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The Readercon Mess

Much of the SF/F community has posted about the Readercon mess, where Rene Walling harassed and stalked Genevieve Valentine throughout the convention. BC Holmes has a roundup of links and discussion here.

Readercon’s official statement announced that Walling had been banned from Readercon “for at least two years.” Honestly, my first reaction was relief that they had done anything at all, given how often this sort of behavior gets ignored or excused. But then I read further, and discovered that Readercon has a zero-tolerance policy about sexual harassment:

“Harassment of any kind — including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions — will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.”

There was no question that Walling’s behavior fell under this definition. The board at Readercon simply chose to ignore their own policy. I’m sure they believe they had good reason. I’m equally sure it doesn’t matter. Whatever you might think of zero-tolerance policies, Readercon made a promise to its members that sexual harassment would not be tolerated, and would be dealt with in a certain way.

They broke that promise.

I’m not going to write a long rant here, both because I’m still recovering from the last rant, and because so many others have made the points I would have made (usually better than I would have done). Here are a few links I wanted to highlight:

  • Genevieve Valentine’s original post, response to the verdict, and her follow-up.
  • Rose Lemberg: Enough with the Aspie Bit Already.  What she said, dammit! If you hear about someone sexually harassing another person, and your instinct is to assume a) Oh, they must be one of those Aspie types and/or b) that this somehow makes it okay, then please just go the hell away. My son is ASD, and I don’t have the spoons to deal with you right now.
  • Elizabeth Bear: It’s not about the man. From Bear’s post, “We are not calling for Walling’s punishment. We are calling for the right of Valentine and other women to exist in an environment without predators.”
  • Rose Fox: This is the opposite of what I wanted. Rose has decided to remain on the concom for Readercon. I appreciate and respect her for making this choice, and for working from within to try to make Readercon a safer place.
  • Concom member Matthew Cheney has resigned as a result of this decision. “I want to live in a world that’s more about rehabilitation than punishment. But rehabilitation is not the responsibility of an event or its committees. If you hold an event, your job is to make sure the people who attend are as safe as you can reasonably ensure.”
  • Veronica Schanoes’ petition to the Readercon Board.

I hope other conventions are paying attention and taking notes on what to do and what not to do in order to create a safe environment for their attendees.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jul. 30th, 2012 01:56 pm (UTC)
What's truly heartening about this otherwise outrageous situation is the outpouring of support for Genevieve and others who have been harassed, whether by Mr. Walling or someone else. It seems no one is willing to let this slide, and I think that's a very, very good thing.
Jul. 30th, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC)
I think it's a good sign, and I hope it's the kind of trend that continues.
Jul. 30th, 2012 01:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sticking up for Genevieve and the victims, Jim!
Jul. 30th, 2012 02:10 pm (UTC)
Two things of note. According to Rose Fox the Board is elected by ConCom which strongly influenced her decision to remain on ConCom. Also Walling is a long time blogger for Tor.com, where he has a Saturday morning feature. His normal Saturday morning feature went up and it meant his name would have been staring us all in the face all weekend until new posts Monday morning. However after complains that post was pulled (his archived stuff is still available last time I checked.)
Jul. 30th, 2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
My post is here
Jul. 30th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you both for speaking out, and for doing so as someone affiliated with Readercon.
Jul. 30th, 2012 03:13 pm (UTC)
I really liked Michelle Sagara's post As the mother of an Asperger child, with a similar point to what Rose Lemberg had to say.
Jul. 30th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)

I'm afraid if I tried to write a post like that right now, it would basically be, "You know what? F**k you!" to everyone who pushes that, "Oh, they're just Aspies" crap.

