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Prominent computer scientist at MIT argues definition of rape in defending money from dead sex offender

Anti-Reif protest at MIT

Protesters call on MIT president to resign over Epstein. Photo by Greg Cook.

Richard Stallman, founder of Cambridge's Free Software Foundation and a visiting scientist at MIT, argues that Jeffrey Epstein's victims were likely "entirely willing" and to stop besmirching the good name of deceased MIT AI guru Marvin Minsky just because he might have "had sex with one of Epstein’s harem."

Vice reports Stallman made his comments on an MIT mailing list on which he objected to a protest being planned for next week over MIT's ties to the convicted sex offender long after his conviction.

When told that the one victim Epstein was convicted for was 17, Stallman argued that maybe it was really consensual and besides:

I think it is morally absurd to define "rape" in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.

Selam Jie Gano, an MIT alum, wrote yesterday she's had enough. If MIT wants to know why it has so much trouble recruiting women, just look at Stallman.

There is no single person that is so deserving of praise their comments deprecating others should be allowed to slide. Particularly when those comments are excuses about rape, assault, and child sex trafficking.

Child.

Sex.

Trafficking.

This reminds me of Sandy Hook. We knew, then, that if America would do nothing in response to the deaths of children, we would do nothing, ever.

I know, now, that if prominent technology institutions won’t start firing their problematic men left right and center, we will do nothing. Ever.

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Comments

I've never heard of Richard Stallman before, but I bet he's a libertarian.

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Voting closed 9

Maybe you haven't heard of him but he's one of the most well known and influential computer software pioneers. To call him eccentric is an understatement.

It's not surprising he's making these arguments, and yes, they are repulsive. He's (and FSF) have given the world, freely, the software used to build the internet. But he's hardly a role model in other regards.

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could have been based on Stallman.

But Stallman is Oscar to the character Sheldon's Felix.

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He's taking a very specific stand on a very specific use of the phrase "sexual assault" when describing his former colleague Minsky. As he points out, the fact that the discussion can wade into the definition of rape is exactly the initial point he was making.

What Stallman argues is that we aren't given enough info from the deposition of Giuffre (or subsequent articles) to determine if Minsky had anything other than what he assumed to be willing intercourse with someone who was coerced into having sex with him. Her deposition doesn't say that she did or didn't lie about her age or whether he asked or any of a number of other required bits of information to know the full story as to whether it's fair to characterize what went down between Minsky and Giuffre was "sexual assault". Stallman is arguing from the start that "sexual assault" is a loaded phrase which leads people to assume much worse than what we can know to have happened. So he objected to it being used to describe Minsky's actions since it makes people assume.

If the Facebook protest had simply said "Minsky had sexual encounters with Giuffre", Stallman wouldn't have likely posted anything.

Vice Media then takes the part they like where two or so people are quibbling about why and how we define words and turn it into a hit piece on Stallman. Hurray, modern journalism.

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Voting closed 41

  1. Minsky didn't simply have sex with someone he could reasonably assume was acting freely; he had arranged sex with one of Epstein's "girls" on his private island. Some people may be under the influence of the perverse cultural meme that rich men are surrounded by beautiful nymphos who want nothing more than to have sex with everybody they see, but this is not a real thing and a reasonable person could have figured out that there was something quite off about the entire situation. Minsky was either directly complicit or so seduced by the idea of living in a fantasy novel that he never asked himself even the most obvious questions.
  2. Whining about the "modern journalism" that's been this way for at least a century, if not much longer, is rich. Everybody knows what the world is like. Richard Stallman is not being mistreated by the press, and he more than anybody should be familiar with what happens to things you say on the internet.
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Voting closed 49

We know nothing about what Minsky did, only what he is accused of having done.

Aside from that, sex with a child is of course rape and Stallman, although he has been right (and even prophetic) about some stuff, is and always has been an asshole.

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so sexual assault is accurate

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Yes, let's take a face value that 73 year old man is the innocent victim when he has sex with a 17 year old. No, there aren't any issues of balance of power in that scenario, not at all.

This creep knew what was happening and didn't care as long as he got his dick wet. This wasn't some one-off visit to Pedophile Island - he was a regular.

