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TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

In November 2010, Noirin Plunkett was sexually assaulted at ApacheCon (a technical conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA) and posted about it on their blog, under the title A hell of a time [Internet Archive]. They wrote a follow-up post, titled Conferences and dark alleyways [Internet Archive], in July 2011 explaining why the incident had made them reluctant to attend conferences in the future.

What happened[]

Noirin Shirley was a member of the Apache Foundation board and an organiser of the event. One evening at the conference they and a group of other people were partying (as is typical at such events) when Florian Leibert, an attendee, asked them to step aside into a dark corner so that he could ask them a question. He then put his hands under their skirt and pushed his hands into their underwear, against their protests.

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.

Noirin noted in their blog post that they had been drinking, flirting with other people, and was wearing a short skirt, then pointed out that none of this meant that they were "asking" to be sexually assaulted:

It’s simply not true that guys can’t read me right. I don’t want to be assaulted, and the vast majority of guys read that just fine. It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else’s job to avoid assaulting me.

They sought support from people they trusted at the conference, including other organisers, and reported their assault to the Atlanta police, who they thanked in an addendum to their blog post after numerous commenters criticised them for not having made a police report.


The comments on Noirin's blog, and on other blogs, were mixed between supportive and critical. Many commenters felt that Noirin was "asking for it" by drinking, flirting with others, or wearing a short skirt. Some people said that women should simply "expect that sort of thing" at tech conferences. The comments, overall, were a textbook example of Rape culture at work.

Since the incident had involved a Google employee (Shirley) and a Twitter employee (Leibert), the online tech press picked up the story and it was reported in TechCrunch, Gawker, and other blogs of that kind.

The incident and the responses to it prompted Valerie Aurora to leave her job at Red Hat and co-found The Ada Initiative with fellow long-time supporter of women in open source, Mary Gardiner.

See also[]