I was raped 3 years ago in San Francisco. It had nothing to do with Dave McClure, but it did have to do with a 20 something startup bro. When reading about Cheryl Yeoh and Sara Kunst’s stories, I resonated with them and wanted to speak up. I wanted to share actionable steps men and women can take as allies and bystanders to make a change in the tech culture.
1. Become a Watchdog
It is important to become aware and alert of warning signs for assault or harassment. If you are a bystander to any of these behaviors, please take action.
- Pushing drinks: This could happen at an office with beer on tap, a work happy hour, or on a date but if someone is trying to “liquor you up.”
- Negging: You might have a coworker who insults you “playfully” or teases you often so you feel you need prove yourself to them. Negging is a technique used by pickup artists to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to their advances.
- Unwelcome touching: You might have a coworker who is a little too touchy with you. If you feel even slightly uncomfortable with a touch, speak up.
- Inappropriate words or messages: Inappropriate words to address women are “hot”, “sexy”, or a “babe.” In the NYT article, Ms. Dent received messages from Marc Canter commenting on how she looked in a blue dress and saying,“Know what I’m thinking? Why am I sending you this — in private?”
Action step: If you see these happening in your office to someone or yourself, speak to HR. Read more about the warning signs on RAINN.
Bystanders: Read about Bystander Intervention
2. Create an Emergency Exit Plan
We have emergency exit plans for fires and shelter in place. 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted every year, but only 1 in 68,388 are injured in a natural disaster. It’s time we start preparing an Emergency Exit Plan to prevent sexual assault. Hopefully this will never occur in an office setting, but be prepared in case of emergency.
- First, remind yourself this is not your fault. Just focus on how you can take action.
- It’s okay to lie. Make up an excuse, grab a coworker and go to the bathroom, text a friend to call you and say there is an emergency. Lies are okay here.
- Look for an escape route: If it’s happy hour at work and you are uncomfortable, say you are going to the bar to get another drink but instead ask the bartender for help or to call 911. Or grab a coworker and go to the bathroom to ask for help. Look for people who could support you, windows, doors.
Action step: What would your Emergency Exit Plan be? Do you have a code word you could text a coworker if you need help? Do you carry around pepper spray or something to defend yourself?
Bystanders: Be aware and help initiate an Emergency Exit plan if you see any warning signs.
3. Say “No” like a lawyer
This is not the time to be timid. If you have a coworker who is touching you inappropriately or making you feel uncomfortable- be firm and clear. Say “No, this is assault/harassment and I will be taking legal action.” Do not smile, there is no room for politeness at this point.
Action step: Practice saying no firmly in the mirror to yourself. Scream it, look ugly and angry. I never said no like until there was too much pressure and I froze. Be prepared.
Bystanders: If you see anyone saying no or appearing uncomfortable, echo this No. After, ask them if they need support reporting the incident to HR or the police.
4. Find a body guard
If there is someone in your office making you uncomfortable, ask a supportive coworker to be your body guard. Place a request for them to be on guard and alert for unwelcome touching or inappropriate behavior at work. If you are in danger, be your own body guard and defend yourself. Use your knee to quickly hit their groin or punch their throat with a fist.
Action step: Take a self defense class
Bystanders: Be a body guard or ask what you can to do help make them feel safe in the workplace.
5. Understand Consent
Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. But consent happens everywhere. We ask “Does this time work for you?” in the office, make sure you ask “Are you comfortable with this?” in a sexual context.
- If a coworker is too touchy and you are uncomfortable, speak up and say no. Silence is not consent.
- You can change your mind at any moment. Giving consent one time does not mean giving consent for recurring activity.
- Consent cannot be given by someone incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
Action Step: Make sure you are practicing consent everyday. Just add one question to your vocabulary: “Is this OK?”
Bystanders: Make sure you are practicing consent everyday. Just add one question to your vocabulary: “Is this OK?”
I am forever grateful for the women who are speaking up and sharing their stories about sexual assault and harassment in tech. When I raised my voice last year to share my story about being sexually assaulted, the shame I carried for years vanished. That’s the funny thing about shame, it only has power over secrets. And my secret was out. I started talking about my assault in casual conversions. Each time I would bring it up, a wave of empathy and anger would wash over my friend’s face. Then we would have a real conversation. A conversation that made them think and start brainstorming ways to make change happen. You have replicated this on a massive scale.
Change starts with words. We can’t be afraid to talk about the things we want to change or else nothing will happen. So I thank you Cheryl, Sara and all the other women speaking up for sparking this change. Your words, your pain, and your actions are allowing women around the world to feel they are not alone. You have turned a taboo topic into a conversation. You have ignited our society to make a change in your case, and in the world.
After being sexually assaulted, Nicole Kelner created Lemonaid, an online community for women empowering women. Nicole is now the COO for The Coding Space, an after school program to help kids learn to code and inspire young girls to become leaders in the world of technology.
To get in touch with Nicole, you can send her an email here or tweet @nicolekelner.