Harassment at Context
Several people have emailed me about reports of harassment at Context this year, which resulted in an individual being banned from the convention for five years. Here’s my roundup of links about what happened. (Please let me know if I’ve missed anything.)
- March 30, 2015: Passing along the following announcement.
- The Fanaco Board regrets to announce that Context 28 has been canceled. Refund checks to anyone who preregistered were mailed on March 29. Thank you for your support.
If you have any questions, please contact:
PO Box 163391
Columbus OH 43216
- The Fanaco Board regrets to announce that Context 28 has been canceled. Refund checks to anyone who preregistered were mailed on March 29. Thank you for your support.
- September 30, 2014: Jonathan Maberry is one hoopy frood. Context is pretty cool too. Andi Brunett-Libecap describes her encounter with a consuite voluneer as part of her (overall very positive) roundup of the convention. In a follow-up post, she talks about feeling conflicted, noting, “He didn’t seem BAD so much as STUPID. There’s a difference, and the difference is important to me.”
- In the comments to Brunett-Libecap’s second post, Context’s workshop director Lucy Snyder clarifies that, “Yours wasn’t the only complaint about his behavior that was received by the convention … The other piece of this, which maybe isn’t clear: [he] was a convention staff member working in the con suite and not just a regular attendee. Context holds convention staff to a higher standard of behavior … But even if he hadn’t been staff, his behavior was unacceptable.”
- October 28: Two More Con Code of Conduct Complaints Go Public. File 770 reports that a consuite volunteer named Jeffrey Tolliver was banned from Context following multiple complaints about this individual’s conduct. Includes a quote from Tolliver, saying, “I owe deep apologies to you, your friend and all the attendees of Context 27. If stupidity was contagious I would have infected more people that the Plague.”
- November 16: Statement Regarding Complaints Of Harassment At Context 27. Context posts an official statement on their Tumblr page.
- “[T]here have been complaints regarding multiple incidents involving a ConCom member/volunteer. These incidents have been reported both in the current year and incidents have come to light regarding past years … We had corroborating reports of the incident(s) in question, and have received information that the person in question did not dispute the incident.”
- November 28: Why I Am Resigning As Programming Director For Context. Steven Saus resigns, saying, “Without myself and a very few others, I do not believe there would have been any public response to the reports of harassment at Context 27. I do not have faith that the harassment policy will be enforced or that reports of harassment would be treated seriously at Context in the future. I do not realistically have the ability to make that change before Context 28.”
- Sharon Palmer, who oversaw the Context Consuite, says in the comments, “I am a member of the committee am saying this as my own opinion, and NOT that of the committee, that Steve has misrepresented the issue. Since he has chosen to make this so public, I want to say that he is wrong. Context has had an antiharassment policy for several years, and has never tolerated harassment and never would, especially not by a staff member. Please give us time to work through the ramifications of this. We want Context to be an awesome and SAFE convention.”
- November 28: Lucy A. Snyder resigns as workshop director of Context. “Steven M Saus announced earlier today that he is resigning as programming director for Context Convention; I am also resigning as writing workshops director, for many of the same reasons.”
- November 29: A few notes replying to some replies about my leaving Context. A follow-up post from Steven Saus.
- Sharon Palmer comments that, “Steve made many missteps handling it, and acted as if any disagreement to the way STEVE DID THINGS, was support for the harasser. In Steve’s own words to me ‘My response was not based off what you wrote, but what I thought I heard.'”
- Palmer also states, “A staff person in the Con Suite talked to people who didn’t want to be talked to. He made bad jokes and showed people the chainmail he was working on. Which happened to be a chainmail bikini. He made people uncomfortable. He was guilty of being OLD. His wife was also in the Con Suite through most of the weekend. I was head of the Con Suite. No one said anything during the con. I wish they had, so I could have stopped it. We banned the guy for FIVE YEARS for an unacceptable level of social cluelessness. I really don’t see how this is a betrayal of our gender. Steve and Lucy said ‘handle it our way or we quit’. And we did. They quit anyway in a way that seems designed to destroy the convention.”
- November 29: Jason Sanford, a frequent author guest at Context, posts about the situation on Facebook and his blog.
- Jerry Robinette, of the convention’s publicity division, comments, “has anybody mentioned that the only ‘investigation’ was done by [Snyder] and Saus: that the ConComm and board never had an opportunity to hear from the ops person who had a run-in with the blogger that started all of this? And that you (Snyder) and Saus are now attempting to bully your way into complete control of a convention which has been a valuable revenue stream for you and your husband?”
- November 29: Why I won’t be returning to the Context SF convention, by Context volunteer Sarah Hans.
