Reporting Harassment at a Convention: A First-Person How To
Posted on June 28, 2013 Posted by John Scalzi 332 Comments
My friend Elise Matthesen was creeped upon at a recent convention by someone of some influence in the genre; she decided that she was going to do something about it and reported the person for sexual harassment, both to the convention and to the person’s employer. And now she’s telling you how she did it and what the process is like. Here’s her story.
We’re geeks. We learn things and share, right? Well, this year at WisCon I learned firsthand how to report sexual harassment. In case you ever need or want to know, here’s what I learned and how it went.
Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to check on me. I was lucky: my host was alert and aware. On hearing what had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company the harasser was representing at the convention.
The mandated reporter was respectful and professional. Even though I knew them, reporting this stuff is scary, especially about someone who’s been with a company for a long time, so I was really glad to be listened to. Since the incident happened during Memorial Day weekend, I was told Human Resources would follow up with me on Tuesday.
There was most of a convention between then and Tuesday, and I didn’t like the thought of more of this nonsense (there’s a polite word for it!) happening, so I went and found a convention Safety staffer. He asked me right away whether I was okay and whether I wanted someone with me while we talked or would rather speak privately. A friend was nearby, a previous Guest of Honor at the convention, and I asked her to stay for the conversation. The Safety person asked whether I’d like to make a formal report. I told him, “I’d just like to tell you what happened informally, I guess, while I figure out what I want to do.”
It may seem odd to hesitate to make a formal report to a convention when one has just called somebody’s employer and begun the process of formally reporting there, but that’s how it was. I think I was a little bit in shock. (I kept shaking my head and thinking, “Dude, seriously??”) So the Safety person closed his notebook and listened attentively. Partway through my account, I said, “Okay, open your notebook, because yeah, this should be official.” Thus began the formal report to the convention. We listed what had happened, when and where, the names of other people who were there when it happened, and so forth. The Safety person told me he would be taking the report up to the next level, checked again to see whether I was okay, and then went.
I had been nervous about doing it, even though the Safety person and the friend sitting with us were people I have known for years. Sitting there, I tried to imagine how nervous I would have been if I were twenty-some years old and at my first convention. What if I were just starting out and had been hoping to show a manuscript to that editor? Would I have thought this kind of behavior was business as usual? What if I were afraid that person would blacklist me if I didn’t make nice and go along with it? If I had been less experienced, less surrounded by people I could call on for strength and encouragement, would I have been able to report it at all?
Well, I actually know the answer to that one: I wouldn’t have. I know this because I did not report it when it happened to me in my twenties. I didn’t report it when it happened to me in my forties either. There are lots of reasons people might not report things, and I’m not going to tell someone they’re wrong for choosing not to report. What I intend to do by writing this is to give some kind of road map to someone who is considering reporting. We’re geeks, right? Learning something and sharing is what we do.
So I reported it to the convention. Somewhere in there they asked, “Shall we use your name?” I thought for a millisecond and said, “Oh, hell yes.”
This is an important thing. A formal report has a name attached. More about this later.
The Safety team kept checking in with me. The coordinators of the convention were promptly involved. Someone told me that since it was the first report, the editor would not be asked to leave the convention. I was surprised it was the first report, but hey, if it was and if that’s the process, follow the process. They told me they had instructed him to keep away from me for the rest of the convention. I thanked them.
Starting on Tuesday, the HR department of his company got in touch with me. They too were respectful and took the incident very seriously. Again I described what, where and when, and who had been present for the incident and aftermath. They asked me if I was making a formal report and wanted my name used. Again I said, “Hell, yes.”
Both HR and Legal were in touch with me over the following weeks. HR called and emailed enough times that my husband started calling them “your good friends at HR.” They also followed through on checking with the other people, and did so with a promptness that was good to see.
Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.
Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by the written word. “Records, or it didn’t happen” is how it works, at least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time — because for formal purposes, it was.
I asked whether people who had originally made confidential reports could go ahead and file formal ones now. There was a bit of confusion around an erroneous answer by someone in another department, but then the person at Legal clearly said that “the past is past” is not an accurate summation of company policy, and that she (and all the other people listed in the company’s publically-available code of conduct) would definitely accept formal reports regardless of whether the behavior took place last week or last year.
If you choose to report, I hope this writing is useful to you. If you’re new to the genre, please be assured that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable business-as-usual. I have had numerous editors tell me that reporting harassment will NOT get you blacklisted, that they WANT the bad apples reported and dealt with, and that this is very important to them, because this kind of thing is bad for everyone and is not okay. The thing is, though, that I’m fifty-two years old, familiar with the field and the world of conventions, moderately well known to many professionals in the field, and relatively well-liked. I’ve got a lot of social credit. And yet even I was nervous and a little in shock when faced with deciding whether or not to report what happened. Even I was thinking, “Oh, God, do I have to? What if this gets really ugly?”
But every time I got that scared feeling in my guts and the sensation of having a target between my shoulder blades, I thought, “How much worse would this be if I were inexperienced, if I were new to the field, if I were a lot younger?” A thousand times worse. So I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders and said, “Hell, yes, use my name.” And while it’s scary to write this now, and while various people are worried that parts of the Internet may fall on my head, I’m going to share the knowledge — because I’m a geek, and that’s what we do.
So if you need to report this stuff, the following things may make it easier to do so. Not easy, because I don’t think it’s gotten anywhere near easy, but they’ll probably help.
NOTES: As soon as you can, make notes on the following:
– what happened
– when it happened and where
– who else was present (if anyone)
– any other possibly useful information
And take notes as you go through the process of reporting: write down who you talk with in the organization to which you are reporting, and when.
ALLIES: Line up your support team. When you report an incident of sexual harassment to a convention, it is fine to take a friend with you. A friend can keep you company while you make a report to a company by phone or in email. Some allies can help by hanging out with you at convention programming or parties or events, ready to be a buffer in case of unfortunate events — or by just reminding you to eat, if you’re too stressed to remember. If you’re in shock, please try to tell your allies this, and ask for help if you can.
NAVIGATION: If there are procedures in place, what are they? Where do you start to make a report and how? (Finding out might be a job to outsource to allies.) Some companies have current codes of conduct posted on line with contact information for people to report harassment to. Jim Hines posted a list of contacts at various companies a while ago. Conventions should have a safety team listed in the program book. Know the difference between formal reports and informal reports. Ask what happens next with your report, and whether there will be a formal record of it, or whether it will result in a supervisor telling the person “Don’t do that,” but will be confidential and will not be counted formally.
REPORTING FORMALLY: This is a particularly important point. Serial harassers can get any number of little talking-to’s and still have a clear record, which means HR and Legal can’t make any disciplinary action stick when formal reports do finally get made. This is the sort of thing that can get companies really bad reputations, and the ongoing behavior hurts everybody in the field. It is particularly poisonous if the inappropriate behavior is consistently directed toward people over whom the harasser has some kind of real or perceived power: an aspiring writer may hesitate to report an editor, for instance, due to fear of economic harm or reprisal.
STAY SAFE: You get to choose what to do, because you’re the only one who knows your situation and what risks you will and won’t take. If not reporting is what you need to do, that’s what you get to do, and if anybody gives you trouble about making that choice to stay safe, you can sic me on them. Me, I’ve had a bunch of conversations with my husband, and I’ve had a bunch of conversations with other people, and I hate the fact that I’m scared that there might be legal wrangling (from the person I’d name, not the convention or his employer) if I name names. But after all those conversations, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m writing the most important part, about how to report this, and make it work, which is so much bigger than one person’s distasteful experience.
During the incident, the person I reported said, “Gosh, you’re lovely when you’re angry.” You know what? I’ve been getting prettier and prettier.
This is just a note to say:
Oh boy, is the Mallet ever out for this particular comment thread. If you can’t play politely with each other in the thread then you best comment elsewhere. Likewise, my presumption of trollishness will be higher than usual as regards comments on this thread. Don’t make me presume you are a troll, please. You won’t enjoy the result.
Bravely done, ma’am, and thank you for doing so. Thanks also to you for writing about it, and to John for publicizing it. It sounds like (as I’d hope from WisCon!) both the con and the company handled it very professionally. This is the kind of official behaviour/reaction that would make me feel safe about going to a con.
The reporting links roundup Elise refers to is at http://www.jimchines.com/2012/07/reporting-sexual-harassment-in-sff-2/
My thanks and high-fives to you, Elise, for bravery and general wonderfulness.
