WFC Harassment Roundup
The World Fantasy Convention was held earlier this month. I wasn’t able to attend this year.
Let me repeat that. I wasn’t at WFC this year. What follows is based on online announcements from the con itself, a screenshot or two, and various blog posts and discussions. My main goal here is signal-boosting and hopefully helping more people to understand that this stuff matters. And also to vent my own frustrations…
This year’s WFC had problems. From accessibility trouble to the great fee-charging kaffeeklatch SNAFU and so much more. One of many concerns raised before the con was the lack of a sexual harassment policy. Their website originally said only:
“World Fantasy Convention 2013, as with any other predominantly adult gathering, will have a number of rules and regulations for the safety of attendees. These will be clearly stated in our Programme Guide, which will be given to each attendee when they register. In the meantime, we refer you to the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act 1997.” (Source)
This was tucked away in the FAQs, by the way.
A comment in the WFC Facebook group suggested people shouldn’t worry, because “…it is extremely unusual for this kind of behavior to take place at a World Fantasy Convention, as it is largely a professional-oriented event.” (Source)
In fairness, this comment doesn’t appear to have come directly from the convention board, but it does seem to capture their general attitude that we don’t have to worry about that sort of thing because we’re so professional!
Which is probably why someone programmed the following snarky announcement on the display boards in the lobby on Sunday morning:
“It’s Sunday. No one has lost their badge and no one has been harassed.” (Source)
That would have been a dickish thing to write even if it had been true. As should surprise nobody with half a brain, it was blatantly false.
- “Myself and a friend were harassed on the Saturday night. We immediately put in a formal report with one of the red coats (the volunteer con staff)…” (Source)
- “Two of my friends were harassed by a drunk man on Saturday night, making them feel incredibly uncomfortable. They compared notes and realized they should report it, and I helped them find someone to speak to. The organisers responded very well and quickly by taking down the information, but then the person in question was not, as far as they know, removed.” (Source)
- “…it became clear that, despite protests to the contrary, people were being harassed in the bars by other con-goers. I was witness to two such incidents and heard about a third from one of the victims, who had put in a formal complaint.” (Source)
Afterward, the convention sent out a follow-up report which acknowledged:
“Regrettably, we learned of one small harassment incident that occurred on the Saturday night when an extremely drunken fan made a nuisance of himself in the hotel Lobby. Unfortunately, he was not reported to either of the professional Security guards who were on duty at the time or any member of the con committee. As a result, by the time we had found out about the incident and ascertained the details, the individual concerned (who was not attending the Awards Banquet) had apparently already left the convention. The person affected did not wish to pursue the matter with either the hotel or the police and, for legal reasons, we cannot publicly identify the individual responsible. However, after full consultation with the Hilton management and our Security team, we have passed the name of the nuisance-maker on to the organisers of next year’s World Fantasy Convention, who will decide on any appropriate action to take.” (Source)
Alex Dally Macfarlane does a nice job of shredding this one. Laura Lam also wrote a follow-up about this. If you’re not going to click over and read their takedowns, let me sum up.
What a bunch of minimizing, factually inaccurate, victim-blaming bullshit.
Cheryl Morgan has a post breaking down, to the best of her knowledge, who is responsible for the problems that plagued this years WFC:
“So my view on this complex mess is as follows. Steve Jones and his co-chairs are directly responsible for how the convention was run. The World Fantasy Board is responsible for having granted the convention to Jones in the first place (and they have enough experience of his behavior to have known what to expect). The Board is also responsible in that it has the power to set policy regarding how the convention should be run, and to select groups to run future conventions wisely.” (Source)
I don’t know how many people were sexually harassed at World Fantasy Con, nor do I know how many harassers there were. I do know that multiple instances have been publicly reported. I also know that these things tend to be under-reported, especially when an organization makes it clear they’re not really interested in taking such reports seriously, as this year’s WFC did from day one.
Here are a few tips for anyone who wants to run a convention that actually gives a damn about its members:
- Sexual harassment is a real thing, no matter how much you might want to shove your head in the sand and pretend otherwise. Create and publish a damn policy. Here are some links to sample policies you can use.
- Don’t use your public announcements board for passive-aggressive, shamelessly self-congratulatory lies.
- When someone reports having been harassed, you can worry about putting a stop to the harassment, or you can worry about minimizing things and covering your own ass. One of these options makes you an asshole. Choose the other one.
- Educate yourself so you don’t make asinine assumptions, like “professional” events being free of sexual harassment.
November 20, 2013 @ 9:36 am
Thanks for the roundup & signal boost, Jim.
I’ve also sent a complaint email to the generic board email address a few days ago, but have yet to hear anything. I called for them to at the very least apologise for how very badly they reacted to the harassment.
Jim C. Hines
November 20, 2013 @ 9:38 am
That seems like the least they could and should do, yeah…
Thank you for speaking out about what happened, Laura.
November 20, 2013 @ 9:44 am
Brilliant round up, and thank you for signal-boosting my post Jim.
Jim C. Hines
November 20, 2013 @ 9:51 am
And thank you for the post. I’m so sorry this crap stained your first writing convention.