- “[Steve] received several reports of harassment committed by the same individual. At least one report claimed the harassment spanned years. At least one woman was uncomfortable going into the consuite at Context 27 because that was the harasser’s hangout; at least one other said she would not be returning because the harassment was so troubling to her.”
- “I was singled out with Lucy and Steve for a bullying email from a member of concomm who disagreed with us on one occasion; on another, I was singled out alone by one of the convention chairs for verbal abuse when I admitted that I no longer felt safe attending Context if the harassment policy was not going to be enforced … I was told that my opinion didn’t matter because I didn’t do enough work for Context 27. The words ‘how dare you’ were actually used.”
- November 29: Resignations From Context Committee Over Harassment Policy Enforcement, from File 770.
- November 29: Michelle Dupler, Context volunteer, steps down.
- “As someone watching this more or less from the outside, and with no emotional investment in the issue, I do not believe that Steve has misrepresented the discussion, or at least the portions that I personally witnessed on the concom email list. His account, and Lucy’s, have mirrored my own perception.”
- November 30: Steven Saus Comments on Resignation, also at File 770.
- “Convention goers need to know that if they report harassment that it will be taken seriously. They should not have to guess which members of the convention staff will ensure their report is taken seriously… or which members of convention staff will dismiss their concerns. Convention goers need to be able to trust ALL of the convention staff to do the right thing, regardless of personal feelings.”
- December 1: A Short (but significant) Update About Context, from Steven Saus.
- “I learned late last night that the board met and dissolved itself. The convention is starting over, with last year’s Con Chairs (who were not part of the resistance I experienced) starting over … This change resolves the concerns that led to my resignation.“
- December 1: Sharon Palmer Posts an Apology on the Context Facebook Group page.
- “I want to apologize for my part in this. I do not want to be part of a convention where harassment is accepted. It is traumatic and emotional when the harasser is a friend and colleague. I want to apologize to the people who were hurt by Jeff’s behavior. It never should have happened. When it happened, it should have been stopped.”
- December 6: Official Statement Regarding the Dissolution of Fanaco’s Board of Directors.
- “This new Board will be immediately tasked with creating new by-laws and other policies, including an anti-harassment policy that is clear and enforceable.”
- December 27: Mark Freeman’s Statement on Context, as posted on Steven Saus’ blog.
- “…on the day of the scheduled meeting, [Jan] had a lawyer send a rather over-the-top email to me saying that she would not sign the form and threatening me with police action if I went to her house, among other things. The new Board is, of course, now walking away.”
- December 27: CONTEXT is Dead, from Steven Saus.
- “When the president of the new Board, Mark Freeman, arranged to meet with Jan Province to get her to sign the paperwork to change the agent of record … he recieved a threatening e-mail from a lawyer claiming that contacting her in any way would be considered “harassment” and that there would be no new board. At which point, all the new people who wanted to be part of the new board, who wanted to see Context survive and thrive, realized that they couldn’t fight a (frivolous) lawsuit and simultaneously prepare a convention.”
Context’s current harassment policy is here.
It sounds like the Fanaco Board, which oversees Context, is still meeting and discussing everything that’s happened.
I don’t know the details. I became aware of this through email and the public posts and statements I’ve linked here. From that public information, it seems clear that:
- There were multiple complaints of harassment against a Context volunteer.
- This volunteer has not disputed the complaints, and has apologized.
- After contentious discussion, it was decided to ban this individual from Context for a minimum of five years.
- Multiple individuals who were directly involved feel that others on the concomm and/or board didn’t take the complaints seriously enough.
- Nobody can agree on how to spell concom/concomm.
I don’t know enough to second-guess the convention’s decision. I’m troubled by suggestions that banning this individual for five years was punishment for “being old” or “social cluelessness.” (And I said as much to Palmer.) These are excuses that have been used far too often as a way to minimize or excuse harassment. A single incident might be attributed to social clumsiness, but intentions don’t necessarily change the outcome, and it’s clear that there were multiple complaints here.
The convention investigated, met, and announced their decision about a month and a half after the convention. I know how hard it is to schedule meetings, get everyone caught up, and come to any sort of consensus or agreement. Considering that some of this information didn’t come to light until after the con, that actually seems reasonably quick and efficient for an organization.
Making the behind-the-scenes struggles and frustration public is going to hurt the convention. I highly doubt it’s a step that was taken lightly. I don’t know if it was the right step in this case. I do know that there has been pressure in the past, and in the present, to keep things like harassment quiet to protect reputations. And I know that silencing has allowed abuse and harassment to continue.
