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Supporting Victims of Sexual Harassment

SF/F fandom (and society in general) hasn’t always been very supportive of victims of sexual harassment, particularly when the harasser is a big name or someone in a position of power. Those who choose to speak out are often mocked, belittled, threatened, accused of being publicity-whores, or worse. Even people who want to be supportive might not know what to say or do.

So with the help of some friends, I’ve put together a list of ideas about what to do and what not to do if you want to avoid looking like a dick and actually support those who have been sexually harassed.

1. Don’t Make Excuses. At the 2006 Worldcon, Harlan Ellison grabbed Connie Willis’ breast on stage. Time after time, I saw people jumping in to defend him by saying, “Oh, that’s just Harlan.” That’s a bullshit excuse, right up there with “Boys will be boys,” and “Oh, he didn’t mean any harm.” It’s not your job to excuse, justify, or defend the behavior, especially if you weren’t even present. By doing so, you’re basically saying, “I don’t care about your feelings or what this person did to you; I’m more worried about protecting the person who harassed you.”

2. Don’t Minimize. In one of my posts about sexual harassment, a commenter talked about how she was expecting a bunch of overly sensitive PC whiners who couldn’t take a joke. Don’t be that person. If you’re not the one being harassed, then what the hell gives you the right to judge and tell someone else they’re overreacting?

3. Don’t Immediately Run Off to “Kick his Ass!” Believe me, I understand the urge. When I hear someone has harassed and hurt one of my friends, I want to do something. I want to punish the harasser. I want to teach him (or her) to never pull that shit again … do you notice how all of these sentences start with “I”? How I’m talking about what I want and need, not what the person who was harassed is asking for? It’s more helpful to offer to be that person’s backup: to accompany them if they want to confront the person, or to tell them you’ve got their back during the convention or event.

4a. Don’t be Afraid to Intervene. If you see something that looks like harassment, say something. Interrupt and ask, “Hey, is everything okay here?” Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it can be embarassing if it turns out nothing was going on. But which risk would you rather take: that you might feel a little foolish, or that you’re turning your back and allowing someone to continue harassing another person? I’ll be saying more about intervention in my next post.

4b. Don’t be Afraid to Call Your Friends on their Shit. If you know your friend is harassing people, then for God’s sake, call him (or her) on it. Be harsh. Be blunt. Because your friend might actually listen to you. By staying silent, you are enabling and tacitly allowing that person to continue harassing others.

5. Don’t Try to Speak For Someone Else. When I was at World Fantasy last year, I ended up talking to multiple people about a certain editor who had sexually harassed them. It wasn’t my place to disclose their names or the name of the editor. I did end up writing a blog post with names removed, figuring since this was a common behavior, there was no way to identify the people who had spoken with me. Some of those people still felt that I had violated their confidentiality. Reporting sexual harassment or going public is a very hard choice, and it’s not your choice to make for someone else.

6. Don’t Pressure the Victim. Offer options. Offer to go with the person or to be their backup if they decide to report or confront. But don’t say “This is what you have to do, and if you don’t do it then it’s all your fault when this guy harasses someone else!” Because first off, when that guy harasses someone else, it’s his fault. It’s his choice. If you want more people to come forward and report sexual harassment, work to create an enviroment where it’s safe for them to do so.

7. Check Your Own Behaviors. A lot of harassers either don’t think of what they’re doing as harassment or else they rationalize what they’re doing. So check yourself. Check your physical and verbal behaviors. If you’re uncertain whether a gesture or joke or compliment would be appreciated, ask. If an interaction leaves you feeling weird, ask someone else for a reality-check.

8. Use Your Voice. Especially for guys, it’s easy to sit back and ignore the problem. To let other people worry about it. But your voice matters. Speaking up to say this kind of behavior is not okay matters. It matters to victims, who deserve to know that people are on their side, and it matters to harassers, who have to know that others don’t condone their crap.



Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F Circles
The Backup Project

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 5th, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)

Dec. 5th, 2011 02:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Dec. 5th, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. I'll be linking to it.
One thing I think is key:
"8. Use Your Voice. Especially for guys, it’s easy to sit back and ignore the problem. To let other people worry about it. But your voice matters. Speaking up to say this kind of behavior is not okay matters. It matters to victims, who deserve to know that people are on their side, and it matters to harassers, who have to know that others don’t condone their crap."

This one thing can make a huge difference. So huge that all guys reading this should take note and speak up. Think of it in terms of that woman being harassed being your mother, sister and/or girlfriend. How would you react then? Consult #3, first though. (No violence.) Speaking up is enough. And when people use language to minimize the act, place the blame on the victim (The woman was dressed for it, etc. . . Do you dress to be robbed? Do you dress to be beaten? See how ridiculous that statement is?) or say anything demeaning about women, speak up, too.
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
Agreed. It would make such a difference to get more men to take these problems seriously as opposed to ignoring them or brushing them off as "women's issues."

