Sexual Harassment

Catching Up: Harassment and George Takei

I’m still scrambling to catch up with everything after last week’s book release. Huge thanks to everyone who supported, signal-boosted, posted reviews, came to the events, and so on.

A lot has been happening, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to talk about everything I want to, but I’ll try…starting with the sexual harassment/assault accusation against George Takei.

We’ve seen a lot of these stories coming out recently. It feels like the Weinstein revelations helped to break the dam of silence, and we’re beginning to hear from victims who have been suppressed for decades.

In the case of Takei, model Scott Brunton accused Takei of groping his genitals while he was unconscious. There’s also a suggestion that Takei might have drugged him. This allegedly happened at Takei’s house in 1981.

Takei has denied the accusation, saying he has no memory of ever knowing Brunton.

However, a radio interview with Howard Stern a month earlier included the following exchange:

Stern asked Takei if he had ever grabbed a man’s genitals against his will.

Takei paused, said “uh oh” and laughed. Stern repeated the question and Takei said: “Some people are kind of skittish, or maybe, um, uh, afraid, and you’re trying to persuade.”

Stern’s co-host, Robin Quivers, asked if Takei did “this grabbing at work”. Takei said: “Oh, no, no, no, it wasn’t at work. It was either in my home. They came to my home … it didn’t involve power over the other.”

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Like many others, I’ve admired and respected George Takei for ages. I recognize that I very much don’t want to believe Takei did this.

I also know false accusations, while they do happen, are rare. And while Takei’s interview says nothing about drugging people, he does admit to grabbing men’s genitals against their will, which he justifies as “trying to persuade.”

As I said on a friend’s FB post, I’m still processing. But I’m seeing a lot of reactions that are troubling as hell.

1. “I’ve met George Takei and he’s always been a gentleman” and “I’m friends with Takei and don’t believe he could do this.”

Harassers don’t go around wearing signs that say “I drug and grope people against their will.” They don’t greet everyone they meet with a hearty handshake to the genitals. Abusers tend to be very good at maintaining a pleasant, friendly public persona. The fact that you’ve never seen someone behave inappropriately doesn’t mean it’s never happened.

And yes, Takei has been outspoken against harassment and abuse and such. Unfortunately, there are predators even among anti-rape, anti-harassment circles.

2. “Why would Brunton wait all these years before saying anything?”

This is the same criticism being thrown at accusers against Moore, Spacey, Weinstein, and so many others. There are too many real, valid reasons to list here, but some of them include:

  • Fear of the consequences of speaking out
  • Shock and confusion over what happened
  • A desire to “get on with your life” and not relive the assault
  • Believing you’re alone
  • The power difference between you and your harasser

3. “This whole thing is turning into a witch hunt” and “It’s McCarthyism all over again!”

Why? Because there are so many accusations and revelations coming out?

We as a society have spent decades silencing victims of sexual harassment. What the hell did you expect it to look like when the dam finally began to crumble?

Victims of harassment — particularly women — have been saying for ages that this is a huge problem. Most of the stories we’re seeing involve multiple victims coming forward, and most of their accounts are corroborated by others. The Takei accusation feels like an outlier in some respects, since to the best of my knowledge, Brunton is the only one to have spoken out against him.

What pisses me off the most about this deflection is that when people try to defend Takei by calling it a witch hunt, they’re undermining everyone who’s been speaking out about their harassment. They’re suggesting all of these victims are lying, caught up in hysteria and publicity.

If you want to say you don’t believe a particular allegation, that’s one thing. If you say it’s all a witch hunt, then intentionally or not, you’re joining everyone else who’s silenced victims and helped to perpetuate this harassment and abuse for so many decades.

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Like I said, I love George Takei and his work. I don’t want the accusation to be true. But Takei’s interview is troubling as hell. And so are some of the knee-jerk defenses I’m seeing from others who simply don’t want to believe.

The Nice Guy Myth

There’s no such thing as a Nice Guy.

Not because all guys are monstrous, evil, puppy-kicking scum, but because we’re all human. We have moments of kindness and generosity, and we also have asshole moments. The ratio varies from one person to the next, but the mixture’s there in all of us.

What a bunch of a-holes

I bring this up because it’s relevant to the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment in Hollywood, in SF/F, and pretty much everywhere. More than a million people spoke up this week with the #MeToo hashtag, talking about their own experiences being harassed. According to a 2011 United Nations report:

  • Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.
  • In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experience some for of sexual harassment in public schools.