Robert L. Slater (@RobertLSlater)
November 20, 2013 @ 10:05 am
Thanks for keeping this in the limelight. Unless people talk about it and call people on it, there will be no stopping it.
November 20, 2013 @ 10:08 am
Thank you for this update. Sadly I’m not surprised, given the con organizers attitudes towards having disability access (yes, not caring about one is often correlated with not caring about the other).
One request – my guess is I’m not the only person who finds animated gifs difficult – not just annoying, but they give me a headache. If you’re going to use them, it would be great if they could be spaced out so that there’s a full screen of writing in between them so that it’s possible to scroll past one without seeing the next.
Jim C. Hines
November 20, 2013 @ 10:12 am
I’ll see what I can do on the gifs. Sorry about that.
Are there browser add-ons that can be used to disable those?
November 20, 2013 @ 10:15 am
Does anyone know if WFC 2014 has made any official comment on this? Their own harassment policy is lacking (a one-paragraph statement, without any indication of procedures for making complaints, or what the concom will do in such event).
I’m willing to give them some room because establishing a good procedure takes some time to coordinate; bureaucracy is inherently slow. But I can’t help feeling that someone over there ought to be jumping in VERY SOON to at least say, “We understand the problem and will have a published policy on X date.”
November 20, 2013 @ 10:19 am
I understand that if one organizes a fun event, one doesn’t want to spend his/her time preparing for the non-fun things like harassment.
Leaving all moral/ethical duties aside, once an event reaches a certain size, the probability for such things to happen becomes significant. So preparation is mandatory. Preparation may prevent you from messing up like this seems to have happened here (no guarantee though).
November 20, 2013 @ 10:28 am
There are user created scripts for Firefox (and probably other browsers) that will disable them automatically and one can use adblock to manually block specific images and gifs.
November 20, 2013 @ 10:30 am
I don’t know if there are browser add-ons. It occurs to me that I can resize my window to hide them, as long as they aren’t too too close together. I know that I’m not the only person bothered by them, but don’t know how prevalent the issue is. My guess is that it’s worse among people with sensory processing issues, but that’s just a guess.
November 20, 2013 @ 10:40 am
Thanks for the tip about using AdBlock – it worked for all but 1 of them.
November 20, 2013 @ 10:41 am
Actually, it worked for all of them – just was finicky for the last one.
November 20, 2013 @ 10:50 am
In Firefox, you can go into about:config (which may still have the half-serious warning that this will void your warranty, and should be used carefully), search for “image.animation_mode” and change the last column to either “never” (which freezes them completely, and also freezes animated weather maps and such) or “once” if you want to see animations but not have them keep moving indefinitely on your screen.
This is handy if for whatever reason you don’t want to use AdBlock
November 20, 2013 @ 10:52 am
And that was supposed to be under mgwa’s question about animated gifs. Jim, can you move it?
Jim C. Hines
November 20, 2013 @ 10:58 am
I can’t move it, but if you want to submit it again, I can delete this one…
November 20, 2013 @ 12:09 pm
One solution to this sort of uncaring attitude is for people to say flatly to the administration – no viable sexual harrassment policy, no me at your con. We’ve seen a move by people who have refused to come to a con as Guests of Honor without such a policy – perhaps it is time for attendees to take the same stand. I say this, having gone to very few cons – and probably will not go to any in the next few years.
November 20, 2013 @ 12:29 pm
I tend to find the moving images annoying and/or distracting when I’m trying to read. I usually just right click on them with the mouse and choose “remove this object” to temporarily block them. (Don’t know if that’s a function of Firefox, Adblock, or Windows. Thus proving that I’m not all that computer savvy. Tsk.)
November 20, 2013 @ 2:13 pm
As far as I can tell, the one sure way that seems to work is reporting the harasser’s behaviour to their employer, or just simply calling the police. That takes it out of the con’s hands entirely. But seriously – what WILL it take for con organizers to take this issue seriously? VERY frustrating.
November 20, 2013 @ 2:54 pm
As a retired member of the US Navy, I can remember when a convention of professional combat pilots known as “Tailhook” had engaged in all manner of sexual harrassment of female members, who were a minority in the fighter pilot community. Ultimately exposure of this lead to the Most Senior Officer in the Navy, the Commander of Naval Operations, getting relieved and forced into retirment because, he had attended 6 hours of the convention, during the day as a keynote speaker.
This did not stop harrassment in the US Navy, unfortunately, and ultimately, no effective measures to stop harrassment in the Navy were started but for a few weeks, this had national attention at the highest levels. I wonder who is going to step down from this convention?
I suppose, as a non-member, my input may be taken with a grain of salt. Take it from a Miltary man, once this kind of thing gets minimized enough, the problem will grow to horrendous purportions as it has in the US Military. Now it seems that nothing can break through the neanderthol mindset of male Warriors who have a problem understanding how harrassment is wrong and “being there is not something anyone should consider being at fault.”
Who’s going to get fired over this? Or is this going to be allowed to grow?
