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ETA: On 10/28, the following was posted on the WFC2015 Facebook Page:

On reflection, and with guidance, we have realized that our sincere attempt to do the right thing in this regard was inadequate. We focused too much on complying with the legal advice of Saratoga authorities and not enough on making certain that our members feel confident in their safety at the Convention. Since last year’s WFC policy was considered satisfactory and is considered to be comprehensive we are adopting it as an addition to the policy developed with the legal advice of the Saratoga authorities. The World Fantasy Board is reviewing the language for comprehensiveness. The corrected policy will be posted here and on our website as soon as that review is completed. We apologize for the misstep and are doing our utmost to make WFC 2015 both an enjoyable event and a safe environment.

#

The 2015 World Fantasy Convention starts in just over a week, and they’ve just mailed out their final progress report. Natalie Luhrs was one of the first to note the inclusion of a harassment policy that manages to be, in my opinion, worse than no policy at all.

Luhrs’ thoughts are here. John Scalzi also weighed in, calling it an Egregious, Mealy-Mouthed Clump of Bullshit. There’s been much condemnation on Twitter, as well as on the WFC Facebook page.

Here’s the policy in question:

WFC 2015 Harassment Policy

Let me note up front that I don’t have experience running a convention. I do have experience dealing with sexual harassment and violence, and in working with conventions to build harassment policy. My guess from reading this is that the people who created this policy have conrunning experience, but don’t know a lot about dealing with sexual harassment. At least, I hope that’s the case, since the only other possibility I can come up with is intentional maliciousness. Because…

…this policy actively discourages people from reporting harassment.

  1. Victims of harassment and sexual violence should have the choice whether or not to report to the police. The convention has taken that choice away.
  2. This policy requires victims to trust that the police will take them seriously and respond to their complaints. Historically, police departments are not known for treating victims of sexual violence with respect. In addition, while I as a white male might feel relatively comfortable interacting with police, many women and people of color do not, and with valid reasons.
  3. The police will be determining if the conduct meets the legal definition of harassment to charge the offender. (I’m not a lawyer, but I thought that was the prosecutor’s decision.) What about behaviors that are clearly unacceptable, but might not meet the legal standards and be severe enough for the prosecutor to invest the time and money and resources in pressing charges?
  4. “No one wants to behave in a manner that draws Police attention.” I assume this was supposed to be a warning against would-be harassers, but it also feels like a warning to victims not to make a fuss and attract attention. Maybe that’s not the intention, but there’s a long history of silencing victims, and of attacking them for attracting attention.

But what about libel?

On Facebook, Chuck Rothman notes, “In New York State, ‘harassment’ is legally defined. Most harassment policies (including Comic Con’s) punish people for actions that are not harassment under NYS law. There is no doubt the NYS law needs updating, but the convention is not going to risk a libel lawsuit.

This is, in a word, bullshit. To me, it smells a lot like Wikipedia lawyering. Has anyone ever filed a libel lawsuit over a convention’s harassment policy?

Even if this were a legitimate concern, which I don’t believe it is, then the solution is to take 30 seconds and rename this a “Convention Safety Policy.”

Dear WFC: Do you want to fix this?

Your convention starts in a week. I’m guessing your program books are already printed, and you’re scrambling with all of the last-minute work it takes to make such a huge convention happen. You’re stressed, overwhelmed, and everyone’s running on caffeine and adrenaline. And now all anyone is talking about is how messed-up your harassment policy is.

I figure you’ve got two choices here. You can double down and ignore the complaints. This has the advantage that you don’t have to do the work to fix the policy. The disadvantage is that it would feel like a big old “Fuck you” to a large number of people. It also puts any victims of harassment in a very, very bad spot. Keep in mind that, as Natalie Luhrs pointed out, “three of the last five World Fantasy Conventions had harassment incidents that were publicized: 20102011, and 2013.” This doesn’t include incidents that weren’t publicized.

The other choice is to try to fix this. I know which choice I’m hoping for.

Can this actually be fixed?

Well, no. Not completely. You’ve pissed off a lot of people, and you’ve got nine days before the start of the convention. You can’t fix it. But you can work to make it better. Here are my suggestions, for what they’re worth.