It would be a lot easier if the harassers were all mustache-twirling villains, heartless evildoers with zero redeeming qualities.

You know. Bad Guys.

Skeletor

The trouble is, most harassers and rapists and abusers are just…people. They’re friends and family members and coworkers and colleagues. A lot of the time, they’re perfectly pleasant. Maybe they have a great sense of humor. Maybe they always shovel their neighbor’s driveway after it snows. Maybe they donate money to animal rescue every month.

This is the first part of the Nice Guy problem. Because when someone speaks out and names their harasser, we look at them and think, How can he be a harasser? He’s such a nice guy. Nice guys don’t harass people. Ergo, this so-called victim must be lying or exaggerating or overreacting or misunderstanding or whatever. Because logic!

I remember the first time I sat in, learning how to facilitate a domestic violence intervention group. The man to my right had been sentenced to participate after a conviction for abusing his wife. He was friendly and charismatic. It would have been easy to like him. There was almost nothing to distinguish him from anyone else.*

Nice Guys can harass others. Nice Guys can be stalkers. Nice Guys can be rapists and abusers. Our belief in that false Nice Guy/Bad Guy dichotomy helps those abusers. It provides another shield against accusations, a first line of defense against any consequences for their actions.

Some of these guys know exactly how to play up that defense, using it to protect themselves and punish any accusers. Some abusers deliberately craft a Nice Guy persona in order to better harass their victims.

And we let them. We see someone crossing the line, but we rationalize it in our heads because we know they’re a Nice Guy. We hear the stories, but refuse to accept them. We allow the behavior to continue.

Just like the Myth of the Nice Guy makes us likely to excuse other people’s problematic behavior, it also gets in the way of us recognizing and being accountable for our own.

I believe harassers and abusers can learn to change their behavior. (Though many choose not to.) Better yet would be for them to have recognized the harm they were causing and learned to do better before it reached the point of chronic harassment or assault or abuse.

It’s hard to step back and realize you’ve done something abusive. It’s harder if you’ve built yourself up in your head as a Nice Guy. It’s called cognitive dissonance. Someone points out that you’ve been being creepy and inappropriate. That contradicts your self-image as a Nice Guy. So your mind searches for a way to safely resolve the contradiction: She’s wrong. She’s lying. She’s misremembering.

Even if you bring yourself to acknowledge you did something wrong, you recount the story in a way that preserves you as the Nice Guy. You minimize your actions. You obfuscate the details. You mention reasons the accuser might not be giving a fully truthful or reliable account. And you stress what a nice person you are, how you’d never intentionally hurt anyone, how the guilt is tearing you apart, and so on.

What you don’t do — what we don’t do — is own our shit. We don’t dig deep to look at where our own behaviors come from.

We grew up in a society that treats women as lesser. That teaches men to be “strong” and to take what we want. We learn about the “friend zone” and the idea that women owe us sex and companionship. We hear our peers boasting about groping a girl between classes. We see them passing around nude pics of their girlfriends, because girls are things to be shared and used.

You can’t grow up like that without some of it rubbing off.** It takes active, conscious work to change those attitudes, and to do better. And you can’t do better if you’re so fixated on being a Nice Guy that you won’t even acknowledge your shit.

And now, a few disclaimers…

  • I’ve referred to men as harassers and women as victims in this post, because that’s the most common dynamic. But it’s absolutely not the only dynamic. People of all genders can be victims, and people of all genders can be harassers.
  • “But what if she’s lying?” Why is that the first response from so many people — almost always guys? Yeah, false accusations are a thing. A rare thing. You know what’s a hell of a lot more common? Sexual harassment. Sexual assault.
  • I believe there are good people out there. I believe there are assholes out there. But nobody is 100% lawful good or chaotic evil.

We need to stop letting predators off the hook because they’re Nice Guys. We need to stop excusing ourselves, too. The goal isn’t to be a mythical Nice Guy. The goal is to be accountable for our behavior, and to strive to do better.

Ms. Marvel: Good is a thing you do.


*I say “almost” because I did pick up an undertone of attempted manipulation from him a few times. It was subtle, but it was there. That said, I don’t know if I would have caught it if I hadn’t been looking for it.

