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After I posted my Convention Harassment Policy Starter Kit, I learned about a study Nicole Stark had done about harassment policies at fan conventions. Stark’s article is available on Google Docs, here. I’ve seen a fair amount of discussion on harassment policies and why we do or don’t need to worry about them, but this is the first example I’ve seen of a more rigorous academic survey and discussion of harassment policies. Stark gave me permission to link to her paper, and to discuss some of the highlights.

ETA: Stark is a M.A. student studying sexual harassment. She asked me to share that her email address is NicoleStark@knights.ucf.edu, in case anyone wanted to follow up with her about her work.

From the abstract:

This study uses content analysis to evaluate a sample of 288 fan convention websites. These conventions took place within the United States from March to November 2013. The analysis was used to determine how common sexual harassment policies are and their characteristics. This study examined both frequencies and descriptions of codes of conduct, including promoted and prohibited rules, sanctions, reporting guidelines, and the existence of a sexual harassment or general harassment policy. Less than half of the sample contained any behavioral policy at all. Those behavioral policies that were present were found to be generally informal, unstructured, and devoid of a sexual harassment policy. However, many policies contained rules that could be used in the prevention of sexual harassment. These rules, when made clear and recognizable, may work as effective policy in informal spaces. (Page 2)

Stark opens by discussing an instance of sexual harassment from New York Comic Con, and goes on to note that:

A study on sexual harassment policy in manufacturing firms revealed that an available written policy resulted in a 76 percent reduction in one year’s reports (Moore and Bradley 1997).

In other words, to anyone arguing there’s no need for a sexual harassment policy, there is actual research showing that such a policy can significantly reduce sexual harassment.

I expect some people to protest that a convention isn’t the workplace, and that’s true. There are likely to be some differences in the dynamics and effects of a harassment policy in a convention space vs. a workplace. But the underlying premise and conclusion here is pretty straightforward: “We created a written policy on sexual harassment, and sexual harassment decreased significantly.”

I assume most people would like to see sexual harassment at conventions decrease significantly as well. Ergo, creating a written policy seems like a really basic and obvious first step.

Stark’s sample comes from the costume.org website’s list of upcoming conventions. The cons were all from 2013, all located in the U.S., and included media, anime, literary, gaming, comics, relaxicons, and more. So what did she find in her study?

Of the 288 convention websites, 59.38%  had no listed policy on their website in regards to behavior or code of conduct. Less than half of all websites (40.62%) had at bare minimum, a behavioral policy explaining acceptable or unacceptable actions while at the convention. These rules ranged from a basic ‘be polite’ to lengthier explanations and examples of what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Of the total sample, only 3.47% used the phrase ‘sexual harassment’. However, 13.88% used the word ‘harassment’, not detailing readily available distinctions between harassments, whether sexual, bullying, or annoying otherwise.

Fewer than half of conventions have a posted policy about acceptable behavior, let alone harassment. And the policy is only the starting point; what about instructions on reporting harassment and other unacceptable behavior?

Only 15.27% (44) of the 288 convention websites contained guidelines on reporting. Of the three conventions participating in Project: Women Back Each Other Up, only one employed the use of purple ribbons to indicate female staff members who were prepared to intervene and handle potential sexual harassment. Several policies listed that if there were emergencies, to dial 911 or building security.  This left 84.72% (244) of the convention websites devoid of response or guidance to potential victims.

Stark goes on to recommend:

…in evidence of the language and audience in these informal spaces, the following are suggestions for a comprehensive policy at fan conventions. The policies need to be recognizable and readily available (Moore & Bradley 1997), properly enforced, include and define sanctions, train employees for prevention and response, (Harmus & Niblock 2000), detail complaint procedure (Fowler 1996), and define sexual harassment in terms that the audience understands. (Emphasis added)

I have very little to add beyond Yes. That.

I recommend anyone interested in the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment in fandom read the full study. And my thanks to Nicole Stark for letting me link to and chat about her research here.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 11th, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
When Norwescon in Seattle was talking about implementing a Harassment policy, there was a lot of pushback. However, a policy was formed: http://www.norwescon.org/nwc37/memberships/policies-and-guidelines/

It's kind of amazing the sheer verbal gymnastics people will engage in to justify shitty behaviors and why they should still be allowed to do them.

Also, I don't do the costuming track, but no one in Costuming put forward a "Cosplay is not Consent" panel. So I did, and was flooded with people who want to be on it.