Thanks to Mr. Scalzi for posting this and for Mrs. Matthesen for writing about her experience. I am shocked that this bullshit is still going on and that there are so many creeps who STILL don’t get that they are assholes. And this is coming from a guy, mind you.
It’s good that the company was professional about this incident; I have heard several reports in the past of companies just brushing off sexual harassment reports and letting the creepers walk unpunished. At least in this case things have improved a little.
“””During the incident, the person I reported said, “Gosh, you’re lovely when you’re angry.””””
What a douchebag. If you’re hitting on someone, and she gets angry, you back off and apologize for being creepy. You do NOT try a sleazy chat-up line. I need to remember that and use it for a creep who gets beaten up by a mutant CIA agent in this book I’m writing.
“””You know what? I’ve been getting prettier and prettier.”””
Great response. Just…great. Good luck, and I hope that you don’t get creeped on again.
What @CaitieCat said. I hope you got a good outcome from your reporting.
I’m a third-generation educator, and when I see a piece of teaching this good, all I can do is offer my professional kudos. I hope it’s a lesson you don’t have to re-teach.
Thank you for this, John. We’ve been having lots of discussions in our nerd groups lately about how to handle harassment and assault, so this straightforward information is extremely useful and helps dispel the notion that the reporting process is Byzantine and scary. Seeing that this person also had a generally positive experience making the report – encountering support from the various people she dealt with – really helps as well.
It should go without saying though, that victims deserve support regardless of whether or not they choose to make a report of an incident. And frankly if we want more victims to come forward and make those formal reports, it’s all the more imperative we create an atmosphere where victims feeling supported and safe and that they’re being taken seriously when making these reports is THE NORM.
Thank you for this great post. No one should be afraid of speaking up when they’re abused like this and I hope the word goes out now that this sort of behavior not only won’t be tolerated but there WILL be consequences.
again, thank you!
Fear of reprisal, of condemnation or repudiation <– This is the arsenal of weapons that protects all serial harassers, molesters and rapists. If we, as a culture can take those away, by censuring the harassment, not the person who reports it, it will change everything, Thanks to both Elise and you for this article.
The only problem I have with this piece is that a lot of conference security and company staff are *not* responsive, polite, helpful, or supportive when something like this is reported. I’m thrilled that the host, conference security, and harasser’s company HR were on point with this, but 30 seconds of Googling will turn up incident after incident where people reporting harassment at various events have been mocked, belittled, not believed, or themselves asked to leave the event.
While it’s great that this individual was supported when she reported her harassment, this is the ideal situation (as ideal as a situation can be following sexual harassment, that is) – but it’s just not the reality for a lot of people. It’s great to have a go-to guide for what happens if you get harassed, but it fails to address what happens if you do all that and everyone refuses to help you.
Thank you for this. I consider myself a Big Boss Brave feminist, and I too have been terrified to report things that’ve happened to me. You usually hear when things go terribly wrong; to hear that things went terribly RIGHT for once is a tremendous comfort to me, and it’ll help me make things formal if I, goddess forbid, ever need to report again.
And I always feel that pain shared is pain divided. I hope this helped you, too!
That’s kinda scary that this guy’s been getting away without being officially reported all this time.
Great post, Elise! Thank you for doing this. Off to go boost the signal.
Hmmmmm? An extremely difficult subject from my persepective. As an old school and just plain OLD guy (I’m 65) I grew up in the Mad Men era (A TV show I’ve never watched as it made me uncomfortable the only time I tried to watch it)–I’ve had some questionable calls and some unquestionably BAD judgement around this/these very issues. I feel uncomfortable here even trying to comment, but to NOT comment would feel cowardly. I feel bad for Elise and for everyone else involved.
Thank you very much, both for reporting the incident and for writing this, Ms Matheson. This sort of thing needs all the scrutiny we can give it. Also, thank you for noting that some people might not be able, for various reasons, to report, and that not doing so doesn’t make them less. I hope this helps more people be able to report with confidence.
Mrs. Matthesen: Thank you for your courage both in reporting this incident and publicly sharing your story.
First, it’s a shame that sexual harassment still happens, in any venue. It makes me especially sad that it happened at a science-fiction convention.
Secondly, kudos on actually reporting it to both the appropriate groups of people, at the con and at his employer. As you pointed out, documentation is everything. When I had a larger supervisory role, I had someone come to me with what I knew was going to be a sexual harassment issue asking that I not report it to HR. I told her that I would have to report it, for her sake, for the sake of the company, and for the sake of whoever else this guy was harassing or might harass in the future. I felt morally and contractually obligated to report it. People may disagree with that, but documenting the issue was the only way to get results in dealing with the perpetrator.
And, your guidelines for reporting are fantastic. I hope more conventions take notice of this and use those reporting guidelines to inform their Safety Officer and staff to make these kinds of incidents easier for the victim to report and feel safe afterwards.
It may be too much to hope that he learns something from this process, but I hope that the perpetrator is appropriately punished.
Oh, dear Elise, thank you for deciding to go public with this in every way. I’ve dealt with harassment instances at work, as person of trust for young women who each of them decided not to make an official report. I do hope I showed all the understanding they needed, but, sheesh, SO frustrating that the respective idiots were allowed to continue as they were. Here’s to your strength!
Thanks so much for posting this. Harassment happens, and it’s not okay. I’m a romance author in my 20’s, fairly outgoing and heavily tattooed. People perceive me based on my appearance alone and judge it as being acceptable to be less than respectful to me. With my history, I know how important it is to stand up for myself and squash those moments, be it by telling the person it’s not okay, or going to officials. Too often people accept what happens to them as just a misunderstanding, a bad pass or something else. And it’s not okay. There isn’t one single second of it that’s okay. I get pretty ticked these days when it happens, but that’s because I know the tools at my disposal to fight back. I hope more people read this and realize they can stand up and should.
I hope it encourages people to take the formal steps more often.
I’m an HR Director and I would add: Never, ever, ever let someone manipulate you. If your point of contact feels like they are, ask to speak to someone else. Even if that means getting up and leaving. Remember, there is a difference between someone trying to stay impartial during an investigation while the evidence is collected/reviewed and someone trying to downplay your complaint. If that person is the highest ranking HR person, every company has someone else: An owner, CEO, Legal, someone you can request to speak to next.
The people who give us the information to make our work world safer are heroes and deserve respect. Thanks for this post!!!
Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been paying close attention to articles on the sexual harrassment – inappropriate touching – sexual assault spectrum, and a surprising trend that I’ve found is one that you identify: Between shock, surprise, and subtle acculturation, a typical reaction is to do little or nothing about the incident, allowing the offender’s pattern of behavior to continue.
Out of a bad situation, Elise’s response serves as a model for how to respond to this unacceptable behavior. Reading this makes me realize that when I write about sexual harassment in my text on employment law, I should include an example about strategies on how to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace, modeled on the line’s of Elise’s response.
A good account of how to handle such incidents properly, by both the person affected and the con. To echo what JK Hoffman said, documentation is key. Events, location, context, and witnesses. A formal report with documentation has weight, an informal anecdote without documentation and with no names attached is hearsay rumor.
Reporting harassment isn’t easy. I had to do it early on in my military career, and I think I cried because it was such a hard thing to do. But my Chief was awesome, and took me seriously. I decided against a formal complaint at the time, and the person in question eventually came to me and apologized. But it doesn’t always end so well for every case. You take a chance, because maybe the person you’re reporting to doesn’t take you seriously, or doesn’t believe you because no one else has ever come forward.
At romance conventions, I think the reverse happens. The guys are objectified and harassed in the same way that women are at SFF cons. It doesn’t matter if they’re spouses, or cover models or even authors. I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened that I’ve heard of, let alone what may have occurred where I hadn’t. I can’t remember the stats on the study I read, but the number of harassment complaints made by men against women was staggeringly low.
It makes me sad that it’s happening in 2013, but I like to think it’s blowing up because we are now aware of it and more people realize that it’s not okay.
My name is Sigrid Ellis. I was one of the co-hosts of the party Elise mentions. The person Elise reported for harassment is James Frenkel.
@ JK Hoffman
Does your company have a mandatory reporting policy? I worked for a major computer company for ten years. When I took the internal management courses, I learned that their HR department has a policy that managers MUST report harassment reported to them to HR. From a leadership perspective, I thought it was great that managers never had to wrestle with that choice. I did wonder if it meant that employees might be less likely to report harassment to their manager, though.