This stuff happens to men, and it's primarily (but not exclusively) men doing it, which means we've got two very good reasons to get men involved in speaking out and ending these behaviors.
(no subject) - flit - Dec. 6th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:00 pm (UTC)
Linked (Twitter), and linked (FB), and linked (G+).
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 5th, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC)
+1 on this.

I'd go further than saying it takes the focus off/erases the person it happened to. It actually denies agency to the harassed person FOR A SECOND TIME. It feels like (is) a second violation.

Fantastic piece, Jim. I'm going to link this all over the place.

Edited at 2011-12-05 04:54 pm (UTC)
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(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - rachelmanija - Dec. 6th, 2011 05:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - icecreamempress - Dec. 5th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Dec. 5th, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC)
Excellent post, Jim. Linked from FB and Twitter.
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Beth!
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
I was linked to this post by suricattus. Thank you for this.

I will be sharing it with others to read.

Dec. 5th, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
I shared it as well. Thanks for being so thoughtful and eloquent, and saying what needs to be said!
Dec. 5th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you all of this, and for 4A especially.

This is a way lesser extent than some of the things I think you're mainly referring to, but I spend a lot of time at cosplay-heavy cons, and the harassment that photographers can wield toward cosplayers, largely women, is sort of mind boggling - Trying to pull them off alone, trying to get them to pose more provocatively or shed pieces of their costume, touching them in the guise of "helping them pose." And because they're in costume and presumably do want their photo taken (even if not like that), people will just ignore it. It makes them unfortunately easy prey.

If something feels a little off... its so, so important to ask. Even if a person just goes over and initiate a conversation to give them an out from the photographer if they want it.

Not to mention, from personal experience - having someone intervene once when I was in such a situation sort of lit a green light in my head that I wasn't just being weird or sensitive, but what he was doing really WAS wrong. Gave me the courage to report him to con security. .
Dec. 5th, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
This isn't a lesser concern at all. I see this happening over and over again, and it's not acceptable. Well done for reporting the guy that harassed you.
Dec. 5th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this. (And thanks for acknowledging the places where you've screwed up yourself, and where you're trying to do better!)
Dec. 5th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC)
Shared this on my FB as well.

These are good points for life in general, but I find them particularly pertinent to the LARPing group I've been a part of for the last few years.

Especially the part about speaking up. It might not be comfortable to call someone out on unacceptable behavior, but I've found (the few times I've done so) that it is often not the target of the calling out who learns/changes from the experience. Bystanders will come away from the encounters thinking, "You know, that was unacceptable behavior," and seeing someone taking a stand can give them the push they need to do so if they come across sexual harassment elsewhere.
Dec. 5th, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
Have I mentioned lately how I admire you for having the guts to deal with this issue and the wisdom to deal with it well?
Dec. 5th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
The SF community is lucky to have you. We need someone who knows what they are talking about to advocate.

Just saying.

Dec. 5th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'll be sharing this!
Dec. 5th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you, again. This is a great post. I especially appreciate all of the points at which you advise actions that leave the victim of the harassment with her agency intact. The experience of being harassed always gives me an initial twinge of "this is out of your control and there is nothing you can do about it." Having the people trying to help you take even more of that control and agency away by taking decisions out of your hands makes it that much worse.
Dec. 5th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
Good post.

Someone I love, who can (almost always) be relied on to be better than that, tried to minimize the Harlan Ellison / Connie Willis episode by saying that the report of what happened was "just hearsay". I'm still annoyed about that one, since what I was telling him at he time was that I was there in that auditorium and saw it with my own eyes. (The audience reaction was interesting. There was sort of a simultaneous gasp, and you could tell everyone there was thinking "No, that did not just happen on stage in front of several hundred people.")
Dec. 5th, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
Several thousand people and a couple of video cameras. And then, in several places online, Harlan denied it happened.

I think one of the issues with "calling people on their shit (especially guys)" is that many "nice guy" types are reluctant to do so. Men and women need to be willing to stand up when they see this stuff happen.

But, it is tricky. Sometimes, I've seen behavior in fandom that seems wrong, but it's completely consensual. Certain kinds of public roleplaying (notably, one person leading another around in a dog collar) looks/feels completely wrong. Are both people really consenting to that? How do I know? So that tends to make you shut-up in case you are wrong.
(no subject) - tylik - Dec. 5th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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