2012 4:19 PM

I blogged about this twice. Apparently there is bias in the world. Surprise.

@Priest is not being defensive. The goons were questioned last year. Seriously questioned. The investigation was complete, thorough and pretty damn professional.

In my blog posts, I also strongly push the chain of command. Sorry, Priest, I mentioned Nikita, not you, as I thought it would be easier for people to deal with her if they were traumatized. And I know she would immediately get you on the radio. Priest happens to be a gentleman, a scholar, and a good man. His values propagate into the goon organization. They are proud to know that their efforts allow, encourage, and help people to have a good time. Harassment is DEALT with.

I interviewed KC (@KdotCdot) at Defcon, in the iBar at the Rio, with @Tkimball, and @kickfroggy, there. My first blog post goes over the interview.

Essentially, sexual harassment is bad. No arguments. It should not be tolerated. No arguments. Report it if you are the victim, a bystander, if you think it is happening, whatever. Report it, the goons/security/staff/crew (depending on the event) will handle it and potentially call the police, if the event warrants it. The measures they will go to to protect a victim or potential victim are extreme.

There is no length to which they will not go. I have seen people be walked home, a guard placed on them, meals bought, hotel rooms donated, therapy sessions happen, you name it.

I am staff at a number of conferences, and I am proud to be so. We do a damn good job. If an incident of harassment is reported, we handle it.

To be honest, I’m a little confused. We all agree harassment is wrong, right?

Ok. Do we all agree that harassment should be reported? I think so.

Should the perpetrator of harassment be punished/removed/handed over to Local Law enforcement, whatever is appropriate? We all agree on that, too.

So why the arguments? Oh, because some people here are equating the fact that there are fewer women than man in InfoSec with harassment? That’s utter crap.

I strongly encourage women and men to join InfoSec. Talented people, who are willing to work. I don’t care what sex or gender or orientation or genitalia you have. I want to hang out with the smartest people I can find, because I learn neat stuff, and have a good time.

Look, at cons, whether sceptic, infosec, republican, or theological, there should be a rule. There is at the cons I go to.

Don’t be a dick.

James Sutherland August 16, 2012 4:23 PM

“What I find interesting are the number of suggestions for things women can do. When it is the men whose behavior needs to stop.”

Logical in a way – but ultimately, the women control their own behaviour, but not the men’s. It would be nice if the men did change, just as it would be nice if spammers stopped sending spam and various Korean IPs stopped trying dictionary logins on SSH – but pragmatically, it’s usually easier and more effective to block the offender at the other end.

It’s the usual local/global action question: individually, there are things to do to reduce the harm it does to you – and there are other things we should all to to reduce the harm done to all. I filter out spammers from my own Inbox, and I make sure to report them to their ISPs to stop them getting to other people’s inboxes too. In this case, we all need to fix the harassment equivalent of “open relays” – like the head of security did by stamping out the “punchcard” nonsense.

Priest August 16, 2012 4:25 PM

Cheers Rowan.

My apologies that it came off defensive. That was not my intent. And on the subject frankly one of the biggest issues I personally have with communication via this medium is that the normal non verbal signals that we each pick up on when talking face to face or even over the phone are absent and thus the message can become unintentionally distorted. I am afraid this is the case here.

So let me do my best to make my position as clear as I can.

Am I angry about it? Actually no I am not. What I am is saddened because it reflects poorly upon me personally and everyone else on staff that we have given you, members of this community, the impression that we would ever condone or promote tacitly or otherwise such behavior.

Because of that my intent with this and the previous postings was to communicate with you, the members of this community, in no uncertain terms our collective dim view of such behavior, our desire to let you know in no uncertain terms that we consider such behavior absolutely unquestionably unacceptable and that we have and have had controls and policies in place to deal with such behavior promptly, appropriately, and with the utmost respect and compassion for the harassed as well as professionally (and to be honest I am only human and as much as I personally would like to take the jerk outside to have a… Fireside chat with him/her I will not) and courteously with the harasser. Period. Full Stop. I am sorry if it was interpreted any way but that way. That was not my intent.

To be honest regarding that one incident I didn’t think it was relevant. In my mind it was dealt with quickly and appropriately when it was brought to our attention and thus a non issue beyond use as an example without the full facts in evidence and because the people citing it didn’t have the full facts to bypass it. A mistake on my part. My apologies.

So to be clear let me again state that regardless of the person(s), what they are or are not wearing, their particular agenda, orientation, philosophy, world view, beliefs, or anything else I am forgetting here that has been brought up or not harassment of any sort is NOT ACCEPTABLE. We want to hear about it and it will be addressed without prejudice, discrimination, or profiling.

We as the staff are here to serve you the members of the community at Def Con and ensure that you have the best most informative enjoyable time possible while ensuring that you remain safe and are not improperly infringing on others ability to do the same. If we are not doing that we are failing you. We welcome your constructive feedback and do our best not to make mistakes but when we do to acknowledge them and make sure not to repeat them.

Priest August 16, 2012 4:28 PM

@Marsh Ray- Mate as much as I want to dress up in women’s clothing just like dear Papa[1] you REALLY don’t want to see me in a dress! :LOL:

[1] credit to Monty Python’s Flying Circuit Lumberjack Sketch written by Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Fred Tomlinson

Priest August 16, 2012 4:41 PM


Thank you. But to be fair and to be honest it is not MY values and philosophy that has infused the Goon Squad. The members of the team are that way when they come to us and are by far some of the most outstanding human beings I have ever had the pleasure to work beside. If they were not of that caliber already they would not be invited to the team.

Once you get to know us outside of when you usually see us which is usually when you and/or we are not at out best because someone(s) is having a bad time of it and we are there to help in any way we can you will find that we tend to be pretty good and fun people.

And remember there are women Sec Goon’s as well!

Also to be fair we, including me AND all of you, are all human. We do have lapses in judgement or make mistakes or react inappropriately and thus things do happen.

What is important to know is that not only senior staff but the line animals themselves are on the lookout for it and do our collective best to put a stop to it. Most of the time all it takes is a quiet word from a peer. Occasionally a senior staff gets involved. Rarely does it need to go beyond that but it does if warranted.

On a completely different topic but one of interest we put pedometers on some of the Goons. Turns out we walk an average of between 10-12 miles a day while at Con on a given shift. Something to think about…

J August 16, 2012 5:03 PM

The statement Rowan makes “…choosing instead to focus on how “insulted” you felt by the idea”, ironically seems to be an occurring theme by all those who have posted with accusations against Goons, the EFF, theSummit, DefCon and other cons alike.

I cant blame Priest for coming of a bit offended when his team of security goons and extensive efforts to correct these types of issues have been dragged into this flame war.

I personally feel 99% of the accusations of sexism/assault/and or possible undertones are cowardly and completely unproductive. Right, wrong, (il)legal, (un)justified, wrong place, industry or social; I cant help but feel someone is profiting off this intentional community divide. There are 100’s of ways to better address this matter – many listed here as to start or in process.

