Docker hired private detectives to pursue woman engineer's rape, death threat trolls

Laughter could be best medicine to combat some abusers

Conference speaker ... Jessie Frazelle (Source: Docker)

Container software biz Docker hired private investigators to track down trolls after one of its popular engineers was harassed and bullied for being a woman.

Jessie Frazelle, who was sent death and rape threats, last month quit the San Francisco-based upstart to work at Mesosphere. As word of her departure spread, Docker scrambled to insist the abuse came from outside the company, rather than within it, and that the organization had done all it could to help her.

"You may have seen a tweet (not from Jessie) that Jessie Frazelle was harassed out of Docker. This is not true," said Ben Golub, Docker CEO. "Docker does not tolerate harassment of any kind. We have a zero tolerance policy."

Frazelle is a brilliant programmer and was essentially the public face of the company at conferences. As a result, she was exposed to a vast amount of abuse from internet troglodytes who take pleasure in harassing non-male techies.

"This industry is fucked," she wrote in a widely shared blog post on the topic.

"Ever since I started speaking at conferences and contributing to open source projects I have been endlessly harassed. I've gotten hundreds of private messages on IRC and emails about sex, rape, and death threats. People emailing me saying they jerked off to my conference talk video (you're welcome btw) is mild in comparison to sending photoshopped pictures of me covered in blood."

Golub said his startup had informed the police of the abuse, and hired private investigators to hunt down the perpetrators and protect his staff.

Frazelle, once a Docker core maintainer, has now left the company to do security work for Mesosphere. Golub said that in her exit interview, she said she hadn't suffered any harassment from people within Docker. Despite requests for comment, Docker has declined to comment further on the situation. Frazelle was also unavailable for comment.

Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, tech entrepreneur and author of Women in Tech, told The Register that the problem of harassment is endemic and the Feds have largely given up on the issue.

"The FBI is overwhelmed by reports of this kind of abuse and has simply declared that they can't prosecute because there's no way of establishing geographical jurisdiction – essentially declaring by fiat that this kind of harassment is not a crime and removing it from the crime statistics," said Van Vlack.

As a prominent person within the industry, she too has been the target of online trolls, who threatened her life on numerous occasions and called her company to complain about her. Thankfully, the company she was working for had a novel and highly effective solution.

"Their single most effective tactic with the people who called up was to laughed hysterically at them when they complained about me," she said. "I was stunned to learn that the bosses had howled in laughter at these people. It was the best emotional support I've ever had in my life."

While this might have dissuaded the harassers, she pointed out that there are a few things companies need to take account of – with the most important being a willingness to believe and support a colleague when they complain of abuse or harassment. Too many companies try to look at both sides of a one-sided situation, which can leave staff feeling undermined and adds weight to the trolls' campaign. ®




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