3. December 2012–
I don't know Stefan Glaenzer. I've never met him. From most accounts, he's a really stand-up guy. Which may explain the shocked outpouring of the European tech community when news came in late Friday afternoon that he had pled guilty to a sexual assault in London. Bear in mind that Friday afternoons for the tech community are usually reserved for browsing Buzzfeed and mopping up the last emails of the week.
Now, the whys and the wherefores of this particular incident are between Glaenzer, the courts and his conscience – I can't and won't comment on those. What perplexed and disturbed me were some of the reactions to this news and the light it shone on otherwise enlightened and educated individuals in the German tech scene... and their attitude to what constitutes “sexual assault”.
Initial comments on Glaenzer's case ranged from the mawkish and unnecessary to the downright toadying and apologist. I guess I understand why so many waded in – Twitter has long bred the “I know that guy!” broadcast culture; the rapid RIPing of dead celebs.
Add to that the man's standing in the community and it's understandable that people wanted to be seen to pin their support to him. He's an important guy, and a likeable one too, by all accounts.
A too-big label for small actions?
What really alarmed me was the attitude to the specific alleged actions involved in the case. We heard from readers that “sexual assault” was a harsh term to use for these particular actions (“just” rubbing himself against a woman on the Tube). We heard in our online comments that “this happens at pretty much every nightclub in the world”, with one reader saying he “did worse when simply intoxicated by alcohol".
We were criticised for not contextualising the nature of the sexual assault. I want to make it clear why we didn't: we're not a tabloid. We're not here to slobber over every tawdry detail. As our role as a tech blog, we reported on the simple facts of what had happened to someone in our community with a link to the original report if you wanted to know the case details. No more, no less. A similar approach to the BBC tech pages.
So why am I wading in with this commentary? On this platform? Because of the number of comments we received from our readers, demanding more clarification or even suggesting that these actions are tolerable was really shocking to me.
I have been sexually assaulted. By a really stand-up guy. Sure, it was a lot more than “just” an incident on the Tube, but the explanations and excuses I have heard on this very site (and which therefore I feel need to be addressed in the same place) are sickeningly similar to ones I heard back then.
What's more, when the news of this incident broke, the majority of women in the VentureVillage office had a tale of being pressed up against on the bus, semi-groped on the Underground, sidled towards late at night. Guess what? Whether it's being seriously assaulted in your own home or having someone press up against you on public transport, it constitutes “sexual touching of another without their consent”. Sexual assault. Pure and simple.
Reader Jan Kotzorek commented: "The big problem... is that there are no small, mid-size or large labels for sexual assault. I do not want to rate the behaviour and what has really happened how in the tube, but that the large label "sexual assault" is now attached to Mr. Glaenzer, makes his life and businesslife harder".
That's very true and it is a real shame, but any attachment to this label is through his own actions (and admissions), not those of the media.
Explanation... or justification?
I agree – it IS a terrible stigma for a public figure to have against them. But I was shocked that some of our readers were suggesting that these actions are pretty much a fact of life, which is a dangerous logical path to stomp down – it's saying that men simply can't help themselves (which is a massive disservice to most men too, obviously). And that if women will insist on provocatively using public transport, walking down the street, dancing in a nightclub, then of course we should expect some unwarranted contact with errant genitalia now and again.
I have no idea if Glaenzer did the things he's alleged to have done. But the attitudes I've encountered over the weekend of many young, educated, otherwise enlightened people frightens me way more than any incident on the Tube could ever do.