Supporting Victims of Sexual Harassment
SF/F fandom (and society in general) hasn’t always been very supportive of victims of sexual harassment, particularly when the harasser is a big name or someone in a position of power. Those who choose to speak out are often mocked, belittled, threatened, accused of being publicity-whores, or worse. Even people who want to be supportive might not know what to say or do.
So with the help of some friends, I’ve put together a list of ideas about what to do and what not to do if you want to avoid looking like a dick and actually support those who have been sexually harassed.
1. Don’t Make Excuses. At the 2006 Worldcon, Harlan Ellison grabbed Connie Willis’ breast on stage. Time after time, I saw people jumping in to defend him by saying, “Oh, that’s just Harlan.” That’s a bullshit excuse, right up there with “Boys will be boys,” and “Oh, he didn’t mean any harm.” It’s not your job to excuse, justify, or defend the behavior, especially if you weren’t even present. By doing so, you’re basically saying, “I don’t care about your feelings or what this person did to you; I’m more worried about protecting the person who harassed you.”
2. Don’t Minimize. In one of my posts about sexual harassment, a commenter talked about how she was expecting a bunch of overly sensitive PC whiners who couldn’t take a joke. Don’t be that person. If you’re not the one being harassed, then what the hell gives you the right to judge and tell someone else they’re overreacting?
3. Don’t Immediately Run Off to “Kick his Ass!” Believe me, I understand the urge. When I hear someone has harassed and hurt one of my friends, I want to do something. I want to punish the harasser. I want to teach him (or her) to never pull that shit again … do you notice how all of these sentences start with “I”? How I’m talking about what I want and need, not what the person who was harassed is asking for? It’s more helpful to offer to be that person’s backup: to accompany them if they want to confront the person, or to tell them you’ve got their back during the convention or event.
4a. Don’t be Afraid to Intervene. If you see something that looks like harassment, say something. Interrupt and ask, “Hey, is everything okay here?” Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it can be embarassing if it turns out nothing was going on. But which risk would you rather take: that you might feel a little foolish, or that you’re turning your back and allowing someone to continue harassing another person? I’ll be saying more about intervention in my next post.
4b. Don’t be Afraid to Call Your Friends on their Shit. If you know your friend is harassing people, then for God’s sake, call him (or her) on it. Be harsh. Be blunt. Because your friend might actually listen to you. By staying silent, you are enabling and tacitly allowing that person to continue harassing others.
5. Don’t Try to Speak For Someone Else. When I was at World Fantasy last year, I ended up talking to multiple people about a certain editor who had sexually harassed them. It wasn’t my place to disclose their names or the name of the editor. I did end up writing a blog post with names removed, figuring since this was a common behavior, there was no way to identify the people who had spoken with me. Some of those people still felt that I had violated their confidentiality. Reporting sexual harassment or going public is a very hard choice, and it’s not your choice to make for someone else.
6. Don’t Pressure the Victim. Offer options. Offer to go with the person or to be their backup if they decide to report or confront. But don’t say “This is what you have to do, and if you don’t do it then it’s all your fault when this guy harasses someone else!” Because first off, when that guy harasses someone else, it’s his fault. It’s his choice. If you want more people to come forward and report sexual harassment, work to create an enviroment where it’s safe for them to do so.
7. Check Your Own Behaviors. A lot of harassers either don’t think of what they’re doing as harassment or else they rationalize what they’re doing. So check yourself. Check your physical and verbal behaviors. If you’re uncertain whether a gesture or joke or compliment would be appreciated, ask. If an interaction leaves you feeling weird, ask someone else for a reality-check.
8. Use Your Voice. Especially for guys, it’s easy to sit back and ignore the problem. To let other people worry about it. But your voice matters. Speaking up to say this kind of behavior is not okay matters. It matters to victims, who deserve to know that people are on their side, and it matters to harassers, who have to know that others don’t condone their crap.
Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F Circles
The Backup Project
December 5, 2011 @ 10:37 am
#8 is a big one for me. Bystanders Apathy can get nasty because so many people assume that someone else is going to deal with it. And, the larger the group, the more there is a belief that it was already handled. And, for me, there is always the fear of speaking up and being both the only one who didn’t get “it” and no one else thought it was a problem.
Sadly, that happened to me once. I did speak up, after getting the courage to do so, and I was wrong. And then I got laughed at in public, which makes it *really* hard to speak up the next time. I still will, but I’m distinctly aware that there is a good chance I’m going to humiliate myself again, because I don’t have the best of social… awareness.
December 5, 2011 @ 11:00 am
Geez, I’d heard legend of his… attitude issues… but I missed hearing about that incident. That’s appalling.
It drives me nuts that if a person likes someone or that person’s work, then they’ll (oftentimes) happily make excuses all day long for that person. To me, if I see someone I like harass or abuse someone else and I don’t DO something about it, I am telling my friend/family member/favorite writer that I approve of what they’re doing, or at least certainly don’t disapprove. I’ve even decided not to buy interesting-looking books written by authors whose behavior has left me feeling that I really don’t want to contribute to their bank accounts.
Your point 4b is particularly important. I’ve seen instances where someone happily verbally assaulted or harassed a stranger, only to be brought up completely short when someone who’s with them refuses to let them get away with it. People who refuse to be shamed by strangers can often be shamed by those they have to deal with regularly.
However, I admit it’s hard to balance that (and 4a) with #5, which is why it’s important to take that into account as well. I have a family member who abused multiple wives, but almost no one in the family would believe it of him. I felt that I could only call him out on one of the cases, because I knew that if I called him out on his abuse of his current wife, unless she was willing to leave, it could lead to repercussions against her. Unless he did something in public, it had to be her choice to get out of the situation. All I could do was try to be supportive of her. Very frustrating, and hard to know exactly what to do.
Strayed a bit from the specific ‘sexual harassment’ topic, but emotional and physical abuse tend to overlap with it a lot, and it’s a topic I have very strong feelings on (obviously!).
I really appreciate that you’re writing these articles. Nothing changes unless people stand up and say something.
Jim Hines talks about supporting people who’ve been sexually harassed at Tobias Buckell Online
December 5, 2011 @ 12:41 pm
[…] Hines has a useful collection of suggestions on how to support someone who has been sexually harassed, prompted in part by recent reports of […]
December 5, 2011 @ 2:28 pm
Despite #3, anyone who grabs my breasts in public is getting kneed in the groin. Can’t be helped; it’s my ingrained “What Would Wonder Woman Do?” response.
Jim C. Hines
December 5, 2011 @ 2:33 pm
Erin – What I was referring to is when someone confides in me about being harassed, for example, and my first response is to run off to kick his ass. That response is 1) all about what *I* need without regard to what the victim is asking for, and 2) rather disempowering, as it’s not the victim deciding what to do next, but me deciding for her (or him). Does that make sense?
December 5, 2011 @ 3:51 pm
I’ve had a couple of experiences in which I admit I wasn’t assertive enough to actually speak up, but I stopped and made it clear I was watching what was happening, which caused the harasser to leave. I also once let a girl at a con “hide” behind my artist table (even though I didn’t know her, I loaned her one of my extra artist assistant badges so she was allowed behind the table) because some creep wouldn’t stop following her around the con and harassing her. She stayed there until someone from security passed by so she report him.
December 5, 2011 @ 4:22 pm
Erin, that may well be the case for you (and more power to you for being confident in your self-defense skills), but bringing that up when someone who reacted differently is telling their story is derailing and second-guessing their experience.
December 5, 2011 @ 5:03 pm
#7 is a very important point, one I fear is overlooked.
It’s important to have a variety of confidants with different outlooks because you might not notice your behaviour, but some will. I’ll explain a bit better. I have been known to be a little… clingy, shall we say. A little persistent, a little overly flirty. I wasn’t aware that my behaviour was causing discomfort to anyone until I had one person turn around and tell me, and after discussing it with a confidant of mine, I realised that I was behaving inappropriately.
