DEFCON: Why conference harassment matters

This weekend was DEFCON 20, the largest and most famous hacker[1] conference in the world. I didn’t go to DEFCON because I’m a woman, and I don’t like it when strangers grab my crotch.

Let’s back up a little bit. DEFCON is a stellar computer security conference, attended by famous computer security experts, shadowy government “spooks,” creative hackers of all sorts, and the journalists who write about them. I first attended DEFCON in 1995 as a gawky 17-year-old. DEFCON 3 was just a few hundred computer security experts wearing black leather jackets and milling around in a ballroomat the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas.

DEFCON 3 badge

The author’s first DEFCON badge

That weekend I learned about Kevin Mitnick getting hunted down by the FBI, war-dialing for modems, and the existence of the Internet. I met a guy with long red hair named Dan Farmer who had written a program called something like EVIL, or SATAN, I wasn’t sure which.

I was so inspired by the fascinating, brilliant, frequently leather-clad people I met at DEFCON 3 that I became a computer programmer. I still have my first DEFCON badge, a cheesy purple and white laminated number with only my first name – at age 17, I wasn’t about to to give my full name to a conference full of hackers!

DEFCON today

Fast forward 17 years to DEFCON 20. Every time I read about something cool happening at DEFCON, I wanted to jump on the next flight to Las Vegas. But I didn’t, because of my own bad experiences at DEFCON, and those of people like KC, a journalist and student in San Francisco who wrote about attending DEFCON 19:

Nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of bad behavior I experienced. 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.

Or the experience of one of my friends, who prefers to remain anonymous. At a recent DEFCON, while leaning over to get her drink at the bar, someone slid his hand up all the way between her legs and grabbed her crotch. When she turned around, the perpetrator had already disappeared into the crowd.

My own stories from DEFCON seem tame compared to what these women went through, but I couldn’t take the constant barrage of sexual insults and walked out halfway through DEFCON 16, swearing not to return if I was going to be harassed like that again.

Unfortunately, DEFCON isn’t unusual among hacker conferences. Similar stories about Black Hat, HOPE, CCC, and others are also common. Sexual harassment at other computer conferences often appears unintentional, but at hacker conferences it’s often clear that the perp is doing it on purpose, and enjoying the hell out of it. As a woman, it’s hard to justify attending a hacker conference when I can go to an academic computer conference and get treated like a human being most of the time.

Why harassment matters

At this point, some of you are thinking, “Well, if DEFCON is so bad for women, women just shouldn’t go. Who cares?”

As KC puts it, “Defcon is also many wonderful things. It is a fantastic environment to learn, network, and connect with friends old and new.” There’s a reason that I attended DEFCON five times before I quit. DEFCON and other hacker conferences are popular for all the reasons that conferences exist at all: learning new things, meeting people in your field, improving your reputation, finding jobs, and making new friends.

I’ll start with the most obvious benefit of attending DEFCON: jobs. Did you know that Twitter is recruiting computer security experts at DEFCON? So are Zynga and the NSA:

@netik: Twitter is hiring security people. If you are at defcon and need work, @ reply me and let's meet up.

Happy Recruiting! NSA top spy going to #Defcon 2012  via @examinercom #infosec #cybersecurity

I am recruiting for AppSec, SecEng, and SecIR positions at @Zynga this week at BsidesLV, Defcon, and Blackhat. Lets talk.

Twitter, Zynga, and the NSA are only a few of the companies and government agencies that consider DEFCON prime recruiting ground for experts in all sorts of areas: network security, operating systems, robotics, surveillance, electrical engineering, intrusion detection, and anything that communicates via electromagnetic waves. When companies recruit at DEFCON, and women aren’t at DEFCON, both the companies and the women miss out.

But how do you become qualified for a computer security job in the first place? Computer security isn’t very well documented, or taught in any depth in most universities. After my first DEFCON, I knew to sign up for the DEFCON mailing list, read the 2600 magazine, and check out a copy of the UNIX Systems Administration Handbook from the computer center library. When I got a computer account at my university, I logged into the UNIX workstations instead of the Windows machines because I knew UNIX was what hackers used. I poked around UNIX until I found files I couldn’t read and commands I couldn’t run, and then I started reading manuals to understand why. I eventually became a worldwide UNIX file systems expert – all because I went to this obscure little conference in Las Vegas in 1995.

For those women who work or want to work in a computer security related field, conferences like DEFCON are the best chance to meet influential people in the field. Take Bruce Schneier, a professional speaker and the author of “Applied Cryptography” (known outside computer security for coining the term “security theater” to describe TSA security measures). I met Schneier at DEFCON 6, when I made a joke that he reused in his talk a few minutes later. The DEFCON speaker list is a who’s who of modern digital glitterati – and in a strange twist of fate, now includes the Director of the NSA.

Giving the right talk at DEFCON can make your entire career and net you dozens of offers for jobs, contracts, and book deals. DEFCON is good for hands-on learning too: For example, every year teams of security experts compete in contests like “Capture the Flag” to show off their skills and learn from each other.

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?

Is change coming to hacker conferences?

Back to KC:

I know Im not alone in being frustrated with the climate at Defcon. Last year at Deepsec in Vienna, I met a fantastically intelligent woman developer who flat out refused to attend Defcon because of interactions like those listed above. I can think of countless other women I know in the tech industry who are regular Defcon participants and speakers who are just as fed up with this crap as me. I wonder why weve all been so polite about such an unhealthy atmosphere.

Red/yellow (and green) cardsRed/yellow (and green) cardsKC stopped being polite, and started doing something about the sexist atmosphere at DEFCON: she created the Red/Yellow Card Project. She got the idea from a joke a rugby-obsessed friend made after she complained about sexism at DEFCON, suggesting that she hand out red and yellow penalty cards to people making sexist comments. She designed and printed the cards and distributed them at this year’s DEFCON, with mixed reception. Some people vehemently objected, but others loved it. DEFCON founder Jeff Moss offered to pay for the printing costs of the cards.

How the Ada Initiative is changing conferences

The cards are a hilarious way to raise awareness of the problem of brutal sexual harassment at DEFCON and similar conferences. Unfortunately, it will take more than raising awareness to make hacker conferences safe for women. That’s one reason why I quit my cushy computer programmer job and co-founded the Ada Initiative, a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture. Our scope includes open source software, open hardware, and open data – all of which are major parts of hacker conferences like DEFCON.