I think I'm running low on sporks for all of this stuff.
(no subject) - temporus - Jul. 30th, 2012 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jennygadget - Jul. 31st, 2012 12:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 31st, 2012 01:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jennygadget - Jul. 31st, 2012 01:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - liviapenn - Jul. 31st, 2012 11:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - funwithrage - Jul. 31st, 2012 04:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - liviapenn - Aug. 1st, 2012 02:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lietya - Jul. 31st, 2012 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jennygadget - Jul. 31st, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 30th, 2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
When I was running a volunteer organization at the U of MN, one of the members was continually stalking the other one. ANd she would use the flimsiest of excuses such as "I went up to knock on his door at one in the morning because the suicide hotline guy told me to confront him" and "Did CHarlie get to you?" and it just went on and on until I finally told her that she was no longer welcome in the group.

She was nice about it, but her closing salvo was "I could sue you for discrimination based on the fact that I'm mentally ill."

I'm sure she believed that too.
Jul. 30th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
I have a lawyerly objection to aspects of this whole situation.

This isn't about whether "zero tolerance" is appropriate. It is about whether "mandatory permanent sanction" is appropriate. And there are no winners once one has (a) announced a mandatory permanent sanction, and then (b) discovered that there's a nuanced, perhaps-unanticipated situation that makes that sanction seem excessive.

There absolutely, positively needs to be an effective sanction for misconduct of this nature. In the most insensitive, pragmatic context, a con like ReaderCon cannot afford to take threats to its members lightly, if only due to its relatively low membership to start with. Then there's the nature of the threat, which at least requires some enforceable isolation.

The real problem is the silliness of making the only sanction one of permanent exclusion. The Concom did not have a good possible outcome, if only due to that preexisting silliness. Perhaps they would have been better off saying "Permanent exclusion, but if you come back after at least two years and show us progress in treatment we'll consider vacating the rest of the exclusion"... but that would have required someone on the Concom with pretty extensive experience at imposing punishments to even contemplate.

This is just further proof that we live in an imperfect world -- even when we're away discussing fantastic ones.
Jul. 30th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
nuanced, perhaps-unanticipated situation

Sorry, what "nuance" is there here?

That he's really really sorry, no really, guys?

That he's BFFs with some of the organizers?

Dude harassed a woman at a con. Dude apparently has at least some pattern of harassing women at cons. What about that is nuanced?
(no subject) - akiko - Jul. 30th, 2012 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - inaurolillium - Jul. 30th, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cepetit.myopenid.com - Jul. 31st, 2012 02:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - funwithrage - Jul. 31st, 2012 01:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - funwithrage - Jul. 31st, 2012 01:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - serialbabbler - Jul. 31st, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jul. 30th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jennygadget - Jul. 31st, 2012 12:33 am (UTC) - Expand
whut? - Ezekiel Reis Burgin - Jul. 31st, 2012 07:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 30th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for weighing in on this. My signal boost doesn't boost much, and I was hoping you'd write something here.
Jul. 30th, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC)

I also find myself a little irritated with people talking about how a zero-tolerance/lifetime ban policy is a bad idea, because...hey, it's just harassment, it's not like you should be kicked out of a con for it or any other fate worse than death.

Which may be me reading this unnecessarily harshly. But it's not my job to give creeps a second chance. It's not my job to *care* how sorry they are, or how much they've reformed. I'm not their shrink or their probation officer; my interest is in having a place where I can hang out and have a good time without having my leg constantly humped.

If a sufficient quantity of people at a private function say that they'll feel better if people behaving in X manner never come back, then *that's what should happen*.
Jul. 30th, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)

Anything that's done needs to be about protecting people from being harassed. If we are honest with ourselves, the simplest way to protect people is to not let the harassers go. It doesn't harm the harassers at all, it just protects the people they might harass. Any other solution -- some kind of "convention restraining order," minders following him around, whatever -- is going to be far more complicated.

I don't necessarily mind having an appeals process, but that, too, needs to focus on the safety of others. Is this harasser safe to have at the con? How can we prove it either way? What happens if a harasser is allowed back, and he harasses someone else?