I implore – has the creator of these red/yellow cards – who openly admits getting more money then expected/needed – personally profited off this? Has she done anything to actually add value to the situation (besides start an age old social wide debate that already existed). Maybe that money should go to a scholarship or woman friendly party.

All I see here are a bunch of grown adults yelling and pointing fingers at the community while community leaders, event organizers, and long time attendees trying eagerly to point out this is unacceptable behavior and there is constantly maturing within the community but yet chastised because the didn’t address all your personal concerns or mis-worded something.

What are YOU (I’m looking at you whom are the accusers, offended, and insulted), going to do to make the situation better? Boycotting, flamewars, punishing groups like theSummit, Goons, and EFF – who are the very people trying to pave the way to a better culture. How is this going to help?

Lets not focus on every misused comma or effort that didn’t get superhero effects – get off your keyboard and do something productive! Volunteer for DefCon – Ask to be a part of theSummit (both very inviting to volunteers and conversations). Get involved in groups. Dont like the sexist parties at Defcon. Start your own!! I promise you its not easy. I guarantee not every attendee will be content with your efforts. BUT at least it will be more productive then printing some novelty red/yellow cards and throwing a tantrum your blog.

sine nomine August 16, 2012 6:30 PM

i absolutely do not understand how someone thought it would be fun and harmless to walk around a gathering of computer professionals asking people to show their tits. man, woman, or barbie doll. seriously, the fuck?

what i’m hearing the men in this thread say, for the most part, are things like:

  • harassment is inevitable
  • ladies need to be protected
  • ladies shouldn’t have to take preventative action, but if they don’t want to be harassed they had better have a plan
  • reporting harassment is important and will result in swift action against the offender
  • reporting harassment is cowardly and most reports are false anyway
  • asking men to treat women as professional equals will damage the culture, and it’s important to consider the damage that will be done to the culture by asking men to treat everyone at the conference with respect (not just the other men)

stop for a moment and think about a conference where guys in speedos were brought in to make thing more fun and lighten up the mood. what about powerpoint presentations that feature crotch shots of men in tight underwear? would you really like it that much if random women, some of whom might be incredibly unattractive to you, grabbed your ass because they thought it would be harmless fun? what if it happened a few times a day? do you really want to work in an environment like that? we don’t.

every time someone dares to mention this, they get shouted down by people who want to insist that the problem exists only in the minds of overly-sensitive women. it does not matter how many incidents are reported or how egregious the violation, the women are overreacting or should have known better or should have done x, y, z.

talented people are being driven away from the tech field because of this kind of thing. potentially talented people aren’t even trying to enter the field because they don’t see the point.

we are not asking that men do anything extraordinary: we would just like you to keep your hands, stares, and suggestive comments to yourself and focus on the tech.

Will August 16, 2012 7:39 PM

Sine: I think the assumption you’re making about a conference or gathering of computer professionals ignores that this is not only the Las Vegas conference, but that the incidents generally happen outside the conference proper at any number of parties. And these are typically Vegas parties in every sense.

This doesn’t excuse anything that happens at Defcon, but should help you understand why a certain (hopefully very low) amount of incidents is to be expected: you’ve got thousands of drunken people partying in Vegas. Vigilant security staff is mandatory for all sorts of reasons.

I don’t drink and I hate the bad things that happen when people get drunk, but I do go to Defcon and stop by a few parties to socialize before everyone gets too wasted. A typical party can range from a classy black tie affair to a sweaty, raunchy strip club. This is a Vegas conference with wild after-parties.

So again. Abuse of all kinds is horrible and we should work to prevent it. But this is no ordinary “focus on the tech” conference. The conference rooms have open bars, and speakers who make mistakes are shouted at to “DRINK!” This is a “drunken tech from 9-5, belligerence and debauchery from 6-2” conference. A conference where bouncer shifts start at 8am and end at 4am. Treating it like a nightclub is not unthinkable.

sine nomine August 16, 2012 7:57 PM

in other words, sexism is horrible but it’s to be expected so we should just cope, and you wouldn’t mind the tables being turned if it were in vegas at a conference that’s really more like a party where lots of valuable networking takes place. got it.

the things many people in this thread have blamed for the bad behavior of individuals in a community that is condoning that behavior by remaining silent or making excuses:

  • alcohol
  • las vegas
  • a few bad apples (given the number of incidents reported at this and other conferences, they are very very busy apples)
  • the nature of defcon
  • the nature of infosec
  • hacker culture
  • women lying because it doesn’t happen
  • political correctness/feminazis
  • geeks having no social skills at all
  • some other special circumstance that gives these guys a pass on their behavior.

things those people have not blamed for the bad behavior:

  • people who decide to ignore other people’s boundaries because they don’t see women as equals and they know they can get away with it
  • a culture and community that minimize the problem look the other way or make excuses when it happens

if sexual harassment and sexism are not okay, then they are not okay. sure, sometimes people do wrong things in order to prevent worse things form happening, but that is not the case here at all, because although this sort of thing may give some guys a thrill their not getting a thrill isn’t worse than people being treated as objects in a professional setting.

Anon August 16, 2012 8:42 PM

You can’t call it “professional” if people are not acting professionally. (it is what it is not what you’d like it to be) What it comes down to is, how “valuable” is the networking to you? Otherwise I would not go. When enough people make this decision the community will move elsewhere.

Francine Thompson August 16, 2012 10:21 PM

From reading the discussions in this thread, it sounds like the issue is that harassment exists period in the tech community and should be eliminated in its entirety. Which, at best, is quite a cause, as the harassment itself has its roots in the misogynistic society in which the tech community is encompassed by (i.e., US culture).

So perhaps people should be asking how they can eliminate harassment entirely as a concept rather than “applying patches,” so to speak? It’s been done before. We used to be an incredibly violent, murderous species, but that’s died down.

The thing that’s getting people the most upset just seems to be that harassment exists period. From reading the responses, simply responding to harassment isn’t acceptable. We should be able to stop it entirely before it happens through aggressive education and making it clear where the only line is. It’s possible, isn’t it?

Anon August 16, 2012 10:34 PM


Where is this line? How far does it go? How long will it stay there? In our legalistic society, how will we enforce the scope of a law? People in our society have a long history of abusing laws passed in good faith.

Say we pass your law. What will you do when you’re discussing it with an associate, and they think they should be allowed to push it just a little more? Many employers don’t even give men a fair shot, if a woman says “sexual harassment” they are fired, and it’s not even discussed. In fact I was told this at my very first job.

I recently passed up a position when the secretary who was to finalize my hiring vocalized that she didn’t like me, and she mentioned the other secretary didn’t either. Was it wrong yet, did they break the law? Probably. Was it worth it? No. Women do abuse this as well. How do we fix that?

Clive Robinson August 17, 2012 1:30 AM

This is turning into a “left-tail” V “right-tail” argument.

For instance some people have suggested that women should have prepared ways to say STOP and others have argued that women should not have to, that is in effect that their own personal comfort zone should be entirely respected without them having to say what their comfort zone is.

