How to Report Sexual Harassment, by Elise Matthesen
July 7 Update: Per Patrick Nielsen Hayden, an editor with Tor, James Frenkel is no longer with Tor Books.
ETA: Elise has said she’s comfortable with the following comment being shared. “My name is Sigrid Ellis. I was one of the co-hosts of the party Elise mentions. The person Elise reported for harassment is James Frenkel.” (Source)
I am beyond furious.
In 2010, in response to a series of specific incidents involving an editor in the community, I posted a list of resources for Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F. A number of people made reports about this individual.
I thought those reports had made a difference. I was wrong.
What follows is an account and essay from Elise Matthesen describing the process of reporting an incident that took place this year at Wiscon. While I’m not in a position to name names on my blog, I will say that the individual in question is the same one I was hearing about in 2010.
I ended up speaking to this person a while after I wrote that original blog post. He seemed genuinely contrite and regretful. I thought … I hoped … that he had learned, and that he would change his behavior.
I was wrong.
From what I’ve learned, nothing changed. Because the reports weren’t “formally documented,” this person was able to go on to harass other women.
Please read Elise’s essay. I’ve bolded one section about filing a formal report. If you’re aware of the situation and want to do so, I’ll be happy to do whatever I can to help hook you up with the appropriate contacts.
My thanks to Elise for her relentless work on this.
We’re geeks. We learn things and share, right? Well, this year at WisCon I learned firsthand how to report sexual harassment. In case you ever need or want to know, here’s what I learned and how it went.
Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to check on me. I was lucky: my host was alert and aware. On hearing what had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company the harasser was representing at the convention.
The mandated reporter was respectful and professional. Even though I knew them, reporting this stuff is scary, especially about someone who’s been with a company for a long time, so I was really glad to be listened to. Since the incident happened during Memorial Day weekend, I was told Human Resources would follow up with me on Tuesday.
There was most of a convention between then and Tuesday, and I didn’t like the thought of more of this nonsense (there’s a polite word for it!) happening, so I went and found a convention Safety staffer. He asked me right away whether I was okay and whether I wanted someone with me while we talked or would rather speak privately. A friend was nearby, a previous Guest of Honor at the convention, and I asked her to stay for the conversation. The Safety person asked whether I’d like to make a formal report. I told him, “I’d just like to tell you what happened informally, I guess, while I figure out what I want to do.”
It may seem odd to hesitate to make a formal report to a convention when one has just called somebody’s employer and begun the process of formally reporting there, but that’s how it was. I think I was a little bit in shock. (I kept shaking my head and thinking, “Dude, seriously??”) So the Safety person closed his notebook and listened attentively. Partway through my account, I said, “Okay, open your notebook, because yeah, this should be official.” Thus began the formal report to the convention. We listed what had happened, when and where, the names of other people who were there when it happened, and so forth. The Safety person told me he would be taking the report up to the next level, checked again to see whether I was okay, and then went.
I had been nervous about doing it, even though the Safety person and the friend sitting with us were people I have known for years. Sitting there, I tried to imagine how nervous I would have been if I were twenty-some years old and at my first convention. What if I were just starting out and had been hoping to show a manuscript to that editor? Would I have thought this kind of behavior was business as usual? What if I were afraid that person would blacklist me if I didn’t make nice and go along with it? If I had been less experienced, less surrounded by people I could call on for strength and encouragement, would I have been able to report it at all?
Well, I actually know the answer to that one: I wouldn’t have. I know this because I did not report it when it happened to me in my twenties. I didn’t report it when it happened to me in my forties either. There are lots of reasons people might not report things, and I’m not going to tell someone they’re wrong for choosing not to report. What I intend to do by writing this is to give some kind of road map to someone who is considering reporting. We’re geeks, right? Learning something and sharing is what we do.
So I reported it to the convention. Somewhere in there they asked, “Shall we use your name?” I thought for a millisecond and said, “Oh, hell yes.”
This is an important thing. A formal report has a name attached. More about this later.
The Safety team kept checking in with me. The coordinators of the convention were promptly involved. Someone told me that since it was the first report, the editor would not be asked to leave the convention. I was surprised it was the first report, but hey, if it was and if that’s the process, follow the process. They told me they had instructed him to keep away from me for the rest of the convention. I thanked them.
Starting on Tuesday, the HR department of his company got in touch with me. They too were respectful and took the incident very seriously. Again I described what, where and when, and who had been present for the incident and aftermath. They asked me if I was making a formal report and wanted my name used. Again I said, “Hell, yes.”
Both HR and Legal were in touch with me over the following weeks. HR called and emailed enough times that my husband started calling them “your good friends at HR.” They also followed through on checking with the other people, and did so with a promptness that was good to see.
Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.
Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by the written word. “Records, or it didn’t happen” is how it works, at least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time — because for formal purposes, it was.
I asked whether people who had originally made confidential reports could go ahead and file formal ones now. There was a bit of confusion around an erroneous answer by someone in another department, but then the person at Legal clearly said that “the past is past” is not an accurate summation of company policy, and that she (and all the other people listed in the company’s publicly-available code of conduct) would definitely accept formal reports regardless of whether the behavior took place last week or last year.
If you choose to report, I hope this writing is useful to you. If you’re new to the genre, please be assured that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable business-as-usual. I have had numerous editors tell me that reporting harassment will NOT get you blacklisted, that they WANT the bad apples reported and dealt with, and that this is very important to them, because this kind of thing is bad for everyone and is not okay. The thing is, though, that I’m fifty-two years old, familiar with the field and the world of conventions, moderately well known to many professionals in the field, and relatively well-liked. I’ve got a lot of social credit. And yet even I was nervous and a little in shock when faced with deciding whether or not to report what happened. Even I was thinking, “Oh, God, do I have to? What if this gets really ugly?”