I’m all verklempt from reading this.
I’ve let a lot of harassment go in my time, both in geekdom and at work since both are male-dominated fields. I’ve only recently started reporting things formally and for the same reason you did. What if I was 20 and just starting out and thought this was how I had to spend my entire career? It IS how I’ve spent my entire career, in fact, and while it sort of sucks, it’s never come close to knocking me down. I’m a big personality who tends to just handle this stuff myself and shake it off. Lately, I’ve finally noticed just how terrible it is for women who aren’t like me. I had to mentor a sobbing intern who was so upset from the constant low-level harassment of her male peers that she couldn’t come to work without anxiety meds. Something I would have blown back at them without thinking about it absolutely crushed her every day of her life.
I report things now. I put my name on it. I say it loudly. Every time I am tempted to just let it go, I think of that poor girl and I cowgirl up. I’m so glad to hear you’re doing the same thing. We owe it to the people coming in to give them a better industry/geekdom than we got when we arrived. Good on you.
Thank you, Elise, for your courage.
(Also, if you remember me … Hi!)
Sadly, formal reporting is necessary. Companies have procedures, especially but not only if it is a unionized workplace.
I’ve seen firsthand where someone created a hostile environment, but without a formal complaint, nothing could be done. It was even taken to the top and we were told, without a formal complaint, nothing could be done.
o_0 Well, we’re ALL just getting prettier, aren’t we??
I’m going to my first ever Con next week. I am ready to enjoy myself and help others have a good time, but I am also eyes open, after this. I hope someone lists the mandated Safety people right there in the program, so I can find them easily.
High five, brave lady.
Thank you for posting this. Reporting harassment is scary and difficult. One of the best pieces of advice is have a group of people who support you.
Thank you again for posting this.
Reblogged this on J.R. Johnson and commented:
Reblogging this because Elise Matthesen has been brave enough to turn a bad experience into something useful, and it may help someone in the future… although I hope you don’t need it.
100% agreement: “sexual harassment is NOT acceptable business-as-usual” — after being a professor for severl years, I chose to reach out to a younger student body. I tool 3 1/2 years of night classes at Charter College of Education, Cal State L.A., while being a sub or permasub in Pasadena Unified School District; then student taught (unpaid) in a Hispabic neighborhood high school, and spent 6 full months penetrating the inane bureaucracy of the nation’s 2nd largest school district, LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District). Again and again, we were told that sexual harassment MUST be reported, or one can be fired. We had to view sexual harassment report training videos, and sign that we had seen them.
So when a young man in a Hispanic middle school would come to class stoned to the gills (sharing product with customer of his drug-dealing gang), grab a young lady, and force kisses on her while she screamed “No! No!” I was unquestionably doing the right thing.
I was warned that he and/or his gang would retaliate. So he was expelled from my classroom. Until he broke in while I was teaching and severely inured me, 2 May 2011. Two Assistant Principals told me “You don’t have to press charges.” But I did, with unanimous faculty support. The student was convicted of Criminal Assault and Battery. LAUSD fired me, to cover up the drugs, gangs, and sexual harassment that the school de facto condoned.
I have not had a paycheck since then. I have been in the Workers Compensation bureaucracy, seeing a dozen different physicians, therapists, and psychologists, and being deposed all day. I seek 2 years back pay, and the seniority and benefits that go with that.
I hope that my pain will eventually decrease, and mobility increase, though I may never ski or snorkle again.
I would do the same thing again in the same situation. “sexual harassment is NOT acceptable business-as-usual”!
Thanks SO MUCH for putting this out there.
Aggressive behavior, including sexual harrassment, is never going to go away. Jerks who want to push around others are just a fact, and they will continue to try to prey on the vulnerable. But our RESPONSE to the behavior can change. And it is really the only way to fight back.
EVERY woman needs to be educated on self defense and on how to report sexual harrassment. It needs to be as normal as reporting a false charge to your credit card. And we need to keep our language straight — sexual harrassment is not about sex, it’s about harrassment and power. Some jerk trying to make himself feel better by beating up on someone else.
My high school wasn’t good at much, but for some reason it had a self-defense class. So when the rapist put a gun to my head, I knew to say No and My friends are waiting for me. Over and over. Until, thankfully, he walked away. Now, I WAS alone, which was stupid, and I did not report the attempt, so maybe the training needed some improvement, but this was 40 years ago, and I wasn’t physically harmed.
Information HELPS. Education HELPS. The more we report, the more we educate, the better it will be for all of us.
Reblogged this on Misty Midwest Mossiness and commented:
Kudos to Elise and thank you for sharing. I’m a geek and a woman and I stand behind you (or in front of you as a buffer if needed) 100%.
My two cents: Reporting an incident is scary enough even when there is a good support system in place. It’s even tougher when your boss, the head of HR, the head of legal, whoever it may be, tries to minimize or downplay your complaint. “You say he touched you on your shoulder? Pfft…so what? That’s not sexual harassment!” It’s very difficult to stand up for yourself in the face of that kind of treatment from the ppl who are supposed to be helping you..but don’t back down. Like a couple of ppl upthread said, if you don’t get a good response from the first person you talk to, keep going higher up the food chain. Don’t let yourself be browbeaten into dropping the complaint. If you drop the complaint, you’ll be looking over your shoulder for a very long time, and that’s no way to live.
Elise (and John), this piece is going to have a huge impact far beyond the geek community. I can already think of a list of colleagues in HR to forward the link to, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
And Eridani, thanks for your comment too – those who can brush off these incidents need to be kind and supportive to others who have a harder time doing so. This is another instance of respecting each person’s uniqueness so that we can all benefit from our gifts and strengths.
I have sent links to Jim’s post to the various convention committees that I am involved in, to remind them that people are starting to look for clear anti-harassment policies and follow-through when they are choosing whether to not to attend an event.
I also want to remind people of the Open Source Backup Ribbon project. If you see someone wearing a purple badge ribbon that reads BACKUP, we have your back. We don’t judge, and we don’t make exceptions. If you feel unsafe or harassed, and you don’t see any con staff nearby or don’t feel comfortable going to them, we will support you.
I had to rewrite this small post a number of times, because of how angry this sort of behavior makes me. First, let me say, Elise, that I’m so sorry for how you were treated. It was totally unacceptable. Nobody has a reputation big enough to make that sort of thing ‘acceptable.’ No office has enough leverage to sanction a violation of another person’s dignity.
You do the best you can with what you’ve got. That’s what you did, Elise, and in fact you did one huge step more by posting the process as you went through it. That takes another degree of courage over deciding to submit a formal report. Educating others by example. That is huge in my book. Elise, you have my complete and total support on this issue. I’m nobody, but rest assured this small piece of the internet has your back.
Reblogged this on Untitled*United and commented:
Reblogging this because, as a SFF fan and the father of a young SFF fan, I want Cons to be safe places for all fans. To that end, I’m also adding a link to a great site offering a way for allies against harassment to identify themselves at Cons.
I intend to wear one of these ribbons at any convention I attend going forward.
Again, thank you! A brave and helpful thing to have done and shared.
I hope this post is read by those in charge of convention policies. Unfortunately, we have all been to cons where the policies are all but useless and the procedures effectively ignored. The more writing like this in the public arena, the more hope we have of progress.
It may not last, but right now Wikipedia’s entry for James Frankel mentions the harassment charge.
I’m a recent graduate of a Law Enforcement Academy in Southern California, and I wanted to chime in and say that this post is wonderful. I’m particularly stuck by the phrase “Records, or it didn’t happen.” Aside from being an awful thing to do to a human being, sexual harassment is also really against the law. So much of what we’re taught in our training in dealing with situations like this is that if something doesn’t make it into the final incident report, it’s next to impossible to prove later that it ever happened. The report’s the key to everything, so I’m very happy to see weight given to victims noting down details to be able to pass on later.
Also, to those people who have been through a scenario like this, I’m so, so sorry. Having something like this happen to you doesn’t make you weak, and standing up for yourself and reporting what happened is often the strongest, bravest thing you can do.
Peace to you all.
When a mutual friend of mine and Elise’s first told me what had happened, very shortly after it happened, the very first thought that went through my head was, “Brother, did he ever pick the WRONG target!”
