Sexual Harassment

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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Nicole Stark’s Survey of Harassment Policies at Fan Conventions

After I posted my Convention Harassment Policy Starter Kit, I learned about a study Nicole Stark had done about harassment policies at fan conventions. Stark’s article is available on Google Docs, here. I’ve seen a fair amount of discussion on harassment policies and why we do or don’t need to worry about them, but this is the first example I’ve seen of a more rigorous academic survey and discussion of harassment policies. Stark gave me permission to link to her paper, and to discuss some of the highlights.

ETA: Stark is a M.A. student studying sexual harassment. She asked me to share that her email address is NicoleStark@knights.ucf.edu, in case anyone wanted to follow up with her about her work.

From the abstract:

This study uses content analysis to evaluate a sample of 288 fan convention websites. These conventions took place within the United States from March to November 2013. The analysis was used to determine how common sexual harassment policies are and their characteristics. This study examined both frequencies and descriptions of codes of conduct, including promoted and prohibited rules, sanctions, reporting guidelines, and the existence of a sexual harassment or general harassment policy. Less than half of the sample contained any behavioral policy at all. Those behavioral policies that were present were found to be generally informal, unstructured, and devoid of a sexual harassment policy. However, many policies contained rules that could be used in the prevention of sexual harassment. These rules, when made clear and recognizable, may work as effective policy in informal spaces. (Page 2)

Stark opens by discussing an instance of sexual harassment from New York Comic Con, and goes on to note that:

A study on sexual harassment policy in manufacturing firms revealed that an available written policy resulted in a 76 percent reduction in one year’s reports (Moore and Bradley 1997).

In other words, to anyone arguing there’s no need for a sexual harassment policy, there is actual research showing that such a policy can significantly reduce sexual harassment.

I expect some people to protest that a convention isn’t the workplace, and that’s true. There are likely to be some differences in the dynamics and effects of a harassment policy in a convention space vs. a workplace. But the underlying premise and conclusion here is pretty straightforward: “We created a written policy on sexual harassment, and sexual harassment decreased significantly.”

I assume most people would like to see sexual harassment at conventions decrease significantly as well. Ergo, creating a written policy seems like a really basic and obvious first step.

Stark’s sample comes from the costume.org website’s list of upcoming conventions. The cons were all from 2013, all located in the U.S., and included media, anime, literary, gaming, comics, relaxicons, and more. So what did she find in her study?

Of the 288 convention websites, 59.38%  had no listed policy on their website in regards to behavior or code of conduct. Less than half of all websites (40.62%) had at bare minimum, a behavioral policy explaining acceptable or unacceptable actions while at the convention. These rules ranged from a basic ‘be polite’ to lengthier explanations and examples of what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Of the total sample, only 3.47% used the phrase ‘sexual harassment’. However, 13.88% used the word ‘harassment’, not detailing readily available distinctions between harassments, whether sexual, bullying, or annoying otherwise.

Fewer than half of conventions have a posted policy about acceptable behavior, let alone harassment. And the policy is only the starting point; what about instructions on reporting harassment and other unacceptable behavior?

Only 15.27% (44) of the 288 convention websites contained guidelines on reporting. Of the three conventions participating in Project: Women Back Each Other Up, only one employed the use of purple ribbons to indicate female staff members who were prepared to intervene and handle potential sexual harassment. Several policies listed that if there were emergencies, to dial 911 or building security.  This left 84.72% (244) of the convention websites devoid of response or guidance to potential victims.

Stark goes on to recommend:

…in evidence of the language and audience in these informal spaces, the following are suggestions for a comprehensive policy at fan conventions. The policies need to be recognizable and readily available (Moore & Bradley 1997), properly enforced, include and define sanctions, train employees for prevention and response, (Harmus & Niblock 2000), detail complaint procedure (Fowler 1996), and define sexual harassment in terms that the audience understands. (Emphasis added)

I have very little to add beyond Yes. That.

I recommend anyone interested in the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment in fandom read the full study. And my thanks to Nicole Stark for letting me link to and chat about her research here.

SF/F Convention Harassment Policy Starter Kit

I’ve written many 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 individuals accountable when they mess up, it’s also important to recognize the things folks do right, and to help groups improve. To that end, and with the help of some friends, I’ve tried to put together a “starter kit” for conventions wanting to create or improve their harassment/safety policy.

My thanks to Rose Fox, Cheryl Morgan, Kathy Chung, and Seanan McGuire for their comments and suggestions.

