Feminae Cognosce's story in December 2016

I knew intellectually that this was rape, and I felt incredibly violated, but I didn’t tell anyone. People who are new to the community are the most at risk from predators.

First posted to Tumblr on Dec. 21 2016, then added to jacobappelbaum.net.

Announcement for the publication of this witness statement

I was in an abusive relationship with Jake for six months in 2009. We parted on ostensibly amicable terms and have had little contact since then. When the accusations of professional misconduct and predatory sexual behavior were made public, I believed them, not just because I value and respect the men and women who made these accusations, but also because they sounded just like him. I saw him use those same strategies years ago.

I considered coming out at the time, but frankly I was terrified. I spent the last half of our relationship trying to convince Jake that he wanted to break up with me. It worked; he has never terrorized me since then, and I hear he speaks fondly of me. I read the statements people made about him, and I told myself that their stories were similar enough to mine, that I didn’t need to make myself a target by adding to them. I thought they were horrible enough that people would take them seriously. But apparently they weren’t. Many organizations and members of the community have responded by denouncing his actions and formally barring him from their spaces, and I appreciate the subset of the hacker community which is now potentially a safe space for his victims. But no one is really holding Jake accountable for his behavior. And worse yet, a lot of people seem to not really think this is something to take seriously.

John Gilmore misunderstands this situation perfectly, calling it a “trial-by-rumor”. This isn’t a trial, and it’s not all rumors. A rumor is “I heard somebody say something happened”, but “this happened to me” is a first-hand account. There are many first hand accounts, and they form a largely consistent picture of Jake’s predatory behavior. The important thing to realize is that the first hand accounts which *are* publicly available are not the only victims. Those are the subset of people who were brave enough to volunteer for abuse so that the rest of us could feel safer. And I am so grateful to them. I do feel safer.

In the first weeks of our dating, Jake and I were very smitten with one another. We had a lot of sex, but always used protection. One night I woke up to find him having intercourse with me. At first I was only annoyed, because we did not have any previous agreements about sex being fair game while I was sleeping, and I would not have consented to any sort of sex-while-sleeping agreement. But then I discovered he wasn’t using a condom. I certainly would not have consented to having unprotected sex, and that’s something you can never take back. He told me that he had been sleeping and just woken up to find us already having sex. At the time, I knew intellectually that this was rape, and I felt incredibly violated, but I didn’t tell anyone. I cared about him and I didn’t want him to be a rapist.

I knew intellectually that this was rape, and I felt incredibly violated, but I didn’t tell anyone.

Towards the middle of our relationship, I had figured out that I was in an abusive relationship but I didn’t know how to deal with it. I had only ever been involved with kind, decent people, so I kept trying to talk about his problem behaviors with him. During these discussions there was a lot of gaslighting. One discussion in particular, he claimed that I had somehow deeply injured him (I don’t remember what I did) and was inconsolable. I kept asking him what I could do, and finally he insisted that for him to feel better I needed to clean his floors naked. And I did it. I cried the whole time, in surreal horror. He cheered up and took photos of me, crying and naked, scrubbing his floor. I want to be perfectly clear that there was nothing fun or kinky about this. I don’t enjoy humiliation, and it was not a consensual part of our sex life.

There were other incidents but they are harder to describe or more plausibly deniable. I learned a lot about consent by dating Jake and watching him with other women and men (we were non-monogamous). Sometimes I had to say “No,” or “Stop” several times before he would listen. Sometimes I stopped trying. When he was angry with me, he was too rough during sex, sometimes leaving marks which I hid in shame. I confronted him about some of these behaviors, but he made every conversation into a conversation about how I had hurt his feelings. After we broke up I slowly drifted away from the hacker community over the years—not so much because I was trying to leave, but because there was nothing that really made me want to stay. When I saw people standing up to publicly support Jake’s victims, I felt for the first time in a long time like maybe I wanted to be a part of the hacker community again. But I felt heartbroken by how many people were unwilling to confront this.