The Ada Initiative’s first project: an example written policy that bans harassment at conferences, sexual or otherwise, of people of all genders. Organizers for literally hundreds of conferences have adopted some form of this policy, including open source software conferences from Linux to Python to Git, the world’s largest Wikipedia conference, Wikimania, and a plethora of others including gaming cons, open video conferences, science fiction conventions, and even skeptic/atheist meetups.

The policies aren’t just empty words; several conferences have enforced their policies successfully. Many conference organizers have told us that they had record women’s attendance after they adopted a policy aimed at reducing harassment (and often higher overall attendance as well). One conference organizer said that the first year they worked hard to invite 30% women, everyone enjoyed the conference so much more that they’ve done it every year since. When women feel welcome at a conference, everyone enjoys the conference more.

A call to action and a challenge

We’re waiting to hear about the first[2] hacker conference to adopt a specific, enforceable, well-planned policy protecting women from harassment – and then we’re going to promote the hell out of it. Will it be HOPE? CCC? DEFCON? Whichever hacker conference is first will get dozens or hundreds of new attendees, women and everyone else, too. If you want this to be your conference, and you want help designing and implementing a policy, email us at

Updated to add on August 6, 2012: BruCON, a computer security conference in Belgium, is the first conference to meet our challenge! BruCON 2012 will be in Ghent, Belgium, on September 24-25, 2012. See their policy here and keep an eye out for related posts on our blogs. We will continue to update the list of computer security and hacker conferences with specific, enforceable policies preventing harassment on the Geek Feminism wiki.

If you’re not a conference organizer, you can help too! We’ve created a list of actions to take to support policies preventing harassment at conferences, all field-tested for effectiveness. To name just a few, you can publicly request a policy by blogging or tweeting, organize a community petition asking for a policy, and when speaking, make your appearance contingent on a policy.

Finally, if you like the work that the Ada Initiative is doing, you can support us by joining our announcement mailing list or donating to support our work for women in open technology and culture (we’re a tax-exempt non-profit charitable organization supported by donations).

[1] The precise meaning of the word “hacker” has been the subject of furious debate for at least 30 years. Suffice to say that in this post it does not mean exclusively “person who breaks into computers” and it includes people who experiment with computers and hardware for curiosity’s sake.

[2] Kiwicon is a hacker conference that has a (hilarious) Code of Conduct:

Kiwicon attempts to be a relatively informal conference where all members of the hacking community can come together over one weekend. Individuals intent on sprinkling fetid douchenuggets over the ice-cream sundae of anyone else’s enjoyment may incur penalties, reprisals or sanctions at the discretion of the Crue. In other words, the Crue reserve the right to kick you out, own your boxen and publicly shame you if you’re being an idiot.

However, our (rather extensive) experience with harassment at conferences is that policies don’t work unless they are specific about what isn’t allowed, for many reasons. Often the people doing the harassing believe that their behavior is acceptable at that conference, so unacceptable behavior has to be spelled out or people will keep doing it. Plus, specifically listing unacceptable behavior is often enough to stop it from occurring at all. People who are nervous about attending the conference can’t tell what the organizers consider harassing behavior and don’t know whether the organizers will back them up. Finally, it’s simply inconsiderate to tell your attendees that they can get kicked out of a conference if they behave badly – and then not give them some idea of what you consider bad behavior. See the example policy guide for more details.

The Ada Initiative is raising funds to support our anti-harassment work and our other programs supporting women in open tech and culture. Become an Ada’s Angel donor today and help us make conferences safer for women!

Donate now

83 thoughts on “DEFCON: Why conference harassment matters

  1. Valerie Aurora Post author

    Edited to add: Comments are now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated!

    Due to popular request, comments are on for this post now. Heads up: we will not approve comments that include threats, insults, or other things we don’t think add to the conversation. You are free to host your own discussion on another forum. Thanks for reading!

    Edited to add: We did not approve some abusive or nasty comments, but in the interests of showing the full range of responses without creating a hostile environment, we’ll replace them with summaries and publish them.

  2. James P. Goltz

    I’ve worked in IT for almost 30 years. Over that time I’ve watched the field evolve from a guy-geeks-only club to a true profession, with many talented women and men working to make the field, and the world, a better place. Behavior like what you describe seems like a HUGE step backwards, and makes me wonder what I worked for all these decades.

  3. Kelly R.

    Great article, Valerie!

    One small thing:
    >> I eventually became a worldwide UNIX file systems expert
    To strengthen your argument, you should observe common etiquette and show a little more humility maybe.

    1. Ame

      Valerie knows enough about how to handle herself as a woman in the world of tech. But other female readers of this blog need to know that you are 100% wrong about that advice, Kelly R. Women are far less likely to give themselves credit for their accomplishments and they are far less likely to get credit from anywhere else, which is very possibly related to women’s reactions to their own greatness. Women have to learn to take all the credit possible for their accomplishments and talk about them clearly, openly, and of course, honestly. What Valerie said is honest, true, and well worth being openly proud of. Girls and women are taught that it is impolite to speak about themselves in glowing terms. We now know that that propensity holds girls and women back because 1) they demure when they should be taking credit and 2) they continue believing that maybe they aren’t all that.

      The lesson for girls and women is, take credit for your hard work, your success, and your accomplishments. You will feel better about yourself and your work, and other people will look to you as someone who can hold her own.

      1. Fozo

        the term ‘expert’ is subjective and I’d back Kelly point on this. That “worldwide expert” statement line wasn’t contributing to positive feeling of this message… whatver

  4. David Houston

    Wonderful. Thank you. I’ve seen some of this crappy behavior at IT conferences and, sadly, even at conferences designed to promote positive sexuality. This pattern of behavior is everywhere. I appreciate the links and ideas for trying to deal with it, and hope that lots of other, non-hacker conferences will take up this same cause.

  5. abadidea

    This was my first year attending and the harassment levels I experienced were pretty low but not zero. No strangers tried to touch me or asked for tits-or-gtfo which is definitely my freak-out-on-the-spot threshold. What *did* happen was one guy who tried really spectacularly hard to get my phone number as I kept explaining I only give out twitter contact info and I had to invent an excuse to bolt, and a guy who offered my male friend viagra on the assumption that if I was standing near him, I must be there to have sex with him. That really, really bothered me.

    So nothing really terrible happened to me personally (of course I can’t speak for anyone else) but I definitely got the vibe from a few people that they assumed I was there to be decoration on a hacker’s arm when in fact I am a professional researcher. On the other hand I met a lot of great guys who were the exact opposite of the stereotypical Defcon nightmare. Not only that, but Defcon was literally the most face-to-face interaction I’ve had with other women in the past year.