But every time I got that scared feeling in my guts and the sensation of having a target between my shoulder blades, I thought, “How much worse would this be if I were inexperienced, if I were new to the field, if I were a lot younger?” A thousand times worse. So I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders and said, “Hell, yes, use my name.” And while it’s scary to write this now, and while various people are worried that parts of the Internet may fall on my head, I’m going to share the knowledge — because I’m a geek, and that’s what we do.
So if you need to report this stuff, the following things may make it easier to do so. Not easy, because I don’t think it’s gotten anywhere near easy, but they’ll probably help.
NOTES: As soon as you can, make notes on the following:
- what happened
- when it happened and where
- who else was present (if anyone)
- any other possibly useful information
And take notes as you go through the process of reporting: write down who you talk with in the organization to which you are reporting, and when.
ALLIES: Line up your support team. When you report an incident of sexual harassment to a convention, it is fine to take a friend with you. A friend can keep you company while you make a report to a company by phone or in email. Some allies can help by hanging out with you at convention programming or parties or events, ready to be a buffer in case of unfortunate events — or by just reminding you to eat, if you’re too stressed to remember. If you’re in shock, please try to tell your allies this, and ask for help if you can.
NAVIGATION: If there are procedures in place, what are they? Where do you start to make a report and how? (Finding out might be a job to outsource to allies.) Some companies have current codes of conduct posted on line with contact information for people to report harassment to. Jim Hines posted a list of contacts at various companies a while ago. Conventions should have a safety team listed in the program book. Know the difference between formal reports and informal reports. Ask what happens next with your report, and whether there will be a formal record of it, or whether it will result in a supervisor telling the person “Don’t do that,” but will be confidential and will not be counted formally.
REPORTING FORMALLY: This is a particularly important point. Serial harassers can get any number of little talking-to’s and still have a clear record, which means HR and Legal can’t make any disciplinary action stick when formal reports do finally get made. This is the sort of thing that can get companies really bad reputations, and the ongoing behavior hurts everybody in the field. It is particularly poisonous if the inappropriate behavior is consistently directed toward people over whom the harasser has some kind of real or perceived power: an aspiring writer may hesitate to report an editor, for instance, due to fear of economic harm or reprisal.
STAY SAFE: You get to choose what to do, because you’re the only one who knows your situation and what risks you will and won’t take. If not reporting is what you need to do, that’s what you get to do, and if anybody gives you trouble about making that choice to stay safe, you can sic me on them. Me, I’ve had a bunch of conversations with my husband, and I’ve had a bunch of conversations with other people, and I hate the fact that I’m scared that there might be legal wrangling (from the person I’d name, not the convention or his employer) if I name names. But after all those conversations, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m writing the most important part, about how to report this, and make it work, which is so much bigger than one person’s distasteful experience.
During the incident, the person I reported said, “Gosh, you’re lovely when you’re angry.” You know what? I’ve been getting prettier and prettier.
June 28, 2013 @ 10:28 am
Damn it all, but this kind of sh*t makes me angry. Kudos to Elise for lodging formal complaints, and I would definitely second her point to gather allies. It’s all too easy to start to second guess yourself when making a report like this. We want to believe that people will behave appropriately and when they don’t, it’s such a shock to the system, it’s even hard to believe what you’ve experienced.
June 28, 2013 @ 10:38 am
I am not sure if i get it correctly. You posted your list of ressources and it seemed to me that those were such that a complaint there should generate a formal record. Following to this, the Individuum was reported (several times). Did they complain to different ressources?
Does “confidential report” mean it doesn’t get recorded? If so, the word “confidential” has a yet unknown additional semantic no dictionary is telling me about. If a confidential report has no impact, it can be delivered to the parkometer instead :-(.
John G. Hartness
June 28, 2013 @ 10:39 am
Thanks for continuing to fight the fight.
I’m sorry this happened to you but I applaud you for stepping forward to report the incident and to tell others how to report other similar incidents.
June 28, 2013 @ 10:55 am
Thanks so much for posting this. Harassment happens, and it’s not okay. I’m a romance author in my 20’s, fairly outgoing and heavily tattooed. People perceive me based on my appearance alone and judge it as being acceptable to be less than respectful to me. With my history, I know how important it is to stand up for myself and squash those moments, be it by telling the person it’s not okay, or going to officials. Too often people accept what happens to them as just a misunderstanding, a bad pass or something else. And it’s not okay. There isn’t one single second of it that’s okay. I get pretty ticked these days when it happens, but that’s because I know the tools at my disposal to fight back. I hope more people read this and realize they can stand up and should.
June 28, 2013 @ 11:15 am
My name is Sigrid Ellis. I was one of the co-hosts of the party Elise mentions. The person Elise reported for harassment is James Frenkel.
June 28, 2013 @ 11:38 am
Stay Pretty, Elise. I’ve had to report people who did have power over me (and continued to have power afterward) for unprofessional behavior (of a non-sexual nature). It’s no fun at all. In your field, it’s good that it likely won’t affect your career. It definitely did have an unpleasant affect on mine, such that I wound up leaving the company after two years of putting up with petty abuse. Ultimately, it may be stronger professionally and presonally, and I hope it does the same for you.
June 28, 2013 @ 11:39 am
s/may be/made me/
June 28, 2013 @ 11:46 am
Oh. Him. Colour me unsurprised.
June 28, 2013 @ 11:49 am
I will be linking this to the committees of the various conventions I work for.
I am also a member of the Open Source Backup Ribbon Project, and remind convention attendees that if you see someone wearing a purple badge ribbon that reads “BACKUP”, we have your back. We do not judge. We do not make exceptions.