**Yes, I’m including myself here. I’ve spent decades trying to uproot the messed-up assumptions I grew up with. I’m still working on it. I suspect I always will be.

Excusing Sexual Harassment and Abuse

Last month, DC Comics was in the news about long-time editor Eddie Berganza, who works on Superman. Berganza was disciplined for sexual harassment back in 2012, but it sounds like that was one incident among many. For a while, there was even”an informal policy in place that no female staff would be assigned to the Superman office, and no female freelancers would be hired.” (Source)

In other words, in an attempt to avoid further incidents of sexual harassment, DC kept the harasser on staff and chose not to hire any women to work with him.

Way to punish and exclude women because of a man’s abusive behavior!

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Over at the Mary Sue, Teresa Jusino brings us an update on the comic Rat Queens. Artist Roc Upchurch was arrested for domestic violence back in 2014, and Rat Queens co-creator Kurtis Wiebe wrote at the time:

“As of today, Roc Upchurch will no longer be illustrating Rat Queens … I am committed to Rat Queens, to stand by what it has always been praised for and to prove to the fans that they weren’t wrong in loving it.” (Source)

Fast forward to 2016. Rat Queens is going on hiatus, and artist Tess Fowler will no longer be involved. Weibe claims this is because the collaboration “wasn’t working out.” Fowler claims she was being pushed out so Wiebe could “bring in the original artist.”

Nothing has been announced publicly about whether Upchurch will be involved when and if Rat Queens comes back from hiatus, but Weibe has recently begun promoting Upchurch’s art on Twitter and the Rat Queens Facebook page. At the very least, Weibe is once again promoting a domestic abuser in connection with Rat Queens.

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Then there’s Kukuruyo, the Hugo nominee for Best Fan Artist, thanks to Theodore Beale’s Rabid Puppy slate. Kukuruyo has done a number of adult-oriented and sexually explicit works, one of which was a drawing of the 16-year-old character Ms. Marvel, naked from the waist down. (He’s since taken it down. Never mind. I had read that the drawing was taken down, but he still has it posted on his website, along with a long post about how “it’s just a drawing,” and so on.)

Theodore Beale also championed a blog post about pedophilia and sexual abuse in SF/F circles for the Best Related Work Hugo, which makes his defense of Kukuruyo all the more fascinating. Among other things, Beale argued:

  • “The age of consent in Spain is 16. Kukuruyo is Spanish, lives in Spain, and US law is not relevant to his activities.” Which he immediately follows by trying to argue about what US law says…
  • “The drawing cannot be child pornography regardless of what age the fictitious character is supposed to be. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that drawings and computer representations are not child pornography.”
    • In the comments, Beale refers to a Supreme Court decision striking down provisions against “virutal” and computer-generated images in the Child Pornography Prevention Act.
    • When another commenter pointed out that Congress later passed the PROTECT Act, which “makes it clear that obscene child pornography in any form — including cartoons — is still unlawful and not entitled to any First Amendment protection,” Beale dismissed this as “irrelevant.”
  • And my personal favorite, “I am reliably informed that Ms Marvel was 16 when she was introduced in 2013. That makes her at least 18 now, possibly 19.” Just like Superman debuted in 1938, which is why he’s now portrayed by actors aged 95 and up.

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What I find interesting is that in all three cases, we have people and organizations who have stated their opposition to sexual harassment, domestic violence, pedophilia, etc. We also see the difference between abstract statements and real actions when it comes to their friends and employees.

  • DC claims they won’t tolerate sexual harassment, but they’ve protected a known harasser for years.
  • Wiebe spoke passionately about the evils of domestic violence, but at the very least, chose not to fully separate his creation from an abuser.
  • And Beale is working awfully hard to explain why it’s okay that one of his Hugo nominees drew and sold a sexually explicit drawing of a 16-year-old girl.

I highlighted these three examples because they’re such clear cases of crap we’ve seen again and again. It’s one thing to stand up and say sexual harassment and abuse are bad things. But if you’re talking the talk and then turning around to defend or protect people who cross the line because they’re your friend, or because you think it’s easier? Not only are you not helping the problem, you’re making it worse.

I think we’re doing a better job of talking about stuff, of creating harassment policies and discussing issues of harassment and abuse. But we need to do a better job of walking the walk, too. Step one of that walk? Stop excusing gross behavior just because the perpetrator is a friend or employee.