  1. Listen to what people are saying. I know you feel defensive and attacked and unappreciated, but right now, you don’t have time for that.
  2. Find someone who has experience working with sexual harassment and conventions, and deputize them to get this mess fixed. Talk to conrunners from other conventions who’ve done a better job on this front.
  3. Grab a sample harassment policy from the Geek Feminism Wiki. If you’re worried about the boogeyman of a libel lawsuit, tweak the wording so it doesn’t say “harassment.” Get this posted to your website and printed up as an addendum to your program book. Send out a follow-up email/progress report with the new policy.
  4. Make sure all con staff are aware of the new policy and trained on how to respond. (Draw on the experiences and knowledge of the person from #2.)
  5. Apologize. Not a mealy-mouthed “We’re sorry you people chose to be offended,” but an apology that draws on #1 and recognizes why people are upset. You screwed up. Own it.

I’d also refer you to the Sexual Harassment Policy Starter Kit I posted a while back, with help from several experienced conrunners.

#

I hope you’ll listen to the concerns and complaints of the community and take steps to try to make World Fantasy Con a better experience for everyone.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
martianmooncrab
Oct. 27th, 2015 06:36 pm (UTC)
I bet if you tasered someone bothering you, they wouldnt get it.
swan_tower
Oct. 27th, 2015 06:54 pm (UTC)
I've already notified them that if this doesn't get fixed (as much as it can be in the remaining time), I won't be participating in programing. FFS: I'm on a panel about vioence. And in the meanwhile, the con is doing nothing to protect its attendees against the subtle (or overt) violence of harassment.

Not. Acceptable.
akiko
Oct. 27th, 2015 07:34 pm (UTC)
If they don't want to use the """~~""scary legal term""~~""" harassment, then they can bloody well call it a code of conduct or a behavioral policy and go from there. That they would rather hide behind "welp, harassment is a legal term, so can't do nothing" indicates that they can't be bothered to care about attendee safety.

Fuck 'em.
deborahblakehps
Oct. 27th, 2015 08:08 pm (UTC)
You rock. They, alas, have made a fairly substantial mess on several fronts, which is too bad, since this will be my first, and likely only or one of few, WFCs.
beccastareyes
Oct. 27th, 2015 09:51 pm (UTC)
Also:
5. The police are going to be busy enough with the normal business, rather than handling harassment because of thousands of visitors to town that can mostly be addressed by other means.
6. There's plenty of ways I can annoy the crap out of other con-goers without breaking the law*, and most people would expect that if I was disrupting every panel systematically by running around in platemail and challenging panelists to rock-paper-scissors duels (and mocking those who refuse), that I would be asked to stop or leave the con. Because I am being an asshole and this is probably only funny for a minute (at most) for the average person. They are not there to see authors accosted by weird fans who apparently think they are at a LARP.

And me being a weirdo to authors is mostly harmless. Harassment is not.

* Until someone asks me to leave.
kalimac
Oct. 28th, 2015 03:57 am (UTC)
I was puzzled by Scalzi's endorsement of the NY comic con's harassment policy as a contrast, since it appears to require you to have downloaded an app to report an incident. Some people don't have smartphones, and some don't want to load them up with miscellaneous apps that they hope they'll never have to use just for the few days of a con.
(no subject) - gummitch - Oct. 28th, 2015 07:39 am (UTC) - Expand
jimhines
Oct. 28th, 2015 12:53 pm (UTC)
The NYCC comic con policy doesn't require you to use the app. The sign on Scalzi's pic doesn't make that clear, but if you go to the NYCC page, it clarifies:

"Anyone can report harassment. If someone’s behavior has made you uncomfortable, or if you witness the same happening to someone else, you should immediately contact NYCC Staff, Security Team or a Crew Member. You may also come to NYCC's Show Office or report the incident via the NYCC App."
marfisa
Oct. 28th, 2015 05:20 am (UTC)
If they're genuinely worried about the con being sued for libel, it seems as if forcing complainants to get the police involved actually increases the likelihood of that considerably. Any allegedly libeled parties would probably have a much more viable legal case against the con if its policies wound up getting them questioned and/or arrested by the police (especially if this resulted in an actual court case) than if they merely had their membership revoked or were banned from future cons. After all, an SF/fantasy convention is technically a private function, and getting kicked out of one is less likely to become a matter of mainstream public record than being investigated by the police.

Of course, all these factors would also result in raising the legal stakes for individuals reporting sexual harassment to the police, since their harassers' hypothetical libel attorneys could blame them, as well as the convention itself, for all the potential legal consequences and damage to the harassers' real-world reputations that turning the case over to the police would involve. So invoking the alleged danger of a libel suit could be another way of pressuring potential complainants to keep quiet and not air dirty laundry in public, as Jim suggested in point 4.
idancewithlife
Oct. 28th, 2015 05:35 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Oct. 28th, 2015 05:48 pm (UTC)
Just updated the post to add that link. I appreciate their willingness to listen and work to improve their policy.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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