Content note for discussion of sexual violence.
The problem with "open secrets" is that they are never open enough to keep people safe 😦—
Leigh Honeywell (@hypatiadotca) June 03, 2016
A number of people are now coming forward with details of the long record of sexual misconduct committed by Jacob Appelbaum. The stories I have read are entirely consistent with my own experiences being sexually involved with Jacob in 2006-2007.
I am writing this under my real name because I am fortunate enough to be able to afford to. I am lucky to have a stable economic and immigration situation, and I am not close enough to Jacob’s world to be in any way dependent on his opinion of me, or on the opinions of people who might support him. I know that’s not true for everybody, and I recognize that many of the people speaking up about Jacob’s abuse are marginalized – by state surveillance, by gender, by sexuality, by geography, by poverty, and by other factors. I stand with their decision to publish their accounts of his actions in a way that allowed them to feel safer speaking out. I am also glad that Nick Farr has also felt able to come forward with his own experience under his own name.
Jacob and I were involved on and off over the course of 2006 and 2007, mainly spending time together at security conferences. During that time, I was also seeing other people, with the consent and awareness of all involved. In that time we spent together, he violated boundaries I set as though they were a game, particularly at times when I was intoxicated. There were a number of times I felt afraid and violated during interactions with Jacob. Being involved with him was a steady stream of humiliations small and large as he mistreated me in front of others and over-shared about our intimate interactions with friends who were often also professional colleagues.
For example, on several occasions in professional situations, he told other people that I was good at a particular sex act. On another occasion where my primary romantic partner at the time, Paul Wouters, was also present, Jacob ignored my use of a safeword when his sexual behavior turned into violent behavior that violated my limits. Paul and I both had to repeatedly tell Jacob to stop, and the experience was profoundly upsetting. I believe that one of the common elements of Jacob’s abusive behavior is humiliating one or another member of a couple in front of the other – as other accounts of his actions are published, that is something worth watching out for. (NB: I am including Paul’s name here with his consent – because that matters.)
Jacob was a charismatic and central figure in the security community I spent the early part of my career in. Many of our friends and colleagues saw the way he treated me and did nothing about it, so it took me years before I realized how abusive he was to me. Until that realization, I remained “friends” with him. It was witnessing his uncritical support of Assange and smearing of Assange’s accusers – something I disagree with intensely – that made me understand the true measure of his character. It was seeing him deny other women’s experiences of sexual violence that made me fully realize how bad my own experiences with him had been.
If you are horrified by this and want to take action, here’s what I suggest.
- Believe victims.
- Educate yourself on your role in enabling sexual violence: victim-blaming, the phenomenon of “missing stairs“, the effects of misogyny in activist communities, and why “go to the police” is so often bad advice for victims. Learn more about what you can do to fight it.
- Donate to nonprofits which fight sexual violence, such as SF Women Against Rape or Sexual Health Innovations, whose Project Callisto is trying to automate the process of collecting reports of sexual assault and connecting victims with each other, much in the same way Jacob’s alleged victims connected with each other. (Disclosure: I’m a volunteer on their advisory board because I care so much about what they do.)
One final note of warning: I’ve noticed at least one person who also has a history of sexual assault spreading word about the accusations about Jacob in a supportive way. I just want to say that, like Jacob himself, simply talking the talk about consent and sex positivity and “yes means yes” does not make someone a safe person to be around. Watch for people using this technique to groom future victims and don’t let someone’s words speak louder than their actions, big and small.
Comments are open but will be heavily moderated. I would prefer that people not contact me to disclose their own stories of mistreatment, as I am not (currently) a trained counselor and am already struggling with the emotional toll of publishing this. But know this: I believe you. If you need emotional support, please reach out to people close to you, a counselor in your area, or to the trained folks at RAINN or Crisis Text Line.