Logicaly the only way that can happen is if not just the left tail never meets the right tail but also never meets the middle of the distribution curve either…

It was once argued that if man could destroy all disease the world would be a better place to live…Well the evidence is accumulating that it is not a good idea, where there is a lack of disease the body will either turn around and attack it’s self (alergies etc) or it will be totaly incapable of defending itself should a new disease arise.

But what the left tail fails to realise is they are just the same as the right tail. That is they are arguing that their view of the world should be enforced on the rest of society without question. The only difference is what their view of the world should be.

Society has norms that are agreed by the majority, they do change with time as can be seen with history. But they only change by the majority coming more into line with a particular view point, this happens by persuasion not by dictata.

Eventually norms become morals which usually get taught to all children as part of growing up (which is part of why becoming an adult takes longer in a more complex society).

Law is in effect a codified set of morals and the more important societal norms, and as such has to be a reflection of societal norms otherwise it is seen as unjust and will over time be brought down either by reason (repeal) or dispute (riot) or both as has been seen through more recent history with voting rights etc.

Thus you cannot enforce behaviour on people you can only do it by persuasion of argument, and when sufficient numbers agree we call it “by education”.

Oh and the behaviour of “hitting on people” is not just “men on women” I’ve had the misfortune at one time or another to be “hit on” by both women and men in various environments including the work place and socialy and no I don’t like it especialy when there is a “sense of entitlement by position” involved.

In all cases it’s a case of employing “self defence” part of which is “situational awareness” and in turn part of that is “being somewhere else when trouble arises, if you have the choice”.

Part of being an adult is “being responsible” and thus your safety and comfort is your responsability first and foremost. People tend not to walk in the middle of the street as they realize that the risk of being run down is high, that is they tend to look after their own safety. And as was explained to me and many others in the army “Any fool can be uncomfortable, it takes a clever person to be comfortable in any environment and that’s why we train you in all environments”.

And if you think about it this viewpoint of self responsability is so engrained in english speaking society (and others) a standard parting message is “Take care”.

anonymous August 17, 2012 1:54 AM

DC is part convention, part party, and part family reunion for the computing underground, that has gotten dragged somewhat forcefully into the mainstream by the FUD-fueled cash cow that is the security industry.

If you show up expecting shiny sanitized corporate bullshit where no one says anything that could possibly be construed as offensive or unprofessional, it is not an event for you. If you show up with an open mind and aren’t afraid of everything and everyone, you’ll meet and hang out with awesome smart people, generally have a good time, and probably learn a lot as well.

However, do not expect anyone to go out of their way to avoid being generally offensive. Genuine harassment of any sort (if reported…) is not at all tolerated, but merely being offended at something you overheard or saw consenting adults doing is your own problem. Perhaps you just do not fit in with the culture of the underground, and should stick to more sanitized and professional conferences.

I’ll put it this way: RSA is to an advertising and commercial art convention as DC is to a punk rock tattoo convention.

mashiara August 17, 2012 2:01 AM

As you can see from my posts above I do not condone harassment (or even bigoted comments in “private” [as in when the subject is nowhere near] and I have told a coworker that I consider a friend that I did not appreciate the tone he once took when discussing a trans-gender person from another company we worked with)

I don’t care what gender or sexual orientation you identify yourself with (or outwardly seem to have), I’m only interested if you can offer interesting discussion/insights or not (or in a different context: if you’re making a serious effort at learning whatever you want me to help you learn [be it martial arts, electronics or programming]).

But I must say that I take a bit of offense by this “in other words, sexism is horrible but it’s to be expected so we should just cope, and you wouldn’t mind the tables being turned if it were in vegas at a conference that’s really more like a party where lots of valuable networking takes place. got it.”

First of all, until you have a workable plan to handle the problem in society at large it’s not very productive to demand that conference this large somehow can be magnitudes better than a random sampling of the population. The goons people are trying but it will take time for the community at large to change (if they wish to…) and especially it will take people reporting the incidents to security immediately instead of complaining next week in a blog.

Another thing is that even though “a lot of valuable networking” takes place somewhere it does not mean anyone is entitled to be part of it, even if the event has grown to the size of a small town.

Also since it seems there are a ton of not-organized-by-defcon-organizers parties (where also a lot [probably most of the] networking takes place) and based on some comments it seems the majority of problems happen at these parties.

The audience of these parties is likely to be self-selecting and thus I’m not at all surprised when some parties are significantly worse than others.

And I’m not quite sure why someone who chooses to enter a party where the vast majority of the audience is drunken brodouches should be able to demand that they all suddenly turn into slightly intoxicated gentlemen (and vice versa, though generally the douche is simply thrown out of the classier events without a bigger fuss).

So while the community (especially the part that claims to disown bad behaviour) needs police itself better it does not absolve the participants from all responsibility for their own well-being (there are a ton of analogies, many already told).

Telling the people who already are courteus and professional to stop behaving like asses does not help (preaching to the choir?). Reminding them that if they do nothing they’re part of the problem can be productive but it needs to be done in a manner that does not put them into defensive mode.

The douchebags need someone they consider their peer to tell them off (and it will take time and multiple tellings for them to learn) or in the context of an event and in case of serious or repeat offence the security escorting them out (it will probably take a few times of being escorted out too for some to learn).

Mike Holmes August 17, 2012 9:50 AM

Re Stephen Morley’s comment on the nano-picture of Lena Soderberg in the news this week. OK, I can see how a nude picture on the wall at work could be labelled “harassment”. I cannot see how a head and shoulders picture which can only be seen using specialist equipment could conceivably be harassment. Stephen: you’re being hysterical, in both senses of the word.

Mike Holmes August 17, 2012 10:02 AM

Re LittleBoybrew mentioning the wailing of Rebecca Watson about the Skeptic community.

This was a woman getting precious because at a bar in Ireland, after midnight, a chap asked her if she’d like to go to his room and have coffee. Said chap accepted her demurring with good grace. Then she had the bad grace to whine about it just about everywhere.

I’m Scottish, and I can report that in Celtic parts, it is absolutely normal, and in some circumstances expected, for chaps to invite ladies to their rooms for coffee. Provided that a refusal is respected, no laws, or indeed mores have been broken. Those who expect, and indeed demand, that our mores be otherwise should perhaps holiday elsewhere.

Bruce McGlory August 17, 2012 10:46 AM

That’s some pretty crappy lying, Mike Holmes . Care to tell what actually happened? This time without the misogynsitic dismissiveness and lies?

Mike Holmes August 17, 2012 11:19 AM

Well mister McGlory, you don’t provide any context for your interrogation, and so I must guess whether you want an anecdote from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, a graphics lab, or for me to justify my comment on Miss Watson. Helpful note: on the interwebs, we like to include a little of the previous discussion to set context.

I’ll assume that you meant the latter. So let’s look at Miss Watson’s own site where she says:

“basically, in an elevator in Dublin at 4AM I was invited back to the hotel room of a man I had never spoken to before and who was present to hear me say that I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed.”