Wikipedia is on it at least:

"Child sex trafficking and abuse allegations[edit]
In 2019, Virginia Giuffre, in an unsealed deposition in Federal court, named Minsky as one of Jeffrey Epstein's child sex trafficking clients.[44][45][46][47]"

Good. May his name be stained in infamy.

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Voting closed 59

Imagine a place where you can write 250 words that amount to "well, we can never be entirely sure of anything!" and think that you've contributed something meaningful to public discourse. Well, that's where we are.

It's amazing to me that when obviously sexually depraved men decry the definition of statutory rape, it's considered novel thought. Did you think Stallman was the first idiot to try to justify his desires?

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With a bit of ad hominem against Stallman which has no basis in reality. Minsky is the one who had sex with Giuffre, not Stallman. You're just taking swings at everyone...because?

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That is reprehensible, even if he didn't have a long record at MIT of harassment and very questionable behavior directed at women.

These assholes cover for each other and reinforce their beliefs that women are toys, and young women are appropriate targets for their sexual aggression.

He is merely returning the favor for years of protection from the consequences of his unprofessional behavior.

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Voting closed 25

Truth maintenance system (TMS) is an idea developed by Stallman. It's basically a system which separates, manages, and updates its beliefs and conclusions. What's nice about this system is that it's never sure of anything. All reasonings drawn are subject to change according to changes in its presuppositions or perceptions.

Surely, being able to draw inferences, given a set of axioms, is how we contribute most meaningful points. Yet, it is plain religious ignorance to believe that these axioms are untouchable. Let alone a definition of a word.

What's important in public discourse is not just in what can be derived, learned, but also in what be unlearned. That's precisely is what being open-minded is all about. Or to have freedom, which is to be one's own master in one's own home, to be able to judge for oneself what is worth believing.

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i agree, the difference between misdemeanor sexual assault and felony sexual battery has been blurred.
but the premise of the protest was to show that he victimized children.

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This doesn't make much sense to begin with, but FYI Stallman is actually one of tech's most prominent & outspoken far-leftists and Green Party member last I checked.

His opinions on what is and is not "free software" could be considered extremely statist.

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headdesks with "oh, God, Stallman again."

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and yes, basically, this is true.

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Firing rms be like.

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real or nickname?

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Does MIT have a code of ethics for
its visiting scientists? Because rationalizing paying to rape a child is absolutely filthy and revolting. For those living underneath a rock: raping a child is pure evil, not to mention it is illegal in the United States.

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Voting closed 42

Stallman has never been one to be politically correct.

For those who have never heard of him, there is the wikipedia page. Started in 2001, if it weren't for RMS there might not be a wikipedia.

Note that his email address isn't redacted in the quoted emails as it is an extremely well know address in certain circles.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman

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We are talking about RAPE.

As for clueless sick, well, the idiot's house burned down and he didn't realize it for a week. He's just as clueless here and needs to go back to Mommy and grow up.

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if it weren't for stallman, dozens of bright women would have stayed in the tech field instead of being driven out by his behavior

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Stallman has never been one to be politically correct.

He's acting as an apologist for rape. You didn't explicitly label this specific behavior as "not being politically correct", but you might want to clarify your intent.

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If nothing else, for the picture of Stallman's office door (remember, this is the door of a scientist staff member, and think about how women students must feel walking by it.)
https://medium.com/@selamie/remove-richard-stallman-fec6ec210794

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Voting closed 23

One of my co-workers was a PhD student at MIT in the mid 90s. She related to me that new female students were warned to avoid being alone with Stallman. A couple of my friends have worked for him directly. The guy is an abusive boss.

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You'll see how the person who got Motherboard's attention distorted Stallman's words in a fit of outrage and then they ran with it.

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Quotes from Stallman:

The word “assaulting” presumes that he applied force or violence, in
some unspecified way, but the article itself says no such thing.
Only that they had sex.

...

I've conciuded [sic] from various examples of accusation inflation that it is absolutely wrong to use the term "sexual assault" in an accusation.