The Importance of Having and ENFORCING Harassment Policies at Cons

I get it. It’s one thing to write up policies on harassment and appropriate behavior for a convention. It’s another to find yourself in the midst of a mess where you have to enforce them.

Emotions are running high. The person accused of violating the policy isn’t a mustache-twirling villain, but someone who’s been attending your con for years. They’ve got a lot of friends at the con — possibly including you. If you enforce the consequences spelled out in your policies, someone’s going to be upset. Someone’s going to be angry. Someone’s going to feel hurt. It feels like a no-win situation.

And it is, in a way. There’s nothing you can do to make everyone happy. But we’ve seen again and again that there’s a clear losing strategy, and that is to do nothing. To try to ignore your harassment policy and hope the problem goes away on its own.

It won’t. As unpleasant as it is to be dealing with a report of harassment, doing nothing will make it worse. Here are just a few examples from recent years.

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ReaderCon: In 2012, a ReaderCon attendee reported ongoing harassment by René Walling. Readercon had a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. Whatever you might think of zero-tolerance policies, this was the promise the con had made. The board ignored its own policy and instead issued a two-year ban.

This generated a great deal of anger and backlash. In the end, the entire board resigned. ReaderCon issued a formal apology and voted to reverse the board’s decision and enforce a lifetime ban against Walling.

World Fantasy Con: In 2013, WFC chose not to have a harassment policy at all, saying in part, “…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) Multiple people ended up reporting multiple incidents of harassment. The convention did…pretty much nothing.

One of the effects of this and other harassment-related mistakes has been long-term damage to the reputation of the convention. I know professionals who refuse to attend for this reason.

WisCon: In 2013, at least one person reported Jim Frenkel to the convention for harassment at WisCon. This was not the only report of harassment WisCon had received about this individual. The convention later said they misplaced at least two complaints, and Frenkel showed up again in 2014.

Frenkel was “provisionally” banned for four years in July 2014. At least one member of the concom resigned. In August 2014, the con voted to permanently ban Frenkel from the convention. Natalie Luhrs has a roundup of some of the reactions and negative press that came about as a result of the slow and inconsistent handling of harassment.

ConText: In 2014, a consuite volunteer named Jeffrey Tolliver was banned from Context following multiple complaints about this individual’s conduct. However, this process involved a great deal of internal conflict over the enforcement of the harassment policy, to the point that several volunteers resigned because they did not trust the convention to take harassment seriously. There were also statements defending Tolliver as a long-time volunteer, a friend, and someone who was being attacked for being old/clueless.

In addition to the volunteer resignations, the ConText board was (I believe) eventually dissolved, and ConText was cancelled for the following year.

ConQuesTMark Oshiro just talked about the racism and harassment he experienced as Fan Guest of Honor at ConQuesT. He followed the convention’s processes in reporting the incidents. Eight months later, after multiple follow-ups, he discovered that nothing had been done.

At this time, one member of the concom has resigned, and it feels like most of the SF/F internet is discussing all the ways ConQuesT dropped the ball and screwed up.

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These aren’t the only such examples, but I hope they’re enough to see the patterns.

Again, I’m not trying to pretend that enforcing such policies is easy. It’s not. We go to conventions to have fun. Volunteers pour countless hours of work into the events, trying to host a successful weekend party for everyone involved. No one wants to have to deal with confrontation. But choosing not to deal with it is almost universally worse for the convention, leading to things like:

  • Resignation of volunteers
  • Negative publicity, including people publicly stating they won’t be coming to your convention
  • Cancellation of the convention
  • Feelings of anger and betrayal from attendees
  • A lot of broken relationships

And in most cases, the convention still ends up having to follow through on its harassment policies and deal with what happened.

The logic seems pretty simple to me. It makes a hell of a lot more sense to just follow through on policies in the beginning. It sucks to have to do it, but it sucks even more to be dealing with all the additional consequences of not following through.

Trying to Fix WFC’s Harassment Policy Problem

ETA: On 10/28, the following was posted on the WFC2015 Facebook Page:

On reflection, and with guidance, we have realized that our sincere attempt to do the right thing in this regard was inadequate. We focused too much on complying with the legal advice of Saratoga authorities and not enough on making certain that our members feel confident in their safety at the Convention. Since last year’s WFC policy was considered satisfactory and is considered to be comprehensive we are adopting it as an addition to the policy developed with the legal advice of the Saratoga authorities. The World Fantasy Board is reviewing the language for comprehensiveness. The corrected policy will be posted here and on our website as soon as that review is completed. We apologize for the misstep and are doing our utmost to make WFC 2015 both an enjoyable event and a safe environment.