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1. What’s the goal of a convention harassment policy?

  • To help all attendees and staff feel welcome, valued, and as safe as possible.
  • To define and discourage harassing, abusive behavior.
  • To make it as safe and simple as possible for people to report harassment, if necessary.
  • To clearly establish for staff and attendees how reports of harassment will be handled.
  • To set fair consequences for such behavior.

The existence of a clear, published harassment policy sends a message. So does the lack of such a policy. Harassment is a real and ongoing problem, whether you’re talking about a huge media-oriented con or a smaller “professional” event. Choosing not to publish a policy on harassment can suggest that your event doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously, and may turn a blind eye to such incidents.

Defining harassing behavior sets a clear expectation of what will and won’t be tolerated, and can help to prevent common excuses like, “He’s just socially awkward and didn’t know he was harassing her.”

A sexual harassment policy lets attendees and volunteers know how seriously your event intends to respond to incidents. Having a written policy in place beforehand also makes it simpler for people to know how to report, and gives staff the information they need on responding to reports.

2. What should a convention harassment policy include?

The Geek Feminism Wiki has several sample harassment policies that may be helpful to review. No one policy is appropriate for all conventions, but typical policies should include:

  • A definition of harassment.
  • A clear statement that harassment is not tolerated at your event.
  • Instructions on how to respond to and report harassment.
  • Information on how staff will respond to reports of harassment.
  • A statement of the potential consequences for anyone choosing to harass others.

Cheryl Morgan suggested the following, which I hadn’t considered, but agree with: “The policy should make it clear that the victim’s wishes will be respected. It is better to have incidents reported and to take no action, than to have the incidents not reported because the victim has reasons not to want action taken.”

From a sample policy at the Geek Feminism Wiki:

“Harassment includes offensive verbal comments [related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, [your specific concern here]], sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.”

ISFiC’s harassment policy includes the following statement of potential consequences:

“Windycon and ISFiC reserves the right revoke the membership of anyone failing to conform to the letter and spirit of these policies, those of our hotel, and the laws of the City of Lombard and the State of Illinois.”

Readercon’s website includes a list of possible consequences, up to banning the harasser from the con and from future events. The same page provides information on how to report harassment, as well as a link to their internal procedures for handling reports.

3. Where and how should the harassment policy be published?

  • On the convention website.
  • In the program book.
  • At the event.
  • In internal (con staff) material.

The nice thing about a website is that you have more room to work with. You can lay out the full details of your policy, as Readercon has done. Many people will check out your website when deciding whether or not to attend your event. As many in the SF/F community saw with the run-up to the 2013 World Fantasy Convention, if your website lacks a harassment policy, people will notice.

The program book should also include your convention’s harassment policy. If you don’t have as much space, you might choose to print a summary with a link to the website for more information. But the program book should include the main points.

Of course, lots of people don’t read the program book, which is why it’s a good idea to mention the harassment policy elsewhere. Reference it during opening ceremonies. Post flyers at the convention. (There are some slightly blurry sample flyers from CONvergence here.) Include a copy of the policy at the registration desk

If you have a central phone number and/or email address for reporting harassment, make sure that’s publicized as well.

4. What should the convention do if someone reports harassment?

I’m not a conrunner, and have less information about the behind-the-scenes operation of conventions, so I’m drawing heavily from the Geek Feminism Wiki’s page on how to respond to reports of harassment and input from friends for this section. (Any mistakes or omissions are my own.)

Before the Convention Even Starts:

  • Arrange for convention staff to be trained on how to handle reports of harassment. If only certain individuals are trained to respond to these reports, make sure all volunteers know who those people are and how to contact them.
  • Establish a clear chain of communication up to the person in charge of safety concerns (usually the safety chair or convention chair).
  • If possible, plan to have at least two people on call at all times who are able to handle reports. This allows one person to focus on helping the person who was harassed while the other addresses the needs of the convention as an entity and the other attendees.

At the Convention:

  • Make sure staff and volunteers are easy to recognize (most cons have badge ribbons, staff T-shirts, and/or other identifiers), and that they know what to do if someone reports harassment.
  • Respect the reporting individual’s needs and wishes.
  • If there’s a risk to anyone’s physical safety, consider contacting hotel security or police.
  • Find a relatively safe and private place to talk to the reporting individual.
  • Document as much as possible, including the time of the event, names and badge numbers, location, etc.
  • Share the information with the convention’s powers-that-be.
  • Investigate quickly, and follow up with the harasser.
  • Enforce any appropriate consequences.

