by Zach Briggs

Edit: October 18th 2019
Dozens of women have reached out to me in the 6 years since I’ve written this post, all with experiences like this. All of them were sexually assaulted in a public place at a tech conference. Tech conferences are dangerous places for women. My only piece of advice is to avoid
Joe O'Brien.

This isn't a post that I want to write. It's a story from my perspective and it's limited by my memory of a night where I witnessed a sexual assault, in a public place, at a tech conference.

The purpose of this post isn't anger and it's not closure. I'm writing this because right now our only recording of the sexual assault is a tweet that the victim since deleted. She deleted it, I’m assuming, because of the tide of tweets blaming her or doubting the fact that she was assaulted.

It's all too easy to close our eyes and wish the assult didn't happen. I know, because that's how I've been spending the last few months. It's so much easier for me, as a able-bodied, CIS gendered, hetero white dude, to pretend that this doesn't happen and tune out. The purpose of the post is to make her experience harder to ignore.

Because this shit happened

Trigger warnings for assault, I think I'm supposed to say.

January at a resort bar for a conference. I had been a member of the Columbus Ruby community for a few months and a professional Ruby developer for slightly less time. It was the first night of my first tech conference and I was standing there talking with another developer from Columbus.

It was slightly before midnight at the resort bar while the other developer and I were talking with a rotating set of people in one end of the space. Being new I knew almost nobody there; it was later and most of the crowd had already headed home.

Looking over, the other developer pointed out a thing. It could end up being an embarrassing story or the last image before a train wreck. I knew of the man, head of operations for North America of a company that ran the largest Ruby shop in Columbus. The woman was at least 15 years younger, at least 100 pounds lighter, and at least 2 tiers lower than him on the corporate hierarchy at the same company.

We went back to whatever conversation, naively not even considering the possibility of a train wreck. What I remember as 5 minutes later the other developer looked over and said something like "oh shit." I looked over and saw a train wreck, now in progress. The executive's posture and actions aggressive; "no" was not a possibility. She was visibly upset and shut down. That's an understatement. I saw somebody trapped in a nightmare, in public. That freeze frame is burned into my brain. 

The other developer was also at least 2 tiers lower than the executive in the same corporate structure.  I think we both expected the universe to right itself.  A few seconds later, when it became apparent that this was not going to stop on its own, the other developer put a stop to it. 

I don't know what would have happened if that other dev, now a dear friend, hadn't been there to step in. How much longer would her nightmare have continued? Would I have noticed? Would I have let myself notice? Would I have walked over and asked if everything was OK?

I don't know the answers to those questions and I hate myself for that. Never again, though. I will never be the bystander who "didn't want to get involved." The pre-trainwreck body language that I could lie to myself about before is now crystal clear. That sense that something's wrong. I will walk over and say something self deprecating to give whatever future woman a chance to disentangle herself. No matter how powerful he might be in a very small community, no matter how little I know about the people or the situation. 

I'll have to because I cannot live with feeling this way again.