Palmer asked for time to work through this, and said they want to make Context an awesome and safe convention. I very much hope that this is what ends up happening. Public scrutiny will likely make that job more difficult; it will also increase the pressure to follow through and live up to the standards in the convention’s harassment policy.
Finally, the idea that Lucy Snyder is trying to get control of a “valuable revenue stream” gets a huge side-eye from me. As an author, I know how much I tend to sell at a convention, and even my best cons have been anything but lucrative. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an author who saw conventions as a significant money-maker. I certainly don’t see how volunteering hundreds of hours to help put a convention together leads to Massive Author Profits. (If anyone knows that secret, please fill me in!)
One last request. Please don’t use this as an excuse to click through and attack/criticize/harass others on their respective sites. I was torn about linking and naming names, but decided to do so for completeness and accuracy. But one thing I do know is that this has been difficult and stressful for all involved.
I’ll be updating this post with additional links and info as they come in.
November 29, 2014 @ 6:18 pm
I… do not have a favorable opinion of Ms. Palmer from what she said in these postings. And considering Lucy and Steve have both resigned, well, that’s a funny way of “complete control”. Also, Andi is quite a strong person.
NB: I do not know any of these people, so I am taking their words at face value.
November 30, 2014 @ 11:07 am
One more link for your next update: http://file770.com/?p=19867
Resignations From Context Committee Over Harassment Policy Enforcement
Jim C. Hines
November 30, 2014 @ 11:22 am
Thanks, Lis. Adding that link now.
November 30, 2014 @ 1:30 pm
“For being OLD”????
That’s one of the stupidest, most offensive things I’ve read in awhile. Sure, having been raised in the 50s and 60s infected me with some stupid and regressive ideas. I got over it. And I can’t imagine any scenario where “that’s just how I was raised” is an acceptable excuse for treating someone else badly. If you want to be staff at a 21st century convention, it behooves you to adopt 21st century attitudes and behaviors, regardless of when you were born or where you were raised. It really isn’t that hard, regardless of what Ms. Palmer seems to think.
November 30, 2014 @ 1:49 pm
We appear to be seeing quite a trend in upheavals in convention committees due to enforcement of harassment policies since the Readercon incident.
Do we conclude that harassment policies just weren’t enforced well in the past… or that they were and lack of internet meant we didn’t hear the details… or…?
November 30, 2014 @ 2:13 pm
@Tracy: For a convention to have a formal policy is a recent development. And they are needed to change the culture and revise people’s expectations.
Over the years a lot of people have simply had to cope with the presence of harassers at fan events. Since there were occasionally some instances where harassers (then simply thoughtof as jerks) were dealt with, that encouraged a complacent attitude that the problem was not as deep as it has been.
The instances of harassment policy enforcement that have gone public have all been accompanied by the upheavals you noted, which has concerned me too. At present, I believe it has both a generational and social component. Some who have had their expectations tempered by past experience dealing with particular jerks think they’ve already done what is necessary. It’s hard for them to adjust to see the harassing behavior when it’s done by individuals they don’t think of as jerks.
Then, the social component is two-fold. First, it’s hard to take enforcement action on people who are your friends, or friends of your friends. Second, it’s stressful enough to run a convention without taking on this additional burden of sifting controversial complaints, and people are prone to say to themselves “I didn’t sign up for this” and drop off the committee.
November 30, 2014 @ 2:19 pm
@Tracy: I think it’s a two-staged process. First in getting a policy in place, and then getting it enforced. And it’ll be a transformative process for each step, especially as old behaviors are finally called out for what they are.
So I suspect it’s been like this all along, and nobody said anything before recently.
And if someone could tell me the appropriate abbreviation of Convention Committee, I would appreciate it. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
November 30, 2014 @ 2:25 pm
Tracy – I don’t have the facts or data to say for certain, but from my observations, I’m guessing harassment policies simply weren’t enforced as much in the past, if such policies existed at all.
November 30, 2014 @ 2:51 pm
While I also can’t trace the entire history of these policies, I do know of many conventions that added policies for the first time under the impetus of the Con Anti-Harassment Project site which went online in 2008. (Can’t access it now, but it’s on the Wayback Machine). Others added or clarified existing policies after the Readercon experience of 2012. And more was done after Scalzi wrote his pledge in 2013.
There must have been a few cons that had policies before 2008, for the CAHP to have drawn its examples from.
WisCon is the only one I know of that has had an organizational consciousness about this issue for a long time, though they did not always have an anti-harassment policy per se.
November 30, 2014 @ 4:35 pm
Does anyone know of any examples of cases where harassment cases have been dealt with properly without a lot of accompanying sturm und drung? Because if they exist, they’d be unlikely to have gotten lots of publicity and attention. I’d like to know if the lack of hearing of them is because of that or because such cases don’t yet exist. Because hopefully that will be the norm.