June 28, 2013 @ 11:54 am
Wait, why is the person being named here? Elise chose not to name him. Her choice should be respected. I’m not sure whether naming him was a misguided attempt to get him the condemnation he deserves or an attempt to make Elise look bad for criticizing a recognizable name, but either way it was totally inappropriate.
June 28, 2013 @ 11:56 am
And I’m not saying that because I think he should be protected. I don’t. I do think victims of harassment should generally get to choose whether to make their harassers’ names public, especially in cases where there’s potential for the victim to experience social fallout if the name is revealed.
June 28, 2013 @ 11:57 am
“Lovely when you’re angry”? Dude. There’s a reason for the you-better-not-look-supernatural-being-X-in-the-face-if-you-want-to-live trope.
Stay awesome, Elise. Thanks, Jim.
June 28, 2013 @ 12:02 pm
I’m not sure, but the sense I got was that if you make a “confidential report,” the harasser will get talked to about it, but nothing goes on his record and there is no formal punishment. It also means that the person who was harassed doesn’t have to have their name down on paper about anything, so there’s no fear of retaliation. Even if nothing official comes from it, it can feel good to tell someone what happened.
June 28, 2013 @ 12:05 pm
And this is the most frustrating thing for me on reading this. Not you specifically, but this is an ongoing, known thing. He’s a missing stair, and it still takes this long for anything to be done.
June 28, 2013 @ 12:15 pm
Elise asked me to name him.
June 28, 2013 @ 12:29 pm
I can’t speak for Sigrid, obviously. But I think it’s relevant that the first I heard about this was over dim sum, 2000 miles away, from someone who named the harasser. She did not suggest that it would be inappropriate either to talk further about the incident or to include his name. My reaction to the news was something like “That bastard idiot!” the former because nobody should do that to anyone, especially not to my friends, the latter because he had already been warned. This in turn is suggestive about the limits of an informal warning (if we assume that he has some sense of self-preservation if not ethics).
So we’ve got a situation where a handful of random Seattle fans, anyone they’ve mentioned it to since, and anyone else my informant happened to talk to have the information.
[The above is phrased so it will make sense, and I think be reasonable to leave here, if Jim takes down Sigrid’s comment.]
June 28, 2013 @ 12:47 pm
Thanks to Elise for this report, and to Jim Hines for the space and for the previous advice on how to report.
I thank Elise particularly for her recognition that some women will not be, or feel, safe reporting an incident and need support, not criticism, for their decision. Autonomy is threatened by the incident itself; it’s not OK to threaten it more.
I’m living proof that being older and less physically attractive does not prevent harassment, and that a woman well into her forties and fifties can “freeze” just as easily as a young woman. Experience doesn’t always come with age–it comes with exposure to the wrong people. Also deep past experience of related behaviors can cause the shock and mental freeze, esp. if there’s been no good intervention. (Things changed for me with some therapy after something unrelated to SF conventions. At least they feel changed, and as I’m going to fewer conventions, there’s less exposure to the wrong people–though I have a little list of those I will never share an elevator with.)
June 28, 2013 @ 12:52 pm
That seems to me like the combination of the disadvantages of a formal report (the accused knows you complained) with the disadvantages of no report (the accused can continue as if nothing happened). The only confidential thing about it is the purpose :-(.
June 28, 2013 @ 1:09 pm
The confidential report doesn’t include any names, so the accused doesn’t know it was you that complained, just that someone did.
June 28, 2013 @ 1:19 pm
I think it’s our duty to publicize such things, and encourage people to come forward.
The fandom of today is not the fandom of even 20 years ago; the attitudes of today are not those of 20 years ago. Unfortunately, some fans are still stuck in the 20-years-ago-this-was-okay mindset, and we need to publicly change that.
More & more, conventions are posting codes of conduct, anti-harassment policies, and publicizing the names of those whose actions are unacceptable. Or if not the names, at least the actions themselves. And yes, if you are a pro at a con representing your publisher, you are essentially working, and you should be reported to your company if you violate their code of conduct. (Drinking is no excuse. You’re on the job.) If you are a staffer at a convention, you similarly represent the con, and should be similarly held to a higher standard (Ceaser’s wife & all that). And I certainly agree that repeat offenders should be shunned in our community, because we can afford to do so.
Jim C. Hines
June 28, 2013 @ 1:28 pm
My apologies – I haven’t been getting comment notification on this post!
Jim C. Hines
June 28, 2013 @ 1:31 pm
Without going into details, it sounds like “confidential” meant nothing formal was recorded in this individual’s file with HR. I believe there were some consequences at the time, but whatever happened, it obviously wasn’t enough…
Jim C. Hines
June 28, 2013 @ 1:32 pm
Jim C. Hines
June 28, 2013 @ 1:32 pm
Kisekileia – I’ve also spoken directly with Elise today, and she confirmed that she was comfortable with the name being shared.
June 28, 2013 @ 1:33 pm
It’s probably also worth noting that if you are a witness to someone getting harassed, it’s okay to suggest to them that they report it. They may be in shock that it really just happened, or they may not really process how utterly inappropriate something was at the time, until it’s too late to figure out who else might have seen it happen and how to contact them. So saying “I saw what just happened, and I’m sorry, and if you want to file a complaint and need a witness of it, here’s my contact information,” means that they’ll know that what happened really was inappropriate and that they’re not alone. (Obviously, if they don’t want to complain, that’s their choice, but at least they’re aware that there is a choice to make.)
June 28, 2013 @ 1:33 pm
If there were only one person in the world you were unwilling to share the elevator with for that reason, it would already be enough to make me feeling ashamed for our society. The necessity to use “list” in that context is beyond what i could imagine for a long time.
June 28, 2013 @ 1:34 pm
I guess nobody did… At least i didn’t get mine either ;-).