So that checks off Ireland and “after midnight”. Now on her video at

we have confirmation that the invite was for coffee. No mention of the guy persisting after a refusal at the point she says that she didn’t like what he did, and so we can reasonably assume that things ended there. Certainly in the couple of thousand or so emails about the incident which I read, nobody mentioned any sort of attempted assault, or even that the invite was repeated. That there was much whining afterwards is evidenced by her blog, Atlantic Wire, Richard Dawkins’ blog etcetera. From where I was standing, she jumped into a hole and just plain kept digging.

On the Celtic culture thing, I think you might just take my word for it since I live here. I have many times witnessed men inviting women to coffee, alcohol, and sometimes even plain to sex. When I was younger, I was sometimes the chap doing the inviting. I have a hard time imagining how humans might breed in other countries if this is somehow illegal or considered immoral.

That it’s considered bad form here for visitors to tell us how we ought to do things ought to be fairly obvious since pretty much everyone worldwide is going to bridle at that behaviour. If “Skepchick” didn’t mean to tell us how to behave, then it’s hard to know what to make of her “Guys, don’t do that”.

That just about ticks all the boxes I think. Is there anything else I can help clear up?

Moderator August 17, 2012 11:28 AM


This is probably the worst place to put this question

Indeed. Please do not try to start other discussions in this thread.

Similarly, I’ve already asked the person who posted about Saudi Arabia to leave the thread; everyone else, please do not continue that tangent.

Mike Holmes and Bruce McGlory, you both need to cool down and watch your rhetoric. Language like “wailing” and “hysterical” is particularly unwelcome in this thread.

Lilly August 17, 2012 11:57 AM

I’m offended that this person was offended by Defcon. It’s obviously not their scene, and to blame the conference for that is ridiculous. I’ve been coming to Defcon for about 15 years, every year at first, and then less in recent years. It has only gotten TAMER in that time. As a woman, I’ve never felt physically unsafe (only technologically at times lol) and coming from the security and game industries, nothing shocking or unexpected has ever offended me, and I’ve never been groped or assaulted in all that time. From my perspective and another few ladies I’ve discussed this with, it sounds like somebody can’t handle the “boys club” that so many of us (women) enjoy and appreciate the camaraderie of. Obviously, it’s terrible if a physical line is crossed, but please blame the individual, not the conference or populace of male hackers in general. Or are we going to expand to blame the entire state of Nevada for being a rude, distasteful place that encourages female exploitation and disrespect? …it does…

Petréa Mitchell August 17, 2012 12:08 PM


Def Con has a zero tolerance policy regarding harassment of ANY kind.

Is this policy on paper or online somewhere?

Mike Holmes August 17, 2012 12:14 PM

Indeed Lilly. Both the Dublin and Defcon incidents seem to be cases of people finding existing cultures not to their taste and instead of going where they’re happier, trying to tell the denizens how to live.

Uninvited gropes are well out of order, but most of us have dealt with that without demanding that the entire event be reorganised.

Autolykos August 17, 2012 2:06 PM

Note: I will be using a lot of generalizations in this post, because relativizing every half-sentence will make it impossible to read. I realize there are lots of exceptions to everything I say, and nothing is always absolutely so. That said, here it goes:

I am quite astonished that the same women who demand to be treated as equals (and rightfully so) are first to ask the men to protect them. That’s a contradiction right there. If you rely someone else for your protection, you’re not seeing yourself as independent, and definitely not as their equal. Also, since you are IN the situation, you are the only one who can clearly see when it goes too far. Bystanders will have to be a lot more careful (or get into lots of pointless fights). What one person sees as fair game is harassment to the other.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I will definitely help anybody whom I can clearly see as being harassed (within reason – I won’t get into a brawl with the whole football team). But I won’t step in just because I suspect there might be something wrong – I have to be reasonably sure. I’m quite bad at reading emotions and tend to err on the side of caution. On the plus side, this means I will always keep my distance (and then some). On the minus side, I will be pretty late to intervene. I guess you can’t have both.

Simple Hint: Once you say “No”, the situation is clear (and, please, say it like you mean it – mixed signals are the worst thing you could possibly do). Should any creep continue after this point, you can count on me. But don’t expect me to read your mind.
And above all don’t call me a coward (or, even worse, accomplice) for not picking a fight with someone you don’t even have the courage to say “No” to. Insulting the people you expect to help is almost never a good idea.

sine nomine August 17, 2012 2:22 PM

everyone who is saying that it’s the culture of defcon and if you don’t want to be offended don’t go: how does that make it okay to violate other people’s boundaries? i’m not talking about some weird personal-space thing; i’m talking about things that are clearly inappropriate — grabbing asses, licking shoulders, and the like. that doesn’t even touch the rest of it, but “hands to yourself unless invited” would be a good start. oh, and remembering that most women at these things would like to be respected for their work, not their boobs.

also, does this stance mean that you’re okay with hot guys in speedos hanging around to make things more interesting? what about powerpoint presentations illustrated with tighty-whitey crotch shots? women you find very unattractive grabbing your ass or your dick (geeks have poor social skills, you know)? people staring at your package while you’re talking about your work?

francine: the problem of sexual harassment in the tech community can be tackled by guys who see obnoxious behavior calling it out. if we wait for a great societal shift, we’re going to wait forever. the way to fix it isn’t to talk about fixing the macro-problem, it’s lots and lots of fixing micro-problems. if you see someone doing something that’s sexist or harassing, say something. if you’re a guy, this is really important. peer pressure is a powerful thing.

anon: you made the decision to pass up the position because you did not want to work with people who didn’t like you. if they hadn’t told you up front you would have taken a job where you’d have to work with people who didn’t like you. would that have been a good thing? also, not the same at all.

sine nomine August 17, 2012 2:54 PM

autolykos: you tell us that when we say no, we must say it emphatically enough to indicate that we really mean it. um, NO (i hope that was clear enough). mixed signals equal “no” unless you’re psychic, and me potentially meaning yes when i say no is not a good enough reason for you to ignore what i am saying.

suppose you grab my boob and i say no but i don’t really mean it. you stop and i potentially miss out on something i might have enjoyed. this is not tragic. you missing an opportunity to grope me with my consent isn’t tragic.

suppose you grab my boob and i say no and mean it but you don’t believe me. you don’t stop and grope me anyway. that is a problem, because whether or not you get to touch my boobs is my call, not yours. you don’t get to decide what “no” means.

women are not the ones behaving badly. if we say no and someone gropes us anyway, it is not our fault because we didn’t sound convincing enough. it shouldn’t take a full-fledged scene for you to say, “dude, don’t be a dick.” stop and listen for a minute or two. if you aren’t sure, ask the woman involved if she’s okay. you’d do the same if you suspected that someone was being bullied, wouldn’t you?

left tail vs right tail:
they are not the same things. one side is saying “we would like to disregard the fact that you have boundaries and you may not want us to do some of the things we’re doing to you.” the other is saying, “please stop doing this to us.” they are not equivalent. and yes, things happen by persuasion, which is why we need guys to start calling this shit out.

mashiara, i am not demanding that the conference do anything. the conference can define what is acceptable behavior, but they cannot make people not be assholes. guys they respect saying, “dude, stop being an asshole” is what it takes. (which is why i was thrilled to see this blog post, btw.) if you think it’s fair that women who are not willing to be groped miss networking and career-development opportunities because people want to be able to act like douches without consequences, then we have different ideas of fairness and i don’t think we’re going to agree.

you say that people are not absolved from taking responsibility for their own well-being. people are also not absolved from taking responsibility for their actions and dealing with the consequences of their behavior.

that’s what’s confusing me here. what everyone is saying over and over, in essence, is, “we should be able to do whatever we want to women who are foolish enough to come into our space without consequences, and we can blame them for it because they should have known better than to come in here.” that’s what 14-year-olds say.

finally, i absolutely agree that being told “stop that” by peers is the best way to change things. it doesn’t even have to go any further than someone saying, “dude, stop being a dick.”

mike: who is demanding that the entire event be reorganized in order to stop douchebros from being dicks at the event? i’m not.

anonymous August 17, 2012 3:40 PM

i’m talking about things that are clearly inappropriate — grabbing asses, licking shoulders, and the like.