After the Convention:

  • Solicit feedback. Ask attendees and volunteers what worked, and what problems they encountered.
  • Follow up on any unresolved reports.

Some of this seems obvious, such as finding a safe place to talk. But there have been had instances where someone was assault at a convention, and the con staff basically interrogated her in the middle of the lobby. Don’t do that.

If there’s a problem with a particular individual, the con staff need to be aware of this. If additional reports come in while an incident is being investigated, the fact that this isn’t a first report can affect how staff respond.

Finally, if you have a policy, follow it. Many of you are probably familiar with the incident at Readercon where they received multiple, verified reports of an individual harassing others, but responded in a way that ignored the consequences set out in their own policy. This damaged the trust of attendees and resulted in the entire Readercon board resigning. (Readercon has since done a great deal of work to try to repair the damage done by this decision.)

5. Where can I find examples of convention harassment policies?

There are many more conventions with good harassment policies out there, and more groups are creating and publishing such policies each year. But these should be enough to get you started thinking about how to write or update your own.

6. Do harassment policies really work?

Yes.

It’s true that publishing a policy doesn’t guarantee your event will be harassment-free. Just like laws against theft and vandalism didn’t stop someone from smashing the window to my wife’s van a few years back and stealing everything they could grab. However, the existence of those laws sends a clear message about what will and will not be tolerated in the community, and establishes consequences for anyone choosing to violate those rules.

Creating and publishing a harassment policy for your convention will help reduce the behavior, let your members know you take harassment seriously, and help you to respond more effectively when it does happen.

#SFWApro

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Don’t use your public announcements board for passive-aggressive, shamelessly self-congratulatory lies.
  3. 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.
  4. Educate yourself so you don’t make asinine assumptions, like “professional” events being free of sexual harassment.

Any questions?

Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F, 2013 Edition

I first put together this resource list in 2010. I intend to keep updating and reposting it every year until it’s no longer necessary.

If you’ve been sexually harassed, it’s your choice whether or not to report that harassment. It’s not an easy choice, and I obviously can’t guarantee the outcome. But I can tell you that if someone has harassed you, it’s 99% certain that they’ve done it to others. You’re not alone.

Please also see this post by Elise Matthesen about reporting sexual harassment. Of particular note is her explanation of the “formal” reporting process vs. informal or anonymous reports.

Reporting to Publishers:

As a general rule, if you’ve been sexually harassed by an editor or another employee of a publisher, complaints can be directed to the publisher’s H.R. department. Please note that reporting to H.R. will usually trigger a formal, legal response.

I’ve spoken to people at several publishers to get names and contact information for complaints, both formal and informal. I’ve put asterisks by the publishers where I spoke with someone directly.

  • Ace: See Penguin, below.
  • Alliteration Ink*: All complaints, formal and informal, should be directed to steven -at- alliterationink.com. Also see their respect policy.
  • Apex Publications*: “Any harassment issues related to Apex Publications should be sent to Jason Sizemore.” jason -at- apexbookcompany.com.
  • Baen*: Toni Weisskopf, toni -at- baen.com. From Toni, “You would come to me with any complaint about the company.”
  • DAW*: Sheila Gilbert (sheila.gilbert -at- us.penguingroup.com) or Betsy Wollheim (betsy.wollheim -at- us.penguingroup.com).
  • Del Rey/Spectra*: HumanResources -at- randomhouse.com.
  • Edge*: Brian Hades (publisher -at- hadespublications.com).
  • Harper Collins: feedback2 -at- harpercollins.com.
  • Jo Fletcher Books*: Contact Jo Fletcher directly. jo.fletcher -at- jofletcherbooks.co.uk.
  • Orbit: Andrea Weinzimer, VP of Human Resources. andrea.weinzimer -at- hbgusa.com. Inappropriate conduct can also be brought up with the publisher, Tim Holman tim.holman -at- hbgusa.com.
  • Penguin: Contact page links to an e-mail submission form.
  • Random House: Contact page has some info.
  • Roc: See Penguin, above.
  • Solaris Books: Please use the Contact Page.
  • Tor*: Report the incident directly to Macmillan Human Resources, or to Beth Meacham, at bam -at- panix.com or in person. Reports can also be made online at http://speakup.macmillan.com (please note that the online form is not a “formal” report unless you follow up with HR).

Publishers – I would love to expand this list with better information. Please contact me.