This is such an antiquated take on the meaning of "assault" that it's difficult to believe that Stallman isn't being disingenuous, but assuming he's sincere, he's wrong. Most of us understand that sexual assault implies intimidation-- such as retribution from Epstein-- not violence at the hands of Minsky.
But if Stallman had any questions, then Merriam Webster defines assault as used in the cited article as "a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical contact or bodily harm on a person (as by lifting a fist in a threatening manner) that puts the person in immediate danger of or in apprehension... of such harm or contact."
And Cornell Law School defines assault as, "generally defined as intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. Physical injury is not required."
Legal filings were the source of the original allegation against Minsky, so the legal definition is appropriate.
Stallman can wish this away as much as he wants and fabricate as many definitions as he likes, but he's no lawyer and he's wrong.

The accusation quoted is a clear example of inflation. The reference
reports the claim that Minsky had sex with one of Epstein’s harem.

Stallman calls minors forced to have sex with Epstein's friends a "harem," which, when glibly used by western men in a culture that has no history of actual harem use*, implies the girls were actually adult women, were willing, and had some groupie-like relationship with Epstein.

We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely wilting[sic]. Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates.

Stallman is implying that Minsky believed that a teenage girl, freely and willingly, without intimidation and with full agency over her body, isolated on Epstein's island, invited a 70 year old man she barely knew to have sex with her simply because she wanted to.
That's no distortion. Perhaps Stallman and/or Minsky really are stupid enough to believe that's possible, but no one forced Stallman to type those words.

*A harem is the part of the house for the sole use of wives and adult women family members in Muslim households

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Voting closed 20

This is exactly how grooming works. Convince people that this behavior is ok, it's fine, not wrong at all. Then progressively up the anti all the while proclaiming that there's nothing wrong.... It's how supposedly good people get away with bad behavior.

.
It's always wrong to traffic children for sex. Even if you're a famous MIT guy. Expose and punish those who commit these crimes. Save a child.

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i saw a r.m.s. lecture at temple u.
he is a prick; but, usually he is on point arguing in support for open standards.

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The problem here is his rationalization of child rape and his longstanding issues with women at MIT that have been well known for decades. His conduct as a supervisor and person in contact with students should have been questioned and sanctioned long ago.

Believe me: this isn't news for tech women.

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Richard is known to wear a button that says, "Impeach God"

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You just changed a small protest into a large protest.

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along with a long list of desires at speaking engagements.

https://gizmodo.com/please-do-not-buy-richard-stallman-a-parrot-and-othe...

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Do you have a problem with that document? It looks like a list of things he generally likes, things he generally dislikes, and a demand for one thing, which is a degree of independence.

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The Daily Beast takes a look at his blog:

He has written dozens of posts on his personal website in favor of legalizing pedophilia and child pornography for more than 15 years.

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Look, I don't necessarily agree with Stallman. But his generalized argument is that the physical act of sex or taking pictures of post-pubescent bodies isn't morally wrong. I don't see anywhere that he defends naked pictures of 7-year-olds, for example. And his other point in the latest Minsky thing is that calling every sex act from age of consent to infancy to be "pedophilia" allows the Daily Beast to write statements like "Stallman is in favor of legalizing pedophilia" when what's he's actually arguing is that sexual and mental maturity happens on an individual scale not by the rotation of the Earth around the Sun and if two people are sexually and mentally mature enough to have sex with each other with consent then it shouldn't be something we legislate against.

Where his argument runs into difficulty, and where nobody engages him on it because they're always quick to go straight to "dude wants to let people fuck five year olds", is that evaluating the mental and physical maturity of two individuals is difficult for experts let alone two people in a room deciding if they can have sex together or not....so we draw simpler lines in the law. We use ages above physical and mental maturity (well, for a vast majority of individuals) to simplify what we can prosecute.

But I'm done defending the nuances of Stallman here. It seems to just attract more outrage from people uninterested in trying to understand what's being said and its context and just looking for ways to crucify Stallman (partly to satisfy our latest moral outrages and partly to satisfy the fact that Stallman is a dick about just about everything).

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And enabling.

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this guy is a genius, but these kinds of peculiar tech geniuses often do not have much for a moral compass. that's why effecting an outcome where they have less political privilege, and leverage, is necessary.

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True of stars in all fields. Weinstein, Charlie Rose, James Levine, top Ivy League professors in a variety of fields...

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and why you really don't want to be ruled by a technocracy. They typically display psychopahic characteristics.

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Technocracies are run by the technical experts of the field they're administering. If Stallman was in charge of the FCC, you'd have free internet with a government project to setup encrypted WiFi across the nation. He wouldn't be heading the DoJ department in charge of monitoring sex trafficking.