This will already get the perp booted from con, and perhaps worse, depending on who was groped and/or who they run with. However, Goons and hotel security are not omniscient and generally very oversubscribed; you have to report harassment for it to be dealt with.

also, does this stance mean that you’re okay with hot guys in speedos hanging around to make things more interesting?

Ever gone to Queercon or the B&W ball? Speedos and better. Big hairy guys in skin-tight latex? Check. Borat mankinis? Check. Guys in lingerie? Check. People with tails and cat ears? Check. Fursuits? Check and double check!

what about powerpoint presentations illustrated with tighty-whitey crotch shots?

Seen this, and better.

women you find very unattractive grabbing your ass or your dick (geeks have poor social skills, you know)?

This happens, and it’s brushed off like any other unwanted advance. Usually just telling the person to kindly bugger off is more than adequate to solve the problem. If that doesn’t work, get the attention of a Goon.

people staring at your package while you’re talking about your work?

I’ve seen many tight pants and accentuated packages at DC, so I’m sure junk-staring does happen (although probably mostly from straight guys).

DC and the underground in general is by far the most universally-accepting-of physical-traits community I’ve ever been a part of, but it is rough-edged and unfiltered. People will say exactly what they’re thinking at the time, and will not mince words to maintain the illusion of professionalism. If you can get past that and really grok the scene (which existed long before the “industry”), you’ll meet tons of awesome and absurdly smart people.

If you want to change the scene, join the scene. Volunteer to Goon at DC. Submit a talk in the CFP. If you have a well-reasoned message, it will be heard. “Hack” the “system”.

If you just want a more professional and sanitized environment for more optimized CAREER BUILDING and NETWORKING and RECRUITING, please go to a different convention. There’s already too much corporate influence at DC, and if less utterly average CISSP “industry professionals” show up that’s a good thing. Go to BlackHat and skip DC. There are literally HUNDREDS of security and technical conventions to choose from, and they run the gamut from “criminal underground” all the way to “we get butthurt if you say god damn”. DC is somewhere in the middle.

[I do not speak for the DEFCON organization, just a long time attendee and scene associate.]

mashiara August 17, 2012 3:55 PM


I think wast majority agrees that crossing the physical boundary is not ok, “don’t grope people without permission” is very close to the middle of this gaussian, left tail is the part that demands everything that offends their PC-sensitivies to be “sanitized”. Even though I don’t know you and you make very polarized remarks I don’t think you’re actually in the far left.

For the record I don’t have a problem with beatiful human bodies in any state of clothing (also I don’t really have a problem with ugly bodies either but prefer beatiful ones).

I also myself selft select myself out from the douchebro parties (though never went to Defcon and unless US makes a sharp u-turn in it’s policies it’s unlikely I will ever visit the country voluntarily) and I have never considered it unfair in any way that I’m this way missing some potential opportunities.

But I fail to see how they are “avoiding consequences”, I’m fairly sure that even at a private party security will have a word (and possibly more) with anyone reported groping people without permission. Being a jerk in other ways is much harder to clamp on (also by the peers, the physical boundary is a very clear one, much easier to say that this clearly is not ok than to ponder if some lewd joke was inappropriate enough in this particular [self-selected] audience)

So why are you so hung on the groping ? Everyone here seems to agree it’s not ok and most seem to be willing to step up and say that “that was not ok” when that happens but it needs to be pointed out when it happens.

I’m not hanging around people I expect to break this boundary (self-selecting again, might lose some opportunities, well: I don’t want to work with total douchebags anyway) and thus am not watching out for it and will likely miss the quick ass-grab unless the victim objects loudly enough for me to notice.

IMO the far left (by my and clives definition) should reconsider it’s position. The far right needs to be escorted out enough times for them to either learn to be better human beings or at least learn to keep themselves in check (however much they might resent it in their heads).

tl;dr: grabbing not ok, blatant bigotry not ok. But being politically correct and completely sensitive to everyones feelings in the name of “fairness” will ruin the party (how can anyone have good time if they have to constantly be wary of someone taking offence)

edit: anonymous above made some good points too but if I start commenting on them too someone else will again make me rewrite this post.

Clive Robinson August 17, 2012 5:37 PM

@ sine nomine,

they are not the same things. one side is saying”we would like to disregard the fact that you have boundaries and you may not want us to do some of the things we’re doing to you.” the other i saying, “please stop doing this to us.”

Hmm what I said was,

But what the left tail fails to realise is they are just the same as the right tail. That is they are arguing that their view of the world should be enforced on the rest of society without question. The only difference is what their view of the world should be.

What you have stated is the views of the right and left tails which I specificaly said are different.

The point you misaddressed is that both parties want the world to conform to their view point (whatever it might be). I am by no means arguing that either view point is acceptable or equivalent.

What I am arguing is that the desire of both tails to have their view point accepted as the societal norm is the same.

This is because it is important to realise that between these two view points is a whole spectrum of views, and somewhere between them is a broad band of where the societal norm currently is (and again I’m not arguing for or against this view point norm only that it exists).

I then went on to say that what either tail needs to do, is by the “process of persuasion”, to get society to align it’s norm either to or towards their view point (again I’m not expressing any opinion on the view point).

I then went on to indicate how the societal norm can become codified as law. And that a law will only be respected if it does reflect and continues to reflect the societal norm (whatever it might be).

That is I’m talking about the “process” of how a view point comes to be excepted by society and codified as such, And was pointing out that this is the process by which either tail gets their view point accepted and it starts by a process of what is when broadly accepted “education”.

From this “process” perspective which I’m opinioning on both tails are the same although their view points differ considerably (as expected or their would only be a small difference of opinion not the conflict we are witnessing).

It is important to understand the process, because if people don’t and don’t respect it society will marginalize them and will usually move away from their view point no matter how justified the view point is on moral or other grounds.

I then went on to point out what was behind the truism of “XXX helps those who help themselves” where in the case of this thread XXX is those men at an ITSec conferance who’s view points are more aligned towards the societal norms than that of either tail.

However as I indicated in my earlier post ITSec attracts a lot of people who are not good at “social communication”, that is they are on, or much closer to being on the Autistic Spectrum than is normal in the general population. Importantly this is a consideration that women will have to accept in exactly th same way that we (should) all respect those with more obvious physical disabilities.