There is a great need for these policies and informing people that just isn't happening a lot. It needs to be a far more common conversation. And thank you for being so vocal about it!
Dec. 11th, 2013 04:49 pm (UTC)
I don't get why people fight so hard against putting a harassment policy together. What's *really* the worst-case scenario here? If you believe the folks saying there's no sexual harassment at all and people are just looking to stir up controversy, then all you've done is waste a little time and ink on a policy that doesn't end up getting used.

Obviously, I believe harassment *is* a real problem and needs to be addressed, but even if I'm wrong, what does it hurt to create the policy? You can crib most of it off of one of the preexisting policy templates. 90% of the work is already done! It's not like we're asking you to jettison the dilithium core out of your convention while doing warp nine in the Neutral Zone.

And thank you for pushing that panel. How did it go? (Or is that not happening until this coming April?)
Dec. 11th, 2013 04:54 pm (UTC)
It's coming up this April, and I will keep everyone posted about it.

We also do a panel called "How to Get Laid at a Con" which is a honey trap, because it's really all about "How to talk to people you are interested in and not come off as a creepy stalker," but if we called it that, no one would show up. I intend to talk about the harassment policy there, too. My awesome, wonderful girlfriend was largely responsible for the policy coming into being. She fought hard for it.
Dec. 11th, 2013 07:34 pm (UTC)
I was one of the people on the committee that created Norwescon's anti-harassment policy (hi sirriamnis!), and I was gobsmacked by the amount and character of the pushback we got. I volunteered because I was surprised we didn't have one already, initially expected it to be more of a "yeah, this is a good idea, let's figure out the best language" experience...and got quite the education in just how bizarrely contentious an idea it is. In the end, though, I'm happy with what we ended up with, and am glad I got to be a part of the process.

Incidentally: Norwescon is listed on the costume.org listing of conventions, so were probably looked at during the creation of Nicole's report, but at the time were still in the process of creating our policy. Since we now have it created and posted, her numbers can all be increased by one. Probably not enough to drastically change her results, but it's one more!
Dec. 11th, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
I don't get why people fight so hard against putting a harassment policy together.

I've generally run into four attitudes as to why people don't want to do them.

1. They don't believe it happens at all- "those hysterical wimmen" syndrome. Why waste time on something that doesn't exist?

2. "Gee, I'd like it if someone harassed me!" "You want to make a policy that says I can't talk to people!"
People who don't get what harassment really is.

3. "Well, it might happen at frat parties, but we're all geeks and geeks don't do that." The NIMBY group- we're special and this only happens at bad places.

4. "It's only a weekend. Nothing that bad can happen." The lazy inertia crowd.
Dec. 12th, 2013 03:33 am (UTC)
I've noticed a 5. "But the misandrists!" Kind of a corollary to the hysterical wimmin. Women are predatory harpies and will conjure all sorts of fantastic situations to get men punished, and an anti-harassment policy just gives them another way to pick on guys harmlessly being nice in the corner.
Dec. 12th, 2013 05:56 am (UTC)
6. "If we tell people harassment happens at our convention so often that we need a policy against it, people will think our convention is a scary dangerous place and won't show up."

Made worse by the fact that some people actually do think this way. I've heard it directly from at least two of them.
Dec. 12th, 2013 06:58 am (UTC)
Oh yeah! I've heard that one too, probably more often than 5 but that sticks in my mind because the whargarble is strong.

I usually hear 6 from people who generally don't have to fear harassment, too. It's rich.
Dec. 12th, 2013 07:08 am (UTC)
My usual response is that anti-harassment policies draw attendees who feel protected by them, while putting off attendees who are likely to harass and people who are too dim to figure out (or too privileged and narcissistic to believe) that harassment happens everywhere. I feel that's a net gain for any community.
Dec. 12th, 2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
Dec. 12th, 2013 03:03 pm (UTC)
I think it's also a corollary of 2, but yes. And argh.
Dec. 12th, 2013 04:14 pm (UTC)
I would classify slightly differently:

5. Risk of false accusations.
5a. Geeks with poor social skills are so misunderstood! Writing that into a formal process is horrible and dangerous.
5b. But the misandrists! Those hysterical women and predatory harpies are just itching to get men punished for no good reason.

I know a 13 year old girl with bad social skills. Her parents and I often need to remind her not to stand so close, not to talk so loud. (She's learned not to hug people in bursts of enthusiasm.) Her parents worry that a sexual harassment policy would be dangerous to her, would cause her to be falsely accused of harassment, and thus (inevitably, as formal harassment policies are all zero tolerance) criminally charged as a rapist. This is especially terrifying to them as she won't be 13 forever.