June 28, 2013 @ 1:37 pm
Strange definition of confidential (from my point of view). But thanks ;-).
June 28, 2013 @ 1:53 pm
I tried to comment on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog but comments were turned off or the site was borked at the time.
I’m glad Mary and Sigrid named him.
As a female and an aspiring writer I am very concerned. When I first saw posts about this surfacing all I could think was, how do I avoid this guy? How do I know which editor not to query? I’m trying to attend Dragoncon for the first time this year. I’m want to go specifically to make contacts with other writers and editors. I will be on my own most of the time and won’t know anyone there. How does a newbie navigate safely while there are predators about?
Jim C. Hines
June 28, 2013 @ 1:58 pm
Mary reported having blog troubles earlier today. I wasn’t able to leave a comment over there either.
Historically, a lot of this has happened one-on-one, with people (usually women) pulling one another aside to warn them about people with a history of harassing or abusive behavior.
I’m very glad to see things becoming more public.
June 28, 2013 @ 2:06 pm
Dragoncon is not always the best con for writing purposes–I mean, I love going there and it’s an awesome con, but it’s not a written sf/f con, it’s very much a media con. So unless there are specific author/editor guests that you want to see/talk to, you’re better off going to a more written-sf/f specific con. (Bonuses: they’re cheaper, they’re often more local, and they’re smaller.)
June 28, 2013 @ 2:13 pm
Thank you Jim and Elise for posting and Sigrid for naming names. I appreciate the information a great deal.
June 28, 2013 @ 2:21 pm
I am a co-chair for WisCon 38. If anyone would like to comment privately to the co-chairs on this topic, you are welcome to email email@example.com
If you would like to make a formal report of a prior incident at a past WisCon, I can put you in touch with our Safety team.
Piglet Evans, firstname.lastname@example.org
WisCon 38 co-chair
June 28, 2013 @ 2:41 pm
I live in Phoenix, not a ton of big science fiction/fantasy specific cons that are accessible to me. The local cons are small except for Phoenix Comicon which has very little on the order of workshops. I picked Dragoncon because Jody Lynn Nye is running the workshop and there are at least 8 authors going that I want to see. Only downside is that it is running the same weekend as LoneStarCon, this year’s WorldCon. LoneStarCon is closer but for some silly reason the cost is astronomically larger.
June 28, 2013 @ 3:04 pm
Well said, Adam.
Mary Robinette Kowal
June 28, 2013 @ 3:28 pm
Comments are posting, but they don’t cause the page to refresh at the moment because I had to do a site lockdown. Traffic.
And yes, it’s always been one on one warnings before. I like to think things are changing.
Mary Robinette Kowal
June 28, 2013 @ 3:29 pm
I know, for a fact, that at least one previous report was made and was NOT a confidential or off-the-record report. However, it wasn’t to HR or Legal and that appears to make a difference.
June 28, 2013 @ 3:33 pm
Does this make such a difference in U.S. law? If it was an official communication, the company has to make sure it reaches HR or legal if those are in charge of handling it.
June 28, 2013 @ 3:43 pm
If you can, take a buddy, if you’re worried about this. Predators don’t like witnesses. If there is an incident I strongly recommend sticking tight to that buddy for the rest of the con, or at least avoiding being away from people you know and trust. If there’s somebody even making you uncomfortable, without doing anything you could outright consider harassing, find your buddy. If you go to report the incident, take your buddy. Even a big convention is a small space, and you’re likely to run into the problem person again. And predators don’t like witnesses.
It’s unfortunate that it’s a necessity, but everybody feels, and usually is, safer if they’ve got somebody who can watch their back. Even a bigger dude like me feels safer if there’s somebody else with me who can spot trouble or help me out of it if trouble finds me.
June 28, 2013 @ 5:02 pm
June 28, 2013 @ 5:05 pm
Thanks for confirming that.
June 28, 2013 @ 5:06 pm
I find it amazine that Frenkel is still employed as editor. I have read similar complaints against him on the Blogosphere over the years, but thought the problem was solved the last time this hit the webs. Is he really married to Joan Vinge? and he is still at TOR?
The man has been told, repeated, this is not appropriate behavoir and to stop it. And he keeps doing it. We can’t tar and feather him, or put him in the stocks, but….. emails? ;-}
June 28, 2013 @ 5:15 pm
I would wager that no woman who has ever met him is surprised. I’m not. I got into a SFWA party once and the only thing that kept his skeeviness from overwhelming me (as opposed to just wafting my direction ickily) was that I was with a past president.
June 28, 2013 @ 5:16 pm
I got a backup ribbon at my last con and carefully took it off my badge to reuse for other ones. I back up AND recycle!
June 28, 2013 @ 5:20 pm
Elise, you are awesome. Please know that we admire you for doing all this.
June 28, 2013 @ 5:28 pm
When you’re older and less attractive (ahem, me) it cuts down some on the harassment, but it also encourages them to think “hur, hur, this broad is old and fat, she’ll be SO HAPPY I’m hitting on her! She should be grateful, right?”
June 28, 2013 @ 5:31 pm
In theory, yes. In practice, no.
June 28, 2013 @ 5:54 pm
And you haven’t even WORKED with him. A close friend of mine did. The worst few years of her professional life. (We, her friends, finally intervened and said you CANNOT work with this guy again, because your FRIENDS can’t take how crazy he makes you. She’s gone on to a much better writing career since then.) Every time she vented to me, I was bewildered that this guy was still employed. The most stunning stories, one after another after another, of incompetent and unprofessional behavior in terms of his work, never mind convention behavior. And I don’t believe his employer didn’t know, since she had to go over his head about all the problems and delays he caused. So how believable is it that she’s the ONLY writer who ever had those problems with him, or that no one else EVER went over his head and complained? I think there’s reason to worry that Elise’s complaint might not be handled seriously there–because it just doesn’t seem believable to me that they didn’t already know about this guy.
