Content note: this post discusses harassment in general terms.
Jim Hines published a nice piece on Monday at io9 on sexual harassment in the SF/F community:
I encourage you to read this article. It is an important overview of a serious issue in our community and in our wider culture. I’ve been deeply involved with addressing harassment (both sexual and non-sexual) as a ConCom member and part of the Anti-Abuse Team for WisCon. In this post, however, I speak only for myself, not for the AAT or for WisCon; this is my personal blog.
I very much agree with most of Mr. Hines’ points. Harassment is not a new probem, it is a big deal, and we must not tolerate it. Creating and enforcing anti-harassment policies are an important step in addressing harassment and abuse at conventions and in our wider communities.
As he says, it also helps when authors and guests of honor speak out against bullying behaviors, as Nalo Hopkinson did in her WisCon 40 GoH speech:
It’s easy to encourage others to join your dogpile, to create an atmosphere of fear, anguish and self-doubt in your preferred victims. Yet it’s not a bad thing to urge people to question their own beliefs and behaviours. Anger and conflict have their uses. But what are we doing on the other side of the ledger? I’m hearing from far too many people who would love to be part of science fiction, but who are terrified of the bullying. So what are we doing to foster joy and welcome to this community? What are we doing to cultivate its health and vibrancy? What are we doing to create an environment in which imperfect people (as all people are) who are trying to be good people can feel encouraged and supported to take the risk of a misstep, perhaps learn from it, and come back refocussed and re-energized, eager to try again?
These are two tactics, and there are likely many other moves that we can take, if we think creatively and make creating safer spaces a priority.
There is one point in Mr. Hines’ post that I don’t agree with.
A 1997 study by Herff Moore and Don Bradley on sexual harassment policies in manufacturing firms found that the existence of a written harassment policy resulted in a 76 percent reduction in one year’s reports. Simply announcing that harassment will be taken seriously can reduce incidents of harassment.
I haven’t been able to read the 1997 paper by Moore and Bradly because it is pay walled. It is published in the journal Industrial Management if anyone wants to look it up. Mostly I question the equation of reports and incidents– Just because an incident happens doesn’t mean it gets reported. But since I don’t have the paper handy, I’m going to write about my personal experiences at cons.
In my work, I have found the opposite of Moore and Bradley’s finding to be true: when you create a strong anti-harassment policy and beging to enforce it, reports will rise. The number of incidents may stay the same– there is no way to know for sure because we, the con runners, are not all-knowing– but the reports con-runners receive will go up. Why? Because people feel safer reporting. They begin to trust that someone has their back, and that reporting might actually do some good: the complete opposite of the way our culture usually treats reports of harassment, which is with means of silence, denial, and suppression. It can take a while to turn around the great societal machinery, to shift from suppression of any discussion of harassment, to opening talking about and dealing with it.
From my own personal experience: my eyes have been opened. I am now able to recognize bullying and inappropriate behaviors. What seemed before to be merely strange, intensely awkward or upsetting things that I had to deal with myself (or, more accurately, ignore and repress as best as possible), I suddenly recognized as things I could talk to the safety or anti-abuse departments about. An example was a member making unreasonable demands of me as Access Coordinator and being extremely rude. In the past I would have just complained about this person to my friends and told my friends to avoid this person–this is called the “Whisper Network.” These days I make a report about such things so that Safety and Anti-Abuse can intervene and deal with such behaviors. Incidents don’t have to be major to be reported and taken seriously; and letting your members know this is another reason you might see an increase in the number of reports. This took a lot of reading and learning for me, and a lot of work on the part of bloggers and activists writing about their experiences, creating terms like gaslighting, mansplaining, microaggressions, etc. Keep writing and talking about it. Keep creating a world where we are safer speaking and interacting with each other.