November 30, 2014 @ 5:15 pm
1. I agree that an excuse of “age” is no excuse at all. I am friends with any number of people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who do not commit sexual harassment and who do not support, accept, tolerate, embrace, or laugh off sexual harassment. Framing elderly people as being incapable of courtesy and sound judgment is offensive, inaccurate, and absurd.
2. That a harasser is “socially clueless” is self-evident, unsurprising (socially adept people tend to avoid such behavior), and quite beside the point. A harasser’s inability to stop harassing or to recognize his/her own intrusive behavior is no excuse for enabling one person to sexually harass others, commit repeat incidents of sexual harassment, and make a convention or a con suite (or a workplace, or a party, etc.) a negative experience for multiple other people over a period of time because of one person’s repetitiously intrusive bad behavior.
3. Jerry Robinette’s bizarre accusation that ConText is a revenue stream for Lucy Snyder needs an explanation. Is she being paid for work on the convention? Does she get a commission from workshop fees? If not, then any revenue stream is presumably in Mr. Robinette’s imagination, since volunteer work is costly for a writer (costly in terms of time and focus it takes away from income-generating work), not a “revenue stream.” The notion that our income increases as a result of convention attendance or signings or appearing on panels is a notion held only by people who don’t know anything about the professional world of writing and publishing and how revenue is actually generated. Most professional writers attend conventions for social reasons, to network with other writers, to meet readers, to see editors, and to have a nice time. Writers who volunteer to work on cons are doing so to give back to the community. There is no “revenue stream” in convention work for a writer–unless Ms. Snyder is being paid for her services to the convention or receiving a commission on the workshop fees?
4. Without knowing anyone involved in any of this, except for Steve Saus (who I know socially/professionally rather than “well,” and who has not discussed any of this with me), I have to say that I find Sarah Hans’ blog very damning. She does not come across as a nasty or paranoid person pushing a vengeful agenda, but rather as a well-meaning new volunteer who encountered bad behavior in her dealings with the committee.
5. When multiple committee chairs/members resign at the same time as a statement of dissatisfaction with their organization, it usually (though not always) means there’s a real problem with how the organization is run. Good leadership and clear, impartial implementation of well-written policy rarely result in a substantial part of your team walking out at once.
November 30, 2014 @ 5:17 pm
I’ve been harassed at conventions before, and there are some conventions that I won’t go back to because of this. For many years, conventions didn’t have a formal anti-harassment policy, but it’s something that is needed. Being “old” or “socially clueless” isn’t an excuse for saying things that make multiple people uncomfortable… in fact, I’m really tired of hearing them as excuses, because it’s something I’ve heard over and over for years. I don’t care how old you are, or how famous you are, or how socially inept you are: I still deserve to be treated like a human being instead of an object. Everyone does.
Thank you to Lucy and Steven for standing to make sure that the anti-harassment policy was enforced this year. I can only imagine how stressful and frustrating it must have been. I’m sorry that the board and concom seem to care more about their reputation rather than the safely of the attendees. And a big thanks to Jim Hines for posting all of this… maybe it will make people realize how important these policies are and how much it can hurt a convention to NOT enforce it – or to enforce it half-heartedly, with comments on how you were “forced” into enforcing it and how you think the guy was banned for being “old.”
November 30, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
Everything Mike has said is accurate, IMO. OTOH, it’s a big relief to me (and many others) to see things changing, because for many years it was very, very tedious to have only two choices as a woman writing in this field: (a) go to conventions and just grin-and-bear it when you’re sexually harassed (including by your own editor or publisher or by your spouse’s editor or publisher), or (b) don’t go to conventions at all. The sf/f community and profession typically did not present women with a third alternative to those extremes.
However, it may also be that in the debates that sf/f concoms have about sexual harassment complaints, any process that again offers only two extremes ((a) do nothing at all, or (b) longterm/lifetime ban) is a factor in paralysis, discord, and irreconcilable entrenchment.
There also seems to be an internal culture in most concoms of mistakenly assuming that an sf/f convention attendance is a human right or a Constitutional right, rather than merely a private event (one of dozens or hundreds of such events held every year) from which anyone can be ejected or banned for violating the stated rules and guidelines of convention conduct.
November 30, 2014 @ 5:53 pm
RE No. 3: I see that Lucy Snyder has addressed Mr. Robinette’s “income stream” accusation on Jason Sanford’s Facebook page. And Robinette’s accusation does indeed seem to be sheer fantasy. (It would have been very surprising if it had been anything else, since it’s hard to envision how a small con would have the funds to pay her sufficiently for the work she has put in there.)