June 28, 2013 @ 5:56 pm
Good for you for reporting it and sharing this. Harassment is one of those things that should never be taken lightly and always formally reported. I know fear is a huge factor, but people need to remember, you’ve got support! It can happen anywhere, there are just better ‘hiding places’ for people like this, it seems like. Because, honestly, this is like, the second time I’ve heard about sexual harassment in the writing industry.
June 28, 2013 @ 6:02 pm
What everyone else pretty much said. You did the right (and brave) thing. Sorry you had such an icky experience and thank you on behalf of the rest of us for standing up.
June 28, 2013 @ 6:03 pm
So I almost reported Frenkel (I have a picture of him staring at my breasts when we were being introduced to each other for the first time), but I didn’t & now I’m kicking myself. Ugh.
June 28, 2013 @ 6:44 pm
I feel disappointed that those that know me and know this person and in years of going to WisCon that no one ever warned me. Open secrets like this suck because people assume everyone knows. But they don’t.
Name them all, name them in public, let’s report them as best we can. Please!
June 28, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
Jim, I have a book rec for you, which may look a bit tangential but which is very useful for recognizing the strategies and patterns that habitual abusers use to get people on their side or make them think that they’re contrite.
Give it a read – I guarantee it will blow your mind in a good way.
Keep on blogging, dude.
June 28, 2013 @ 7:36 pm
Thank you for bringing this to attention, Jim. Elise, I am so sorry you’ve copped this crap, but I am applauding your courage in speaking out. Having had one brief, non-harassing but utterly off-putting encounter with Mr Frenkel, and learning that he’s never been held accountable for his crap when he should have been, years ago, it’s heartening to think that now might change. And as a past victim of workplace sexual harassment, I am in complete sympathy with you on the utter mind-fart it does on you.
June 28, 2013 @ 7:58 pm
Hi — I’m the person who told Vicki over dim sum. The people who told me about it at Wiscon said to spread it around. I checked this with Elise at Wiscon and she okayed it. So I saw no reason to refrain from telling it to anyone.
Apparently I am more out of the mainstream than I thought because I *was* surprised. I’ve been around Frenkel a lot of times over the years and never experienced nor observed anything. I’m NOT doubting anyone’s word, least of all Elise’s. but ya know, that private warning thing wasn’t working for me. It doesn’t much for anyone.
Jim C. Hines
June 28, 2013 @ 8:21 pm
Jim C. Hines
June 28, 2013 @ 8:22 pm
My webhost people kicked the server, and everything should be working again!
June 28, 2013 @ 10:20 pm
Sally, you’d lose your wager; I am a woman who first met him decades ago and have always been happy to see him and spend time talking with him through the years since. I am surprised.
I also recognize my experience is only my own. I mention it not to discount anyone else’s far different experience in any way, but rather to stress that sexual harassment is never okay, no matter whether we know and/or like someone who is reported for harassment or not. Also, harassers don’t necessarily read as skeevy individuals to everyone they encounter, even everyone of the targeted sex. It’s all too easy to think of those who harassers as “Other.” In my experience, some are but most aren’t.
Elise’s post sharing her experience of reporting sexual harassment is brilliant, powerful, and remarkably useful. Much as I wish she hadn’t had this particular learning experience, I’m thankful she shared her experience and appreciate the thoughtfulness with which she did so. The clarity of the whole thing reminds me of how much I admire Elise’s writing. I am not surprised to see her “STAY SAFE” paragraph with its important reminder that the person who has experienced sexual harassment knows their own situation best and has the choice of what they do or don’t do in response.
Elise wrote, “Instead, I’m writing the most important part, about how to report this, and make it work….” And that’s exactly what she did. Kudos & appreciation.
P.S. For those who don’t know me or my fannish background, I’ve known Elise for decades, too.
June 29, 2013 @ 2:01 am
The one year that I had gone to Anime Iowa, I cosplayed as my Demon Lord OC, partially inspired by Demon Lord Etna. Look her up in an image search, and you’ll get the idea. Anyhow, I sat down cross-legged for a rest by some flowers outside in what appeared to be an uninhabited little area of shade. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy with a camera, the kind with one of those expensive zoom-in lenses, and he was photographing me with the camera angled slightly downward. I found this odd, got angry and quickly got up to go to and open the glass door he was peering through. I asked him just what in the hell he thought he was doing. He actually started laughing at me and said something along the lines of the view up my skirt being great. My famous temper overtook me with no hesitation and I slapped the pervert over his left ear with the enormous, folded bamboo fan I had with me. The camera fell onto the tile flooring (breaking into a great many pieces) and I stormed off to find my friends. Later on I learned that the creep had been taken to the hospital because he had yellow fluid leaking from his ear. I recounted the story to more than one security staff member and got nothing but kudos for sticking up for myself. As a side note, I doubt that the offender of this story will ever hear out of his left ear again.
June 29, 2013 @ 3:18 am
June 29, 2013 @ 3:22 am
A word of advice: You should not write such things like that (or less recognizable). I have seen more harmless forum comments turn up in court to the disadvantage of the poster. There is no sympathy for that guy on my side, but there are groups (DAs, lawyers) who may take a dimmer view. Sorry 🙁
June 29, 2013 @ 5:54 am
As someone who was repeatedly harassed in school, repeatedly told people in authority, and was repeatedly told that boys will be boys and that I should have thicker skin… I’m glad that it was handled the way it was. No one should have to put up with that crap or be made to feel like there is something wrong with them for not wanting other people handling them.
