Odyssey Con is a Madison, Wisconsin convention scheduled to take place later this month. I want to share two tidbits from their website.
From their harassment policy:
“It is the intention of Odyssey Con to create a safe, friendly, welcoming environment…”
From their Who is Odyssey Con? page:
James Frenkel, Guest Liaison
I’ve talked about Frenkel on the blog before.
- How to Report Sexual Harassment, by Elise Matthesen
- WisCon, Harassment, and Rehabilitation (A follow-up to the previous link, about the 2013 incident)
- A discussion with a different victim of Frenkel’s harassment prompted a post in 2010 about Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F
As have others.
- Mary Robinette Kowal talks about fielding another report of harassment by Frenkel
- Cherie Priest: “[W]hen Tor first brought me on board back in 2002, my fellow writers quietly warned me about him.”
- “[B]ack in 2009 when this picture of Frenkel staring at my breasts was taken it was in many ways just one of those things…” -Mikki Kendall
As is the nature of these things, there’s a lot more that isn’t written about publicly. I’ve spoken with other people harassed by Frenkel who chose not to post about it online, or to file complaints. Given the way we tend to treat victims of harassment and assault — demanding details and proof, blaming them, excusing the harassment, telling them why they’re wrong or overreacting, and so on — I can’t and won’t blame anyone for making that choice.
Even so, knowledge of Frenkel’s history is widespread in the SF/F field. He lost his job with Tor Books shortly after the 2013 incident. He was banned for life from Wiscon. Hell, some of this stuff is on his freaking Wikipedia page.
In other words, there’s no way Odyssey Con was unaware of this history. But they still chose to allow Frenkel to serve as their Guest Liaison.
That’s their right. It’s their convention, and if they want to put a known repeat harasser on staff, they can do so. But that choice has consequences. Consequences like their Guest of Honor withdrawing from the convention. Or having other guests and companies withdraw because the con prioritized a harasser over the safety of their guests.
I haven’t seen a public response from the convention yet, but I’m bracing myself for the typical refrain:
“But he’s such a nice guy. I never saw him harass anyone!”
He was a nice guy to me, too. He was genuinely kind and supportive when I was a nobody starting out in this business, and I hated learning about this other side of him. But the fact that he was nice to me doesn’t mean he’s nice to everyone. Harassers can be quite charming, and they learn to isolate their victims.
It would be like saying, “But Hannibal Lecter never tried to eat me, so how can you say he’s a cannibal?”
“He has a long history with the convention.”
Yes…he also has a long history of harassing women. What’s your point?
ETA: Called it! From the Odyssey Con program chair:
I have been personally acquainted with both Richard and Jim for many years, and, as program chair, I am 100% certain that they will both conduct themselves in responsible and appropriate fashions. Both Jim and Richard have made valuable contributions to Odyssey Con for years and I expect that they will, given the opportunity, continue to do so for years to come.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong since Wiscon 2013. Doesn’t he deserve another chance?”
Some things aren’t mine to share, but I question the assumption behind that statement. As for deserving another chance…personally, I think it depends. What work has he done to try to earn another chance? I do believe that everyone deserves the chance to learn and grow…but not at the expense of their victims. In other words, why is giving Frenkel yet another chance more important than giving your convention attendees a safe, welcoming event?
“It’s a witch hunt!”
Oh yes, of course. I’m sure it’s a big old conspiracy between Matthesen, Kowal, Priest, Kendall, Wiscon, Tor Books, and everyone else who’s spoken out about their experiences with Frenkel…
You can try to create a convention that’s safe and welcoming and friendly. Or you can put a man with a long, public history of harassment in a position of authority, with access to your guests.
You can’t do both.
ETA: Odyssey Con has posted a statement on Facebook (now removed, but screencapped by Natalie Luhrs), which includes this gem: “Odyssey Con is now, always has been, and always will be, open and welcoming to all. We do not allow anyone, not even a guest of honor, to dictate that someone else must be excluded from it.” (Read the full statement for context.)
ETA2: As of 4/12, Odyssey Con has posted a new statement on Facebook. This one notes, “Frenkel is no longer a member of our ConCom in any capacity, he has no position of authority in the convention proper, and he is not a panelist or lecturer. He has the right to purchase a badge and attend the convention, but as of this writing, I do not know if he is planning to do that.”