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?