June 29, 2013 @ 7:58 am
Just chiming in to agree with the “bystanders can offer to stand as witnesses” bit. I’ve done this before, and I think it’s one of the most important things we can do as bystanders – standing up to support people who are harassed and/or assaulted, to let them know they’re entitled to speak up about it, and that someone else thinks what happened to them wasn’t just “one of those things”.
June 29, 2013 @ 8:54 am
I had never seen the ‘missing stair’ piece, but I have certainly seen (and taken part in) the phenomenon. Women are trained both in childhood and by experiences as an adult to stifle their anger, to ‘leave it alone’, to avoid, to change plans, to do whatever it takes to not confront that ‘missing stair’ who often has a great deal of power relative to the woman (women) in question.
As I have gotten older, I am no longer as afraid as I once was to speak up and speak out, but as a young woman, the harassment was so common, and the harassers so far above me in the power chain, that I did nothing not only because I was afraid, but because my fear was rational.
I had seen other women attempt to do something and be punished for it, not once or twice but repeatedly. The culture of ‘disbelieve the woman’ was even more rampant then than it is now.
Thank you so much for helping me put a name to this phenomenon.
June 29, 2013 @ 8:56 am
Karnythia, I have known you for years on line, and I know how fierce and strong you are… and I also know that all of us have to pick our fights and save our strength for the ones we need most. You did what you had to do.
June 29, 2013 @ 9:02 am
Thank you. I don’t attend cons for several reasons, among them being shy and having troubles navigating crowds, but I am well aware that a significant part of my issue with crowds is that I have often been sexually harassed in crowds and I feel fundamentally unsafe in them.
Back when I was in my twenties I loved to dance socially, so would go out dancing (not drinking — I’ve never been a drinker). I had to switch from dancing at rock bars (which I loved) to country bars (which, meh) because invariably, even though I wasn’t particularly provocatively dressed, I would be grabbed, pinched, cornered, backed up, rubbed against, or propositioned. The culture was somewhat different at country bars, which allowed me to enjoy the dancing more.
Since that time, I’ve never been comfortable in crowds, though I’ve gotten much better at handling harassment.
June 29, 2013 @ 11:48 am
The accused doesn’t know it was you that complained, just one of the people he hit on in the last reasonable span of time. And there’s no permanent cost or record to the perpetrator.
June 29, 2013 @ 3:02 pm
Technically, it should be escalated. But very often, via ignorance, negligence, or indifference,if not outright hostility, it gets ‘misfiled’ by a supervisor or peer.
June 29, 2013 @ 3:04 pm
Yeah, I agree, careful there. Also, I have to say, while I can understand anger, physical assault is and should only be a recourse to avoid imminent physical harm.
Now grabbing him by said ear and dragging him to con staff to show off his pictures? Blurry line, but minimal risk of significant damage.
June 29, 2013 @ 10:56 pm
You get the same thing in the military, but assume that the person you’re reporting has “literally” life or death decision capability over you. Throw in the fact that there are also people who do falsely report which decreases the credibility of those that are honestly reporting and it becomes even more difficult to convince an officer corp that the NCO or officer he desperately needs for the upcoming deployment is a liability. However I’ve never known a commander or competent SNCO who didn’t take it seriously both because it could be his butt in the sling when it turns out that it’s a justified claim and he didn’t do anything about it and because they do look on this as someone messing with their sister (or brother) in arms and that ain’t gonna fly. Seems like the same situation here, but you gotta be willing to make the report before anything CAN be done.
June 30, 2013 @ 12:36 am
I’m a woman in my 50s and have been harassed only once in an institutional or convention setting. However, it effectively cost me my job when I reported the harasser. My boss, who had known me for five years and my harasser (a mid-level exec from another division of our international company) for about five minutes, responded to my complaint by saying “Oh, I’m SURE that couldn’t have happened.”
The harasser had asked me for a date and, when I refused, had threatened to come to my home in the middle of the night, break in, and rape me.
I discovered that three professional women in my organization had experienced similar harassment from the same man. They all declined to join me in reporting him. After my informal report, my boss stopped speaking to me, stopped assigning me work, and six months later I left for another position.
But wait! This story has a happy ending and a valuable lesson that echoes Elise’s. While traveling for my subsequent job, I sat next to a senior HR executive on a plane, and told him my story. He urged me to send a written incident report to the head of HR at the corporate headquarters of my former employer. I did, and the harasser was investigated and fired. (More than a dozen victims, from across the company, were identified.) My mistake had been making the initial complaint at the local level, where my lily-livered boss and his HR person were afraid to make waves. It turns out that the key was to make sure that a formal complaint got to the very top levels of HR and legal, where they really do have a stake in making sure that a liability is removed from the company.
I was lucky. I could afford to leave that job and go to another one. That’s not possible for many people.
June 30, 2013 @ 12:22 pm
Guilty until proven innocent. Witch hunt. Internet mobs. I’d have thought the SFF community was better than this. You people are arrogant and thoughtless, engaged in groupthink. Shame on you.
June 30, 2013 @ 12:31 pm
Normally I would agree with you, but in this case we have a clear and verified first person account, with backup, as well as a demonstrated past history of issues. In legal terms, far past probable cause.
Since there is no true court of such things, while I do admit I would like to hear the other side of the story to be sure, if I was on a jury, I would be leaning towards a conviction based on the presented evidence.
June 30, 2013 @ 12:39 pm
I’ve been meaning to put my 2 cents in as a former con chair to reiterate how important a first person non-anonymized report is.
When someone comes up to me and says, “I heard that xxx was being a jerk, harassing yyyy” as a con chair there is not a lot I can do unless I have something to hang my hat on. That’s no basis for me taking any action against the harasser without risking issues for the con (claims of discrimination or that I am harassing them!)
