Anyone who’s spoken with me over the past couple of years, after Readercon 23, probably knows that I have a strong opinion about harassment and how we handle it, particularly in fannish events like conventions (and parties, and work weekends, and all sorts of other fannish gatherings). I’ve also been in HR in my professional life, so hopefully I know something about the topic, at this point, from multiple perspectives.
Let’s be clear, though — I developed some of my strongly-held opinions and beliefs after experiencing harassment myself, and I did a lot of reflecting on the topic during my three years as chair of Readercon. It infuriated me to read the following email about whether or not a convention needed to have a code of conduct (which I won’t attribute because I don’t have permission to do so and suspect I’d never get permission from the person in question)…
“Do we need such a thing? I have never heard of this being an issue at [convention name redacted] and see no reason to open a can of worms that is best to keep closed until there really is a need to open it.
“And if we do need one, I’d rather have a very short ‘act reasonable, don’t do dumb things, or we may ask you to leave.'”
I would like to say, unequivocally, that we DO need such a thing as a code of conduct. The time of pretending that harassment doesn’t happen is behind us (not that that was ever an appropriate decision to make, on the part of people running events). Now is the time of making sure that our conventions are as safe as we can make them, and that when someone behaves in an unsafe fashion, their behavior can be addressed in a clear and unambiguous fashion.
As for a “don’t be stupid” statement in lieu of having a real policy? Pardon me, but that’s bullshit. Poorly-developed policies don’t serve anyone well, as we’ve experienced in the past. Poorly-defined policies don’t set people’s expectations for what they can or should do when they have a problem, other than that people might expect the problem won’t be handled well by the event organizers. The only thing a lack of policy or barely-existing policy might do is send people the message that you don’t care if they harass other members of your convention. That’s not quite putting out a welcome mat at the door of your convention for poorly-behaved attendees, but I do note this: at [convention name redacted] referenced above? I experienced being harassed multiple times, and no longer want to attend it. I don’t trust the convention staff to take it seriously if I report a problem, nor address problems appropriately.
I have been the convention chair of Arisia in the past. A few years ago, despite some objections about it “not being relevant to science fiction” (among other things), I was one of the people who started the tradition of inviting BARCC (the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center) to run workshops with Arisia staff in order to offer some helpful training and tools for addressing harassment and other inappropriate behavior at our conventions. Since then, I have helped coordinate workshops with BARCC for Readercon, Arisia, Vericon, and local SCA staff. Readercon ran BARCC workshops as part of the convention programming in 2013 (and possibly also 2014; I can’t recall).
I believe it really helped to have these workshops. Fandom is not historically good at dealing with harassment, but I hope we are improving, as evidenced by things such as this post about harassment at RWA 2014 and this post about dealing with harassment at Arisia 2014. I have hope.
But I base that hope partly on having codes of conduct that help set the tone for attendees. So yes, I think codes of conduct are required. Not having one is a different message you send to your attendees, if that’s what you choose to do.