November 30, 2014 @ 7:45 pm
I think there have been a few incidents at Arisia which have been handled without additional drama.
November 30, 2014 @ 8:12 pm
That’s good to hear, and it’s good that it was called out. We need positive reinforcement for cons doing the right thing.
November 30, 2014 @ 11:45 pm
I’ve usually seen the abbreviation done as the Con-Com, so in this case, it would be the Context Con-Com.
December 1, 2014 @ 12:07 am
It sounds like some of the folk running the con wanted to minimize the incident, even though it was a regular occurrence by a volunteer staff member. And some of the other staff were not happy with how it was handled and how the harassment policy wasn’t being followed.
Which is what happened with ReaderCon and other incidents. There are folks running cons who want to stick with older, personal discretionary methods, aren’t happy about the harassment policies, and are concerned with the reputation of the con. They feel others are stirring up hornet nests in order to take over the cons under the excuse of harassment problems, for prestige, publicity and possible revenue or benefit, forcing serving founders to resign. Because a lot more people are speaking up about harassment, especially with policies in place to help them do that, it seems to many like a sudden and/or exaggerated problem that is being used in dynastic struggle over con running.
But it’s really a struggle over having a harassment policy that works automatically to protect attendees and the con itself, no matter who is running the con, versus letting con runners play parent and decide how they’ll be handled privately by themselves — the way that it was done before the harassment policies and which leads to inaction, continued harassment and legal liability. So it’s again an argument over the harassment policies.
December 1, 2014 @ 7:08 am
There’s a significant update (Jim, a link for you: http://ideatrash.net/2014/12/a-short-but-significant-update-about.html ). The relevant text:
I learned late last night that the board met and dissolved itself. The convention is starting over, with last year’s Con Chairs (who were not part of the resistance I experienced) starting over.
I am uncertain what, if any, role I will personally have at this point.
There’s two things I’d ask of you:
* Help spread the word that there has been a significant change in the composition of the leadership of the convention. This change resolves the concerns that led to my resignation.
* They’re going to need help. If you would like to see Context to continue and build on all the excellent stuff that happened with Context 27 (and it was excellent), I’d ask you to volunteer to the extent you are able. They will need people for the board, Con-Com (I’m told that’s the right abbreviation), and volunteers for the event itself.
December 1, 2014 @ 9:27 am
This is great news for the future of the convention!
Lucy A. Snyder
December 1, 2014 @ 1:35 pm
Thank you for commenting. I was not paid for my roles as workshop coordinator, webmaster, or social media coordinator for Context in any way.
I structured the workshops so that the instructors leading them got 50% of the fees that students paid to take them (which was usually $5 per hour of workshop per student); Context used the remaining 50% to pay for the costs associated with hosting the convention.
I did this to ensure that:
(1) the professional authors leading them would be fairly paid for their work and wouldn’t lose money going to the convention considering they also have to pay for a hotel room, travel, and meals
(2) each author would be motivated to help promote his or her workshop, because the fees were on a per-student basis
My husband (author Gary A. Braunbeck) has led workshops, and got paid the same as any other instructor. I have also occasionally led workshops, and also got paid the same as other instructors. I did not take any cut of the workshop fees in exchange for the work I did organizing the workshops.
The only other income stream Mr. Robinette could have been referring to is sales of books in the Context dealers’ room; every author who participates in the convention has the opportunity to put his or her books out on the convention tables for sale, and sales can vary widely.
I hope that clarifies things.
December 1, 2014 @ 3:52 pm
It would be nice if cons didn’t have to have these staff melt-downs and do-overs just to make some basic progress. To con runners who may be listening, please consider the numbers:
Women make up 70% of the readers of fiction, 50% of the readers of fantasy and 40-45% of the readers of science fiction. They make up 50% of the authors of fantasy fiction, about 35% and rising of science fiction authors, and 60% or so of YA and childrens authors. They make up approximately 60% of the editorial and publicity staffs of book publishers and of literary agents.
Women also make up 50% of games players, 50% of sports viewers, 50% of the movie goers, and are the majority audience for television shows. They make up at least 50%, possibly more, of cosplayers. They are heavily involved in organizing and running book cons and possibly make up the majority of book con runners and staff. They make up at least 50% of book con attendees and that number is growing.
Women make up 20% of games designers and staff in media film and t.v. production, a number that will grow, and actresses are regularly in demand for media conventions. Women are the main organizers of media fandom, and are the majority in organizers and runners of media conventions, a tradition that goes back at least forty years, when women organized the first Star Trek media conventions in the 1970’s. Women make up at least 30% of the attendees at media and comic conventions and that number is growing rapidly. Women make up at least 50% of the crafters who sell jewelry and goods at media cons, providing a key revenue stream.
