Harassment in the World of SF/F

This is me, taking a break from section numbers. Let me tell you, bears no longer like to be workaholics. Apparently, the therapy worked.

A brief update: our Lorna still remains in the hospital. Yesterday, while I sneaked away to the Secret Registration Bunker (TM) to work on registration materials (I close my eyes and I see synonym numbers), the rest of our office staff worked very hard to make payroll. I’ve had 21 minutes that have been mine the last two days. Woot!

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Tonight I’ve been taking a bit of a break. I’ve used my writer time to submit to a few more agents and to update my links page with some Viable Paradise XIII’er journals. (If I’ve missed you, please let me know.) I’m going to take some time out to do some writing tomorrow, at least for a couple of hours.

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Jim Hines posts about Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F

I’m going to comment on this in two capacities: as someone who supervises at a large organization, Kirkwood Community College, and as someone who is currently president of the Mindbridge Board, which hosts three conventions in Iowa: Icon, Gamicon, and AnimeIowa.

My first brush with inappropriate convention behavior happened when Julius Schwartz, famous DC and Marvel comic book editor, groped my butt because I was wearing revealing space armor at a comic book convention. I was shocked. It never occurred to me in my embarrassed state to complain to anyone at the convention. Later I would find out that Schwartz was legendary for his impropriety. Regardless of what I was wearing, that shouldn’t have happened, and I should have called DC. But, yeah, I’ve been there.

What I could have used at the time was some more experienced fan, male or female, to have supported me, and helped me figure out what to do. I make attempts to be that older fan now.

While I can’t talk about any sort of specifics, I’ve recently had a brush with this issue at work as a supervisor. Kirkwood’s procedures are much like the large publishers that Jim lists in his entry. You can expect a procedure like our EEO/AA program at most corporate and educational institutions. Just this week, I was contacted by our Human Resources director, who is investigating the issue I allude to cryptically further. There are several reasons why corporations have clear policies, including several federally mandated legal ones.

Our steps are clearly outlined, as are issues concerning consensual relationships in power situations (teachers with students) and the college’s rules along those lines. Kirkwood’s bottom line is to protect employees and have a clear process that protects the complainant and the organization, and investigates the incident thoroughly. I would not be surprised if similar processes were followed at large publishing houses.

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What about this issue from the viewpoint of someone who helps organize conventions? Mindbridge is a fairly large organization. We become more organized with each convention. We cover insurance and tax preparation for all of our conventions. We have a copyright policy for our art show. We will be talking about food preparation standards for our con suite very soon.

We do not have a spelled out harassment policy. I imagine, with the attention this has been getting, the issue will come up at a board meeting in the near future.

What we do have RIGHT NOW is a black list. If a member is reported as behaving inappropriately at conventions, we reserved the right to remove that person’s membership. What we would like you to do if you experience any kind of discomfort at any of our events is come to the con committee or a member of the Mindbridge Board, or any handy staffer, and get the word to the people in charge about what’s happened. We WILL take what appropriate action is required, from removing a member if it is warranted all the way up to calling the police. Be assured that we are very tuned into this issue. I think more and more cons are becoming that way. The trick at a convention is that since we are a social venue, we need you to let us know if you’re feeling uncomfortable. It’s your choice to talk to us or not, and we recognize that can be difficult. But we will listen if you do come forward.

We are particularly protective of our AnimeIowa crowd, as they tend to be teen-aged and college-aged, and we like it best when we have lots of parental chaperones who come with their kids and keep an eye out.

Whether at work or at play, remember that one of the things we can do as a fan culture is to model certain kinds of appropriate behavior and disapprove inappropriate behavior. Individuals decide what they will and won’t accept, but unwelcome attention and discomfort should be something we all make an effort to prevent.

Comments are welcome.

Catherine

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

4 thoughts on “Harassment in the World of SF/F”

  1. Having been involved with management consulting in the early 90s and having to go through endless iterations of “sexual/cultural harassment training” it still boggles my mind when things like this still go on. I usually want to look at the perp and ask, “What, do you have a doctor’s excuse being absent for the past two decades?” But there’s always someone who hasn’t gotten the memo, or doesn’t think it applies to them.

    Having the policy written is the best option. That way you can, as you evict anybody who violates it, quote chapter and verse. Run it through legal to make sure you’re covered. Have some appeal or investigative policy (of what level of information is required to make the decision; one person’s complaint gets a verbal warning along with a reminder of the policy, two or more complaints gets the membership pulled, protection of those who come forward, etc).

  2. Agreed — each convention does have rules each year, and I know that ICON’s specifically states that any illegal behavior is grounds for removal, and also specifically calls out physical conflicts and harassment for various protected categories. I don’t object to Mindbridge having a blanket policy to some extent, because for the most part they fall under Wheaton’s Law (“don’t be a dick”) and are common among the cons.

    I’m not sure I like the idea of a number of required complaints before someone is removed, though — right now, the executives pretty much reserve the right to remove anyone, and I believe that’s well within our rights as a private organization/event. In most cases we do give a second chance (sometimes more, notably in the “drunk and stupid but not hurting anyone besides yourself” category of behavior), but I don’t want to be required by the policy to give someone a second chance if their dickery is sufficient to remove them. I do like the idea of specifically outlining that those who wish to come forward confidentially will be protected, though.

    In addition, hotel security can remove anyone who’s violating the law, with or without the assistance of law enforcement, and does. The CR Marriott security guard is a gem, and took good care of us this weekend. 🙂

  3. Lindsay. I do agree that cases of heinous dickery should merit immediate ejection. I would recommend, though, that there is some grey area that could be interpreted as “misunderstanding” (although very much less than some people would argue/have us believe). As much of these types of harassment can be a “he said/she said” situation (that is, there was no independent or even secondary witness) it’s a difficult call even in the clearest of cases. My recommendation was also to protect ConCom. While running a private event, acceptance of membership payment may be interpreted as a contract (IANAL, your local laws may vary) which might be enforceable (that is, the person being ejected may have standing to recover costs).

    Always best to discuss the rules with a competent local lawyer to make sure the con is protected and to have those rules in writing (especially in the case of “zero-tolerance” policies).

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