  6. Matt Barron

    Hi – I support and admire your efforts. I was at Blackhat and DEFCON and I thought of you often – most notably when I saw the ridiculous cheesecakey RSA vendor booth and realized yet again the need for organizations like yours; and when I noticed that there were more females in attendance at DEFCON than there used to be, which is a Good Thing, but geez someone needs to tell some of the younglings to stop playing into gender stereotypes.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, and please know that this very male engineer supports you in all you do.

  7. Kevin

    As a 21-year-old male computer scientist, reading about experiences such as these truly appall me. To think that somebody could believe this behavior is acceptable in ANY atmosphere seems almost too outlandish to believe … and yet happen it does. On behalf of men everywhere, I’d like to apologize for crap like this. You’re doing great work; keep it up!

  8. Chris P.

    I am happy to be an Ada Initiative supporter, and your work on anti-harrassment policies is perhaps the biggest (but hardly only) reason.

  9. nope

    I know that defcon is now much less of a ‘hacker’ event than it used to be, to the point where it’s basically time to abandon it in favour of smaller cons, but what you are essentially saying is “I want to go to a hacker party but I want everyone to act civilly and within the bounds of the law”.

    That’s like saying, I want to go to a football party but I don’t want people to talk about other sports, get drunk, or fight with each other.

    It’s against the entire spirit of the thing.

    To a certain extent, Defcon is a celebration of freedom. And freedom is only freedom if you act outside the boundaries of commonly accepted behaviour.

    (Denigration of hackers’ sex lives and social skills removed.)

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      Wow, what football parties are you going to?

      Ask any hacker conference organizer: What makes a good hacker conference are the people who do act civilly and within the bounds of the law, but do so in creative, clever, unexpected ways that expose problems in the system. The people who do things like cut telephone receivers off pay phones, harass women, and throw beer in people’s faces are boring and uninteresting, and add nothing to the conference except headaches. They are doing things that require nothing more than overconfidence and a lack of ability to plan for the future, not hacking.

      Hackers have a name for these people: script kiddies.

      Every time I’ve been to DEFCON, the creative clever hackers talked about how they’d like to get rid of the script kiddies and the vandals. My contention is that policies banning harassment will make a hacker conference *better*, not worse.

      1. Chad Parks

        I see one challenge in this argument. “Boring and uninteresting” is coming from your perspective as a professional, attending an event that was created by and for…the “script kiddies” you are discouraging. Some of them may be minor vandals or do things on the border of the law, but news flash: that’s what young men do to bond, and that’s why a lot of them attend in the first place. The last thing they want is to come across the country to a conference filled with IT professionals who feel awkward not talking in corporate PC speak and who want to discuss the merits of boring company policy, or anything else equally verbose.

        There is an error in judgement in thinking that a bunch of professionals could come in to an event and essentially transform it from the inside out to be the kind of event they want to attend. What I’m trying to say is: if it doesn’t suit you, trying to grow it to critical mass with people of like mind to yourself is not the answer. Perhaps it was never your cup of tea to begin with. Why try to change the spirit of the conference to make it what you want when it already has an established culture? Note: I’m not condoning harassment here, but as they say “boys will be boys”, and the other fringe things you mention people doing are indicative of a group mindset that just wants to spend time together and have fun in their way. Please stop trying to change it or make that culture apologize for being itself.

      2. Valerie Aurora Post author

        This is the first time I’ve heard the Dark Tangent described as a “script kiddie.” Someone should send this link to him. :)

        Whenever I talk to the people that DEFCON was created by and for (as judged by who attended DEFCON 3), they complain about the boring, uninteresting “script kiddies” and wish they wouldn’t come to DEFCON. You may want to talk to a different set of people at your next DEFCON.

        I think it’s interesting how often people redefine “hacker culture” to leave out all the women and men who think sexual harassment is puerile and rude. I include women and men who treat women respectfully in my definition of hacker culture.

        Note: Saying “boys will be boys” is, actually, condoning harassment.

      3. Chad Parks

        Look, I appreciate your feelings about witnessing improper behavior. That is very definitely not something someone should have to witness. Saying “boys will be boys” is being unapologetic about the impulses, drives and identity of some human beings, who come with their own built-in motivations and identities. If having fun by them, in their way, is seen as “wrong” by someone else, yet it doesn’t hurt anyone, why should it be their duty to pack up and leave?

        My case is one exactly the opposite of redefining hacker culture. I am advocating that sometimes that culture may come off as juvenile or even rude. That shouldn’t be open ground to attempt to force it to comply with a “better” culture. It exists for a reason. It is a chance to gather with other like-minded individuals.

        It seems almost like you are using the idea that you observed improper behavior as ammunition to say Defcon should therefore conform to a totally different idea of what you think it’s culture should be – going well beyond the improper behavior argument and including changing the tone of the conference as a whole. You have to take the bad with the good. (NO, not the sexual harassment, but the “boring and uninteresting” – yes). Anything else is being intolerant of others, and I think acceptance, even of those deemed “not professional enough” IS a core value of Defcon attendees.

      4. Valerie Aurora Post author

        If having fun by them, in their way, is seen as “wrong” by someone else, yet it doesn’t hurt anyone, why should it be their duty to pack up and leave?

        That’s an interesting definition of “anyone,” if you think sexual harassment and groping doesn’t hurt “anyone.”

        Odd that in general, when you talk about groups of people, you consistently exclude women and people who don’t like harassment. We’re part of hacker culture too, and we don’t just witness assault, we experience it.

        (End of thread, as per “Charles’ Rules of Argument.”)

      5. Mackenzie

        “Some of them may be minor vandals or do things on the border of the law, but news flash: that’s what young men do to bond, and that’s why a lot of them attend in the first place.”

        This is not a man-exclusive bonding activity. I know I’ve commited vandalism with a group of other people, and I’m female. I know several other girls and several other guys who’ve done so. It’s a human bonding activity, not a male bonding activity. Yes, it’s in line with male stereotypes, but so is wearing pants, and lots of girls wear pants.

        “Please stop trying to change it or make that culture apologize for being itself.”

        DEFCON is not a sexual assault convention, it’s a hacker convention. It is a place for computer enthusiasts to meet, not a place for anatomy enthusiasts. Why should the culture have anything to do with misogyny and nonconsensual sexual activities?

      6. ERose

        I know, right? And then here’s the part that gets me: “To a certain extent, Defcon is a celebration of freedom. And freedom is only freedom if you act outside the boundaries of commonly accepted behaviour.”

