Above is the video of me presenting my harm reduction talk "Sex +/- Drugs: Known Vulns and Exploits" to an audience of hackers at conference BSides Las Vegas, two weeks ago in between Black Hat 2013 and DEF CON 21.
Before the talk begins, I spend time explaining what happened when I tried to give this talk earlier this year for hacker conference BSides San Francisco, and was targeted and censored by feminist organization Ada Initiative (“supporting women in open technology and culture”) and its figurehead, Valerie Aurora.
You can read my short post about what happened here.
After Ada Initiative had my talk pulled, Aurora got Daily Dot to run a piece saying I was teaching hackers to rape.
What I also didn’t know when my talk was censored was that Ada’s Aurora had initiated an email campaign to all BSides US organizers to stop my talk before the San Francisco event.
When people expressed anger and confusion online about the incident of Ada Initiative’s involvement in getting my talk pulled from the conference lineup, Ada Initiative wrote a blog post. This post was changed many times without notifying readers as new information about Ada Initiative’s role in the incident came to light.
One of the things that came to light post-incident was that the email exchange prior to the San Francisco BSides conference between BSides and Ada Initiative was published anonymously to Pastebin.
Prior to this, Ada Initiative had claimed BSides had asked Ada Initiative for help in dealing with my talk; the emails showed Ada Initiative initiating contact and pressuring BSides to remove the talk.
The emails also revealed that Ada Initiative - Valeria Auroroa speaking for the organization - refused to speak to me or have any contact with me.
The talk is a harm reduction talk about the effects of drugs and sex: it a a safety talk that defines informed consent and explains “blurred consent” in practical terms.
Ada Initiative’s email told BSides - from the BSides blog:
"Valerie had sent complaints to co-founders of Secuirty BSides and organizers of various BSides events saying "This is total bullshit even if it somehow ends up giving an anti-rape, pro-consent message.”
Many people also discovered after the fact that Ada’s Aurora had brought a reporter and photographer from Marie Claire to BSides San Francisco - as a publicity stunt to showcase the Ada Initiative as protecting women from hacker culture.
The Marie Claire article ran in print and online, and changed the name of my talk to sound like it was a pro-rape talk. Marie Claire has not corrected the error.
I was not approached for comment or fact checking by Daily Dot or Marie Claire.
The photo-filled, five-page feature in Marie Claire painted hacker conferences as “Tailhook for geeks” and hackers exclusively as predatory males in a culture studded with sexual assault where every woman is a victim in need of saving. “When Geeks Attack” was a comic depiction of journalism, an attack on hacker culture, and an illustration of what happens when a feminist organization becomes moneyed, predatory, influential and corrupt.
It is my opinion that the Ada Initiative owes the global hacker culture an explanation.
It is my opinion that the Ada Initiative owes the sex-positive feminist culture it claims to represent an explanation.
It is my opinion that the Ada Initiative owes me - a woman in technology who would otherwise share their mission - an explanation.
Ada Initiative has not come clean about this and appears intent to prevent the public from knowing about the incident now that the incident is no longer useful for publicity and appears to counter their mission.
Again: My talk is about the effects of drugs and sex when mixed together: it is a harm reduction talk that explains physical, mental and emotional safety and the concept of informed consent for partiers. Among other things, it explains informed consent, and how to navigate ‘blurred consent’ in real-life situations.
It seems like we should all be getting along.
But the Ada Initiative decided this would not be the case before I had even heard of them.
How to route around the damage
An eloquent reaction came from Belgian security conference BruCon (this September 26 and 27). BruCon made a public statement saying that BruCon had adopted the Ada Initiative’s anti-harassment policy but now were pulling it completely and writing a new one from scratch:
As our anti-harassment policy was based on a sample policy supported by the organisation that, in our opinion, has acted against those exact values we try to encourage, we do not feel that we can give the impression to support those actions.
It is therefore that we are currently working to rewrite our policy from scratch. This will be done with help and support from community members, of all genders, familiar with the matter and familiar with the BruCON values.
I don’t simply talk about what happened with Ada Initiative. In the video above I explain how we can route around the damage as a global community and give concrete suggestions as to how we can solve issues the Ada Initiative has been unable to solve - as well as the very real problems posed by the Ada Initiative itself (and extreme feminists - I directly address the damage done by the so-called “Creeper Cards” and how we can fix this).
These extremists have caused far more problems than they have solved.
None of what Ada Initiative, or “Creeper Cards” proponents have done makes a compelling case for having more women in tech, let alone encouraging women to hack.
None of this encourages free and open discussion of difficult and taboo topics, which for hackers, isn’t just a cute idea - but a way of life and something that is necessary.
There has to be a better way.
I can think of several.
Instead of calling people creeps, why don’t we identify creepy behavior so we have a standard and all can also apply it to ourselves, to see if we’re doing it?
Why don’t we publish a primer on how not to be creepy?
Why don’t we publish a primer on how to deal with people being creepy?
Why don’t we publish a primer on defusing conflict? (Don’t we really need this for all hacker spaces?)
Why don’t we publish a primer on bystander intervention?
And why don’t we talk about the effects of drugs and alcohol on sex, so we understand informed consent, and those ordinary, everyday situations when consent becomes blurred?
I discuss all of these things in my talk (above).
The name of this talk is an homage to the Silence = Death project, which became closely identified with Act Up.
The slogan protested both the taboos around discussion of safer sex, and the unwillingness of some to resist societal injustice and governmental indifference.
To be silent, to make topics off limits, must be opposed as a matter of survival.
Hackers: this is who we are.
Updated 9/1/13 in the first section to add information about Ada Initiative’s published emails to BSides, and my confusion as to why we’re not on the same side. Also fixed typos.