However, if I have a clear policy (and I always did) and if someone comes up to me and says “xxxx did this to me and I am willing to testify” and even better if there is a corroborating witness, depending on what happened, I can go to x and either warn them or remove their badge as appropriate based on the violation. If challenged later, I have a clear event trail to defend with.
I Have Nothing to Say | bundoransf
June 30, 2013 @ 12:48 pm
June 30, 2013 @ 6:00 pm
Witch Hunter: You are also neglecting to note that the main theme of the post is HOW TO REPORT HARRASSMENT WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU. It really isn’t so much about this specific case, even though names have been named. If you’ve never been harassed, be grateful. A lot of us have been, at various levels going from minor c**p to those who have been … well, had to go through a lot more than I want to think about. And remember, even if you’ve been able to brush off harassment, who is to say the next person to be the harasser’s target will be able to cope as well as you have been able? Report this sort of s**t is important, and it’s important to know HOW to report incidents so it does the most good.
June 30, 2013 @ 8:08 pm
You bring up false reports, in a topic where women are talking about suffering in silence for years because of intimidation? I’m sorry, but you should be ashamed of yourself. It’s tactics lije this—–bringing up the mythical false report——that keeps women sikent and intimidated.
A guy named Marc O’Leary was recently convicted of rape in Colorado. He was a serial rapist and a veteran who liked to take pictures of his victims.
When cops went through his pictures, they found trophy photos of a woman they had not believed. They had in fact charged and convicted her of false reporting. They couldn’t out their finger on why they didn’t believe her. They just didn’t —-and as cops, they had the power to brand her as a false accuser. Other women were raped thanks to their skepticism.
Sonetimes it’s even worse. Sometimes the cop is the rapist. A woman named Theresa reported being raped by a man who broke into her house. The detective didn’t believe her and demanded she take a lie detector test——which she failed, because having just been raped, she was kind of upset. The detective—–a guy named Tim Martin—–harangued her for a while, then let her go.
A month later, another woman got raped abd this tine they caught him.
A couple of years after that, Tom Martin was charged and convicted of sexually assaulting not just one but a couple of very young women. Until that rapist that he didn’t believe in raped again, until he himself committed rape, until Marc O’Leary was caught, those men had the power to label those women liars. And as somebody who was a woman for two decades in the military, let me tel you: when you have 25, 000 r reports of rape in the military, but only three or four hundred convictions, the problem is not false reporting. It’s obscene that anyone can say that when faced with tose numbers.
June 30, 2013 @ 10:10 pm
“It turns out that the key was to make sure that a formal complaint got to the very top levels of HR and legal, where they really do have a stake in making sure that a liability is removed from the company.”
This is valuable advice. Thanks for sharing your story.
Jim C. Hines
June 30, 2013 @ 10:21 pm
Right. Dude has a known history of sexually harassing women for at least 11 years, confirmed by countless individuals. But it’s reporting and naming him that makes you think less of the SFF community.
Jim C. Hines
June 30, 2013 @ 10:29 pm
I don’t have any personal military experience, unlike Ginmar and I’m assuming you as well. That said, most of what I’ve read don’t give me a lot of confidence that the military takes sexual harassment and assault as seriously as you’re describing here. There are individuals who do, I’m sure. And I know there’s more effort to change things in the military these days. But can I ask how many higher-ranking folks have actually ended up with their butts in slings for sweeping sexual harassment and assault under the rug?
The false reporting thing is a whole other tangle. I talked about it some in the context of rape over here. False accusations happen with all kinds of crimes. That shouldn’t stop anyone from taking them seriously and investigating those reports.
I don’t think this is what you’re trying to do, but so often I see the specter of false reporting used as a way to cast doubt on pretty much every story of rape and harassment that comes out.
July 1, 2013 @ 8:23 am
Am I the only one who thought the “lovely when you’re angry” comment was wildly inappropriate, given the context?
Jim C. Hines
July 1, 2013 @ 8:28 am
Harassment and the Back Channel — Radish Reviews
July 1, 2013 @ 8:32 am
Why Does Talking About Creepers And Harassment Make People So Angry? | Popehat
July 1, 2013 @ 1:09 pm
[…] harassment at a convention, and out tumbled two things: anger, and stories of women putting up all the time in this subculture with creepers. The experiences are not new; perhaps the willingness to talk […]
Amy Sterling Casil
July 1, 2013 @ 2:48 pm
This stuff has been happening for years and I can name a dozen people who personally harassed me, or who I saw harassing others (grabbing, fondling, extremely threatening/inappropriate comments). People should have been aware years ago that what is unacceptable in most workplaces, and has been for years, is now unacceptable in the SF/F community. Many people know about the man who is named here. This is no witch hunt, it is the result of repeated bad behaviors with no consequences for a very long time. Sooner or later … and in this case it is very much “later.”
This has been occurring since there were any women involved in the field at all. Robert Heinlein told Ursula Le Guin’s husband (not her) that he should be feel fortunate to have married a woman with such an outstanding rack (I’m using today’s phrasing) and how nice for Ursula that she was married and wouldn’t have to bother with writing stories any more. Well, today – who’s got a chance of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature? The lady with the rack – not Robert Heinlein.
July 1, 2013 @ 3:55 pm
Wow, I’d never heard that story. I’d been thinking for years that as problematic as Heinlein’s writing is, I’d never heard of him being personally unpleasant (no stories like the ones about Asimov’s bottom-pinching).
Amy Sterling Casil
July 1, 2013 @ 5:43 pm
I’m guessing you saw this exchange, Jim?