When we stop thinking about the feelings and wants of the harasser, and focus on keeping people safe, a lot of things become simpler. I don't have any problems with an appeal process (if it's done well), but I'm also just fine with a blanket policy of immediate permaban, because frankly, it's an awful lot of work, and an awful lot of risk, to go through an appeals process.

I think a lot of the ONOES WE CANT HAS STRICT POLICIES ON THIS comes from basic rape culture stuff, but I also think a big chunks of it come from the Geek Social Fallacy that it's not ok to exclude anyone ever. People really need to get it through their heads that not excluding harassers does exclude a lot more people.
(no subject) - jennygadget - Jul. 31st, 2012 01:54 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 30th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
We are (I'm on the committee of EightSquared, the 2013 British Eastercon.)
Eastercons have slowly been getting better at this: someone was thrown out of this year's for harassing a female attendee. But we've got a long way to go, and making exceptions and special cases looks a lot like familiar patriarchal strategies to retain male privilege.
Jul. 30th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
All of my experience tells me that "I'm so sorry, it'll never happen again!" means "until you give me another chance." Zero tolerance means "No more chances." So? That doesn't mean he'll be stoned until dead; it just means that he'll have to start all over again somewhere else. Make new "friends", find a new activity to occupy him. And it means that all the women who go to Readercon are safe from this particular predator, and other predators don't get the message "It'll be okay if I just say I'm sorry. BFD."
Jul. 30th, 2012 09:37 pm (UTC)
*hands Jim a spork*

Go to, lad.
Jul. 30th, 2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
Disappointment Abounds
I find it telling that I've heard no one standing up publicly to defend this action. There is no one putting their name out there as, "I chose to do this and here is why".

I've been to ReaderCon a couple times now. Next to WisCon it's probably my favorite convention. I saw a large number of BackUp project stickers being worn this year. I would feel less crappy about this if it felt less like a personal betrayal by a faceless committee, mucking up *my* convention.

I know intellectually I don't own it; I haven't even SMOFed it, but this hurt is clearly not a rational response. The rational response is "violating your own policies is illogical *raises eyebrow*"

(p.s. the worst part of the "but he can't help it!" argument is that it is an argument *for* a lifetime ban. If he's never going to change, then they shouldn't make some new woman every two years suffer just to prove he hasn't. "You keep using that word," I imagine the Spaniard saying, "I think it actually supports the arguments of your rhetorical foes.")
Jul. 31st, 2012 12:59 am (UTC)
Re: Disappointment Abounds
Pah. Sometimes logic is overrated, and we're always going to feel worse when it's something we care about and feel personally invested in.
Jul. 31st, 2012 12:10 am (UTC)
I would hope that the presented evidence would at least be enough to convince Tor to disassociate themselves from him...
Jul. 31st, 2012 03:53 am (UTC)
Thanks for commenting. I'd like to also recommend Cat Valente's response, and the discussion it generated:

And I have a suggestion. For many years in the Castro in San Francisco, residents wore whistles they could blow if they were being harassed. Blowing the whistle brought other residents, and the cops, to the aid of the person.

Maybe con members need to be issued whistles, with the understanding that they are only to be used if someone feels threatened. Use of a whistle brings aid from others and from con security.

If *EVERY* incident of harassment meant immediate public attention I bet all con goers would be more circumspect and polite about how they approached others.
Jul. 31st, 2012 01:58 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, I think it would have the exact opposite reaction. People already heavily socialized to not make waves are going to feel even MORE pressured to stay quiet and say nothing and do nothing if the other option is "make a huge noise that everyone must immediately come and stare at you over and demand an explanation for." And anyone trying to quietly say "Hey, I'm being bothered" will get hit with the "If you were REALLY upset you would have blown the whistle!" argument.

There are quite possibly places where rape whistles would be an improvement. But given the responses I usually see to harassment reports around fandom, it would just be a way to keep women even more nervous about acknowledging harassment.
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 31st, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jim C. Hines


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