        If you want to fight for the freedom to force others – chiefly women – to be afraid, that’s your right I guess, but up yours all the same. Plus, there is a clear difference between being a bit of a rule-breaker and being a predatory creep. Working to eliminate the latter really has no effect on the former, since they’re totally separate categories. In fact, as a periodic member of the harmless rule-breaker community, I’m insulted this guy apparently includes misogynists and sexual predators among our ranks.

      7. Kristin S.

        Wow. Someone really needs to start passing out copies of Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto at these conferences.

        There is NEVER an excuse for oppression. Folks who exhibit such abhorrent behavior toward us lady-folk are no colleagues of mine.

  10. Greg Bowyer

    @Kelly R.

    Why would one of the lead engineers of ZFS need to show humility in claiming to be a file system expert. I think Valerie has earned that right

  11. Edwin Martin

    People don’t see their “funny remarks” as harassment, so I don’t think your Anti-harassment policy will help here.

    Your last paragraph sums up what’s wrong with the short/medium version of the policy. The long version is very negative: you shouldn’t do this, this, this and that.

    I think a positive text is much better and is understood by everybody, including the ignorant, harassing people.

    A better text:

    “This conference is for everybody and everybody visiting this conference should feel comfortable, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. ”

    Harassing people often don’t see their actions as harassment, but they do know they make other people feel uncomfortable.

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      Most people are more comfortable in general with something that affirms good behavior instead of acknowledging the existence of bad behavior. I understand the desire to talk about the good things happening in our community instead of behavior we are ashamed of.

      However, the flaw with giving people instructions to “be excellent” is that many people genuinely believe they are being welcoming when they are actually doing something that puts them off. For example, I have many well-intentioned friends whom I respect who are supportive of women in open tech/culture, but also make sexist jokes. Once they understand that sexist jokes are part of the problem, they stop – but until someone tells them specifically that sexist jokes are harassment, they don’t know they are doing anything harmful.

      The example policy tries to list only known problem behavior that is relatively common in real life. Otherwise the actually useful information – actions that people commonly believe are acceptable – gets hidden in a sea of hypotheticals.

      1. Mike

        As I said much earlier in the thread, research has consistently shown that when people are reminded about specific behaviors to avoid immediately before an activity, like being reminded that they shouldn’t steal before being left alone with money, or being reminded that they shouldn’t cheat before taking a test, it dramatically reduces occurences of the undesired behaviors. But the reminders must be specific, must be immediately before the activity, and can’t be overly broad “be excellent to each other” type statements. One obvious reason this doesn’t work is because, as has been pointed out, people’s opinions differ about what “being excellent to each other” means. On the other hand, most people know what stealing, or cheating are.

        The conferences that I’ve seen coming up with these guidelines have all aimed at specific behaviors they want to avoid, so I think they should be successful. As an aside, what should really be aimed for, in my opinion, are the same guidelines about respecting people regardless of gender identification, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc., in short, the same as I’ve found in every workplace harrasment training course I’ve had to take at every employer for the last decade.

  12. dotzero

    The answer is not to hand the offensive person a card. The answer is to provide them with negative reinforcement and set boundaries through damage to sensitive body parts.

    Perhaps defcon self defense training is in order.

    I finally convinced a friend of mine – she is a malware reverse engineer – to come to defcon. She decided not to come back this year. On the other hand I know women who have been coming to defcon for years (I’ve been coming since dc7 and my wife since dc8).

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      I can never tell how serious people are when they propose responding to sexual harassment with physical violence. However, my co-founder Mary Gardiner wrote a comprehensive article on why “Just hit him!” is not reasonable suggestion.

      For example, I’m disabled. Besides getting me kicked out of the con and in trouble with police, punching someone would injure me more than my target (on days I can even do it because I’m not walking with a cane).

    2. Kristin S.

      I don’t believe physical violence is necessarily the appropriate response to correct sexual harrassment or assault. Generally because the message behind the violent response simply does not sink in – it only allows the victim to feel retribution in the moment.

      A better solution would be to organize a group of folks, a sort of solidarity network, who are prepared to publicly shame the perpetrator on behalf of the victim. A blow to one’s career is much more powerful than a blow to their nether-parts.

  13. Mary Branscombe

    Own your accomplishments. I don’t know what gender Kelly R is, so I don’t know if it’s a man telling a woman he doesn’t believe she’s that good or a woman telling another woman to stay in her place but when you’re explaining how being able to go to a hacker conference led to your career, hell yes you point out the heights you’ve reached.

  14. Owen

    While the behavior you describe is detestable, and completely unacceptable in civil society, the tone of your article implies that the majority of us attending DEFCON participate or condone this behavior. Please don’t throw the vast majority of us, who don’t harass, under the bus with the small percentage of those who do. In every large gathering of people, there will always be at least one person who is unable to conduct themselves appropriately.
    I know that had I seen any of the behavior you describe (crotch grab, etc …), and I’m sure the majority of the attendees would agree with me, two things would have happened. First I would have throttled the offender viciously, and second, had a goon remove them from the conference. Please don’t let a few misogynistic, socially inept, douchebags ruin a great conference for you. I believe they behave this way because they feel threatened by you.

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      I posted this elsewhere, but advocating violence in response to harassment is not in any way helpful:

      I hear your anger and frustration with being associated with people who harass and assault women. A lot of people in open source software felt the same way when we raised the awareness of how much harassment was going on at open source conferences. Probably the best way to demonstrate how many people at DEFCON do treat women and men with the respect they deserve is to publicly push for a policy that censures or evicts the minority of people doing the harassing. Here’s a list of ways to do that:

      1. Gillis

        The minority of people doing the harassing will already be evicted, if proper notice is executed. Your thresh-hold of harassment may be different than what is required to be thrown out (For example, not referring to someone in a gender-neutral way isn’t offensive to me), but serious cases of verbal or physical harassment are dealt with swiftly. But, any industry solution is contingent upon the fact that notice has to be passed on from the victim- tell a goon, hotel security, or call the police. Make a ruckus and let people know that you do not consent to what is going on, we cannot help what we cannot see.

        Further, a policy explicitly stating that gender,racial,sizist,or mental capacital humor or insults are off-limits is counter to everything I was raised to believe Defcon stood for. And one of the reasons I wanted to go was to get away from “Normal” culture and be around people who would solely judge me based on what I know.

        tl;dr Policies Suck and will cause a PC mentality at a conference that prides itself in being devoid of P and anything but C.

      2. Valerie Aurora Post author

        I agree that progress can be made more quickly when harassment is swiftly reported and quickly responded to. One way to increase the likelihood of people reporting harassment is to communicate clearly what the conference organizers consider to be harassment and how they will react to reports of it. At present, unless conference organizers make a clear statement, attendees assume that they won’t take reports of harassment seriously.