It’s like Jake has an abusive relationship with the whole community now. People who are trying to support Jake are completely focused on his feelings and his experience of these allegations. They’re letting him style himself as a victim, and then claiming that his victimhood is somehow equivalent to that of his actual victims. If people want to support Jake, they should support him in taking responsibility for his actions. People who care about him don’t want to believe that he’s a sexual predator, and I can understand that. I didn’t want to believe it either. But that’s the first step.

Our work as a community is not done. People talk about how awful this whole ordeal has been, and I agree. But the way to prevent awful situations like this isn’t talking less about rape. It’s less rape. It needs to be possible for sexual predators in our community to be exposed and held accountable. I hope that sharing some of my experiences will help the community to understand Jake’s behavior, and to find more constructive ways to make our community safer. I want to engage in a dialog about this. You can contact me at feminaecognosce@riseup.net, or via twitter @feminaecognosce.

Part 2 of Feminae Cognosce's account was published on Tumblr on Dec. 26, on the eve of the 33rd Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg, Germany, also known as 33c3 or CCC. Before 2016, Jacob Appelbaum was a frequent speaker at national and regional CCC events, and the December national congress was at the time the largest annual gathering of hackers in Europe. 33c3 was the first congress held after Jacob was asked not to attend.

Why I’ve never been to CCC and what you can do to resist rape culture while you’re there

The year I dated Jake was my first year in the hacker community. He took me to several hacker conferences, often getting me in for free and pulling strings to be sure I could speak about my work. I really enjoyed myself and met many awesome people whom I still know today. That first year, I couldn’t afford to go to CCC. Next year, I told myself. By the next year, of course, I couldn’t go because I was avoiding Jake. I tried going to one conference after our breakup. I was still able to speak on my work and make good connections, but it was very uncomfortable to have to interact with Jake there, and he was at that time a largely unchallenged hero in the community. He publicly invited my new partner and I to join him and his current companion for group sex. I stuttered and tried to react politely. My partner was very confused. I ultimately decided to avoid hacker conferences going forward. People who are new to the community are the most at risk from predators. Early experiences of harassment and abuse are a key pillar of the patriarchal structure that makes hacker culture hostile to women and marginalized groups. Making women uncomfortable leaves the community with a higher fraction of men, which in turn reduces the number of people likely to speak up. Building an alternative to this system is long hard work, but it starts with openly resisting its effects within our community. If you’re not already familiar with rape culture or the patterns that predators use to isolate women, here’s an awesome rundown: Cockblocking rapists is a moral obligation; or, how to stop rape right now. Here are some things you can do that are a little more specific to 33C3:

  • Support and network with 33C3 volunteers. The CCC statutes do not support racism or sexism, and 33C3 volunteers are a good resource for maintaining safe spaces at 33C3. Find a volunteer you trust or become one! Edit: Note that there is also a dedicated Awareness Team at 33C3 for dealing with harassment.
  • Publicly state that you support women and will resist harassment. I know this sounds obvious, but this is actually a big deal. Public resistance is a big part of what creates safe spaces. This is especially helpful if you are a white male or otherwise in a position of power or safety yourself.
  • Tell women in your life that you support them and offer to help. Personal relationships with people we trust are probably the top resource for women to escape dangerous situations or get through uncomfortable ones. Talk to women you know and ask them if there’s anything you can do to support them. Be their anti-douche wingman in public. Help them avoid a specific person. Be a resource.

Since Jake isn’t welcome at CCC this year, this was the first year I considered going in a long time. Realizing that I was still scared to go was actually part of what prompted me to come forward with my story. There is still a lot of unchallenged hostility against women in the hacker community. But I think that the allies are out there, and that we can make conferences safe spaces for women. Being willing to ban known predators is a great start. Let’s take the next step. I hope to see you there next year.

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