Stories like these need to spread far and wide. Reporting is HARD. The creepers and harassers and worse KNOW it’s hard and COUNT the fact that it’s hard to get away with it.
We need to make it EASY to report, and HARD to get away with! I’m really hoping that Elise’s decision, and the efforts that are being made to spread the word, get us closer to that reality.
First and foremost, my thanks to Ms. Mattheson for reporting. It’s unfortunate but true that making such reports requires courage, and I salute her for it.
Speaking as someone with over 30 years of convention security experience and as various levels of manager in real life, I am completely unsurprised that there were no prior formal reports. Even at conventions and companies with well-defined policies, the number of people who are willing to put their name on a formal report is small. This is triply true if the accused is a big fish and the accuser a small one. (Insert sad comment about the ‘perqs’ of power here). So again, kudos to Ms. Mattheson.
I strongly second her suggestions on notes. In particular, get the names of who was there and could be considered neutral witnesses. If it’s a convention using numbered badges, get the badge numbers. Badge names are often simple nicknames or pseudonyms. Badge numbers let a convention committee find the other witnesses long after the fact.
This also ties to another point – take those initial notes immediately, and report the incident as soon as possible. Twenty-four hours is plenty of time for things to fade and details to become confused. The sooner you write it down, the more accurate it will be. Further, you may not have thought to write everything down or about various other issues. The sooner you report it, the sooner those questions will be asked and the fresher and more accurate the answers will be.
There are those who honestly don’t realize how offensive their remarks are, particularly younger offenders. In such cases, even an informal complaint can help. If there is more than one complainant about a given offender, letting them know this may empower them to make individual formal reports.
Third party complaints can also be useful. If you witness harassment, make an informal report. Should later formal reports come in, you become available as a witness that this is a pattern of behavior rather than a one-off. When I go to speak to someone accused of harassment, it’s much more effective to say “I have one formal complaint and five other reported incidents” than “I have one formal complaint.”
Beyond that, things depend heavily on the policies of the convention or corporation and the regional laws. So I say again: Get things written down quickly, report them quickly.
As you report things, keep notes about who you spoke to and what was said. Many conventions have policies but have never had to enforce them – not because nothing has happened, but because no-one has complained. A solid trail of who you spoke to and what was said or done helps you in your case. It also helps the company or convention in training their staff on what to do when policy violations occur. I had to take training on such back in my corporate days, and it turned out to be very useful when handling complaints at conventions. Good notes from beginning to end help everyone.
And my apologies for misspelling ‘Matthesen’ above. Yeesh.
As one of the founders of the Backup Ribbon Project (http://backupribbonproject.wordpress.com), I want to thank John Scalzi for providing the space for Elise to tell her story, and Elise herself for doing what needed to be done. I am also glad that the con staff was attentive to her concerns.
Reblogged this on Backup Ribbon Project and commented:
John Scalzi, who has been a huge champion for ending harassment at cons has been so good as to allow somebody else to tell their story in his space. It’s definitely worth taking the time to read. Thank you, both to John Scalzi and Elise Matheson for this!
Perhaps one of the readers here could cross-post this blog to Stony Brook University in New York … according to his wiki entry, he’s spent some time there. Two reasons for suggesting this: there may be other victims, and warn the students that he’s likeliest to encounter.
“On hearing what had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company the harasser was representing at the convention.”
So a “mandated reporter” is an official contact placed on record by a company with the convention? I stopped going to conventions a decade ago and I’m not in a class likely to be harassed so I apologize if this is terminology other people are all familiar with but it’s new to me.
@SFreader Is SUNY Stony Brook’s ICON still a thing? If so, that’s reason enough to share this story, there!
Bailey raised the point I wanted to address (at 10:40a EDT on June 28), and rather more politely than I would have phrased it. Harassment is only part of the problem; too often, from what I understand, the incident is compounded by a response that makes it clear those in charge are philosophically on the side of the harassers.
That said, this, from JK Hoffman at 10:51:
sounds a lot like “… as opposed to complaining about it on the Internet like some people.”
Thanks for the account. I’m new to this, only a couple cons under my belt, but I’ve read a lot recently about the “slut-shaming” and microaggressions against cosplay folk, especially females, and I just hope I can help on some level someday.
The part of this that surprises me most is that it took place at WisCon (the feminist SFF convention). What was that guy thinking? How could he possibly think he could get away with that behavior at WisCon of all places? And “you’re lovely when you’re angry”?!? What. The. Actual. Fuck. I mean…he might as well have said “I admire your spunk.”
Acting like a B-movie villain, at of all places WisCon, to of all people Elise…is just sailing for the rocks. Hard to believe that was anything other than a deliberate act of self-destruction.
WisCon tries harder than any other convention to create a safe space for all kinds of people. I felt more comfortable there than at any convention I’ve ever been to (and 2013 was my first time there). And yes, I’m a white male. Of course no place is completely safe; that’s impossible.
Great kudos to Elise for reporting, and telling us about it. Thank you, John, for posting her account.
Sad it happened. Glad she had outlets/options. Very glad it wasn’t worse. No one should fear going to a Con or other event.
“Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.”
This bears emphasis. Often when someone makes an official report or follow through with pressing charges in a sexual assault there’s a subsequent bunch of additional people who step forward and mention that the same person victimized them, or they then press charges themselves. We get SO SO SO much cultural nonsense from people or the media then about how these are either folks who are opportunistic or misremembering things in the past based on this new report.
They never give proper emphasis to the obvious and more likely explanation – that the villain has been working their shitty behavior surreptitiously and using the lack of witnesses to help keep a cloak of doubt over people who might otherwise call them out publicly.
The next time you hear someone deride claimants because there’s a bunch of them after an initial report, or you find _yourself_ being skeptical, remember to engage in _rational_ skepticism. Is it likely that these new voices thought it looked SO FUN to be under the public microscope? Or that they’d been gaslighted and stonewalled when they experienced their own mistreatment and now they have some confirmation that no, they weren’t just being oversensitive or taking something the wrong way: they really were ill-used and they’re not the only ones, and now they have someone to stand publicly at their shoulder.
As an older (senior citizen age) female, I’ve experienced enough sexual harassment to have a strong gut response to the comments here, though it might not be what you’d think. I read no indication of what Ms. Mattesen’s reaction was to the incident, so can’t speak to her situation directly, but in my case things would have had to be really, really far gone before I’d report to anyone else. Not because I think reporting is a wrong thing, but because it’s not my way.
I am a person who believes in personal responsibility all the way. Early on I realized that 1) there were not going to be men around all the time to protect me, 2) I am not a person who appreciates being protected by anyone else, because being protected feels to me like restriction of freedom, and 3) that meant that I personally had to be the one to make myself safe.
While I have a temper, I also don’t believe that violence is the answer. So, to make this briefer than it might be, I found that what worked for me – wildly successfully – is to exude confidence and strength in all my actions, because sexual harassment is not really just about sexual desire, it’s about power over others. In fact, all attacks against person are about power over others in one way or another.
At first I had to fake it, but it became part of me as I matured.
“To boldly go…” is my credo. Not to get too smarmy, but I walk in beauty, the kind of beauty that is a position of great strength. If a person of any sex made an unwanted advance on me, I would confront him/her directly because providing others with a chance to walk in beauty as well is part of how I live.
I may not be young and attractive as I was, but senior citizenship invites its own kind of predation. Nothing exists in isolation, everything in life is in relationship to everything else. I truly believe that my system is the right way for me to go and it has served me well over the years – not just in providing protection but by shaping who I have become.
This is a really important post, both for those this might happen to in the future, to those who want to be their allies, and to those running conventions, because it sounds like this was a damn model of how to create a safe space to report. Good for you, Ms. Matthesen. I hope this gets spread far and wide.
Thanks for the post – it’s sure to be invaluable to those with less confidence and, as you say, ‘social credit’, both for the information it contains and the example it sets.
In the spirit of geek learning and sharing, perhaps that last bit should evolve into a formal con ‘HOWTO’ ?
I think this time, that guy will have some ****storm heading his way. From what i read, he seems to have quite some clout in the SF&F area. I hope he loses it (and quickly).
I used to be an HR manager for a certain Ann Arbor bookseller that is now defunct. I’ve handled more than a few sexual harassment complaints — more than I would have liked, and I would have liked that number to have been zero. So there’s some background / context.