In essence it means that you can not expect (nor rely on) those other XXX people at the conferance to implicitly see you are uncomfortable you have to make it explicit.

Further you also have to make it explicit what you object to and what you want as remedial action.

This is important because one of the characteristics of Autistic people is they distrust people who they think are hiding things from them and you most certainly do not want them either mistrusting or being confused by what you are saying.

Further people on the autistic spectrum do not understand certain forms of social communication. It is normal for “Nuro Typical” (NT) people to start a sentance with “Don’t you think it’s…” and expect another NT to understand it as a “polite” way of saying “I’m giving you an order to do…” or “I expect you to agree with…”, an autistic person will however interpret it literally and regard it as a question and will often reply “no”. This causes an NT to think the autistic person is “digging their heals in”, “being obstructive”, “contrary” or worse, or the NT gets confused and becomes uncertain or even anxious, in either case causing further social communications problems and a downwards spiral.

Now you may not like this but you either have to accept it or be at odds with a large part of that micro society. Look at it as being in a room of mainly blind people you have to accept that as they “don’t see” their world is different to yours and logicaly so is their perspective, they cannot see what you see and take for granted and you have to adapt to their perspective to communicate effectivly even though the majority there are trying very hard to meet you part of the way to make it easier for you.

Anon August 17, 2012 7:02 PM


I’m sorry I thought a “hostile work environment” was part of the evolving definition of what is understood as “sexual harassment.” So yes it is the same thing we’re discussing.

Also the foundation case of what was to become “sexual harassment” revolved around women losing their jobs, or being passed over due to their sex. I had an almost all woman office that didn’t want a highly qualified MAN working with them. As I said it was easier to get a position somewhere else, nobody likes to work where they are being judged unfairly, or is this only an issue women are allowed to vocalize?

My point is that while the target keeps shifting, I don’t think any progress will be made. We need firm definitions, and fair consideration of both sides of the dispute.

I am not saying this is ok. In fact I’m I’m upset that it was done to me, so I can understand how so many women would also be upset.

fixed_point_combinator August 17, 2012 7:48 PM

@sine nomine

“women you find very unattractive grabbing your ass or your dick (geeks have poor social skills, you know)?”

I find the phrasing here interesting. You seem to be implying that unwanted touching by a female against a male is only an issue to the male if the female is unattractive, or that attractiveness is somehow a mitigating factor.

Some people simply do not like being touched, regardless of gender or attractiveness.

Anon August 17, 2012 7:57 PM


Good point I missed that one. I usually enjoy digging out weak points in a discussion. Sometimes you can get to unexpected places, and interesting ideas using that method.

Kellie at EFF August 17, 2012 7:58 PM

We have read with a lot of interest Bruce and Valerie’s thoughtful blog posts and the comments posted there. EFF recognizes that defending rights in the digital world means more than just standing up for abstract principles. It means supporting the users and developers who want to make technology better. EFF wants to do everything in our capacity to ensure that individuals at EFF-related events are respected and protected from harassment.

We appreciate the many individuals who dedicate their time at DEF CON and other conferences to fundraise for EFF. Their contributions are vital to our work. But we are deeply concerned by the reports of harassment and other inappropriate behavior at some EFF-related events. Harassment and assault at events like DEF CON and fundraisers for EFF run contrary to our mission.

We are actively discussing the various things EFF can do to take a leadership role in creating a more welcoming environment for women at DEF CON and all of the conferences we attend. To assist us, we have been working with the Ada Initiative, a non-profit with expertise in supporting women in open technology and culture.

As we work through this process, we encourage anyone to send recommendations and other feedback to Thanks in advance for your help.

fixed_point_combinator August 17, 2012 9:27 PM

To expand on my previous comment, if an attractive woman I do not know comes up to me at a public event and even does something as innocuous as hugging me, I’m set on edge until I can determine there is no threat. Same goes for /anyone/ grabbing at me from behind without warning, regardless of I know them or not.

I’m aware of social attack techniques and know that distraction is a common opening move, so I don’t think “oh cool, a pretty lady is giving me attention!”, I think “someone is about to rob me, and I need to assess the situation NOW”.

In almost every case it turns out to be completely innocuous, and a friend quickly follows and does introductions, but I have had a couple rather strange encounters (in Vegas but not at a convention) where it did seem like I was being evaluated as a target. I’m not even sure if I was actually being targeted for violence or fraud; it may have just been an attempt to get into my pants, but it was anomalous enough that my instinct said to get out.

I honestly don’t care about professionalism, activist agendas, welcoming and nurturing environments or any of the other 99% of what this furor is about, but touching is a problem with both men and women.

Respect personal space. Male, female, inbetween, I don’t care. Say whatever you like, print whatever you like, believe whatever you like, but ask before you touch.

Anon August 18, 2012 12:16 AM


In public places I often touch someone’s shoulder before I lean in to say something. I have a very low voice, and when it’s loud I know people have a hard time hearing me, do you think that is out of bounds?

fixed_point_combinator August 18, 2012 12:41 AM

I look for situation-dependent anomalies, not specifics. Random people don’t hug me often, so that’s almost always an anomaly; hugs/arms around shoulders is the kind of touching I was thinking of when I wrote that, but I wasn’t terribly clear.

If I’m walking down the street with headphones on and a random stranger grabs me to get my attention, I’m going to go on alert, because they may either be an immediate threat or pointing out an immediate threat, such as an out of control vehicle. If I’m in a noisy room, a tap on the shoulder is normal and expected, and if I’m at a metal show, I expect to get shoved around a lot.

Incidentally, I am absolutely comfortable in convention-controlled areas, because I know there are many friendly bystanders and security staff to back me up if there actually is a threat. If I’m alone in a random part of Vegas though, I’m a lot more careful and keep a lot more situationally aware.

tl;dr: normal, contextually-expected human contact is fine, unexpected particularly close/physically intimate contact represents a potential threat.

Autolykos August 18, 2012 2:21 AM

@sine_nomine: You’re completely right, of course. Any no should be respected. This part was not meant as “You should be blamed for what happens to you when you don’t state your intentions clearly.” It was meant as: “You’ll be a lot more effective at stopping these actions and convincing bystanders to help you when you’re sending an unambiguous message.” A no said while smiling/laughing is definitely not clear enough for bystanders to react (unless a lot of context says otherwise – but, as a bystander, I don’t have that context).

Note that I’m not discussing blame here (I rarely do, because it is mostly counterproductive). In my opinion it rests on the creeps and on them alone. But for a practical solution to the problem, that’s completely irrelevant.
Just because I tell you a way to help solve the problem doesn’t mean I’m blaming you for it.
Sad truth in our society is that a lot of people don’t respect other’s rights, and you won’t change them with words alone. The good people need to work together, but for that, they first need to know what to do. In clear and simple rules, preferably.