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The 2015 World Fantasy Convention starts in just over a week, and they’ve just mailed out their final progress report. Natalie Luhrs was one of the first to note the inclusion of a harassment policy that manages to be, in my opinion, worse than no policy at all.

Luhrs’ thoughts are here. John Scalzi also weighed in, calling it an Egregious, Mealy-Mouthed Clump of Bullshit. There’s been much condemnation on Twitter, as well as on the WFC Facebook page.

Here’s the policy in question:

WFC 2015 Harassment Policy

Let me note up front that I don’t have experience running a convention. I do have experience dealing with sexual harassment and violence, and in working with conventions to build harassment policy. My guess from reading this is that the people who created this policy have conrunning experience, but don’t know a lot about dealing with sexual harassment. At least, I hope that’s the case, since the only other possibility I can come up with is intentional maliciousness. Because…

…this policy actively discourages people from reporting harassment.

  1. Victims of harassment and sexual violence should have the choice whether or not to report to the police. The convention has taken that choice away.
  2. This policy requires victims to trust that the police will take them seriously and respond to their complaints. Historically, police departments are not known for treating victims of sexual violence with respect. In addition, while I as a white male might feel relatively comfortable interacting with police, many women and people of color do not, and with valid reasons.
  3. The police will be determining if the conduct meets the legal definition of harassment to charge the offender. (I’m not a lawyer, but I thought that was the prosecutor’s decision.) What about behaviors that are clearly unacceptable, but might not meet the legal standards and be severe enough for the prosecutor to invest the time and money and resources in pressing charges?
  4. “No one wants to behave in a manner that draws Police attention.” I assume this was supposed to be a warning against would-be harassers, but it also feels like a warning to victims not to make a fuss and attract attention. Maybe that’s not the intention, but there’s a long history of silencing victims, and of attacking them for attracting attention.

But what about libel?

On Facebook, Chuck Rothman notes, “In New York State, ‘harassment’ is legally defined. Most harassment policies (including Comic Con’s) punish people for actions that are not harassment under NYS law. There is no doubt the NYS law needs updating, but the convention is not going to risk a libel lawsuit.

This is, in a word, bullshit. To me, it smells a lot like Wikipedia lawyering. Has anyone ever filed a libel lawsuit over a convention’s harassment policy?

Even if this were a legitimate concern, which I don’t believe it is, then the solution is to take 30 seconds and rename this a “Convention Safety Policy.”

Dear WFC: Do you want to fix this?

Your convention starts in a week. I’m guessing your program books are already printed, and you’re scrambling with all of the last-minute work it takes to make such a huge convention happen. You’re stressed, overwhelmed, and everyone’s running on caffeine and adrenaline. And now all anyone is talking about is how messed-up your harassment policy is.

I figure you’ve got two choices here. You can double down and ignore the complaints. This has the advantage that you don’t have to do the work to fix the policy. The disadvantage is that it would feel like a big old “Fuck you” to a large number of people. It also puts any victims of harassment in a very, very bad spot. Keep in mind that, as Natalie Luhrs pointed out, “three of the last five World Fantasy Conventions had harassment incidents that were publicized: 20102011, and 2013.” This doesn’t include incidents that weren’t publicized.

The other choice is to try to fix this. I know which choice I’m hoping for.

Can this actually be fixed?

Well, no. Not completely. You’ve pissed off a lot of people, and you’ve got nine days before the start of the convention. You can’t fix it. But you can work to make it better. Here are my suggestions, for what they’re worth.

  1. Listen to what people are saying. I know you feel defensive and attacked and unappreciated, but right now, you don’t have time for that.
  2. Find someone who has experience working with sexual harassment and conventions, and deputize them to get this mess fixed. Talk to conrunners from other conventions who’ve done a better job on this front.
  3. Grab a sample harassment policy from the Geek Feminism Wiki. If you’re worried about the boogeyman of a libel lawsuit, tweak the wording so it doesn’t say “harassment.” Get this posted to your website and printed up as an addendum to your program book. Send out a follow-up email/progress report with the new policy.
  4. Make sure all con staff are aware of the new policy and trained on how to respond. (Draw on the experiences and knowledge of the person from #2.)
  5. Apologize. Not a mealy-mouthed “We’re sorry you people chose to be offended,” but an apology that draws on #1 and recognizes why people are upset. You screwed up. Own it.