I don’t know what the convention’s policy is, and I don’t know what TOR’s policy is (it states above that Ms. Matthesen reported the incident to both the convention and to the accused’s employer). In my experience, though, in order to avoid future complications (read: litigation), the investigatory process is critical… and confidentiality during the finding of fact phase is essential for a neutral third party to get clear information regarding what actually happened.
The impropriety of the accused’s actions notwithstanding, if the investigation is still in progress, “outing” him at this point could be, at the very least, very detrimental to the process.
I don’t know if Sigrid Ellis was part of the convention’s official investigation, or if she’s an employee of the convention, or if any of the accused’s fellow TOR employees were officially interviewed and subsequently spoke out in public. Heck, I don’t even know if the convention or TOR has a confidentiality clause in their harassment investigation protocols.
Does anyone know? I’m asking seriously, with the hope that someone in this thread will know.
I understand the anger and the desire to strike back. I absolutely agree that it’s very important that people feel comfortable reporting these things when they happen. It’s equally important to fully understand — and respect — the process that happens once such a thing is reported.
Dear Ms. Matthesen,
I am sorry as hell that this happened and glad as all get out that you chose to report the behavior. Harassment is never acceptable, and it takes courage to report it. FWIW, it has already made Wikipedia, and from there it is a very short distance to a much stronger response by the offender’s employer.
I would also like to point out that your lesson is applicable to a far wider world than the geek community. The steps you outline are exactly the ones that should be used when reporting harassment in any venue, be it academia, geekdom, or the corporate world.
Ms. Matthesen’s point about the importance of formal reporting is absolutely key. Employment law being what it is, termination can be a non-trivial action to pursue. (As it should be!) It often happens that an employer knows they have a problem in their ranks but lack sufficient documented evidence to make the case for firing. It’s exactly as she says: a long string of informal talkings-to that leave no HR footprint mean squat in the long run if the employee doesn’t actually care to amend their behavior.
But once those strikes are recorded where HR *has* to care about them, the case builds up very quickly. A bad employee with no HR history becomes a wrongful-termination lawsuit risk if you fire them; a bad employee with a growing HR history of trouble becomes an every-other-kind-of-lawsuit risk if you don’t.
The reference in the Wikipedia entry has disappeared.
It’s probably also worth noting that if you are a witness to someone who getting harassed, it’s okay to suggest to them that they report it. They may be in shock that it really just happened, or they may not really process how utterly inappropriate something was at the time, until it’s too late to figure out who else might have seen it happen and how to contact them. So saying “I saw what just happened, and I’m sorry, and if you want to file a complaint and need a witness of it, here’s my contact information,” means that they’ll know that what happened really was inappropriate and that they’re not alone.
Several people commented above that the perp “picked the wrong target” or did this “at the wrong convention.” Both are true, since it resulted in a formal complaint. However, the phrasing suggests that there’s a better strategy for harassers. I would suggest that the point is not whether a target for harassment or a convention is “right” or was a good choice for the perp, but that harassment is wrong, always, everywhere, from the littlest convention to the biggest, from the teenager at a first convention to the older woman in a wheelchair (and yes, I know of such a case.) I think the commenters didn’t mean to suggest that it was more understandable if a perp hit on a teenager…but that’s how I read it because it seemed like “Hey, Dude, if you wanta hit on women, that’s the wrong way–go do it at a male-heavy convention and stick to the weaker-looking ones.”.
From experience, when conventions do not have a policy or don’t follow it or some other crisis hits the convention (was at one where a serious crime overshadowed harassment and there was no clear way to report it anyway) actions taken afterward by the targets are difficult and not as effective as one would wish. Especially true of fan perps, whose status is not as employee of the convention (and may not even be known–or they may be unemployed.) Worth trying, worth continuing to try, but troubling in its lack of effectiveness and in forms of outside-the-con harassment one individual tried. In terms of reporting, things are modestly better than 25 years ago.
Thank you, celia! I was trying to work out what to do if you’re a witness to such a thing, and not coming up with anything that wouldn’t be invasive. Your solution hits the sweet spot!
This is really important, adopted from my corporate role:
You do NOT have to be the target in order to report harassment. If you are wondering what you as a “normal guy” at a con or workplace can do to help, reporting harassment as a third party witness is probably top of the list.
Also note – stepping in to play White Knight on behalf of a stranger is probably not a good idea. Ignore that intuitive urge and channel it into finding a con staff member immediately.
This is a really useful guide, and I will try to get it circulated among other folks I know who might do conventions.
I would not have said “lovely”. “Awesome”, perhaps. One imagines your harasser, standing a little ways east of Eden and talking to the entity holding the flaming sword, would have made the same mistake then, too.
I think the only part of the story that’s missing is what the harassment entailed, assuming it wasn’t just so blatant that it had a neon sign over it. Too many times people are left questioning if what just happened to them was or was not actual harassment and not just their imagination or “over-sensitivity” (I speak from experience and discussions with others). Knowing that it’s OK to talk to HR and con staff about what just happened is great, but not being sure that you should talk to them can be its own kind of anxiety. Most of the time I’m sure it’s pretty obvious, but there’s always those moments that leave us questioning ourselves …
@ Hershele Ostropoler at 12:34 pm regarding:
“That said, this, from JK Hoffman at 10:51:
Secondly, kudos on actually reporting it to both the appropriate groups of people
sounds a lot like “… as opposed to complaining about it on the Internet like some people.””
I believe that JK Hoffman meant something more along the lines of: kudos on formally reporting the incident as you are the first one to do so, which is in large part why the harasser has gotten away with it for so long.
So, not necessarily disparaging the people who publicize harassment on the internet and not filing a formal report, but rather saying thank you for going the extra “official” step to get this guy punished for his reprehensible actions when apparently widespread internet activism wasn’t enough for his company to take action.
I would like to dedicate one of my favorite Dr. Who quotes to Elise. Thank you for your courage and the willingness to put the time and effort into doing the tougher thing.
“You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say “no”! You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away! “
So, to make this briefer than it might be, I found that what worked for me – wildly successfully – is to exude confidence and strength in all my actions, because sexual harassment is not really just about sexual desire, it’s about power over others.
Have you met Elise? Because she exudes confidence and strength rather effectively, in fact, and weirdly, that didn’t deter her harasser!
Bravo to Elise Matthesen for standing up and putting herself through what’s probably a very unpleasant but important reporting process.
Great job with the article! I told committee members of MagiCon (WorldCon Orlando 1992) about one of their committee members who used a crowded party room as an excuse to grind his pelvis across my ass as he went by. They assured me he would be removed from the committee. He was not. Members of my own local club defended their choice as he was a person of influence in fandom and it “might have hurt the convention” too much to remove him at that time. I did not attend MagiCon, and have never again attended a WorldCon or NASFiC. And I never will, because the only way I have to punish them is by withholding my fannish dollars. There is not a single member of that con committee that I would refuse to piss on – except if they were on fire, in which case it might actually help them to be pissed on.
@ Terry Trueman – So are you saying that being “of the Mad Men era” is an excuse?
While it may be uncomfortable, I think stories like this should include a description of the incident. Sometimes people do things because they don’t even realize what they’re doing could be considered harassment, hearing similar stories from the other point of view can be a wake up call to them.
My wife and I both have a question hanging in our minds.
“…when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported….”
I presume there are legal reasons why no details are given and we are left to use our imaginations on what exactly happened. Are there legal reasons for this?
Elise, thank you for sharing. Hopefully we can eventually get rid of these mouth breathers in geekdom and society at large.
John, thank you to you, Brandon Sanderson & all the others who are helping to spread the word via their soap boxes.
@Josh Cochran – I don’t if they did or not at the time, and I don’t work for them any more for unrelated reasons. I do know, however, that she then went to my direct supervisor who did promise not to go to HR with, essentially cutting me off at the knees and putting the company at risk, not to mention not really being any help to the employee in question.
@Galena – Yes! I meant it as in, “Thank you for making the first formal report as opposed to not saying anything and letting him get away with it.” Internet activism is all well and good, but formal reports and documentation are more likely to produce better results. And, as others have pointed out, it’s not exactly easy or comfortable to take that step, even though it’s an important one. Hence, kudos. (And, thank you for understanding the point I was trying to clumsily make there.)
“The part of this that surprises me most is that it took place at WisCon (the feminist SFF convention). What was that guy thinking? How could he possibly think he could get away with that behavior at WisCon of all places? And “you’re lovely when you’re angry”?!? What. The. Actual. Fuck. I mean…he might as well have said “I admire your spunk.””
