ETA: On 10/28, the following was posted on the WFC2015 Facebook Page:
On reflection, and with guidance, we have realized that our sincere attempt to do the right thing in this regard was inadequate. We focused too much on complying with the legal advice of Saratoga authorities and not enough on making certain that our members feel confident in their safety at the Convention. Since last year’s WFC policy was considered satisfactory and is considered to be comprehensive we are adopting it as an addition to the policy developed with the legal advice of the Saratoga authorities. The World Fantasy Board is reviewing the language for comprehensiveness. The corrected policy will be posted here and on our website as soon as that review is completed. We apologize for the misstep and are doing our utmost to make WFC 2015 both an enjoyable event and a safe environment.
The 2015 World Fantasy Convention starts in just over a week, and they’ve just mailed out their final progress report. Natalie Luhrs was one of the first to note the inclusion of a harassment policy that manages to be, in my opinion, worse than no policy at all.
Here’s the policy in question:
Let me note up front that I don’t have experience running a convention. I do have experience dealing with sexual harassment and violence, and in working with conventions to build harassment policy. My guess from reading this is that the people who created this policy have conrunning experience, but don’t know a lot about dealing with sexual harassment. At least, I hope that’s the case, since the only other possibility I can come up with is intentional maliciousness. Because…
…this policy actively discourages people from reporting harassment.
- Victims of harassment and sexual violence should have the choice whether or not to report to the police. The convention has taken that choice away.
- This policy requires victims to trust that the police will take them seriously and respond to their complaints. Historically, police departments are not known for treating victims of sexual violence with respect. In addition, while I as a white male might feel relatively comfortable interacting with police, many women and people of color do not, and with valid reasons.
- The police will be determining if the conduct meets the legal definition of harassment to charge the offender. (I’m not a lawyer, but I thought that was the prosecutor’s decision.) What about behaviors that are clearly unacceptable, but might not meet the legal standards and be severe enough for the prosecutor to invest the time and money and resources in pressing charges?
- “No one wants to behave in a manner that draws Police attention.” I assume this was supposed to be a warning against would-be harassers, but it also feels like a warning to victims not to make a fuss and attract attention. Maybe that’s not the intention, but there’s a long history of silencing victims, and of attacking them for attracting attention.
But what about libel?
On Facebook, Chuck Rothman notes, “In New York State, ‘harassment’ is legally defined. Most harassment policies (including Comic Con’s) punish people for actions that are not harassment under NYS law. There is no doubt the NYS law needs updating, but the convention is not going to risk a libel lawsuit.”
This is, in a word, bullshit. To me, it smells a lot like Wikipedia lawyering. Has anyone ever filed a libel lawsuit over a convention’s harassment policy?
Even if this were a legitimate concern, which I don’t believe it is, then the solution is to take 30 seconds and rename this a “Convention Safety Policy.”
Dear WFC: Do you want to fix this?
Your convention starts in a week. I’m guessing your program books are already printed, and you’re scrambling with all of the last-minute work it takes to make such a huge convention happen. You’re stressed, overwhelmed, and everyone’s running on caffeine and adrenaline. And now all anyone is talking about is how messed-up your harassment policy is.
I figure you’ve got two choices here. You can double down and ignore the complaints. This has the advantage that you don’t have to do the work to fix the policy. The disadvantage is that it would feel like a big old “Fuck you” to a large number of people. It also puts any victims of harassment in a very, very bad spot. Keep in mind that, as Natalie Luhrs pointed out, “three of the last five World Fantasy Conventions had harassment incidents that were publicized: 2010, 2011, and 2013.” This doesn’t include incidents that weren’t publicized.
The other choice is to try to fix this. I know which choice I’m hoping for.
Can this actually be fixed?
Well, no. Not completely. You’ve pissed off a lot of people, and you’ve got nine days before the start of the convention. You can’t fix it. But you can work to make it better. Here are my suggestions, for what they’re worth.
- Listen to what people are saying. I know you feel defensive and attacked and unappreciated, but right now, you don’t have time for that.
- Find someone who has experience working with sexual harassment and conventions, and deputize them to get this mess fixed. Talk to conrunners from other conventions who’ve done a better job on this front.
- Grab a sample harassment policy from the Geek Feminism Wiki. If you’re worried about the boogeyman of a libel lawsuit, tweak the wording so it doesn’t say “harassment.” Get this posted to your website and printed up as an addendum to your program book. Send out a follow-up email/progress report with the new policy.
- Make sure all con staff are aware of the new policy and trained on how to respond. (Draw on the experiences and knowledge of the person from #2.)
- Apologize. Not a mealy-mouthed “We’re sorry you people chose to be offended,” but an apology that draws on #1 and recognizes why people are upset. You screwed up. Own it.
I’d also refer you to the Sexual Harassment Policy Starter Kit I posted a while back, with help from several experienced conrunners.
I hope you’ll listen to the concerns and complaints of the community and take steps to try to make World Fantasy Con a better experience for everyone.