The fact that I meant no harm is irrelevant, because I was causing problems for people and it actually fed back into a loop that made me feel worse. Now that I know I’ve been like that, I can step back and see where I’m going wrong. Since then? I feel I’ve been much better behaved. As far as I’m aware, nothing serious has resulted from my behaviour, only some minor discomfort, but the fact I acted that way upset me to some degree. Am I perfect? No, I still lapse a little sometimes, but I’m always quick to apologise.
What’s important, I feel, is that those who may harass are called up on it before it becomes a big problem and given ways to help (one bit of advice I got was simply to slow down and think about what I was going to say) then we can address the problem. It’s not just the victims that need help, it’s also the instigators.
December 5, 2011 @ 8:24 pm
Over here, the argument of ‘what is sexual harrassment’ allows it to be anything imagined by a victim, even if it is thought by witnesses not to be sexual harrassment. You could see when Harlan groped Connie, and witness that in a legally fair way. If it’s just someone’s feeling that they’ve been harrassed, they allow that to stand over here. And that’s not a good thing.
Jim C. Hines
December 5, 2011 @ 9:31 pm
What does “over here” mean, please? I’m having a very hard time imagining a functioning legal system that defines sexual harassment as “Oh, whatever…”
December 6, 2011 @ 12:19 am
Sexual harassment is prohibited by U.S. law. If an attendee is sexually harassing another attendee — i.e. touching other people in unwanted ways (which can also be assault), making sexual comments directed at other people, or making sexual comments in general that produce an uncomfortable environment — it is well within anyone’s rights to contact security and ask that the harasser be removed from the convention. You can also contact the concom and ask that the offender not be allowed to attend future conventions. You’re not being a whiner, you are protecting the convention from future lawsuits.
Sexual Harrassment at SF&F Conventions « All Points of the Compass
December 6, 2011 @ 5:03 am
[…] make sure you’re on the right side in this, I strongly recommend reading and taking note of Jim C Hines excellent blog post on Supporting Victims of Sexual Harrassment Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]
December 7, 2011 @ 9:01 pm
Some of the ways people have sexually harrassed me include (a) air-kissing my hand (Austria) (b) looking at me on a bus (LA) (c) saying “do you remember me?” (Switzerland). I can give you many more overt examples from elsewhere in the world, concentrated in the UK. In all cases the perpetrators knew exactly what they were doing, and their behaviours were extremely well-calculated to look innocuous to anyone who wasn’t paying attention. If you make excuses for these people then you are part of the problem.
Aliette de Bodard » Blog Archive » Linky linky
December 8, 2011 @ 2:58 pm
[…] C. Hines blogs on sexual harrassment here, here and […]
December 12, 2011 @ 1:41 pm
Oh please, add number 9: Have the courage of your convictions. It’s great to respond to an ugly incident. Even greater is going distance with a victim; not just as far as the car or the elevator. Your real support may sometimes demand hours, days, months or years, especially when a victim files a business or legal complaint. Before you act, be sure your belief and convictions are solid, and not just an an obligatory public display of a feel-good PC stance.
A meeting’s chair once blasted an ethnic rant at me, then cackled, saying it was a joke. Nobody spoke up…not even me. All I could do was stand up on quaking legs and excuse myself from the room. Afterwards, several attendees said how stunned and sorry they were about horrible things the chair had said. As several suggested, I filed a complaint about the guy, [they’d even told me with whom to file it]. When a formal investigation was launched, every last one of my ‘supporters’ disappeared, making excuses about their careers or their families. This brings us back to points 1, 2, 4a, 4b, 6 & 7.
And this brings us to the next point: #10.
It’s wrong and painful to victimize anyone for ANY physical or social traits: Disability/dis-figuration, skin color, scars/tattoos/piercings, nationality/ethnicity, religious beliefs, age…