…Which I think brings up an important point: There is this crazy American idea of “innocent until proven guilty”; and “you have the right to face your accuser”.
But we only have *one* side of the story here. My experience with sexual harassment claims in the corporate environment is that there are *always* two versions of the story. What is Mr. X’s version of this encounter?
I’m not saying that the incident *didn’t* occur as it is presented above. I’m merely saying that we only have one side of the story here, which is problematic from the perspective of fairness.
I am a co-chair for WisCon 38. If anyone would like to comment privately to the co-chairs on this topic, you are welcome to email email@example.com
If you would like to make a formal report of a prior incident at a past WisCon, I can put you in touch with our Safety team.
Piglet Evans, firstname.lastname@example.org
WisCon 38 co-chair
For what it’s worth, I don’t think the target of a harasser is ever under any obligation to share details of “exactly what happened” in this kind of forum. There are other ways to get educated about what constitutes harassment.
Reblogged this on dreampunk geek and commented:
For anyone who goes to conventions and has had to deal with harassment, this is a great guide. I’ve been lucky in my experiences, but I feel better after reading this article because now I know what to do if I ever run into this situation.
Yes, I agree with the person who warned against White Knight behavior with a stranger. If you don’t know them, I think just the single, simple supporting sentence is enough. Anything more, and you run the risk of at the very very least making an already uncomfortable situation even worse. And I think reporting the harassment yourself–assuming the con has a policy broad enough–is also appropriate. You don’t need to be the target of the harassment to be made uncomfortable by it, and most policies (at least in the corporate settings) allow for this. If you don’t feel comfortable telling the person that you witnessed it and support them reporting it, at least you can tell a con person what happened and provide your info so if it does get reported, you can be contacted as well.
And I said this elsewhere, but it still holds true–I think he picked exactly the *right* person. Not right for his intent, obviously, but for the end result? For the formal complaints to the con and his job? So right. For finding out the exact details and process to follow and sharing it with others? Spot on. Obviously other people who he picked in the past weren’t able to complain, or didn’t know they could complain, or didn’t know it was inappropriate. He picked exactly right this time. I am sorry–so very sorry, Elise, that you had to put up with this, and that you have to go through this whole process–but I am so glad that you are.
@lif strand I think the problem with the ‘defend myself and let the guy walk’ approach is that this just leaves him recalibrating his targeting to softer targets. The guy that you verbally destroy after he creeps on you isn’t likely to decide to mend his ways…I expect he’s going to walk away from the conversation pissed off and looking for an easier target to harass. You came out of the situation ok (perhaps even feeling a bit satisfied that you put the ***hole in his place) but you left him free to pick less assertive targets and refine his ‘game’. These folks have to get reported, formally reported and dealt with or they keep doing this and progressively get better at targeting those vulnerable enough that they won’t defend themselves and won’t report…
Todd, no doubt there are as many versions as there were witnesses. Various authoritative entities will rashomon them together and come up with the most plausible scenario.
You are, of course, attempting a goad when you call “innocent until proven guilty” a “crazy American idea.” It’s actually a feature of English Common Law, IIUC, but never mind. It applies to the burden of proof in a criminal proceeding. It’s a useful intruction to a jury, but much less useful here.
What are you trying to say here? That we shouldn’t talk about this? That we shouldn’t be outraged by the reported behavior (to the extent that it HAS been reported – note that Elise has been quite circumspect about both the specifics and his name)?
If you’re saying we should hear all sides before deciding his punishment, that would be more appropriately addressed to the parties who will decide what he’s done, and what penalties will be exacted. Which is no one here so far, except maybe Piglet.
Open discussion of the incident and our feelings about it? We have a perfect right to do that. There’s this crazy American idea called free speech (limited, in this case, by what Scalzi chooses to tolerate in his private space).
Naomi Kritzer wrote: Have you met Elise? Because she exudes confidence and strength rather effectively, in fact, and weirdly, that didn’t deter her harasser!
No, I have not met her. Furthermore, in my post I said “I read no indication of what Ms. Mattesen’s reaction was to the incident, so can’t speak to her situation directly, but in my case…”
And if it was my case, then I would have handled it differently.
She showed enough anger that her harasser remarked on it. I do know Elise, and I’ve never seen her display anger. Ever.
Let me be more precise – I read no indication of Ms. Mattesen’s *immediate* reaction. Did she speak to the man? Did she ignore him? Did she cry? I don’t know her and I can’t guess how she would have reacted in that moment, which is why I didn’t actually address that specific situation. My comments are not directed at her incident except in the most general way, and have been offered here as food for thought, not recommendations for actions.
I think it is important to note that we do not really have EITHER side of the story. This isn’t about evaluating what happened. This is about how to report harassment, how difficult it can be to do so, and why it is important, not whether this specific incident is “real” enough to have the conversation. I’ve seen a lot of great discussion today about how to make our spaces safe. In my opinion, the specifics derail that larger point.
Do a Google search and you’ll find that the individual who posted the report has a long affiliation with various forms of radical feminism. So yes, there is a concern about bias here.
If a noted anti-gay personality was accusing a gay male of misbehavior, I’m sure you would appeal to the notion of “consider the source”.
And it is the very vagueness of this report that *does* trouble me. Because it is *so* vague, there is really no opportunity here to consider the other side.
Reading the comments above, I sense an ideological lynch mob forming.
It’s a bit disturbing.
Good on you, Elise, both for reporting, and for blogging. I’m proud to know you. And thanks for providing the platform, John.
The Wiki entry on the incident was removed for the very good reason that it failed to meet Wikipedia’s clear policies on biographical entries of living persons.
I applaud Elise Matthesen’s exercise of sound judgment and fine discretion in her posting, which is geared towards what to do in such a case, not towards hashing over the particulars of the incident. She did exactly what she should have done, and provided clear guidelines for others to do the same in an effective manner.
@jennphalian: This isn’t about evaluating what happened. This is about how to report harassment, how difficult it can be to do so, and why it is important, not whether this specific incident is “real” enough to have the conversation.
Reblogged this on kendley and commented:
Important stuff not only for producers but for fans. Recent accounts “slut-shaming” and micro-aggressions against female cosplayers make it clear that geeks need to work this out. We’re all in this together.
Thank You, Elise Matthesen.
Great article. Great advice.
I loved that you asked and wrote about people being able to go back and formally report past harassment. Hopefully articles like this will help give some people the courage.
Um, do a google search on people who post about their experiences with racism and you’ll often find that they’re affiliated with anti-racist groups.
I’ll repeat the question from above: what’s a “mandated reporter”? That’s a bit of jargon I don’t understand in context. I understand what it means in the context of certain people who need to report suspicions of certain types of crimes to the police, but as used here it seems to have some sort of meaning specific to the company’s own internal policies and procedures.
Yes, Todd. There is a concern about bias here. But not quite where you think it is.
Todd, your analogy shows your politics. Elise may be a radical feminist, but that doesn’t imply that she’s anti-male. And if you don’t understand that, you need to do some reading. There are man-haters in the world, but Elise isn’t one.
I’m a radical feminist myself (thank you, WisCon, for letting me know I’m allowed to call myself that) and also a white middle-class male.
You’re basically concern-trolling at this point. An “ideological lynch mob”? We’re going to lynch an ideology? No one is saying we should storm the Flatiron Building with torches and pitchforks (and I would strongly object if they did). No one is even demanding his firing (that I’ve seen, and I think that would be inappropriate too, at this point). We’re saying other people should come forward if they have a story to tell. These stories are going to be evaluated.
As one data point, I linked to this on my Facebook, and one of my friends said “That guy harassed me too, if you mean who I think.” It was the same guy.
Bravo Elise! And you are absolutely right that someone young w/out all that backup wouldn’t have reported it. The details are boring but when I got my mouth free I told him in a command voice to Never, Ever do that again to anyone. Not because I was courageous but because I was in such a panic I channeled my mother.
Reporting it? I was a flirt, was attractive, and wore scanty clothing at conventions. He wouldn’t have said I was asking for it but would have said he was confused. And who would I report it to? We were a bunch of late-teens and early 20’s who hung out together. All we had was some vague idea of people running the thing.
Erm- people who complain about racist behaviour are often affiliated to anti-racist groups?