Reporting to Conventions:

Often harassment doesn’t come from editors, but from authors, convention guests, or other fans. If this happens at a convention, you can contact convention security, ops, and/or the convention committee. Many (but not all) conventions include harassment policies in the program books and the websites.

A convention committee doesn’t have the same power as an employer. However, if harassment is reported at a convention, the individual may be confronted or asked to leave. In addition, reporting harassment by guests (authors, editors, etc.) is very helpful to the convention in deciding who not to invite back.

To any convention staff, I would encourage you to make sure you have a harassment policy in place, and equally importantly, that your volunteers are aware of that policy and willing to enforce it. Please see the “Other Resources” section below for starting points on developing such a policy, if you haven’t already done so.

Please see also John Scalzi’s Convention Harassment Policy Pledge, which has been c0-signed by more than 700 people who will not attend conventions that lack a posted and adequately publicized harassment policy.

Other:

Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA):

Per SFWA’s president Steven Gould, if you feel you are being harassed at a SFWA event or in SFWA online environs, please contact any SFWA board member, employee, or our ombudsman, Cynthia Felice, at ombudsman -at- sfwa.org. You don’t have to wait until after the fact to report it. (Though that is also your choice. There is no expiration date on harassment.)

What to Expect:

Ideally, someone who was sexually harassed could report it and expect to be treated with respect. Their concerns would be taken seriously, and all possible steps would be taken to make sure the behavior did not happen again, and that the offender understood such behavior was unacceptable. Disciplinary action would be taken when appropriate.

This is not a perfect world. Employers are required to follow the laws and their own policies, which take time. Even a formal report may result in nothing more than a warning (particularly if this is the first report of harassment).

That said, when I originally posted about sexual harassment in fandom, everyone who responded expressed that such behavior was unacceptable. And there were a lot of responses, from fans, authors, editors, con staff, and agents. The growing conversation suggests that more and more of us are taking sexual harassment seriously and working to put an end to this behavior.

As a rape counselor, I saw how powerful and important it can be to break the silence around assault and harassment. However, it’s always your choice whether or not to report. Making that report will be stressful. It may also be empowering, but there are no guarantees. It may or may not have visible results.

First and foremost, please do whatever is necessary to take care of yourself.

Other Resources:

Essays:

Please contact me if you know of additional resources that should be included here.

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.

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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.

One Consequence of Creeping

One of the reasons guys harass women is that they can. Their actions get excused as harmless flirting, or simply, “Bob being Bob.” The target of their aggression, whether it’s unwanted physical contact, stalking them around a convention, focusing unwanted attention and commentary on her body, or whatever, has generally been conditioned to not raise a fuss. If she does say something, she’s told she’s overreacting, or looking for reasons to be offended, or simply to lighten up.

So much of the time, the harassment appears to go unchecked.

But you know what? Fandom is a fairly small, interlinked community. People in fandom tend to know each other. Take a purely hypothetical situation where you, a random writer, were harassing a woman at a convention. Maybe she didn’t say anything to you. But–hypothetically speaking–she might have said something to a friend later, warning that friend about you. They might have started keeping an eye out for you, watching each others’ backs and passing the word.

They might even have mentioned what happened to someone like me.

I admit, I sometimes have to fight my own White Knight syndrome, the desire to charge out on my horse and smite creeps like you from our ranks. But of course, I didn’t witness what happened. And this was told to me in confidence. The only reason I’m talking about it here is that it happens so often that there’s no way to identify the specific person–the specific people–I’m talking about. Heck, just at ConFusion, I’m aware of at least three different instances of this kind of crap happening to people, and unfortunately, that’s not unusual.

If you’re worried that the creeper I’m talking about might be you, well, that seems like something you really need to sit down and think about.

I won’t get the rapier out of storage and go on a smiting spree. Nor will I call down the Wrath of the Internet to publicly shame you.

On the other hand, I get a fair number of review copies from various publishers. And what do you know, I recently noticed that you were the author of one of those review copies. Yes you, the same dude who was creeping on a friend of mine. What a fascinating coincidence, eh?

Guess which book will never get reviewed on my blog.

Guess which author will never get a retweet, a linkback, or any kind of promotion from me whatsoever.

I may not have the biggest following on the internet, but I’ve built up a pretty good readership over the years, and your actions toward this woman–actions you probably didn’t even think about…actions you assumed would have no consequence–have cost you the chance to have your book plugged to thousands of SF/F readers.