Given those figures, that cons are more expensive now to produce, that the renaissance in SFF media and book cons means people have lots of cons to chose from, you cannot keep telling all these women that they have to put up with harassment behavior and limitations to their ability to do business or enjoy what they paid for, because some of your attendees are old, or socially clueless or drunk or prominent or whatever rationale you come up with. It is the harassers who are hurting your con, not the thousands of women who could be involved in your con. You need a comprehensive harassment policy and you need to actually enforce it. Even big, Hollywood-loved media cons like San Diego ComicCon are beginning to crack on this because it’s a legal disaster waiting to happen.
Your con needs these women. These women don’t need your con. And they will go public eventually if they get harassed. If you’re that worried about the reputation of your con, then instead of trying to cover stuff up, take care of your actual problem, the harassment. Listen to staff who are complaining that a harassment case is being dropped or covered up. Formalize and standardize the con’s response and stick to that. You may have to revise it now and again, but you won’t have to dissolve your entire board or con-com because you threw it out the window on the gamble that all those women would keep quiet.
December 1, 2014 @ 6:46 pm
ConCom. Only one m.
And we just didn’t have policies back in the day. You got groped and lech-ed at and had no recourse.
December 1, 2014 @ 9:23 pm
Arisia has people tale a course from (I think) the Boston Rape Crisis Center? on how to deal with lesser harassment incidents.
December 2, 2014 @ 1:46 pm
After reading all this I made an offer of my own on my blog. I’m not sure if it would help or not, but if at anytime anyone needs to make an anonymous complaint to a con I will facilitate it while maintaining the anonymity if needed. I think maybe cons need a way to encourage people to come forward without the fear of having their name dragged through the mud.
Lucy A. Snyder
December 2, 2014 @ 2:05 pm
That’s a good offer. Unfortunately, in this case, some members of Context seemed quick to dismiss any anonymous reporting or third-party reporting as “hearsay” so I’m not at all sure that they’d be willing to listen to a reporter such as yourself. That’s central to the concerns Steven and I had — we were not convinced that, had the two of us not been pushing for the problem to be addressed, anyone in a leadership position there would have done anything but sweep the matter under the rug.
Lucy A. Snyder
December 2, 2014 @ 2:15 pm
But also, as I said more recently on Facebook, it seems like things are changing in a positive direction at Context, and I’m hopeful that whoever leads the convention from here on out would be receptive to the kind of third-party reporting you’re offering to do.
December 2, 2014 @ 3:46 pm
This is a good offer; I relied heavily on my training as a social scientist to preserve respondent anonymity, but I’m well aware that others do not have that background, and offers like yours can help folks feel safer in reporting problems.
December 2, 2014 @ 5:37 pm
Michele, what kind of follow-up would you expect after relaying an anonymous complaint to a committee?
I’m curious, because I wonder how you, as the facilitator, would proceed if the committee dealt with the matter confidentially and left you out of the loop because you are not the victim?
December 3, 2014 @ 1:48 pm
“That a harasser is “socially clueless” is self-evident, unsurprising (socially adept people tend to avoid such behavior), and quite beside the point.”
Yeah, they never get jobs that require a lot of communication and glad-handing, like, say, radio host or famous actor.
Seriously, LOTS of harassers, particularly the most successful and predatory, are quite socially adept.
December 3, 2014 @ 7:35 pm
I’ve been chewing over Sharon Palmer’s apologyfor a couple days, trying to figure out why it’s left a bad tastein my mouth, and here’s why:
“In the heat of the situation, I said several things that I wish I could take back.
I have not changed what I think.
But I wish I used better words.”
I cannot figure out what better words could be used to express “he’s being punished for being OLD” in a way that isn’t offensive. Or alternatively, what acceptable sentiment those words were trying to express. As long as her thoughts haven’t changed, she’s still part of the problem, espcially as long as she’s part of the leadership of a convention.
December 4, 2014 @ 3:03 am
‘I cannot figure out what better words could be used to express “he’s being punished for being OLD” in a way that isn’t offensive.’
I said several things in the heat of the moment, I wish I could take back, and that one is high on the list. It was part of a long ill-advised paragraph about what happened.
The two complaints that were passed onto the committee (I think only Steve has seen the rest) both said he was “a creepy old guy” or similar words. At the time, I thought agism was a small part of the issue. As I learned more, that looked more and more incorrect.