Autolykos August 18, 2012 2:40 AM

Addendum: Because you frequently use groping as an example, I just want to state that his is IMHO extreme enough to step in without waiting for a statement. But other people might draw their line somewhere else, so it’ll never hurt to be extra obvious.

yt August 18, 2012 2:45 AM

When I first heard about this, I wondered whether the people who experienced harassment had been to a different defcon than I had. I’ve always felt welcome and respected at defcon. The “worst” that’s happened to me so far was being invited to lunch by a stranger I had struck up a conversation with about the badges.

In a way, I think I did go to a different defcon. I was there primarily for the presentations and activities during the day, while most of these incidents happened at the after-hours parties at night. As other commenters have pointed out, any time you combine a large gender imbalance with large amounts of alcohol, there will be inappropriate behavior. It’s not specific to defcon.

About 17,000 people attended defcon this year. That’s the size of a small town. There are bound to be a good number of jerks in a town that size. If you go to the town bar on a Friday night, it’s highly likely that one or more of the jerks will drunkenly harass you.

Clive Robinson August 18, 2012 5:15 AM

@ fixed_point_combinator,

You are not the only one who does not like being touched.

One of the things I dislike about the US is many are way to free with their hands I personaly do not like being back slapped shoulder hugged and as for “group huggs” count me out. I personaly view it not as being friendly but as a form of intimidation.

As for “having my package groped” yes it’s happened to me a couple of times and no I don’t like or want it especialy from a superior at a “works party” or other intoxicated person in a public place.

One thing I have noticed is the size of “personal space” people accept is dependent on where they lived when growing up and the size of family. If from a small family out in the country you tend to like your personal space radius to be close to your height, more urban dwellers the radius drops to an arm length, inner city from large family the radius is less than forearm length.

I suspect that the liking of personal transport over public transport has a lot to do with “personal space”. Also “city burn out” and “downsizing” and other forms of “drop out” behaviour are related to this.

As has been frequently pointed out about London’s transportation network, there are laws about minimum space for the transportation of livestock but sadly not for humans. In the summer it’s normal to be pressed up against by several sweaty bodies when “strap hanging” and if you are lucky enough to get a seat usually you have the misfortune to be eye level with most strap hangers lower torsos. One of the worst things I’ve had happen to me on the London Underground was for some jerk who was practicaly sitting on my sholder to break wind in my face from less than a foot distance when I remenstrated with them their attitude was “so what it’s natural”…

I don’t know about other people but I find the whole “crush hour” way way to stressful and it might account for why we now have IED’s at most London railway stations to deal with those having heart attacks etc on trains…

Clive Robinson August 18, 2012 7:06 AM

@ mashiara,

I’m sure you meant AED, or was this a so called freudian slip 🙂

Hmm you are of course correct in the first part it is indeed an “Automated External Defibrillator”

As for Freudian hmm…

IED stands for amongst other things,

Imitative Electronic Deception (EmSec)
Improvised explosive device (military)
Intermitant explosive disorder (psychology)
Intelligent Electronic device (control systems)
Institution of Electrical Designers (Prof-institution)

Oh and in cardiovascular medical environs “Implantable Electronic Device” one of which is a “pacemaker” that also works on the heart…

So I’ll leave it up to you to decide 🙂

Clive Robinson August 18, 2012 7:32 AM

@ Mashiara, yt,

You two have something in common…

You have both posted about my incorect use of vowels (to which I plead guilty)…

@ yt,

I note you nolonger link to the documentation project you used to has it suffered the fate of “lack of time”?

Vanilla August 18, 2012 9:14 AM

@Clive: as always, I learn from your posts. Very good insights re: autism spectrum. It helps so much when you finally find out ‘why’ you are having so much trouble socially. Taking things literally is key. I have always had 1 or 2 friends who I could go to who would ‘interpret’ social things for me so I could understand what I ‘did wrong’ socially (g).

@combinator: ‘Respect personal space’. Simple and to the heart of the matter. My personal is the arm’s length. Partly because I am farsighted and you are a blur if too close (g). (You as in third person.)

As for sexual advances, when I was young I had all kinds of problems with that. Some were extremely serious. Society in the southern US states didn’t much care. Older women would say, ‘Men are animals. That’s just the way they are. You have to put up with it.’ Authorities would question my dress and behavior. ‘Good girls don’t get themselves in that situation.’ After the last very bad situation where I worked at the time, I gained 40 pounds, stopped wearing makeup, and did nothing to my hair. I became invisible. How unutterably sad that it was ‘my fault’ all along for being slim and presentable.

This has been a very good thread.


Mike Edward Moras (e-sushi™) August 19, 2012 10:46 AM

Interesting article and even more interesting comments.

Let me ask something though: how come that the described “events” happened while “waiting for a drink at the EFF party” and during that party?

If you go into a bar or to a party where drinks are not always free of alcohol, you’re bound to meet some weirdos who forget about their limits. It’s like walking into the lion’s cave… don’t expect to meet cute, little, pink bunnies if you do.

Personally, I don’t attend DefCon to “have a drink” at the pool, at the grilling-events, in the hotel bars, or at the after-parties… I attend DefCon for the real events this conference stands for and frequently skip the “social drinking-party gatherings” just like most professionals and geeks do.

I guess this might also explain why many of us never saw any of the described behaviour at DefCon; and if – it was a single event among 10.000 visitors. That’s a 0.01% chance of “getting harassed” at DefCon. If you would ask me, I would reply you’ll have a better chance to get harassed while “enjoying” public transport!

Section9_Bateau August 19, 2012 10:48 AM

Clive, as to that documentation project, unfortunately lack of time has happened, but I do hope to get it up and running again, I’ve just had, well, life. The machine that was running it died, I imaged it, and I have that image, but I need to rebuild the host for it, secure it, and get it back online.

anonymous August 19, 2012 3:19 PM

@Mike Moras
I think you’re missing the point of DC a bit since it started as a scene party, but you’re right on the other counts.

DC is a lot safer than a random bus, casino or nightclub hands down. In my experience most of the stereotypical “drunken bro” behavior during con week is at the $150k corporate sponsored open bar nightclub parties, not so much at the DIY for-hackers-by-hackers parties.

Alex August 20, 2012 5:39 AM

Last year at MWC the CBOSS people went from just having booth-babes to practically offering their services to prospective customers. There was a web storm and GSMA decided to dis-invite them permanently. I know we’re a bunch of boring telco suits, but at least people knew how to behave like adults and take some responsibility.

(Ps. to the contributor who suggested treating DefCon like a nightclub – Jamie Zawinski is frequently furious about this sort of arseholery at tech events, and even more so about the trouble people like that cause at his club and the money he has to spend on bouncers to police them.)

Autolykos August 21, 2012 1:19 AM

@Craig: One of the very rare videos that really made me see things a lot clearer. Big thanks for that.
@Anyone else: Definitely a half-hour well spent. No matter what your position/agenda is, it won’t get anywhere without understanding why things became the way they are.

Adam D August 21, 2012 3:10 PM

@Craig: The premise of that video seems to be that women who enter male-oriented spaces should have no right to change them. Argument aside, I reject the assumption that DefCon, or any other tech event, should be male-oriented.