      3. ERose

        A) I’m more concerned about keeping Defcon from becoming a haven for creepers and perverts than about keeping it from becoming “too PC.” I feel like making sure everyone feels safe at the conference takes priority over preserving the right to call someone a pussy or using gay as an insult.

        B) I wouldn’t be comfortable allowing whoever happens to show up when I yell at a guy to be the arbiter of whether a given incident is a “serious case.” I also wouldn’t feel comfortable having it be generally known that so long as you keep it small enough or subtle enough, you won’t face consequences for harassment. A uniform standard removes that uncertainty.

    2. Eric

      The problem is not really the small minority. The problem is the large majority that do nothing, say nothing, or even complain about the uppity women trying to ruin their con.

      When the goons wear shirts, “I’ve never been harassed at Defcon”, you really think that guy is going to give a shit when you tell him some bozo just grabbed that other person’s crotch?

      When a small minority of federal investigators tried to “ruin” Defcon, what was the response? Maybe we need a “Spot the Asshat” contest.

  15. Monkey Boy

    I too was at DEFCON 3. I have returned numerous times over the years, with a noticeable absence the last few. I don’t stay away for any other reason than being too busy.

    I can’t speak to what the con is like in recent history, but I have been to enough events to want to ask, are you really surprised by the behavior of a bunch of socially awkward introverts in a nearly anonymous setting while drunk? I realize that statement requires you to subscribe to some pretty general stereotyping, but I am good at classifying experiences with generalities. Hehe. This will date me, but I will never forget one quote from a fellow attendee “If you used your skills and spent as much time trying to exploit women as you do Sendmail you would never leave your hotel room”. The point I am trying to make is some of the people at these conferences are still growing up. To be honest their dedication to their craft can socially stunt them by lack of genuine social interactions. With that being said I am hopeful that you may see that these people are different. It doesn’t make their behavior acceptable, but far from surprising.

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      I’m frankly tired of people blaming harassment at conferences on a few socially inept people, or people on the autism spectrum, or geeks who are too focused on their interests to learn social skills. People with reduced social skills are going around creating awkward conversational pauses and making unintentionally embarrassing comments, not grabbing asses and deliberately insulting people.

      A round-up of posts about what autism spectrum and socially inept people *really* act like (hint: very good with remembering and following rules):

      Aspie Social Skills and the Free Software Community
      Don’t blame autism, dammit.
      As the mother of an Asperger child
      Enough with the Aspie bit already

      I also don’t appreciate stereotyping hackers as socially inept or sexually desperate. If that’s the case, who’s doing the social engineering, and how come most of my hacker friends have active and enjoyable sex lives?

      This entire argument is a cop-out, and one that’s insulting to most hackers as well as people with autism spectrum or other disorders, and people who just haven’t prioritized socializing.

    2. Ame

      “some of the people at these conferences are still growing up”

      Yes, and part of growing up is learning what behavior is and isn’t acceptable. A clear, consistent, and visible policy would be helpful to those people, rather than letting them continue to think that behavior that is labeling them as childish is getting them somewhere.

  16. Sandee

    [Argues that a worldwide file systems expert would attend conferences no matter how much she is harassed. Implies that women should tolerate harassment to be technically accomplished and that women who refuse to do so must be lying about their technical qualifications.]

    [Does not know author’s credentials but thinks she should show more humility.]

    [Considers calling vandals “script kiddies” equivalent in terms of harassment to sexual harassment and assault of women.]

    [Believes described incidents are isolated. Contends that the real problem is not harassment, it is talking about the harassment.]

    I absolutely disagree that there should be a policy specifically regarding harassment of women. Just as women should not be degraded, they also should not be put up on a pedestal. A policy about harassment would suffice, if you’re going to have one at all. The story you told is horrible, but you’re blowing this out of proportion really.

  17. nope


    I wanted to write a bit more about my opinions on this subject. I felt a little bad that I concluded things so blatantly, I was just quite upset at the response. I don’t mind if you moderate this (I’d prefer you not to, though) either, but I would like to communicate my thoughts at least to you.

    I’ve been a part of the hacking scene for as long as I can remember. I don’t live in a place where it’s very easy to go to a lot of these cons, and frankly I’m a little afraid to go to any that are in the USA lest I end up in some variation of gitmo, even though I don’t, myself, break the law.

    I’ve been to a few of the more remote ones and know a lot of the big names that go to the big ones. I get a lot of different stories from a lot of different people every time there’s a major con, so I feel a little bit like all the second hand accounts of these cons may contribute a little bit to me having some idea as to what they are and should be about, despite my lack of attendance.

    This may not qualify me in your mind as having adequate experience or information to comment on the situation, if not, I would say what does is that I care about these things. Probably more than anyone I’ve ever talked to or met. The “hacking” scene is my raison d’etre, and for me, Defcon is a center piece of that scene.

    I agree completely that there are many very talented people who can be called hackers. Sometimes, these are the people who build things for the community, who give their own time for the good of the public. There are other people, too, who are not so altruistic, but who do contribute a portion of their private research to the public for various reasons. And in my opinion, all of these people are worthy of respect.

    I will also concede that there is a very large group of individuals that are vandals and script kiddies, and I have no concern or regard for these people whatsoever, outside of my basic concern for all people. I do however think that they are a pivotal part of the scene, if only in that they provide vast amounts of düppel.

    There is a third group of people that attend these cons; they are by far the smallest of the groups. These guys help the first group, but they don’t do it in the public light. If you ask the big names if they know some of these guys, most will say yes, I know one, or two. They do not do things which would draw attention to themselves, and not only do they give their time to the community, they also risk their freedom in the pursuit of hacking.

    It is these people that I believe, from a macroscopic perspective, that the entire hacker scene exists to create and support.

    In a world where essentially every first-world government is slowly tightening it’s grip on it’s own citizens, where nothing is public record, where the people who are supposed to be protecting the proletariat are actively exploiting and suppressing it, and a world where things like the American 2nd amendment have been obsoleted by the advancement of traditional weaponry, it is the rare people who have the inclination and concern for the welfare of others combined with the bravery to risk their freedom and the skill to do this in a manner in which they are not caught that make the hacker scene so important.