November 20, 2013 @ 3:26 pm
Jim, I’m glad you boosted the signal. I’m about to read the other blogs and get more info, but what you’ve written sounds appalling.
I’ve only been to two SF conventions in my life — in Denver in the 1980s (I remember DeForest Kelley was there, and I think James Doohan also) and 2005’s ConQuesT, which is a _very well run_ convention. (Smaller than WFC, sure. But I’d go back there in a heartbeat.) This is mostly due to the expense, and partly because traveling has also been an issue due to some physical disabilities.
Anyway, I agree with the commentator who said that if there’s no policy for the disabled, that shows slipshod thinking at absolute best. And that slipshod thinking carried over into the lack of a concrete policy regarding sexual harassment.
The fact that these con-organizers have been called on the carpet for their non-actions and worse, their minimization and cover-ups after the fact when there were (quite predictably) all sorts of incidents is no less than their due.
November 20, 2013 @ 6:14 pm
I don’t even feel that they need to commit themselves to a specific date (well, other than by the time of the convention), they just need to commit themselves to making progress reports about the creation of a policy. It can take a while to do it right, after all. But they can say “We’re serious about making a real policy, and to prove this, we’ll show you everything we’re doing towards that goal.”
Though, for that matter, aren’t the big cons run by groups that usually run smaller local cons? (Like Boston World Con was run by Boskone, I believe?) That smaller con/group should also have a policy in place. It would be nice if hosting one of the big cons required proof of infrastructure, such as a harassment policy, an accessibility policy, etc. in place before they could be considered for hosting.
Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey
November 20, 2013 @ 7:18 pm
I notice the concom went out of its way to tag the one harasser they do acknowledge as a “fan”. This matches previous reports I’ve gotten, that a certain element of the World Fantasy Convention movement wants to keep us vile filthy “fans” from contaminating their professional highnesses with our plebian presences.
(Nice to see you at ICON this weekend, Jim, among us lesser beings.)
Jim C. Hines
November 20, 2013 @ 7:29 pm
And from what I’ve read, the individual in question was actually a pro, not a fan. Oops!
Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey
November 20, 2013 @ 7:54 pm
Why am I not surprised?
November 21, 2013 @ 12:22 am
If we wait around until “someone” writes a harassment policy for fandom it’ll never happen. So, let’s take some time to write one for future reference. Where is a good place to start? With an existing company policy? Anyone have any suggestions? I’ve never written one and don’t know where to start.
November 21, 2013 @ 8:54 am
Here’s an example from the Geek Feminism wiki that is often referenced as a good starting point.
November 21, 2013 @ 9:20 am
The fact that someone uses the excuse that “this event is professional so no harassment happens here!” seriously sticks in my craw. Harassment can happen at any gatherings, regardless of size, type, style, or make-up…even extremely professional ones like career/work-related conferences. Professional settings don’t always deter the real troublemakers. I’m going to be fuming about that lie for a while.
Through the Looking Glass - The Retrospective Thingumajig
November 21, 2013 @ 10:21 am
[…] found out that there had been harassment and other not-lovely things at the con. Jim C. Hines has a roundup of all the relevant posts. I didn’t notice […]
November 21, 2013 @ 10:43 am
What? That’s crazy talk! Everyone knows professional settings don’t involve sexual harassment, which is why they don’t have harassment policies at big companies, or do avoidance training.
November 21, 2013 @ 3:06 pm
The “nuisance-maker” sounds like a Strawberry Shortcake villain.
November 21, 2013 @ 3:38 pm
Toggle animated GIFs is an addon for Firefox. Hope this helps!
November 21, 2013 @ 8:08 pm
Dear Book Nerd: "What's the Best Pick-Up Line to Use on a Librarian?"
November 22, 2013 @ 3:01 pm
[…] not be silent in the face of harassment. Aaaand here’s a post about harassment happening at fantasy conventions. Aaaand here’s a post about it happening at comic book conventions. (Don’t forget the […]
November 23, 2013 @ 8:14 pm
There’s not much excuse for anyone organizing an event to be unaware of the need for clear harassment policies at this point, and it’s not like there aren’t plenty of good ones out there for review and adaptation.
We attended WFC2012 and decided to pass on 2013 partly due to dissatisfaction with how the convention was managed. The ban on graphic novels and poorly-organized mass autographing session come to mind.
In reading the various announcements, tweets, etc. leading up to this year’s WFC, I got the distinct impression that several of the “boots-on-the-ground” people actually running the convention were frustrated by restrictions being imposed by the WFC Board and/or the Board’s non-responsiveness on substantive issues, both of which seem to be ongoing issues with the Board. (Cheryl Morgan’s posted some trenchant observations on this.) Given the run-up issues, the various misstatements and dismissive attitudes reported from this year’s con were – sadly – not a surprise.
Jim C. Hines » SF/F Convention Harassment Policy Starter Kit
December 2, 2013 @ 9:31 am
[…] times before about reporting sexual harassment in SF/F, and about the problem of harassment at SF/F conventions. While I think it’s important to talk about the problem, and to hold conventions and […]