You don't want a technocracy? Congratulations, you're living in the exact opposite of it right now. DeVos needs an education. Rick "I flunked Chemistry" Perry handles our nuclear reactors. A brain surgeon is evicting tenants. And a serial bankrupt con artist is leading the show.

Is there even one position where Trump appointed someone who was actually qualified to do their job?

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which isn't right either.

He's a fanatic. He's not out for personal gain. He has a cause - free software - and he's always on about it. He reacts to the world in a hair-splitting legalistic manner, without any tact, and doesn't care about social niceties.

And thus he manages to piss off _a lot_ of people.

I think his attempts to "defend" his mentor Minsky led him to wrong places. I've seen the man speak, and at SF cons, and I understand why a lot of women think he's a creep. But I also think I'd be surprised if he was involved in any of Epstein's more sordid activities. If anything, he's distinctive enough that he wouldn't be forgotten if he was ...

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Richard Stallman has responded to the charges on his blog. His response includes this:

The coverage totally mischaracterised my statements. Headlines say that I defended Epstein. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've called him a "serial rapist", and said he deserved to be imprisoned. But many people now believe I defended him -- and other inaccurate claims -- and feel a real hurt because of what they believe I said.

I'm sorry for that hurt. I wish I could have prevented the misunderstanding.

I personally know nothing about the truth of this matter one way or the other (although, as a geek myself, I believe that Stallman has been an incredibly important figure in technology, and his warnings about Orwellian nightmares of privacy violations -- similar to those of Edward Snowden -- have almost always proven to be true).

IF Stallman really said what he claims he said in the past about Epstein, and IF Stallman never sexually abused anyone... (and I have no opinion about that, no factual knowledge of it one way or the other)... could this be another example of "guilty immediately upon internet claim by somebody" instead of our traditional "innocent until proven guilty" which seems to be eroding, at least in popular culture?

You can read a discussion about his response on a popular techie website here.

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Yes, his defense in the original mailing-list discussion was not so much of Epstein as of MIT's Marvin Minsky. That doesn't make it better. He basically wrote that even if Minsky did have sex with somebody in Epstein's "harem," who are we to say that was wrong? If it happened, it was probably consensual, and it's silly to use some artificial construct of what "underage" is. So leave poor Marvin out of this.

It's a pretty well established legal principle that somebody under the age of consent can not legally give their consent to sex (hey, guess why they call it that?) and if you have sex with somebody under that age, it's not sex, it's rape. Period. From his previous writings, it's clear he likes playing legal scholar and defining exactly when sex is no longer pedophilia. OK, then, but before we get to consent, we go through a period in which it's rape. He's not really helping his case.

Stallman is of an age that he probably couldn't help but hearing Gary Puckett's string of hits about jailbait - first about about trying to resist some young girl (who, of course, was coming onto him) and then just saying screw it, so he fucks her and makes her a woman now (Stallman was a high schooler in New York in the late 60s - when those songs were all over WABC, which was the top-rated station in the city). You could get away with singing pop songs like that - and even get invited onto the Ed Sullivan Show - in 1969.

It's not 1969 any more.

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He said there's a realistic probability that Minsky *perceived* it to be consensual. In other words, how is Minsky to know she's underage OR that Epstein connived her to be with him? Further to that point, how are *we* to know what Minsky knew about the situation he was in?

He also didn't say leave Minsky out of it. He said calling what Minsky did "sexual assault" easily leads people to assume that Minsky was either violent or a knowing participant or both, because we've allowed "sexual assault" to be broad enough to cover an 18.5 year old having sex with a 17.5 year old and pre-meditated rape at gunpoint.

I know I said I'd stop responding, but you're often a fair arbiter here, and you've really swallowed the Kool-Aid on damning Stallman when he didn't say what you think he said.

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Minsky was 73. It doesn't matter whether she was 17 or 18. Either way the onus was on him to be extra double triple sure that she was not coerced in any way.

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... and most of the women are saying basically "stallman's at it again, this is why I left." This week's hot take by Stallman is just the lastest of many. He has a history of being a creep.

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and she's in her teens and it's NOT a porn shoot (different moral and ethical situation here); there is probably something inherently bad going on.

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Today, due to "pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations."

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