Autolykos August 21, 2012 3:40 PM

@Adam: It’s based off a much more general premise that a small group of people entering a large event is not entitled to change it. If I were going to a Rap concert and demanded they played more Heavy Metal there, I’d get laughed at, if I’m lucky.
Same here. As long as it isn’t outright criminal behavior that is demanded to change, women are IMHO (and, as far as I understand it, that’s part of the message in the video) not entitled to have it changed while they still are in the minority at this event.
That, of course, does not mean it should never happen. If the hosts feel like the conference would profit more by having the women that are offended by men behaving like men usually do when in the company of lots of other men (and like drunk groups of men, when drunk), than they loose by not having the men that don’t want to adjust their behavior so as not to offend more sensitive women, they can (and should) change it. But I don’t think that anyone has the right to demand that.

Adam D August 22, 2012 1:51 AM

Perspective from a female DefCon member of staff: Harassment at DEF CON?.

I very much agree with her statement that the goons need better PR, but she advocates against an explicit harassment policy, which I think would be one of the quickest and easiest ways of giving the goons, and the con as a whole, a better rep on this issue.

Adam D August 22, 2012 2:15 AM


If I went to a rap concert, I would reasonably expect to hear rap. Are you saying that if I were a woman and went to a hacker con, I should reasonably expect to be assaulted?

You say women don’t have the right to demand things change because they are the newcomers and they are in the minority, but if the organizers want to enact change, they can. I think the organizers should want to enact change, because there is clearly a proportion of women who feel their gender makes them unsafe and unwelcome at hacker cons in general and at DefCon in particular. And I believe we all suffer in that situation.

Autolykos August 22, 2012 5:43 AM

Now, please don’t try to put words in my mouth I didn’t say. I explicitly stated that anything of criminal relevance is a whole different can of worms and needs to be stopped. I assume any sane person puts assault and serious harassment in this category.

Now, to make my motivations clear (other people may have different ones, but these are mine):

What I mean is primarily the style of communicating men use by themselves, which tends to be pretty direct and does not try to avoid strong words. It also includes jokes that are not 100% politically correct and a certain spirit of (mostly friendly) competition.
I like this not because I want to offend or scare away women, but because I find it refreshing to say what comes to my mind without turning every word around twice. Frankly, I don’t care what gender the people I hang around with are. What pisses me off is when newcomers think they need to police my speech in one of those precious few places where I can still speak freely without policing myself. Empirically, I find most of these people to be women or male feminists, but what I dislike is not these people, but this behavior. When I join groups where they are in the majority, I adapt to their rules. Why can’t I expect the same from them?

Daniel Janzon August 22, 2012 7:19 AM

Both privacy & integrity and that it’s your skills that matter regardless of physical attributes that count is at the core of hackerdom. So it should be pretty easy to move the culture in a direction where those values also applies to women.

There will always be 3% or so that missbehave. But if 97% of that surrounding people act with united force against it, there will be no problem.

Adam D August 22, 2012 9:27 AM

@Autolykos: I don’t think anyone’s been criticizing styles of speech, here or in any of the other commentary. This discussion has been about people feeling they’re being sexually harassed, or at high risk of sexual harassment, in hacker spaces.

This started as a conversation about how to ensure women feel safe and are safe at these events, after reports of repeated physical and verbal harassment. I’m not sure why you’re protesting about people trying to police your speech (unless your speech is “show us your tits”); that seems irrelevant and off-topic to me.

Autolykos August 22, 2012 9:32 AM

You’re right, it is offtopic. I brought it up to explain what I think this video is about, and what it isn’t – mainly because it looked to me like you tried to discredit it with a strawman argument.
Looks like our views are at least close enough that we can agree on the OT stuff and agree to disagree on the off-topic stuff.

Kellie at EFF August 23, 2012 8:20 PM

There are a couple of incorrect claims floating around in the midst of this story and we at EFF want to make sure the record is clear.

1) The Summit party is thrown to benefit EFF, not by EFF, and we’re grateful to the organizers. There was an incident in 2011, unfortunately, of a guest harassing another guest. We know the woman who was harassed. Here, the co-host of the party talks about what happened and how upset she is that it happened. This incident was the one of the incidents that led to the creation of the color cards this year and we supported that effort too.

2) EFF has never hired any strippers for any party. Period. The two women who we think are being referred to (it’s not clear) are longtime Defcon participants who help run the Hacker Jeopardy event. This is a different event from the Summit party. Hacker Jeopardy did donate money to EFF this year, but the event is not run by EFF either, and we understand that these women decided for themselves (as it should be for all women and men) what to wear or not at the event.

3) EFF brings many women to Defcon every year. We’re speakers, we work at the booths and we work hard both at the conference and before it to ensure that hackers of all genders are free to hack and speak freely at Defcon and beyond. A safe atmosphere at Defcon — for everyone — is important to us. As we mentioned last week, we’re working to help ensure that this is the case at Defcon and at every conference we attend.

anonymous August 23, 2012 9:36 PM

Adam D:
The policy being pushed by the activist groups absolutely does include speech, including just heckling a speaker (about anything, including their content or opinion). A substantial part of it is enforced niceness.

Formal policies are great for formal conferences like SIGGRAPH, USENIX and boring Linux confs; taking the hecklers out of DEFCON talks and enforcing a “professional environment for networking” just makes it into a generic infosec/opensource con. This kills the crab.

ibsteve2u August 27, 2012 9:04 PM

Ummm…without touching the subject of the appropriateness of sexual misconduct (or “harassment”, or whatever your label), I would observe that I wouldn’t go to a meeting wherein everybody who attended was proud of either knowing how to or having broken “the rules” as defined by somebody else with the expectation that everybody would play by “the rules” that I defined.

Matter of fact, think I’d go to GovSec Expo if I wanted to wrap my reality in the illusory expectation of universal compliance with “the rules”.

But a hacker convention? I’d think appropriate attire would include a stun gun if you’re seriously worried about sexual misconduct. In fact, I hear they have some these days that look quite innocuous if you’re into instant justice or just lack anything better to do during the evenings.

Jean Camp September 18, 2012 10:27 AM

Guys, do not explain to women how to easily end sexual harassment. You do not know what you are talking about. If you are one of these offering easy one-step solutions for the women who are harassed, then you are part of the problem. If you are denying it, then you are a more serious part of the problem.

Harassment is bullying. Bullying stops when communities act. That means YOU, not the victim of bullying. This includes not telling the bullied to get over it or offerring facile “solutions”. If you are a geek and were bullied then you have been on the receiving end of the kind of advice you offer here. It did not help then; it does not help now.

If there were an easy way to solve the problem of harassment, it would have been long solved. Escalating to violence, for example, is a very bad idea. The cards were designed by those experienced with the problem. They were reported to have helped. As for the trivial solutions here, not only are you not that wise but also, we are not that unwise.

DefCon has always had a particularly odious reputation as a place when women are bullied. I do think the comment about law enforcement personel is interesting. If LE is bullying anyone at DefCon, it would seem that community would immediately stop it. Don’t let it continue if it is the case that they are focusing on sexually-charged bullying.

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