    In my experience, these people are almost always a little crazy, and very often, socially inept. Any action which reduces the amount of freedom and lawlessness in the environments that creates these people reduces the chances that they will be created. As such, I feel that anyone who is worried about issues of sexual harassment (I am not, in any way, advocating this behavior) and professionalism within the hacking scene is missing the entire point of the scene. Computer insecurity is giving people the chance to find out what governments and corporations are really doing; who really calls the shots, who really runs the world. We have a brief window in which the individual or small collective can make a massive positive difference upon the future of the human race, and once that window closes it may never open again. (Google “information dominance” if you disagree with that sentence.)

    Anything that is not directed towards this end, in relation to the hacking scene, is, in my humble opinion, an unintentional distraction which may have dire results.

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      I invite you to consider the possibility that people can work for the good of society through hacking, while simultaneously not being abusive criminals in other arenas. The vast majority of people working for greater government transparency through legal or illegal means have done so without also harassing or assaulting women or men. In fact, there is plenty of reason to think that governments and other people intent on oppressing people deliberately promote the idea that freedom fighters are also necessarily criminals and psychopaths. Not to mention that people who abuse or assault their fellow activists are often quite consciously taking advantage of their peers’ distrust of government to get away with abusing other activists, knowing they won’t report them to an authority.

      Finally, I would consider grabbing women’s crotches and practicing sexist insults are the very definition of a distraction from the important work you describe. It certainly distracts the women who are involved in this important work.

  18. Calypso Jargon

    I think I saw some of those this year. To be honest, I’ve been going to Defcon since DC 13 and I’ve never been shown anything but kindness, hospitality, and respect from my fellow con goers. Some of my friends and I were discussing the Green Yellow and Red card ideas, and realized that the trolls of the con would probably do more just to get cards. One thought we had was public shaming. Nothing is worse than getting humiliated in front of your peers, it doesn’t matter who you are.

    While I agree 100% that there should be a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, sadly the way DC is setup and ran, in fact the entire premise behind it makes enforcement of that policy almost impossible. If a con goer was ejected and had their badge removed, the hotel isn’t going to throw them out as well. They are still within their rights to remain there. On top of that there is nothing stopping them from forking over for another badge (if they were so inclined). You could take their picture and take down their details, but what is stopping them from getting someone else to buy the badge for them, or borrowing one of their friends’ badges .
    In the end sadly the only true form of mitigating this behavior is to brute force a negative outcome for the perpetrator. Goons can’t be everywhere at once and they have other tasks so we can’t really expect them to assist all the time (Goons, I love you all which is why I said that, I know you can’t be everywhere at once). I hate to say it but in times of being trolled….think like a troll. Someone does something inappropriate, use an air-horn? I still think the best option is to fight fire with fire, but that’s simply my opinion on the matter.

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      Putting the burden of punishing harassment on to the victims of harassment doesn’t make sense and won’t increase the diversity of the con. First, the person being harassed is likely to be less powerful – women in particular are accused of lying, belittled, mocked, etc. when they try to stand up for their rights. Punishing harassment should be done by the organization running the conference, since they control the venue and their security team has a lot of power. Second, if you require people attending a conference to police the harassers, that’s not going to encourage people who are likely to be harassed to come. Who wants to go to a conference where you’re expected to work as free security but have no actual power to enforce the rules? And most people don’t want to be on security staff because it can be an unpleasant job, whether or not they are also likely to be harassed.

      Conference organizers should take reports of harassment and then enforce their rules against harassment, not victims.

      As a side note, DEFCON has successfully evicted conference attendees from both the conference and the hotel many times in the past. There’s no logistical or legal barrier.

  19. Sam Bowne

    Thanks for this well-written and important article. I think this effort, and others like it, are working.

    I think the culture of Defcon is changing to become more friendly to women, slowly. I see more women there now. It seemed to me this year that HOPE was 25% women, and Defcon was 15% women. When enough women are present, men tend to switch from a brutal “wolf-pack” mentality to a “polite, mixed-company” one.

    Stick with it!

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      Thanks for the compliment!

      While I agree with your comment in general, I have enough respect for men to believe they can be polite and respectful in a majority male environment.

  20. Adryenn Ashley

    As a former high tech priestess that used to break into banks for a living (at the bank’s request of course) I can attest to the value of these conferences. This is where the relationships that lead to the big dollar contracts are made. I love the idea of the penalty cards. I have never experienced more than a cat call or a whistle. Probably because my military training would have accidentally led to the perpetrator becoming unconscious before I could help myself. :)

    We need more women in the hacker community. We think differently and come up with creative alternatives for uncommon problems! And in the end, that’s good for everyone!

  21. Anonymous

    I can’t say when I’ve been more excited by a blog post. Thanks for explaining yourself so thoroughly in the comments. Keep it up.

  22. Evan

    [Blames sexual harassment on people who have insufficient sex. Argues that people should treat women respectfully in order to have a better chance at having sex with them.]

  23. Belle Didier

    [Characterizes both male and female attendees of tech/sci conferences as nerdy, bullying, and juvenile.]

  24. Anonymous

    [Believes red/yellow card project is an overreaction to sexual harassment and assault at conferences.]

    [Argues that since harassment occurs on the Las Vegas strip, we shouldn’t care about it happening at DEFCON.]

  25. redacted

    [Description of physical assault at DEFCON requiring surgery to correct. Purports to be from a disliked figure in the hacking scene and may be a troll.]

  26. Some Guy...

    [Describes self as DEFCON security staff and attendee of DEFCON 8 to present.]

    [Says security staff takes harassment seriously. Blames harassment on people not reporting it to the security staff. Describes KC unflatteringly. Disagrees with her approach.]

    [Suggests someone (?) increase awareness of security staff’s role in protecting attendees and taking reports. States that reports are taken seriously. Uses cell phone fire as an example.]

    [Points out that KC was outside of the DEFCON 19 venue when incident of harassment related to security staff-organized activity occurred. Says some people were expelled from DEFCON 19 for being rude to women.]

    [Argues that attendees have responsibility to enforce socially appropriate behavior at a 15,000 person conference.]

    [Argues that Ada Initiative’s role should be to tell people who are harassed at conferences to report the harassment to conference volunteers and call the police for illegal activity.]

  27. Mike

    I’ve been a software engineer for thirty years, and, in my opinion, I’ve seen the industry increasingly glorifying the abuse of alcohol, the “brogrammer” mentality, and the use of profanity during presentations, to the point where conferences feel like attending a frat party where everyone has the same major. These conferences are easiest to attend if you are young, male, and white. Good luck to everyone else. A few conferences have started distributing rules of acceptable behaviour. Since research has shown that people will behave when reminded, like if they are reminded of an honor code before a test, I wish more conferences would distribute those guidelines. Personally, I’ve stopped attending, because I’m sick of all the unprofessionalism and alcohol abuse.