Why does that surprise anyone? Or is this a bit of “umbrellas cause rain” thinking?
dtm0, a mandated reporter is someone who is required by law to report certain things to the authorities if s/he becomes aware of them. For example, in many states teachers are mandated reporters if they see signs of sexual or other physical abuse.
Inevitably, someone has asked “So just what happened”, even though it’s glaringly obvious that the post was written to focus on how to report harassment. Period.
Even more inevitably, someone has said “What about the other side? The accused has THE RIGHT etc.” Even though it’s glaringly obvious that the post was written to focus on how to report harassment. Period. Not How To Recognize Harassment. Not How To Argue That It Wasn’t Harassment.
This post is not about this specific instance: the lesson to be disseminated is not “Was this harassment?”, it’s “What to do when you have this experience.”
It’s an important lesson. Thank you for sharing it: it’s badly needed.
Marc, that was a response to Todd saying you can’t trust Elise’s report of sexual harassment because she’s one of them radicul feminazis.
“Third party complaints can also be useful. If you witness harassment, make an informal report. Should later formal reports come in, you become available as a witness that this is a pattern of behavior rather than a one-off.”
Why cant a third party make a formal complaint?
I saw badge #37 grab badge #473 on the ass. #473 turned red and shouted “dont touch me.”
I can witness and report other crimes, why not harassment?
Or is this just the current state of the process?
Is there a process where formal complaints are shared from one CON to another, whether the same CON but different years, or between CONs?
/yes, I realize that there is the whore litigation problem.
So what is the advice for when the harasser is not a prominent name. What if it’s just a con attendee? No name to report. Hard to describe etc.
I’m assuming you meant WHOLE, Peter.
“Ideological lynch mob”?
The vast majority of the comments have been about people writing about their own experiences. Many discuss the importance of reporting.
I didn’t see any comments calling for reprisals against the (alleged) perpetrator or, say, a boycott of his employer.
If any thing, this has been a remarkably calm and measured discussion.
Calling it a “lynch mob” says more about you than about the commenters.
I appreciate that the woman who was the target of the sexual harassment took the time and trouble to report it, and I hope she has a positive result in terms of consequences for the offender as well as not getting any blowback on herself. My last experience with sexual harassment was over 20 years ago; I went all the way to the top with it and *nothing happened*. To this day the mention of sexual harassment is very triggering for me; I had no idea it was still going on outside of workplace sexual harassment (but I can’t afford to go to cons). I certainly hope that this issue is addressed, as I would like to be able to start going to cons, but I don’t want to be harassed or to support an environment where harassment is going on.
I googled Ms. Matthesen and found that according to Wikipedia she does indeed have a long history of engaging with many radical feminist notions, including body acceptance and self esteem. I also see from her blog that she is engaged in some kind of radical agenda of reconciling the word of Christ with open and celebratory sexuality as well as care for the poor and downtrodden. She also seems unusually fond of the word “shiny.” Still, even “considering the source,” as you suggest, I can’t help but hear a ring of truth in her wild account of what it’s like to talk to a corporate HR department, and to talk to con organizers, and to file a report of an offense that took place before multiple witnesses. Admittedly she doesn’t provide titillating details of the offense to satiate the curiosity of readers, but since this is a how-to about reporting, and not “What that gross creeper did at Wiscon,” that’s as it should be. At least, that’s what my own long-term association with various forms of radical feminism tells me I should think.
Elise Matthesen has written an excellent guide for others who find themselves harassed. I think she was wise to be circumspect about the incident that prompted her to write the article.
Getting into specifics adds nothing to the instructional value of the piece. All the discussion here of the alleged harasser and lynch mobs is a distraction from the point that there is a formal process that needs to be followed so that the incident can be properly documented and investigated.
Oh, no, Mary Dell! You’re a FENIMIST@!!!111(sin²+cos²)! Well, obviously you just want to castrate all men and eat their internal organs. Todd knows.
Is Mary Dell even your real name? Is it Mary Dell…or Mary Daly?
(In case it isn’t obvious, </sarcasm>.)
So what is the advice for when the harasser is not a prominent name. What if it’s just a con attendee? No name to report. Hard to describe etc.
This is part of why cons require badges. They not only serve to show that you paid for your admission — they also serve as an easier way to ID attendees than, “well, he was medium height and had glasses….”
I would also note that even at a large con, it’s a small enough community that there’s a good chance that other people present will know who the person was. But this illustrates why it’s important to build a culture of safety, where other people are paying attention and will come ask you if you’re OK, as the party organizer did with Elise.
dtm0 and Xopher, filling in a gap in the definition: many companies and organizations have “mandated reporters” whose mandate is an organizational rule rather than governmental regulation or law. For management, deciding to have a mandated reporter is a weighing of several issues: wanting to do the right thing, wanting to suppress/break up pockets of hostility, the calculus of deciding that an increase in reports this year, followed by a dropoff as offenders are dealt with, may be much better than continuing until there’s a really massive explosion that ends up in court (especially because “we had mandated reporting” is, if I understand correctly, a line of defense against a hostile environment finding).
Mandated reporters aren’t just used against pederasty and sexual harassment, by the way. In organizations where high reliability is critical, there may be mandated reporting on drug or alcohol use; there’s mandated reporting in law enforcement and intelligence agencies for things like bribes, illicit love affairs, and sometimes even for brutality; and at many universities faculty have been pushing for mandated reporting of academic dishonesty.
So it makes a great deal of sense for a corporation or a convention to have a mandated reporter; aside from being in the general interest of justice, it helps one to be seen as in the general interest of justice, and also it means dealing with trouble proactively instead of waiting till it all blows up.
We’re proud of you Elise! Betsy and Warren – your vendor neighbors at Wiscon. (And thanks to John Scalzi for upping the visibility on the issue.)
@ Beth: “This post is not about this specific instance: the lesson to be disseminated is not ‘Was this harassment?’, it’s ‘What to do when you have this experience.’”
Thank you for phrasing this better than I would have.
Join me in the circle of sarcasm
-Oh my goodness. She also blogs, sells jewelry, and has a Facebook page. Noooooooo! Get you helmets and cups gentlemen and join me in the bunker!!! She’s comin’ for our Man Bits!!!!!
Seriously though, thank you for sharing this story Elise. Hopefully it will get to those who may need it. Hopefully this horseshit behaviour can be stopped as much as possible.
@Xopher: I would never eat a man’s internal organs; they have MAN COOTIES.
And Mary Dell is my servant-of-the-patriarchy name. My real name is Moonlight Park Avenue…oh no wait oops, that would be my porn name.
Mary Dell: Bwahahaha!
Kudos to Ms. Matthesen for taking the correct steps to remedy this situation. Every time someone takes this kind of action it’s a step toward a world where no one will need to.
“Do a Google search and you’ll find that the individual who posted the report has a long affiliation with various forms of radical feminism. So yes, there is a concern about bias here.
If a noted anti-gay personality was accusing a gay male of misbehavior, I’m sure you would appeal to the notion of “consider the source”. ”
This is a thing anti-gay personalities do? Call out actual, specific people, accusing them of made up shit? And claim the person they are accusing did that bad thing to them? Even that idea is so full of bullshit: you’ve got the vagueness/specificity pattern of bigotry mixed up.
When anti-gay assholes make up lies about gays and lesbians, their ACCUSATIONS are detailed, it’s the NAMES that are vague. They don’t say “George Takei did this to me” or “Rosie O’Donnell did this and I saw her” It’s always some unnamed person, at some unnamed time. Or all gay people who do this. Never this specific person at this specific time. At most they say “Anderson Cooper is gay so he must…” or “well, Ellen is a lesbian and we all know what gay people are like…” (oh, hey, why does that sound familiar….?) Because that’s the point – not that this, specific thing was done by this specific person, but that “they” all do it all the time.
The vanishingly rare false accusations of rape or harassment follow this same pattern. Because, shockingly enough, accusing actual living people and not vague police sketches tends to result in lots of shit being thrown your way.
But nice job following the another well documented pattern: that of people attempting to defend the accused by slinging mud at the person harassed. Because we all know victims must be perfect to have any chance of being believed. After all, that’s what determines guilt, right? The accuser’s political views, how she’s dressed, how polite (but clear and forceful!) she was when telling the harasser NO, etc.
Luckily for those of us who care about justice and women’s safety, Elise is a class act and anyone who has had any actual interaction with her knows that. (And I say this as someone who once said something very hurtful to her and was immediately forgiven after discussion and apologies.)
