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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.


( 55 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 5th, 2011 05:30 pm (UTC)
I'll add to this, if you don't mind - Participate in creating an atmosphere of safety.

A few voices can be ignored if the majority wants to ignore them, but if we press enough, anti-harrasment policies can become part of the total atmosphere of a convention or community.

People who try to ignore harassment can be high up in organizations, and they need to be either reeducated, worked around, or replaced.
Dec. 5th, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
I don't mind at all! I figure the more participation we get in this sort of conversation, the better.
Dec. 5th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)
Re #2: Telling the victim that they're "too sensitive" or "over-reacting" is a form of gaslighting. And sadly, it's not just men who do this to sexual harassment victims -- many women have internalized this behavior pattern as well.

(edited to fix typo)

Edited at 2011-12-05 05:39 pm (UTC)
Dec. 5th, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Jim. I really appreciate this, and although they aren't aware of it, my daughters will too.
Dec. 5th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
Just got back from Smofcon where this issue was part of a panel discussion: I noted that no one in the audience or on the panel regarded this behaviour as anything other than wrong, and everyone felt that intervention mattered.

Times have changed.
Dec. 5th, 2011 07:47 pm (UTC)
My own experience, though, is that a lot of people who agree that these kinds of behaviors are wrong in theory are not necessarily willing to intervene when the person exhibiting the behaviors in question is someone they know, especially someone they know and are anxious to remain on good terms with.
(no subject) - barbarienne - Dec. 5th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - icecreamempress - Dec. 5th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fjm - Dec. 5th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 5th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fjm - Dec. 5th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - icecreamempress - Dec. 6th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 5th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Seconded, and off to boost signal.
Dec. 5th, 2011 06:48 pm (UTC)
Great post. These are all things that I hope more people will remember.
Dec. 5th, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC)
This is excellent. Can I throw out a bit of advice on 4a. Don’t be Afraid to Intervene?

I've intervened lots of times at cons when I saw a person who simply looked uncomfortable. You don't have to say: is everything all right here? Unless someone is being groped or something. You can inject yourself into a conversation, make a dyad into a triad -- thereby changing the dynamic -- and then follow the person's lead who you were thinking looked uncomfortable and even continue a conversation animatedly as you walk away from the person who was bothering him/her. "Oh, I'm so sorry to steal her but I haven't seen her in ages," or, if you don't know her: "I just know I know you from somewhere. You don't mind if we get to the bottom of this, do you?" to the person left behind.

At worst, you interfered with a conversation someone was actually enjoying and they can re-join it. Middling-good: s/he was merely bored or uncomfortable and you helped them extricate themselves. And if they WERE being harassed, you helped to get them to a safe place where they could talk about it more openly if they wanted to.

I realize this takes some finesse and/or cheerful oblivious mouthiness, the latter of which I have in spades, but it feels less confrontational for me to do, and then if the person being harassed doesn't have to say: no, everything is not all right here, which might be a difficult thing to say in that exact moment.
Dec. 5th, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC)
I've also seen people suggest elsewhere:

If physical violence is occurring and you are not sure that directly confronting it will be best for your safety and that of the person being harassed* you can still interject yourself into the equation without directly confronting the abuse. By asking the harasser a time or directional question, etc. This can help to diffuse the situation and give the person in danger a safe and non-confrontational way to get away.

*If it's a couple, sometimes the harasser/abuser will behave for the rest of the time in public and then continue the abuse even more so once they are no longer in public view.
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Dec. 5th, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 5th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Dec. 5th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
You always say things so well and well before I can so... signal boosted. And thank you, Jim.
Dec. 5th, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
Great post, and great directions. #4A&B seem to me to be the hardest ones to apply--saying no to a friend can be damn tough, confronting him with a no-no is even tougher. And the embarrasment part in #4A would probably stop me from intervening--which makes it an indespensible point on this list, IMO. I'm looking forward to what you have to say on that part.
Dec. 5th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC)
I appreciate the inclusion of number 6. Being sexually harassed can be a terrifying experience, and pressuring a victim to take action when they are not ready only makes it more traumatic. A few months ago, I was in such a situation at work, and I was immediately plopped down in front of a cop and told to make a statement. While I do understand that in this case there were other circumstances involved (which is why the police were already there, it's a long story), and that my employers actually were trying to do the right thing, it was having to answer questions and give a statement while still on edge from the incident that make me a complete nervous wreck to where I was physically ill for two days, and the statement I gave was barely coherent. When I initially "reported" it, all I had actually wanted was for someone to walk back through the public part of the building with me in case the creep was still there.
Dec. 5th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
I was directed here by someone else...this is fantastic, thank-you for posting it. I was particularly struck by this bit:

when that guy harasses someone else, it’s his fault. It’s his choice

I'm very grateful that you posted this - many of my friends have been harrassed in the past, and so many of them blame themselves, but it is not their fault. It's always the fault of the person doing the harrassing.
Dec. 5th, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
Probably not so much in the SF/F fandom circles, but sometimes intervening can be dangerous rather than just embarrassing. (There was, for instance, a local guy who tried to help a couple of teenage girls being harassed on the bus and ended up getting stabbed repeatedly by the harasser.) Direct confrontation can be a bit iffy when you don't know the people involved and/or aren't very good at de-escalating conflicts. Of course, that's also one of the reasons people who are being harassed tend to put up with it rather than risking objecting to the treatment.
Dec. 5th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
That's a good point, and I should probably add a bit about risk assessment to tomorrow's blog post...
Dec. 5th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)
7. Check Your Own Behaviors.

Addendum here - checking in advance is always great, but if someone tells you that your behavior, especially your behavior towards them, is inappropriate... stop. Even if your first reaction is that they're being unfair. Disengage. Think about it.

Many if not most of us are defensive as a first reaction. But our unwillingness to see the problems of our past behaviors (even if the issues are more complicated than presented by someone else) makes it a lot harder to create better future behaviors.
Dec. 6th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
Were you aware of the backupproject? This belongs there as well.
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Jim C. Hines


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