  28. Jim Noble

    [Derails discussion by saying that Ada Initiative should focus on people with disabilities instead of women.]

    [Argues that Ada Initiative should post real names of individual harassers rather than name conferences where harassment occurs. Derails by pointing out that men are also harassed.]

  29. cosmonaut

    I brought my wife and 11 year old daughter to DEFCON this year. They had a blast. I asked them if they ever were harassed. They said ‘Not one bit’. In fact – here is a picture of them: [Link 404s and may have been malicious, removed]

    On another note: Your article is targeting events, like DEFCON – but your evidence is anecdotal at best. It seems that you are attributing behavior that happens at a bar to the bar and not society. There is no system sexual harassment at DEFCON, nor is it a larger problem than what you will find on the casino floor.

    Keep at your cause – by all means. My daughter will be writing a retort to your push shortly. Will send you an email when she is finished.


    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      It’s interesting how people use one woman’s experience to prove their point, while dismissing another woman’s experience that contradicts it. Personally, I believe your wife and daughter’s experiences are true, and also that the experiences of the many women who report harassment are also true.

      Many other people have made this point better than I, but just because sexual harassment is bad in one place (e.g. casinos) doesn’t mean we can’t have higher standards in the places we control.

      I have to presume you didn’t read the part of the post describing a contest run by conference security which required asking women to show their boobs. If that’s not a “system [of] sexual harassment” I don’t know what is. Disorganized sexual harassment is bad, too, of course.

      Obviously, we are not linking to a minor’s blog from this comment thread.

      1. cosmonaut

        It would be my blog, with her article. And she is not just a minor – she is staff at the conference.

        Also, it wasn’t just one woman’s opinion. It is the three who came with me, plus all those associated… and close to a dozen females who have attended for a decade or more. As a matter of point – there is a large group of women who feel that you devalue them, at best, with this ‘women as victims’ attitude.

        [Victim-blaming removed.] Strange how an 11 year old female in a place of authority had zero incidents – where a random female had ‘loads’ of examples. I just don’t buy it.

        And you won’t need to link to the article anyway, your site will get traffic from us as we link to you, and others, who have ulterior motives in generating noise over a false, or at best grossly overstated, issue to drive their own propaganda and policies.

        Go ahead and make ‘rules’ for DEFCON. See how that goes.

      2. Valerie Aurora Post author

        Strange how an 11 year old female in a place of authority had zero incidents – where a random female had ‘loads’ of examples.

        That doesn’t seem strange at all.

      3. ERose

        Honestly, I’m going to right ahead and say it doesn’t matter how many women you know that didn’t have a problem. At all.
        If even one woman is having issues – and based on any available evidence it’s far more than one – it’s too many. Are you honestly arguing that because as far as you saw, “most women” don’t have trouble, those that do need to sacrifice their own sense of security just in case Defcon gets bad publicity?
        And frankly, if you’re right, I don’t see why you’d care whether there’s a policy or not.
        How can it possibly be any skin off your nose to have basic standards of behavior established, especially if you believe most people already meet them anyway? If it makes people feel safer attending Defcon, how can you possibly object?

    2. ERose

      I’ll also go ahead and note for fellow readers, that I’ve seen someone with this particular handle on KC’s blog, and assuming it’s the same guy, his comments about her experiences/general issues at Defcon were dismissive well before this year’s con, and therefore well before his wife and daughter allegedly came through so well and before he did all this talking to women he references.

      Just one example:
      “Maybe if you were to have reported this to proper channels, you wouldn’t have been in the situation.”

      Obviously this is a different blog and a different discussion, so I won’t derail by going too far into it – the comment I quoted from is here ( if you want to check out the thread. However, I will say I am even less inclined to give him (if this isn’t the same guy, my apologies) any credit as an unbiased observer knowing he’d apparently made up his mind before he paid much attention to the issue.

      1. Valerie Aurora Post author

        I think his current comments stand on their own, but the suggestion to read the comments on KC’s earlier post is a good one regardless.

  30. Just Say Julie

    I’ve been going to Defcon for many years and I really haven’t run into any of these issues. In recent years, the worst I’ve gotten is some guy asking me if I would have sex with his drunk friend and respecting when I said, “No thanks.” at DC17, and this year some guy leering at me at the bar, then proceeding to come over and hand me his business card and end up in a drunk tech conversation with me.

    I don’t know what makes me different, but I’ve been there 8 (non-consecutive) years and have always been treated with respect, especially recently. All this on top of the fact that I go to the con alone, I’m a hopeless flirt and wildly social and I don’t avoid parties or anything. Maybe I’m just not super sensitive (I thought the goon cards were funny, particularly when I found out that guys’ boobs count too.) and maybe because I am of the opinion that some small minded creeps won’t ruin my good time.

    Then again, maybe I’m not different. I had many lovely chats with other female hackers, and every year there’s more of us. And the more women there are, the more we are accepted and the less the antics there will be by the few creeps that are there.

    Please do not judge the entire male population of defcon attendees as sexist, because that’s just as bad as assuming that all the women there are a girlfriend or a groupie… which is the biggest amount of sexism I’ve ever run into there and seems to have run it’s course years ago. In the real world, however, I still have to fight that same “women aren’t technical” belief every day.

  31. Furry Girl

    As someone who has been going to hacker cons since 2002, and spends plenty of time around tech/nerdy circles, the most flagrant misogyny I’ve experienced at any such event is from a *female* [identifying details redacted]. (Who I believe self-identifies as a feminist.) She has an obsessive, hysterical hatred of women who she refers to as “hooker face whores” (yes, that’s a direct quote), and has posted screeds online about what ruins tech cons are women who dress “sexy” and therefor “ruin” things for respectable women (like her, I suppose). She has told me that no one should take me seriously because I am one of those evil women ruining it for upstanding ladykind because I dare to wear a dress and heels at night when going out in Vegas.

    Why is this prominent [identifying details redacted] ongoing over-the-top attacks against attendees who dress in a feminine way somehow never called out on all these “geek feminism” blogs? Is obsessive slut-bashing and public shaming of women based on their appearances okay as long as it comes from a woman?

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      You may be interested in this post on the Geek Feminism blog from the founder of Geek Feminism about a kind of body-policing harassment of women that is sometimes perpetrated by women:

      A short version is that woman-on-woman harassment and misogyny does exist and is opposed by many “geek feminists.”