December 4, 2014 @ 6:28 am
What Jeff did was unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated, I don’t mean to minimize it. But he talked to women who didn’t want the attention and made inappropriate comments about their appearance. He made them uncomfortable. Completely inappropriate, but it makes me think “thank god it wasn’t worse”. He didn’t rape anyone, he didn’t touch anyone, or invite her to his room.
Most women, including me, have to deal with worse comments just walking down the street, even now when I’m old. Back when I was young and pretty, I’ve had men grope my breasts, another time one put his hand between my legs. More inappropriate comments than I can remember. Friends have been raped. None of this should be tolerated, but I just can’t summon the sheer level of outrage that has been shown over Jeff.
December 4, 2014 @ 7:33 am
Sharon, I think you are missing the point. What brought this to such widespread attention isn’t “Jeff” or the specifics of *his* actions…. it is the actions and INactions of the ConCom in terms of enforcing your pre-existing, written, policies on harassament.
The 2014 ones are still posted at the link Jim listed. Right there in the introduction: “Any action or behavior that significantly interferes with convention operations, causes excessive discomfort to other attendees, or adversely affects Context’s relationship with its guests, its venue, or the public is strictly forbidden…”
Again, what brought this to attention is NOT the person who violated the policy — it’s how it was handled by the ConCom.
December 4, 2014 @ 11:19 am
Sharon, this is factually incorrect.
The original e-mail that I mistakenly sent to a too-wide audience included a second account with more details. After more accounts and people came forward, I attempted to share (both in print and by reading aloud) the much longer list at the meeting, and was told (loudly) that was not needed.
December 4, 2014 @ 12:26 pm
The convention was Sept 26-28. None of this was reported at the convention. We first found out on Oct 1, and Jeff was banned on Oct 5. “The concom” was overwhelmingly in favor of banning him. So was Cat, the Convention Chair. Her co-Chair was in the hospital recovering from an amputated leg. Most of the committee, including me, thought the issue was resolved on Oct 5. After some delay, the ban was published in mid-November.
The problem was with the Fanaco Board, especially the Board Chair. She didn’t intend to tolerate harassment, but made mistakes in handling it. She has apologized too. Many mistakes were made by a number of people who meant well.
The big, bad Fanaco Board consists of three elderly people, one of whom was ill and not involved in the convention. Two people resigned from the Board after the convention for unrelated issues. Another resigned last Feb and had not yet been replaced.
The Board has dissolved itself. A new group is trying to put the pieces back together and form a new Board. I was not on the old Board, and am unlikely to be part of the new one, but I support them.
December 4, 2014 @ 12:52 pm
I was not present at that meeting.
December 4, 2014 @ 1:37 pm
““The concom” was overwhelmingly in favor of banning him’
Please let me restate that. Nearly all of the discussion on the mailing list was in favor of banning Jeff. I was not able to attend the Oct 5 meeting, but wrote Cat that I was in favor of the ban, although I had issues with how it was handled.
December 4, 2014 @ 2:57 pm
Also from our website “If you have been accused of harassment and feel that a committee member’s response was unjustified, you may appeal to the convention chairs, but that decision will be final.”
The program book stated “Context reserves the right to handle abuse as appropriate, even to the point of removing the abuser from the convention without refund. Decision by the chair is final”.
Not the Committee, not the Board, it should have been Cat’s decision. All rest of this was people not listening to Cat.
December 4, 2014 @ 7:53 pm
Yes, you banned him. That’s what you were supposed to do according to your harassment policy. But before that, he was harassing women at your con reportedly for several years. And complaints were either ignored or the women warned others about him informally because they assumed — because of the climate of the con and because women get dismissed about what is seen as “minimal” harassment — that nothing would be done about this guy if they formally complained. After all, he was in your hospitality suite. And he was a known harasser who you kept working in your hospitality suite. This is a problem that should have been fixed quite awhile ago.
And two major staff members wanting to have the problem dealt with kept running into road blocks and people in charge trying to minimize the seriousness of the issue. To the point where they resigned publicly to make sure there was enough fuss that something was done. For which they were called opportunistic and domineering. Which is what people who speak up about harassment usually get called.
It’s the attitudes here that create further problems and hiccups in implementing your harassment policy, which may need to be tweaked by con folk who don’t regard it as an annoyance but a necessary protection. Having one chair person make a personal decision of what will happen instead of a committee using set and clear parameters from policy, for instance, sounds like a really bad plan. That you’ve been harassed worse on the street is irrelevant to dealing with women not being harassed at your con. That this guy didn’t rape someone is irrelevant to dealing with women not being harassed at your con.
