Abuse in the Rationality/EA Community

Introduction:

This is a quick writeup of several alleged cases of sexual abuse in the Rationalist/EA community. Many of the cases discussed here are fairly well known. However many people are new to the community and not all the cases are as widely known. I wrote up all the cases I am familiar with that I can describe with publicly available links. I am aware of other cases but I could not find public sources and one cannot make private info public without the participation of the victims. I did make some assertions I cannot publicly cite but I tried to limit these as much as I could.

Another reason to collect accounts is to talk about trends in the community response. I will mention a few tentative conclusions at the end of this post.

Brent:

Brent Dill was a long time rationalist community member. For example, he led the structure building project at Berkeley’s Summer Solstice. He was also close personal friends with multiple community leaders. In particular, he was good friends with Duncan Sabien and Michael Valentine Smith (the head of Curriculum and a co-founder at CFAR respectively).

Brent was involved in (at least) two relationships that were considered abusive. One of the people who had been involved with Brent, “Persephone”, made a post about abusive behavior on Facebook that did not name Brent explicitly but nevertheless was clear to insiders. At first, Brent apologized for his behavior and this apology seemed to be broadly accepted by the Bay Area rationalists.

ACDC, an advisory panel that was meant to evaluate disputes in the CFAR alumni community, looked into these accusations. The panel decided against banning Brent and concluded that:

Summary:

– We think Brent and D had a relationship that caused lasting damage to D; we think Brent was partially culpable in this (we also think that both Brent and D would agree with both of these sentiments)

– We do not think Brent is a “bad actor,” or “malignant psychopath” or similar – We are choosing not to ban Brent from any of CFAR’s spaces

– We do feel that Brent may have some kinds of “poor judgment” that might adversely impact his appropriateness for some kinds of authority

We believe that Brent is fundamentally oriented towards helping people grow to be the best versions of themselves. In this way, he is aligned with CFAR’s goals and strategy and should be seen as an ally.

Later multiple very serious accusations were made publicly.

Accusation 1

Accusation 2

Accusation 3

Here are some representative quotes the accusations:

Brent had a habit of responding to me saying I wanted to break up, or that I didn’t want to do a scene, with something like “If you deprive me of this thing I want, you’re doing violence to me; please just punch me in the face so it can be universally recognised as violence.” Refusing to punch him and sticking to my guns re. my preferences would go nowhere, and often he’d self-injure to get me to agree to do what he wanted.

My ability to be the engine for this group depends on my confidence. I am confident when I know I have money, sexual access to youthful and attractive women, and true power in my demesne. What can you do?” — Brent

Brent pushed back against that idea. He told me that previous partners had been manipulated, by their therapists, into thinking that he was abusive and that he interpreted me seeking therapy as me losing trust in him.[about Brent]

” There were fewer times, but probably still dozens, that he didn’t ensure I had a safeword when going into a really heavy scene, or disrespected my safeword when I gave it. Safewording was never safe. It routinely led to him complaining, afterwards, about the fact that I’d ended the scene, and was occasionally completely disregarded.” [about Brent]

Here is another summary by Ozy.

Many elements of these reports had been independently confirmed by trustworthy people (ex: Julia Wise confirms Brent pushed someone into signing a sex contract). After allegations became public, Duncan Sabien wrote a piece apologizing for Brent and posted it on his facebook. CFAR eventually issued a series of apologies and both Duncan and Mike left CFAR. The community consensus seems to be that Valentine’s departure was related to Brent but Duncan was leaving anyway. It is not obvious from the outside what information was known to CFAR or other community leaders before the accusations became public.

CFAR announces Brent is banned

Updates from CFAR

CFAR admits substantial mistakes

Later the Berkeley REACH created a panel to investigate Brent. To no one’s surprise, they found he was guilty. However, the Reach panel declined to post their Brent investigation, fearing legal action.

