I’m not a writer. I fly airplanes. I’m not able to write in nuanced or funny ways. I manage a few hundred pilots. I can only tell things the way I see them in terms of absolutes. I keep trying to put this whole mess into words and I keep failing. Miserably. Still, I’m going to try.
Karen Stollznow’s post on Scientific American* last week has caused quite a stir on Facebook, twitter and in the blogosphere. She has received numerous messages, email and phone calls from people in the past twenty-four hours. It seems people are divided into these camps:
- Those who believe her based on having had similar treatment by her harasser
- Those who believe her, based solely on knowing her
- Those who are withholding judgment because there is only “one side” being presented
- Those who are defending the harasser
I am writing this first and foremost in support of Karen. The whole thing has come at a great cost to her; emotionally, mentally and physically. Kaz, I am very proud of you for the way that you have conducted yourself.
To those of you who were also harassed by him: I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault. I wish I had done something about it.
To those who believe Karen based solely on knowing her: Thank you for your support of her. I was in much the same position when Rebecca received threats after her YouTube post, giving guys advice on how not to come off as creepy. And when Elyse received the same types of threats after her post on how not to come off as creepy. After several of my friends at Skepchick and elsewhere were being threatened and harassed. I didn’t have direct, firsthand proof of the harassment, but they were my friends and I believed they were telling the truth about them.
To those who are withholding judgment and those who are defending the harasser: I genuinely liked the guy. I first met him about five years ago at a conference. I really liked what he had to say about a number of things. I found him to be funny, smart and charming, reasonable, kind to non-skeptics with bat-shit crazy ideas, but firm in pointing out their flawed thinking. I trusted him. I admired him in many ways, even as I began to see flaws in some of his logic, investigative techniques and conclusions.
I recognize that I cannot be un-biased about this, nor do I want to be. Karen is one of my closest friends, so is her husband. I was the officiant at their wedding – I performed the ceremony. A couple of years ago when we both had better work schedules, Karen and I had a standing coffee date. For about a year, we spent a couple of hours a day, three or four days a week together. It happened to be in many ways, what would be the peak of her harassment. I saw firsthand, the emails, text messages and phone calls that took place. Though it seemed like she received something from him every day, that’s probably not true. Certainly though, never a week went by without her receiving something. Though often thinly veiled, it was definitely inappropriate and over the long-term, constituted harassment.
In two multi-hour phone interviews and in about a dozen emails, this is exactly what I told the investigator that had been hired to investigate the matter. I also told them how it was so bad that I offered on numerous occasions to fly to the person’s home town and have a talk with him. To tell him that what he was doing was wrong and that he needed to stop it. She asked me not to because she thought he would just deny it and she hoped it would soon end. I think that since she is such a private person, having her personal dirty laundry aired would have been horribly embarrassing to her. Sadly, this is one of the reasons that this kind of behavior often goes unreported.
I don’t like that someone I admired was capable of treating another person so callously. It causes me great conflict in that I wonder how I could trust someone who appears to have such a huge character flaw that I missed.
It pisses me off.
Mostly at him for his actions, but also at myself for my own inaction.
You see, I am not in a position of having to choose whether or not to believe Karen. I was there as much of it occurred. I saw not only the emails, texts, cards and gifts and the multiple requests by both her and her husband that they stop. I saw enough of her growing pain, annoyance and shame to know what happened.
Shame on you Ben.
* Dr. Stollznow’s post directed to a cached copy after having been pulled down against her wishes by her blog host.