If women don’t have a pleasant experience at your con because a harasser is allowed to be creepy on a regular basis, they don’t care whether staff “meant well” or not. If women authors get harassed at your con, they don’t care whether staff meant well either; their livelihoods are being impacted. You need a harassment policy and procedures that function whether someone in charge is ill or not, and no matter what age they are, where everybody knows what to do and there are back-ups, same as you do for security, programming, food supply, etc. You need to not be making the “mistake” of forcing two staff people to resign just to get people to listen, of the con to be more concerned with covering its own ass rather than promptly dealing with the problem.
Your con is not the only one going through this. But the constant defensiveness when cons are criticized on this is one of the big impediments to getting effective harassment policies successfully in place, with staff able to know what to do and victims not required to produce court evidence to get heard. This is an issue that is not going to go away, and how well and how fast cons deal with these problems are going to be the critical point for women and others attending.
December 4, 2014 @ 8:00 pm
“The big, bad Fanaco Board consists of three elderly people, one of whom was ill and not involved in the convention. Two people resigned from the Board after the convention for unrelated issues. Another resigned last Feb and had not yet been replaced.”
Your constant harping on the age of various people involved is not helping make you look like you get what the issues are. Being elderly or OLD does not absolve one from the requirement to act like a reasonable human being. This is true even when the general notion of “reasonable human being” may have expanded from what it was in the time or place where you grew up.
If a person or group is going to run an event open to the public, and that event has a code of comduct, then the people running it have an obligation to make sure they enforce that code of conduct. They have to do this even if the offender is a deacdes-long friend, even if it makes them feel mean, even if they are old. A person or group who cannot live up to this responsibility should not be running a public event with a code of conduct.
I get that when we get older, we may have less energy. We may have become settled in ways of thinking that don’t always serve us well. With luck and some intent, we can also become wiser with time. I no longer do things I don’t have the energy to do. But when I do take on a responsibility, and fail to meet it, there is no way in hell that my being older is an excuse for my failure.
If the people on the Fanaco Board are so debilitated by age that they cannot enforce their own policies without vomitting this sort of thing all over the internet, then resigning is the right thing to do. I’m sorry that their hard work and commitment to this con over the years ended like this, but you are not making this better by trying to paint them as elderly people who just didn’t know better and who cannot expect to do the right thing. That’s ageist in the worst way, and offensive to all the elderly people who manage to carry out their responsibilities every day.
These three elderly people may have been well-intentioned, but they made mistakes. Really, this whole thing would have gone better for all of you if you, Sharon, had never started talking about age. There are policies in place and people in place to enforce those policies. Whether they were enforced and what it took to get them enforced is the issue.
A useful post-mortem would be to focus on how those mistake happened, by which I mean asking questions like “What actions were taken? Which of these actions were helpful and which were harmful? How can we react to a future report of harassment in a more proactive helpful way, to maximize the helpful parts of the response and minimize the harmful ones?”
Notice that these questions focus on the actions taken and words spoken, not the inherent qualities of the people taking these actions. Their age (and race and gender and sexual preference and hair color) don’t matter a damn, and you need to stop acting like it does if you ever want to convince me, for example, that Context has learned anything from this.
Links: 12/05/14 — Pretty Terrible
December 5, 2014 @ 10:31 am
[…] Jim Hines has a roundup post about harassment and the fallout at Context this year. […]
The Linkspam Jargon File (December 7 2014) | Geek Feminism Blog
December 7, 2014 @ 12:27 pm
[…] Con Chairs (who were not part of the resistance I experienced) starting over.” See also Harassment at Context | Jim C. Hines (November 29): “Here’s my roundup of links about what […]
December 7, 2014 @ 4:14 pm
This. This so much.
Instead of pointing fingers at others & using words like “age” each person involved should look at what happened, what parts they might have done wrong, and how they individually and as an organization can do better. Anyone spending time still blaming others and stereotyping needs to step back, take some deep breathes, and look at what biases they have that are preventing them from being part of the solution.
December 27, 2014 @ 6:22 pm
I can’t talk about the past much, however:
There is one other consideration beyond having a policy and enforcing it: it being enforceable. This includes it being clear, everyone being on the same page, and the actions it states should/need to be taken based upon the transgressions being felt as reasonable to actually apply to the situation.
Having a policy is easy when you don’t have to act upon it. Following a written instrument to the letter is a scary and often times a self wounding action (when it doesn’t fit the specific situation). Not following it to the letter is seen as hypocritical and lying. So there is a balance of trying to make sure that the range of choices are available to a concom while at the same time making sure you are responsive to incidents that happen (or are reported to have happened), based upon the written harassment policy.
So how do you make a policy that is enforceable, clear, doesn’t leave people thinking that you should have done better (by being more forgiving, or more strict), and that people will agree to before they see any of the actual application/implementation?