Autumn

Here is  my writeup while the events while they were occurring:

Detailed logs have been released detailing abuse between two rationalists/rational-adjacents Autumn and Iris. The shortest summary of the logs is roughly the following:

There is an audio recording of Autumn admitting she raped Iris, her former partner. After Iris broke up with Autumn and specifically said that she was unsure if she wanted to continue their sexual relationship, Autumn had sex with Iris while the latter was incapacitated due to substance use. Autumn also harassed Iris repeatedly after Iris accused her of rape by ignoring Iris’s requests to be left alone. This information was brought to the attention of a Seattle rationality organization and a Seattle group house. These organizations were difficult to work with. I cannot personally confirm the account in the logs but the logs are comprehensive.

The abuse described in the logs seems quite serious. In particular, the logs document the following:

  • Autumn raped Iris
  • Autumn abused Iris
  • Autumn would not stop trying to contact Iris
  • Iris had to barricade her room
  • Autumn was physically and verbally aggressive. In particular, she did not respect the above barricade

A partner of Autumn describes the timeline of events:

It is now March 31st. We’ve recently received contact with SEARCH’s new board asking for more direct contact, and while we’ve been afforded that, we’ve also been told that they were not aware of the public statements made in this channel, nor were they aware of attempts to contact them after the initial failed conversation in February. We’ve also been told that people on the panel have not been engaged with Discord for their own mental health, but have attempted to maintain open lines of communication otherwise.

To summarize the timeline of events, Zylphia first contacted the Territory sometime in November about allegations against Autumn and was not taken seriously. Tara tried to contact again in December while she was visiting Iris before her move to the Bay Area, got in touch with someone claiming to represent the Territory, made herself available, and then was never followed up with. In early January, Zylphia got a message from Florence that SEARCH and the Territory had made their initial decision to allow Autumn back, pending completion of a consent class; this was apparently despite never having spoken to Tara or listening to the audio logs she sent. This is when someone leaked the screenshot containing that Facebook message and the whole process became public, as we felt it was no longer possible to work entirely privately with these organizations.

By the end of April, soon after allegations became public as opposed to reported privately, Autumn was banned.

A postmortem about how the Autumn affair was handled

Michael Vassar and Andrew Rettek

Mike Vassar was a hugely influential member of the rationalist community. He was cited as a large influence by Scott Alexander. Many founding members of CFAR were close collaborators of his. He was active since the very early days of the community. For unclear reasons, he did not do much writing of his own.

Mike was a co-founder of a medical startup MetaMed based in New York. At the very least Mike and another senior employee Andrew Rettek had very sketchy relationships with a low-level employee. However, that employee accused both of abuse.

Abuse allegation thread  (Twitter Version)

Continuation with more details (Twitter Version)

Eventually, Mike Vassar lost his good standing in the community. For example, he has gotten banned from several large community parties. Anna Salamon, a CFAR cofounder and prior friend of Mike, recently disavowed him in a lesswrong comment.

However, there has not been much of an official response. In February 2019 Reach began an investigation.  However, the investigation was paused. As I understand it they paused the investigation because of fears of legal liability.

Kathy Forth

Kathy Forth was an effective altruist who was heavily concerned about sexual abuse in the EA community. The community consensus is the following: She was a victim of sexual assault. However, she also engaged in many forms of serious misbehavior. She falsely accused multiple people and was extremely disruptive.

Kathy herself was accused of sexual assault. Eventually, Kathy committed suicide. I am not sure what actions were taken to limit Kathy’s interactions with the EA community. But she was certainly active online and part of the wider EA community until she committed suicide. The extent of her misbehavior was not public until after her suicide.

I want to be clear I did not directly investigate the claims that Kathy made false accusations and otherwise misbehaved. But trusted people such as Scott Alexander and Kelsey Piper (Unit of Caring) seem to agree on many relevant facts.

Scott Alexander on Kathy

Kelsey Piper (Unit of Caring) on Kathy

Kathy’s Suicide Note

Allegations of serious misbehavior by Kathy

There was a substantial discussion of secrecy after the Kathy situation came to light. Here are some examples:

Jbeshir comments on the above link

Jbeshir on secrecy in the EA community and CEA’s policies

More discussion of Secrecy by Jbeshir

A quote from the above link:

 I’m not sure what all is the appropriate actual action to take from any of this- I know of CFAR’s community dispute council, I know of reports to Julia at CEA, I know there’s an anti-abuse list somewhere that women in the community are supposedly told about and can query (I can’t; I only heard about it by chance conversation. I have no confidence that it is reliably shared with new arrival women either). Kathy Forth’s post names one name I had heard the accusations against (Giego) and two names I had not (Roko and Adam Saffron); the only thing I can confirm is that reports to the existing dispute mechanisms are not broadcast anywhere, the list of who has been banned from EA Global is not public or usable by non-CEA events or organizations to my knowledge (as Kathy’s comment about Roko indicates- their existing reports did not prevent them from doing things to others nor make people aware of them), bad things are not talked about much due to a cultural distaste for callouts making it low status to do so, and the Bay Area section of the community tends to have a bad case of “I got my safety through my inner circle social connections and I don’t see why I should care to tell anyone else”.

Alison

Alison was originally from the Caribbean. She married endecision (username). This relationship went south and both parties accused the other of abuse.  Alison talked for a long time on her blog about her abuser without naming who her alleged abuser was. Endecision made a public post and Alison replied.

endecision’s description of her relationship with Alison (Tumblr version requiring login)

Alison’s Reply to endecision

Later Alison seems to have gotten into issues in the Bay. In one incident Alison is accused by Bobby of repeatedly violating his boundaries despite him clearly saying no. Alison got a two-week ban from the REACH (Rationalist community center) for doing this. Alison described  the events as follows:

“In the case of the second person (an example of the main thesis), I’m genuinely not sorry because I know who I was speaking to, and the context in which he said he didn’t want to be touched (when I jokingly Super Hugged them during a boardgame) and when they were laughing with me (eg when we bumped hands in board game and I was like OH NOES THE HORROR and they were lmao). If they actually do have a problem with this, then I’m sorry. But in the overwhelmingly likely case that they clearly telegraphed with all of their actions, they were happy.”

Bobby had the following to say about Alison’s description of events.

And then I wake up the next day, and it turns out that Alison has created this entire story where I was actually really happy the entire time and the people I reported them to are villains creating mountains out of friendly interactions, and – no. No fucking way.

Other Cases and Misc issues:

Jacy Reese was a popular animal rights effective altruist. However many allegations of sexual misbehavior came to light. Some of the accusations dated to his college years. However, the Centre for Effective Altruism says these occurred over several time periods. Jacy himself offered to make a public apology and resignation. Here is a third-party article about Jacy.

Giego/Diego is a rationalist discussed in some earlier links. It seems like the community consensus that is guilty of serious sexual misbehavior. But I do not know of a good public source for what happened.

There is also apparently a confidential list of alleged abusers. People who are considering dating someone can query this list. But the list does not function as a public resource. It is also unclear to me how well known the list is.

Tentative Conclusions

Institutional responses are likely to be slow in the absence of public pressure

There is currently no process for reliably making information public. REACH investigations have the potential to serve this role. But currently REACH is blocked by liability risk.

Archive Links

In case these archive links get taken down I also have an archive on my computer.

Brent:

Accusation 1

Accusation 2

Accusation 3

CFAR’s statement standing by Brent

Duncan (former CFAR head of curriculum) Sabien’s response to Brent

Ozy’s Public Callout of Brent

CFAR announces Brent is banned

Updates from CFAR

CFAR admits substantial mistakes

The Reach panel declined to post their Brent investigation, fearing legal action

Autumn:

My writeup while the events were occurring

A postmortem about how the Autumn affair was handled

Mike Vassar and Andrew

Abuse allegation thread

Continuation with more details

Anna Salamon denounces Vassar

In February Reach was already investigating

JBeshir making a case for more openness in discussing bad behavior

Jacy:

Jacy Reece’s Resignation/Apology

A third party article about Jacy

Alison:

Endecision’s description of their relationship

Allison’s Reply to endecision

Allison REACH incident:

Allison own’s interpretation of the events

Kathy:

Scott Alexander on Kathy

Kelsey (Unit of Caring) on Kathy

Kathy’s Suicide Note

Allegations of serious misbehavior by Kathy

Jbeshir comments on the above link

Jbeshir on secrecy in the EA community and CEA’s policies

More discussion of Secrecy by Jbeshir

Author: deluks917

A singer is someone who tries to be good. Currently living in North Oakland.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s