The techblogger Dave Winer has a piece up on Scripting News defending Bora Zivkovic, a prominent science blogger at Scientific American and conference organizer who appears to be a serial sexual harasser of younger women he meets in a professional capacity.
In recent days three women have come forward with first-hand accounts of how Zivkovic treated them: Monica Byrne, Hannah Waters and Kathleen Raven. They allege that he had a skeevy habit of steering conversations to sexual subjects without prompting and volunteered that his wife wasn't having sex with him. The womens' stories are long, plausible and sad. A quote Raven offers from one of his emails captures the creepiness quite nicely:
... for you probably everything physical is sexual and in a negative way. Both last year and before/after, if I kissed your lips or grabbed your ass, you'd have freaked out! I'd mean it in a totally friendly nonchalant kind of way -- as a non-sexual act even at the time when I wanted you -- but you'd understand it very differently.
Obviously we're only getting part of the story here. But if you're telling a woman you want to bang that it bothers you when your ass grabs aren't viewed "as a non-sexual act," you're extremely committed to a manipulative game where you fish for attractive young sex partners while maintaining plausible deniability in case they take offense. Either that, or you get your jollies making women uncomfortable with sexually inappropriate conduct while getting away with it. (Hey, Anita, is that a pubic hair on my Coke can?)
When Byrne named Zivkovic as her harasser recently -- she'd originally blogged about the experience last year without identifying him -- he responded, to his credit, that her accusations were true. "I am very ashamed of this incident which happened more than a year ago," he blogged. "It was a difficult time for me personally and I made a mistake -– I should not have shared my personal issues with her. It is not behavior that I have engaged in before or since."
But to his discredit, it doesn't appear to be isolated behavior at all.
I avoid blogging about Winer these days, since nobody needs to hear what I think about the tool who once threatened to sue me, but I thought there ought to be some pushback to his piece, which expresses copious sympathy for Zivkovic while showing none for his accusers. "[A]ll his actions could be clearly seen as desperate cries for help," Winer writes. "Something really bad happened in Bora's life, and he hasn't dealt with it, so it's coming out in destructive and confusing ways."
As people misguidedly sprang to Zivkovic's defense, the claim he never did it to anyone else made the other accusers angry enough to come forward. In a spectacular example of misplaced priorities, the science writer and professor Andrew Maynard, despite not knowing Zivkovic personally, sent Byrne an email urging her to stop naming him as her sexual harasser. Noting that Zivkovic is "highly respected within his community," Maynard asked her to show him "consideration and compassion."
The people deserving of our compassion are the women he was creeping on. As more came to light, Maynard recognized that he'd made a huge mistake in pestering one of them to salvage Zivkovic's reputation. He updated his blog entry with this comment: "If I had the smallest fraction of the information I now have on Monday, I would never have emailed Monica."
I don't understand why any man would find more common ground with a professionally successful sexual harasser than with the younger, less powerful women he allegedly mistreated. Something really bad happened in these women's lives, too, and he's not the sympathetic figure in this sordid little tale.