It’s a shame, really. And I can’t help but wonder how many potential readers you lost, all because you couldn’t treat a woman with more respect…

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Crap People Say About Sexual Harassment

From various posts and conversations around the internet…

“If you obviously can’t handle the social interactions at an SF Book con, then perhaps you need to seek some education … I suggest that you never, ever leave the confines of white, educated middle class North American society. In Nigeria and Saudi Arabia they take people like you and kill them with rocks.”

  1. The assumption that “people like you” are treated even worse in some other part of the world does not mean you should just shut up and accept how you’re treated here.
  2. If we’re taking “people like you” to mean “women,” then guess what — white, middle class North Americans kill an obscene number of women too.
  3. I suppose harassment and even assault could technically be defined as “social interactions,” but trying to normalize this kind of behavior and suggest that anyone who isn’t tough enough to take it should just stay away? Yeah, bite me.

“…during my freshman year in college, I knew two women who’d been raped, and a third who was probably raped but was too drunk to know for sure (that was in a fraternity basement).  At the same time, I never heard about a woman being raped at a con.”

  1. See response 1, above. The fact that you perceive things to have been worse at your college does not, by definition, mean that things at a con are all fine and dandy.
  2. The fact that you’ve never heard of a woman being raped at a con does not mean it’s never happened. (It may just mean you’re not paying attention.)

“There are several Learning Disorders and Behavior Disorders that affect a man’s ability to understand body language … Some guys are just creeps but some have a true social disorder.”

  1. I should ask my therapist about this one, because I’m very curious what kind of social disorder causes a man to:
    • Selectively target women to invade their personal space and touch them without permission.
    • Ignore verbal boundaries set by women, but pick up on the unstated message right away when a man steps in to “protect” the woman.
    • Maintain socially normal relationships with men and with women who aren’t in his “target” demographic.
  2. See Rose Lemberg’s post “Enough with the Aspie Bit Already!”

“Is flirting at cons now forbidden? When does flirting become harassment?”

  1. Things people should have learned in kindergarten:
    • Respect.
    • Keep your hands to yourself.
    • No means no.
  2. If you seriously can’t tell the difference between flirting and harassment, I strongly suggest you do neither until you’ve worked that out.

“Is a convention committee obligated to provide a Utopian space throughout the convention? Should the convention committee have some sort of thought and action police, empowered to pull badges at the merest whisper of complaint?”

  1. No. Which is why nobody’s asking for this.
  2. Does anyone else think that equating a space where there are rules against harassment, and those rules are enforced to some kind of impossible Utopia is just depressing as hell?

“Their eagerness to see and punish harassment worries and befuddles me.”

  1. And your eagerness to ignore and accept harassment terrifies me.

My Sexual Harassment Policy

As many of you saw, Readercon posted a statement about their handling of sexual harassment. The convention committee has voted to overturn the board’s decision and issue a lifetime ban to Mister Walling, in accordance with the convention’s policies. They also offered an unreserved apology for the con’s handling of the situation.

As a part of the larger conversation, I’d like to offer the following pledge. Feedback is welcome, and anyone is invited to co-sign.

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My Policy on Sexual Harassment

My goal in convention/fandom spaces, online, and in general, is to interact with others in such a way that all parties feel safe and respected. Therefore…

  1. I will be accountable for my actions. If I mess up, I will not make excuses or blame others for my behaviors or the consequences of those behaviors. (Nor will I make or accept excuses about other people’s inappropriate behaviors, even if they’re friends or Big Important People in the community.)1
  2. I will try not to make assumptions about physical interactions, or statements/behaviors that could be construed as sexual. For example, if I don’t know whether or not you’re comfortable being hugged, I’ll ask you.2
  3. I will listen to and respect your boundaries. Period.
  4. If I see a situation where it looks like you are being harassed, I will ask if you’re okay and/or attempt to offer you a way out of the situation. Depending on the situation, I will confront the harasser and/or offer to back you up in confronting/reporting the harasser yourself if you choose to do so.
  5. If someone I know is harassing others, I will pull them aside and confront them on their behavior.
  6. If they refuse to change their behavior, I will “ban” them from my life (both in the real-world and in my online spaces).
  7. I will continue to speak out, and to try to encourage discussion and action to reduce sexual harassment.

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Other Reading:

  1. I would love it if I NEVER saw another ‘Oh, but what if he’s a socially clueless Aspie’ remark…
  2. I don’t know why asking is such a difficult concept for people.