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.
* 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".