I’d also refer you to the Sexual Harassment Policy Starter Kit I posted a while back, with help from several experienced conrunners.

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I hope you’ll listen to the concerns and complaints of the community and take steps to try to make World Fantasy Con a better experience for everyone.

Another Day, Another Mansplainer

A friend of mine posted something about catcalling and street harassment. To the absolute shock of … well, pretty much nobody, the very first comment on her post was a guy explaining why women shouldn’t be afraid of catcalling, and isn’t it funny how the women complaining aren’t the ones experiencing the “privilege” of being catcalled in the first place? Also, women wouldn’t be afraid if they carried guns, and the real threat are guys “in a dark van with no windows parked next to your car in the Walmart parking lot.”

His suggestion? “Now what would happen if a woman who’s the center of the cat call took the power back, walked up to the offending rake and asked for his number and told him to show a little respect and maybe if he was lucky she’d let him earn the opportunity to do some real cat calling?”

This is the point where I facepalmed so hard I gave myself a concussion.

Guys, is it really that hard to shut the hell up and listen instead of immediately trying to tell women why they’re wrong about their own lives and experiences?

It’s pathetically predictable.

  1. Woman complains about harassment.
  2. Dudebro feels uncomfortable.
  3. Dudebro tells woman why she’s wrong to feel that way.

Because Dudebro’s discomfort at women complaining about harassment is somehow more important and valid than women’s discomfort about actually being harassed.

The CDC put out a report this year about sexual violence, after completing more than 12,000 interviews. They found that one in five women have been raped in their lifetimes, and 99% of those rapes were committed by men. (The report states that about two percent of men were raped as well, which I strongly suspect is an underestimate. They also found that approximately 80% of those rapes were also committed by men.)

“But I’m not like those other men,” says Dudebro, waving the “Not All Men” flag with righteous pride.

Then stop acting like them.

  • When a woman says she’s uncomfortable with something and wants you to knock it off, stop arguing. Stop telling her she’s wrong, and stop making excuses to keep doing it.
  • Stop pretending it’s about complimenting women. (Here’s a tip: Compliments don’t go from, “Hey baby” to “Fuck you, you stuck-up bitch” in the blink of an eye.)
  • Stop treating women as objects you’re entitled to instead of people.

You seriously want women to believe you’re not an asshole and a potential threat? Start by shutting up for a minute and actually listening to what women are saying.

Sexual Harassment in Comics and Video Games

Related to the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment in SF/F…

From Bitch Magazine, survey data about sexual harassment in comics:

As a comics editor, writer, and fan myself, I got interested in how often people at conventions experience harassment. So earlier this year I conducted a survey on sexual harassment in comics, receiving 3,600 responses from people that varied from fans to professionals. The survey was distributed and conducted online, with people sharing it via Twitter, Facebook, and especially Tumblr and self-reporting all information. Of the people taking the survey, 55 percent of respondents were female, 39 percent were male, and six percent were non-binary (see the raw survey data here).

Out of all respondents, 59 percent said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in comics and 25 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the industry. The harassment varied: while in the workplace or at work events, respondents were more likely to suffer disparaging comments about their gender, sexual orientation, or race. At conventions, respondents were more likely to be photographed against their wishes. Thirteen percent reported having unwanted comments of a sexual nature made about them at conventions—and eight percent of people of all genders reported they had been groped, assaulted, or raped at a comic convention.

The one weakness of the study that I can see is that respondents were self-selected, as opposed to this being a truly random sampling. It’s the same issue I ran into with my survey of first novel sales a few years back. But even taking that into consideration, if you can take 3600 fans and pros, and a quarter of them have experienced sexual harassment in the industry, then we have a huge problem here.

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Game designer Brianna Wu wrote an article called “No Skin Thick Enough” about the daily harassment of women in video gaming. Warning: some of the examples and quotes in this article are truly abhorrent.

My name is Brianna Wu. I lead a development studio that makes games. Sometimes, I write about issues in the games industry that relate to the equality of women. My reward is that I regularly have men threatening to rape and commit acts of violence against me.