I’ve never met Barton personally – but he’s always been “good” for this type of commentary. For what it’s worth, I was personally insulted and disgusted on your behalf. As if being a decent human being could only be explained by “looking for poontang.” What an animal. Before I quit reading the lounge, he never missed a chance to explain how he’d included perverted sex scenes in his big ol’ sci fi novel most likely edited by Frenkel. Co-written by Capo – a decent man trapped in a mire of madness for his entire life.
Amy Sterling Casil
July 1, 2013 @ 9:20 pm
They did/do know. Apparently it’s never dawned on them that actual writers might not want to work with the company. At all. Because of things of this nature, as they are not isolated. Some, like me, see the professional staff members at the business grotesquely overworked and would not care to be involved. What do they care? Who am I? Someone who pays her bills off writing and has published over 3.5 million words and who would fulfill professional contracts as required, and who now does not need to have a royalty-based traditional publishing contract. Oh, and executive and business planner too. I’d say it was a shame. But it’s just been very many years in coming.
Amy Sterling Casil
July 1, 2013 @ 9:24 pm
I believe this was meant “pleasantly,” as cocktail party conversation, Helen. Ursula is one of the founding members of Book View Cafe, which was inspired by the female SF/F writers e-mail list that had been established for a number of years. It is there where this story was related. By Ursula.
Me? I just got slapped in the face and groped by Greg Benford in 1998. The other women in the group were informed that with an ass like mine, “You just know she loves to be spanked.” In front of TV cameras. Same reactions as were covered in that SFWA lounge discussion just put about on the internet. Excuse excuse excuse, blame blame blame. Except guess what? It might have only taken 15 years – but the excuses no longer work.
July 1, 2013 @ 9:57 pm
Oh, I don’t doubt you at all.
Amy Sterling Casil
July 1, 2013 @ 10:15 pm
False reports are real. People failing to speak up, be open, and do the right thing only helps to contribute to the problem. I counseled numerous real victims over the years and the false victims (who were frequently victims of another sort – often people are coerced to make false charges in divorce situations such as children coached to make false abuse reports, or others who learn they can get out of bad situations by “blaming” others) were very obviously different from the real victims – of which I am one. I did not want to press charges after I was put through a mock questioning by police officers. I knew I couldn’t take that pressure. I could barely speak about it for years and am diagnosed with PTSD from three precipitating incidents.
Real victims often can barely speak of what has happened to them. They are traumatized, suffering many symptoms.
The false accusers, which absolutely do exist – that’s just another way to victimize. Someone put up to making such charges is victimized. And those falsely accused suffer just as horribly as victims of other crimes do.
Both are true, both are real. Both are just two sides of the coin where people get what they want by callously disregarding the humanity of others and ignoring basic dignity.
Amy Sterling Casil
July 1, 2013 @ 10:18 pm
By the way, I don’t have PTSD because of the slapping incident, although it did give me flashbacks. I was raped by a named chair of literature at Pomona College in 1983 and believed that he was going to kill me. It took many years and two other extreme incidents for me to be pushed into full PTSD. Which is no joke. It is debilitating and can be life-threatening. I am grateful for the help I received.
July 1, 2013 @ 11:24 pm
I thought this is an article worth sharing, particularly at this place in the conversation:
July 2, 2013 @ 12:16 am
Raise your hands, class.
When people discuss robbery, do you feel compelled to try and change the subject to the issue of falsely accused robbers? Or maybe it’s forgers that arouse your conspiratorial bent. Either way, fess up, fess up. What other crime provokes the same resentful suspicion that the REAL villain is the victim?
Especially when you use weasel words like “both” as if we are dealing with halves of a whole, roughly equal problems. They’re not even close. Unless you feel compelled to cast aspersions at burglary victims with entirely overblown accusations of false accusations, this derail illustrates exactly why women find it so hard to come forward.
July 2, 2013 @ 12:22 am
How come the phrase “witch hunt”—-describing a process by which men in power villainized especially powerless women and then falsely convicted them—-is only used to describe cases not, say, where women are the victims, but always and only when men are accused of crimes against women? Crimes that they have really really good odds of getting away with, thanks to the paranoid belief that women lie about these things for shits and giggles?
July 2, 2013 @ 12:49 am
Writers who worked with him often referred to it as “getting Frenkeled.” As in: “I got Frenkeled,” and, “I hear you were Frenkeled, too?” I learned the phrase from writers who had refused to keep working with him, as I later did.
It didn’t refer to sexual harassment. It was about what it was like to work with him.
Jim C. Hines
July 2, 2013 @ 7:47 am
“When people discuss robbery, do you feel compelled to try and change the subject to the issue of falsely accused robbers?”
::Jots that one down for future use::
Jim C. Hines
July 2, 2013 @ 7:53 am
I did. Honestly, no need to be insulted or disgusted on my behalf. As insulting commentary goes, this was mostly just sad.
July 2, 2013 @ 9:37 am
Really? Not being sarcastic, it’s just the fact that absolutely no one obsesses over this with other crimes has always struck me. Rapist apologists say that this is because rape has the power to ruin—-wait for it——a MAN’S life. Never a woman’s you know; never the life of the person who got sexually assaulted in a society that tells a woman she’s worth less than dirt if she’s ‘damaged.’ Of course, the notion that women and women alone lie means that we’re still seeing references to the Steubenville rapists as ‘alleged’—–even after they were convicted. When does this happen with another class of crime? There’s been cases where rapes were videotaped but the defense
claimed the ‘victim’ was acting, so who were you going to believe’ your lying eyes or this nice young man saying she’s a lying manipulator?
Jim C. Hines
July 2, 2013 @ 9:40 am
I’ve used things like “The Rape of Mr. Smith” to draw similar comparisons, but I thought your phrasing boiled your point down so beautifully there. It’s shorter and damned effective, more so (in my opinion) than my own efforts to make the same points elsewhere.