Google technical writer Noirin Shirley wrote a post on her personal blog yesterday describing a debauched night at a tech conference. But she claims the fun ended when she was sexually assaulted by Twitter engineer Florian Leibert.
"I had a hell of a time last night—in good and bad ways," begins the post. After the day's events at the ApacheCon tech conference in Atlanta, Shirley had hosted a party in her hotel room. "We had beer, and beer pong, and altogether too many people crammed in." She mingled, flirted, networked: "I lay across the bed, sat on laps, generally tried to squish in to any available space and get time to talk to all the fabulous people thronging the place."
When the party got too loud, it moved to an Irish pub next door. They had some more drinks. Eventually Shirley got up to go to the bathroom, which is when the alleged assault occurred:
And then I went to the loo, and as I was about to go in, Florian Leibert, who had been speaking in the Hadoop track, called me over, and asked if he could talk to me...
He brought me in to the snug, and sat up on a stool. He grabbed me, pulled me in to him, and kissed me. I tried to push him off, and told him I wasn't interested (I may have been less eloquent, but I don't think I was less clear). He responded by jamming his hand into my underwear and fumbling.
After the incident, Shirley went back to her hotel room with a friend, emailed the conference planning committee to tell them she'd been assaulted, and went to sleep. Leibert, a software engineer at Twitter and sailing enthusiast, didn't show up to the conference the next morning. (
It doesn't appear that she contacted the police. Shirley also contacted the police: In an update to her post, she gives her "heartfelt thanks to the Atlanta PD for their sensitivity and professionalism.")
Shirley writes that this isn't the first time something like this has happened to her at a tech conference, and she decided to write the post because:
I'm tired of the fear. I'm tired of people who think I should wear something different. I'm tired of people who think I should avoid having a beer in case my vigilance lapses for a moment. I'm tired of people who say that guys can't read me right and I have to read them, and avoid giving the wrong impression.
And it's not the first them Shirley's spoken out about the challenges facing women in tech, in one post debunking the notion that the open source community is a meritocracy blind to gender.
If her allegations are true, it's great that she blogged about the incident. Especially given the piggishness regularly displayed in the comments section of any tech blog, and the apparent prevalence of guys being creepy at conferences. (There's an entire convention anti-harassment project.) The tech community in general is probably 20 years behind most when it comes to gender issues, and needs every reminder that it's still got a ways to go.
But identifying the guy was not the best move, as it drags the issue into the morass of moral ambiguity surrounding public accusations of serious crimes. "The real issue is that we have a baseless allegation in a very public place," writes one Reddit commenter. "Once that gun is fired, there's no pulling the bullet back." And it appears naming names made the story too hot for TechCrunch, one of the most influential tech blogs. Writer Alexis Tsotsis' post on the case has been pulled down as of this morning and has disappeared forever—er, is still available all over the Internet.
By all means, go to the cops; tell your friends to avoid the creep. But now, given only the evidence presented in Shirley's blog post, we are forced to issue that infuriating refrain in defense of Florian Leibert: "Innocent until proven guilty."
Leibert did not respond to a request for comment, and he hasn't addressed the issue on his Twitter account.
Update: A spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department's Special Victim's Unit confirms there is an ongoing investigation into the incident.