      Each activist chooses to work on what speaks to them, and many activists choose to focus more on man-on-woman harassment for a variety of reasons. Two common reasons are that woman-on-woman harassment is relatively rare compared to man-on-woman harassment in our field, and it lacks the built-in power differential and implied threats included in man-on-woman harassment.

      For example, when a woman harasses me, I seldom fear physical or sexual assault from her, whereas the opposite is true when a man harasses me. Statistics show that women are right to fear assault from men more than women, and that people who sexually harass women are more likely to also assault women. Trans women can be in even greater danger of assault and murder than cis women.

      Man-on-man and various combinations of non-binary gender harassment occurs as well and has its own different set of power differentials and contexts, including status and race. We also oppose this kind of harassment.

      In short, criticizing feminist activists for not placing equal weight on unequal problems is a method of derailing the discussion.

  32. Gord

    Let me start by saying:
    1) I’m a guy – and I’ve never felt sexually harrassed (ever)
    2) As a result of 1), please excuse any ignorance on my part or naive questions. I assure you, all questions/comments are intended ONLY to better understand/educate myself and not to accuse anyone or excuse poor behaviour.
    3) I apologize in advance if this has already been answered as there are a lot of comments on this article and I honestly only skimmed them.

    That said, I’m hoping you can better help me understand …

    I read through the article and I still don’t understand in what way a harrassment policy at conferences makes a difference. Each conference has a policy stating that they will not allow any illegal activity. Harassment = Illegal in every jurisdiction that I’m aware of, and there are very clear descriptions of what harassment is/isn’t.
    Given this, in what way does a harassment policy improve anything? Is it essentially an awareness campaign, or something more?

    If you were harassed at DEFCON more than a decade ago, I believe there would have been absolutely no enforcement. But, if you were at DEFCON 20 this year, and were harassed AND reported it (to a goon, organizer, or DT himself), what makes you feel that there would be inaction, even without a harassment policy?

    I’ll re-iterate, I’m not trying to inflame or offend. I freely admit ignorance of the subject and am attempting to better understand the nuances.

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      If you are genuinely curious about the history, implementation, and success of conference anti-harassment policies, there is plenty of information on the Internet which can be found with relatively simple searches. Start with the Geek Feminism wiki if you have a hard time getting started. One form of moving the burden of ending harassment is to ask women to put in hours of research and effort to convince each personally individually, rather than make the effort to read already existing resources. Don’t be that guy.

      As to why people might not feel confident that reporting harassment to DEFCON staff would have a positive effect, I suggest either reading the quotes in the article (search for “security staff”), reading all of the comments, or doing a quick web search. People are understandably reluctant to publicly criticize the organizers and security staff of a conference but a few people have reported their experiences.

  33. sharon fisher

    For what it’s worth, I attended both Black Hat and Defcon this year and I found *much* more sexism at Black Hat than Defcon (though, to be fair, I didn’t attend parties etc. and just went to Defcon the first day).

    Thanks for the link to my similar piece on Black Hat!

  34. Penelope

    Valerie I think your blog post and your comment responses RAWK! These guys can rationalize until they’re blue in the face but IT IS NEVER OKAY TO GIVE A LADY THE HEEBIE JEEBIES!

    Srsly dudes, its just not okay.

  35. Nick Percoco


    I think you are all taking this far too serious. I hear so much bitching I have to wonder are all of your kitchens broken? You should be making sammiches and pies not Feminazi posts. The Con is like a club if you don’t want to be harrassed don’t get lost with out your male guardians or grow a pair and fight for your equality.

  36. Sam

    As a woman, it’s hard to justify attending a hacker conference when I can go to an academic computer conference and get treated like a human being most of the time.

    This! While they might be a little on the boring side, I extremely enjoy academic CS conferences for the fact that there seems to be no difference between male and female attendees.

  37. Rick Moen

    Thank you, Valerie, for your cogent thoughts as always, and for the Ada Initiative.

    I don’t know whether headway is being made with security conferences, but finally something is starting to get done about the harassment issue at several other types of conferences I haunt. Prototype policy collections including yours have been a big part of the reasons for progress. (I’m considering seeing if I can pay for a bunch of KC’s red/yellow/green cards to make available at future conventions.)

    Male readers: The problem Valerie, KC, and others describe is absolutely real, even if (as is the case for many of us) it tends not to happen in front of you. Try to keep an ear out for ways to help end it.

    Best Regards,
    Rick Moen

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      Quick correction: They pledged to adopt an anti-harassment policy:

      The Chaos Communication Congress will adopt an anti-harassment policy and respond to such behavior more quickly and firmly in the future.

      I cannot find an announcement of the adoption of the anti-harassment policy yet. When they do announce a specific, enforceable anti-harassment policy, we will be happy to publicize it.

  38. Cy-Fi

    Am I the only one here that actually gets it?
    Men at DefCon don’t give you shit because you are a woman, they use the fact that you are a woman to give you shit because you cry over it. If you just cowboyed up, told them to go fuck themselves, and let you accomplishments represent you instead of your ‘feelings’ – they’d back the hell off.
    Trust me, I walked around the convention in some very interesting outfits, I interacted with a vast assortment of attendees – and I was treated with the up most respect by EVERY ONE.
    I’m sure you all wonder how I managed this, well it’s simple: When some one approached me with an ego or a chip on their shoulder – I simply diverted the conversation out of their control.

    Men joke with each other, insult each other, harass each other and shove each others faces in each others asses – then fart. That’s just how men communicate, and while that behavior is rather disgusting – they have the right to communicate in that manner if they want to…they even call it ‘bonding.’
    Women enter into this and want equal treatment without fully realizing what equality means – and most importantly they do not realize what kind of advantage they naturally have over men.

    Women actually have a HUGE advantage at cons like DefCon, if you know how to properly communicate in such a place.

    1. Valerie Aurora Post author

      I decided to publish this comment because it shows more clearly than anything else what women have to go through in order to attend DEFCON and be treated as something resembling an equal.

      Naturally, we entirely disagree with most of this comment, including the unflattering characterization of men’s relationships and behavior.

  39. /me

    I think this is an American problem. At HiTB e.g. this doesn’t happen (afaik). Usually even during conferences the laws of the hosting country apply.

    I’d also suggest to pursue such cases with all intensity that is necessary in order to ensure equality. People who sexually harass woman should not be allowed to attend again for years. Strictly speaking: if my employee finds out that there’s sexual harassment going on, there’re legal obligations to handle this. It’s the same way for conference hosts. The fact that woman do not stand for their rights and shut up shows, that they still need a self-confidence boost. Hopefully this initiative will help to preserve that.

Comments are closed.