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Harassment, and Codes of Conduct - helen-louise
baratron
baratron
Harassment, and Codes of Conduct
There is a lot of debate on my friends list relating to an incident at ReaderCon. Details and many people's opinions can be found in the links in BC's post. The most salient part is that the con has a so-called "zero tolerance" sexual harassment policy, which a few years ago caused a "smelly", extremely creepy man to become banned for life, yet this year caused a well-known fan to be banned for only a couple of years, for what I assume was similar behaviour. As ever, I like xiphias's analysis.

Now, I wasn't at ReaderCon, and am unlikely to be at any science fiction conventions in the near future, but I did wonder what exactly the anti-harassment policy said. So I went to their website, and the best I could find was this:
Readercon has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy.

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.

As always, Readercon reserves the right to strip membership at its discretion.

Do you see the problem with that? I sure do. Especially when it's compared to the BiCon Code of Conduct (here's 2012's):
No Means No.

No-one at BiCon should be put under any pressure to join in with things they do not want to do.

This includes:
* any sexual behaviour
* hugs or touching
* taking part in a activity
* disclosing information
* or even having a chat.

It is fine to ask someone once if they would like to do something. For example, “Would you like a hug?”. If they refuse, continuing to ask is pestering them and will be viewed as harassment. If someone asks you to leave them alone, do so.

In public, “no”, “stop”, “don’t do that” or similar words and phrases will be taken at face value by the BiCon organisers and volunteers regardless of context.

The BiCon policy goes further, also defining what sort of behaviour is acceptable in public, respecting differences (with specific details about gender and race), confidentiality, and how the team intend to deal with any complaints.

What's the difference? Well, the ReaderCon policy assumes that everyone is on the same page and at the same level of cluefulness. It only includes what one might call "obvious" and deliberate harassment - things that are done intentionally to harm another. Indeed, the official ReaderCon Board of Directors statement even states "When we wrote our zero-tolerance policy in 2008 (in response to a previous incident), we were operating under the assumption that violators were either intent on their specific behaviors, clueless, or both." Whereas the BiCon policy explains, in simple English, how something you might intend in a friendly manner could come across as intimidating or scary to the person you're interacting with. It helps people who are nervous around other people, and/or have weaker social skills understand what exactly counts as acceptable behaviour (and perhaps offers pointers for how to chat someone up without freaking them out?).

This sort of detailed, yet easy to understand, policy is something I'd expect to see in place well before any discussion of "zero-tolerance". And I would urge all conventions to move towards a policy of this kind - something clear enough that there's no wiggle room of "I didn't mean it".

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Current Mood: determined serious

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Comments
alexmc From: alexmc Date: 2nd August 2012 09:04 (UTC) (Link)
Good article. I'd like to see this more widely read if I can link to it.
baratron From: baratron Date: 2nd August 2012 19:02 (UTC) (Link)
Feel free. It's a public post :)
jtheta From: jtheta Date: 2nd August 2012 14:32 (UTC) (Link)

The howls would be audible from space

Which is fine, of course, and better than the alternative, but once you start listing specific proscribed activities you have to brace yourself for:

"So now we can't flirt at a con?"
"What, do I have to get written permission to talk to a woman?" (incidentally, if you're somehow convinced that the world is full of women who will "misinterpret" you or flat-out fabricate allegations, as some people seem to be, *why in God's name would you not get written permission, signed and notarized in triplicate in front of witnesses, for everything you do in an interaction with one of these hypothetical women?* Do these men not care for the reputations or safety?)
"What about women who hug men without asking?" (ignoring the fact that this, too, is totally covered by that policy, and the fact that I as a man who doesn't like physical contact with people I don't know have never once had a woman at a con fail to read my body language about that -- the "me too" instinct is hard and I succumb to it too, sometimes)
and, of course, relevant to this, the post facto "but I was just trying to apologize" (meaning, of course "explain to her why her feelings were wrong").

None of these are deal breakers, and they're part of running any large gathering, but it's all tiresome and tiring and distracting and why I (and I assume others) have largely separated myself from fandom over time -- though the initial reactions to this fiasco have been heartening enough that I have started to pull myself back in.
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