As you might guess, this is a point of disagreement for me and her parents. I know socially-clueless teenagers are likely to be victims of harassment, and I want as much protection as possible for this child. And if she's making some other congoer seriously uncomfortable by standing too close and talking too loud? I don't have a problem with the conrunners telling her off or even throwing her out. Everyone ought to feel safe, not just this kid I love.
Dec. 12th, 2013 04:21 pm (UTC)
From what I've seen, most of the time when the "poor social skills" thing gets used as an excuse, it's applied to these poor, helpless, hapless men who somehow, miraculously know how to behave appropriately around other guys, and around large groups, but gosh, those social skills just vanish when they're alone with a girl, and why is everyone being so MEAN to these poor guys?

It's much rarer that I've seen this come up with regard to someone who truly has across-the-board social troubles, and in those situations, I still agree that the person needs to learn at least basic boundaries. It's something we're working to teach my son, who has some similar struggles.
Dec. 12th, 2013 04:59 pm (UTC)
That's been my experience as well. People who actually have poor social skills don't tend to have a huge number of friends who will immediately jump to their defense any time somebody objects to their behavior. Unfortunately, that usually means that people with genuine problems understanding informal or semi-formal rules get punished more heavily if they happen to break a formal rule. I'm not sure how to fix that, but I imagine trying to be as clear as possible about what constitutes unacceptable behavior is a good start.
Dec. 11th, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you for continuing to post these updates. I've only been to a fan convention once, but you continue to open my eyes up to the issues and it's very much appreciated.
Dec. 11th, 2013 07:23 pm (UTC)
And reading this, I realized that my college's con, which I was involved with, has a pretty good policy that is printed on the inside cover of the conbook -- but doesn't show up on the website. And may well have been part of that study. Well, I emailed the current people about it.
Dec. 11th, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
From what I've seen, more people are checking convention websites ahead of time for this sort of policy, so giving your college a heads-up to add it to the site sounds like a very good thing.
Dec. 11th, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
I've seen cons with a 1-page website without even the ability to do online reg. I'm not surprised when cons don't always have everything online.
Dec. 11th, 2013 11:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing! I think I'll have to bring it up in discussion with the local anime con, as I don't think we have an explicit sexual harassment policy, and I really think we need one (there are other issues at this convention that I'd love to be addressed, but I'm only one little voice, and not sure how to be heard).
Dec. 12th, 2013 12:38 pm (UTC)
I'd probably start by emailing the con staff. There should be contact info of some sort on the website.
Dec. 12th, 2013 05:06 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for the informative info. I might get to go to the San Diego Comic-Con this summer with a friend and some others (that is if my mom lets me, of course, even if I'm an adult now >.>), and reading this is helping me get a heads up about situations like this. There's been news going on about Aki-Con in regards to rape by a DJ who's been invited several times despite his criminal history, which has been causing a stir to get him banned as well as the convention itself. Really sickens me knowing shit that happens like this. Good thing I'm coming prepared, given my own experience with sexual harassment.

Edited at 2013-12-12 05:37 am (UTC)
Dec. 12th, 2013 12:40 pm (UTC)
I've seen some of the news on Aki-Con. I just ... yeah.
Dec. 12th, 2013 01:48 pm (UTC)
I don't want to be a jerk, but I do get a *little* twitchy about equating "fewer reports" with "there was not as much harassment." Because - as a cynical type - I can imagine a situation in which a policy was written to reduce REPORTS rather than events... sort of the con equivalent of police departments massaging their arrest methods and reported-crime data so that crime rates drop.

(In general, though, I am 100% on board with the idea that attending a con with no policy is risky; it typically means either the con runners didn't think about the issue, or actively dismissed it. Neither is good.)
Dec. 12th, 2013 02:13 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. We know that rape and sexual violence are very under-reported, for example. I looked to see if I could find a copy of the original report that citation came from, but it wasn't available online, so it's hard to say what was behind that data point.
Dec. 12th, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC)
Also, fewer reports may well equal a lot of "Well, he cornered you and tried to grope you, and our policy only covers unwanted verbal behavior. And he didn't ACTUALLY grope you, so it doesn't count," kind of lawyering.
Dec. 12th, 2013 03:12 pm (UTC)
Yep, that's precisely the sort of thing I'd be worried about - that a policy *can* be written so that you need to meet ridiculous standards of proof, for example, or that certain very common behaviors (like unwanted verbal harassment!) don't qualify.
Dec. 13th, 2013 09:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you; I had that twitchy reaction as well. I am in favor of having a policy, but I am having a hard time seeing how the number of reports when there wasn't even a document explaining how to make reports could have been so much higher, unless there was something hinky in the document that did get made.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )


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