August 2nd, 2012


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".

Triggers suck.

In other news, I have been emotionally messed up for a while now. For the last couple of weeks I've been suffering from random depression - really, for no reason at all. Random depression sucks, random depression in the middle of summer sucks more, random depression when you have lots of work to do sucks even harder. For me, it's actually easier when there's an underlying reason for the depression, because that's something I can work on. It's much harder when I can't think of anything that's gone wrong.

Except that now I can - I had to go for a blood test on Friday (a blood test that I'd been procrastinating for about six weeks), and it Did Not Go Well, and I have been left with my medical phobia/post-traumatic whatever all stirred up. It wasn't horrendous - I wasn't injured, there's no gory story to relate - it's just that I was as assertive as I could have been under the circumstances, and that wasn't enough. I could have done without adding to my already quite-long list of times when I have clearly stated my needs to a medical professional and they've been ignored :/

And it shows how much I've been quite upset by it that I've been intending to write this post since it actually happened; now it's nearly a week later and I still can't manage details.

To someone without a phobia, the details are not that bad. This isn't the sort of story where anyone reading it would be shocked and horrified. I remember writing about this years ago. I compared having the type of specific medical phobia that I have to arachnophobia, and explaining how fear and bravery are not binary. (The post will be in my "medical phobia" or "triggery stuff" tags - for obvious reasons, I don't want to search for it myself). What happened on Friday was like a moderately small, not-poisonous-to-humans spider on the bedroom ceiling. Not in itself horribly traumatic, not really worth complaining about. But a very unpleasant reminder to a person who has suffered extensive menacing by an entire crate of highly venomous 8-legged nasties.

I wish my old doctor hadn't retired :/ I actually don't trust the new one to mix a better cocktail of psych meds if the current lot aren't working well enough. Godsdamnit.