Wu provides four case studies illustrating the types of harassment women experience, and examining myths and realities about the gaming industry. Their stories are powerful, important, and eye-opening.

I strongly recommend reading both articles.

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Related: Sexual Harassment in the Scientific Community

WisCon, Harassment, and Rehabilitation

On Friday, WisCon posted a statement that read in part:

The WisCon committee has completed our harassment review process with regard to Jim Frenkel, who engaged in two reported violations of WisCon’s general and harassment policies at WisCon 37, in 2013 … WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is “provisional” because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.

Natalie Luhrs has posted a roundup of some reactions. There’s a great deal of anger and frustration over poor communications, procedural failures, and more. I’m still reading, but my initial reaction is that the whole thing has been a mess that went rolling down a hill of mistakes, snowballing into a giant boulder of crap.

I’m still catching up on the conversation, and a lot of people have weighed in more thoughtfully and eloquently than I could. (See Natalie’s roundup for links.) One thing I wanted to talk about, however, was the “provisional” aspect of WisCon’s statement. Because my initial gut-level reaction was that it seemed reasonable to allow for the possibility of growth and change.

A little while back, I responded to an article titled, “The Naive Idiocy of Teaching Rapists Not to Rape.” The thing is, rapists can learn not to rape. People can and do change, especially when they’re confronted with consequences and forced to look at their own actions.

I’ve worked with college students, mostly men, in an early intervention program where we tried to help people recognize and change their own aggressive, boundary-crossing, harassing behaviors. I’ve sat in on batterer’s groups. I’ve spoken with pedophiles after their release from jail. My wife has designed and run domestic violence groups. My father spent much of his life working with juvenile offenders who had committed assault, robbery, rape, and more.

People can change. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Our behavior changes throughout our lifetime. We learn new habits, new values, and new choices. I’ve said and done things in the past that I wouldn’t dream of doing today, because I’ve learned better. We all have.

Does that mean all rapists and harassers will come to see the error of their ways if we only give them another chance? Of course not. Some people go right back to the same pattern of hostile behavior. But others can and do come to recognize the harm they’ve done to others, and find a new path.

I believe very strongly that there should be consequences for our actions. But I also believe in education and rehabilitation.

I don’t know if Jim Frenkel will ever truly accept responsibility for what he’s done, or if he’ll change a pattern of harassing behavior that goes back decades. He seemed genuinely remorseful when he spoke to me about this several years ago, but his behaviors didn’t change.

I hope this time is different. I hope the consequences of his loss of employment and being banned from his local convention force him to confront his choices, and that he comes out a better man.

The problem is when we choose to make his growth and change more important than the safety and security of his victims and potential victims.

When you’ve wronged someone and they throw you out of their life, you don’t get to force your way back in to prove that you’ve changed. You don’t get to violate their boundaries because you want to apologize. If the wronged party chooses to forgive and to allow you back into their lives, that’s one thing. If they choose not to, then you need to accept that loss as a consequence of your actions.

WisCon banned a known serial harasser on a relatively short-term “provisional” basis. While I share the same philosophical hope and belief for change, they’ve taken the choice away from his victims.

WisCon is not a judicial body. They are not a rehabilitation program. In my opinion, they are not qualified to judge the sincerity of serial harassers, many of whom have spent years or decades learning to hide their behavior behind the mask of the “nice guy.” Their job is to investigate complaints, and when those complaints are found to be valid, to take steps to protect their membership.

Protection for Frenkel came in the form of WisCon’s investigation process. I believe every complaint should be investigated and decided based on evidence and testimony. In this case, there have been multiple people reporting incidents, with multiple witnesses backing them up. According to the WisCon Harassment Policy, Frenkel also has the right to appeal the decision. Again, I think that’s reasonable.

But throughout this process, despite what I believe to be the best of intentions in a difficult and ugly situation, WisCon has failed to protect its members.

Online Harassment and “Oversensitivity” (Trigger Warning for Threats)

This comic was inspired by a number of conversations I’ve had online.

Look, it’s not that men don’t get harassed or threatened. But for guys to go around stating that they’ve had people talk crap about them online too, and using that as the basis to declare that women are too thin-skinned and are overreacting to harassment and threats, is just overflowing with wrongness. Not to mention an utter lack of sympathy, and a profound ignorance of the very real epidemic of violence against women.

Trigger warning: the comic’s final panel includes graphic threats of rape and violence.

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Jim C. Hines