Well done, Elise. In all ways, very well done.
Thank you, Elise. Stay strong and stay safe.
[Deleted because Kilroy’s probably not aware his attempt at humor blundered over into trolling territory – JS]
The exception, of course, to the pattern of anti-gay bigots not accusing specific gay people being when they are defending themselves from accusations of being bigoted harassers. or murderers. That’s when the “gay panic” defense comes up and thing get specific – when they already are specific. But again, that follows the pattern of harassees getting mud flung at them for standing up for themselves. Often, simply for their right to exist.
People have said that what happened between the accuser and the accused does not require details. If so, why was the accused name given out? If the details are not being shared neither should the name of the accused.
I think Mr. Scalzi should have deleted the posts containing the name of the accused.
@ Todd – Yes, it is a bit disturbing. More than a bit.
Disturbing that you seem to fail to grasp the difference between an account written up on a blog to provide guidelines to others and court testimony.
Todd @2:47 There is very little need for many on this thread to google Elise. She’s a well known figure in the community and to an awful lot of posters on this thread. As a long time member of the Minneapolis fan scene I first met her when I was 15. She is an extraordinarily credible individual. I say that as someone who has no axe to grind against Jim Frenkel. He used to be my agent and he helped me find my current agent when he left that side of the business. Jim has never treated me in any way but with kindness and respect. Of course, I’m a big bald white guy and that means I get very different treatment from all sorts of people. I have always liked Jim, but I also believe Elise, and whether or not I have had a good relationship with someone in the past doesn’t change the fact that harassing behavior is unacceptable, period, full stop.
I think we’re all starting to see what Ms. Matthesen meant when she spoke about why she might not report this treatment if she were younger and less secure.
@lif strand I used to feel the same way, but I changed my mind when I had a daughter. I don’t want her to *have to* have that attitude, and to fight all her fights alone. She doesn’t need to, because she has me.
Todd: Do a Google search and you’ll find that the individual who posted the report has a long affiliation with various forms of radical feminism.
Mary Dell: I googled Ms. Matthesen and found that according to Wikipedia she does indeed have a long history of engaging with many radical feminist notions, including body acceptance and self esteem.
FWIW, “radical feminism” is a specific kind of feminism; it doesn’t just mean “way out there feminism”. Some aspects of radical feminism are troubling and problematic for many people who identify as feminists of other varieties (radical feminists are often accused of being transphobic and of ignoring issues of how class and race intersect with gender).
In my own experience, “being harassed generally results in becoming more feminist” is a true statement; “being a feminist results in making (false) accusations of harassment” is utterly false.
I would add that, from an investigator’s perspective, getting the contact information of potential witnesses is invaluable. If it happens in a Con setting, ask for business cards and then – in your hotel room or out of public eye – quickly use your cell phone camera to memorialize the business cards. Noting the time of the incident – as specifically as possible – is also enormously helpful.
If the alleged harassment involves spoken words, encourage everyone to separately write down – as soon as possible – exactly what they remember hearing and from whom.
I would add that, from an investigator’s perspective, getting the contact information of potential witnesses is invaluable. If it happens in a Con setting, ask for business cards and then – in your hotel room or out of public eye – quickly use your cell phone camera to memorialize the business cards. Noting the time of the incident – as specifically as possible – is enormously helpful.
If the alleged harassment involves spoken words, encourage everyone to separately write down – as soon as possible – exactly what they remember hearing and from whom.
“In my own experience, “being harassed generally results in becoming more feminist” is a true statement; “being a feminist results in making (false) accusations of harassment” is utterly false.”
This. Much of my initial feminism was rooted in trying to figure out why people kept saying things that made no sense, or hurting me and excusing it on me being female and them male.
Inevitably, someone has asked “So just what happened”, even though it’s glaringly obvious that the post was written to focus on how to report harassment. Period.
That ceased to be true of the thread the moment the name of the editor accused of harassment was given out.
Thank you very much for your explanation of how to go about handling this type of incident. I fear that, even with a step-by-step procedure, many people will still be intimidated by the process, the harasser, or a lack of appropriate response by someone who really ought to know better. Something like this happened to me in college, by an instructor. I blew it off at the time, but wonder in retrospect if this behavior persisted, and if a report would have made a difference.
If you’d like a more up to date list of SF&F cons with anti-harassment policies, check out this list on the Geek Feminism Wiki:
And if your con isn’t on there, you can add it!
@lif strand: Even if “exud[ing] confidence and strength” was a universally effective way for women to protect themselves, what about those who can’t? How many women at conventions are disabled and unable to “exude strength?” How many are marginalized, shy, or lacking in self-esteem and therefore unable to “exude confidence?” How about women who are weak, pushovers, and just generally wimpy? Don’t they deserve to be safe, too?
The goal of reporting, and of bringing real consequences to bear on harassers, isn’t simply to punish them for being bad, or to protect oneself from future harassment by that person. It’s to protect the person they’re setting their sights on next.
Yes, in the American criminal justice system, a person accused of a crime is legally presumed innocent of that crime until the State proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they have committed that crime. Likewise, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that in “all criminal prosecution”, the accused has many rights, including the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him”.
For his next trick, Todd will explain to us that when Scalzi Mallets dumbass comments on his blog, he is violating the commenter’s free-speech rights.
Incidentally, I;ve seen two incidents of sexual harassment being reported. The first was in a lefty volunteer organisation where there was no set policy available to the manager at the time (he used me as a sounding board on the problem) and they had to wing it, and the second was as a union delegate sitting in on a complaint made to HR.
Having a policy in place protects line managers as much as staff – they have an obligation to both parties and without a procedure to protect them, they can be accused of getting it wrong by either side.
I also think that if the accuseds name is going to be out there, the details of the accusation need to be as well.
I would refer to the tragic case a few years ago at Notre Dame where a student claimed to be “sexually assaulted” by a football player and later committed suicide. In actuality, the football player touched her breast while they were making out, she shut him down and he left. No one ever claimed it was rape, not the accuser, the football player or anyone else. She filed an official complaint about it and it was investigated and the case was closed. She later committed suicide but she had a history of mental health problems and medication going back years before she ever stepped foot on campus. Yet the term “sexual assault” or “sexual harassment” has such a range of interpretations that when the media told the story it sounded very much like “football player rapes student, she commits suicide, and the university does nothing.” Fortunately, the player’s name was never released otherwise he would have had to deal with the stigma of being a “that rapist” for the rest of his life.
Now, is Frenkel a scumbag who tries to lure women into his bed with the promise of publishing contracts and refuses to take no for answer and Matthesen the person that finally (and rightly) said enough is enough. Or is Matthesen effectively ruining Frenkel’s career because he made a poorly thought out advance at a party (or worse yet, what was wrongly interpreted as an advance)? Without knowing the details, you could easily jump to either conclusion. While the former seems more likely than the later based on who has commented and how loudly they have commented, I think the details do matter if we are going to publicly crucify someone.
That being said, the message of “if something happens, speak up” is absolutely the correct one. But doing so should be done through the appropriate channels and not via an internet witch hunt. If the appropriate channels are failing to act (which it doesn’t seem like they are), then more extreme options should be necessary.
I’m sorry to keep repeating myself here, but let me again point out that I have been describing what has worked for me. This does not mean I am recommending my approach for anyone else. My original comment was seated in observations based on my life experience, some of which has been significantly uglier than harassment at a convention.
Please note that I did say I was *not into violence*. My approach is not about self-protection, it is about *not living in defensive mode*. I am not recommending not protecting your children or the people you love. I am not advising anyone to not report things.
What I *did* say was that I don’t want to be reliant on others for protection, because that makes me feel vulnerable, and that I had found a way that works for me. End of story.
Folks, back from my afternoon event.
The whole discussion of “person is innocent until proven guilty”: Done, folks. This is not a court of law and the issue under discussion is the reporting of the alleged incident and how it happened, with tips for others on how to do it, should it happen to them. Whether the editor in question is named or not is immaterial to this, and even if were in some bizarre world where merely noting someone’s name being reported in an incident action was somehow libelous, truth is an affirmative defense. Was this particular person reported to a convention (and his employer) for harassment? Yes.
So let’s table that aspect of the conversation. It’s a derail.
“I also think that if the accuseds name is going to be out there, the details of the accusation need to be as well.”
I don’t. Which settles that here. Move on.
Thank you Elise for sharing your experience and being brave and awesome and thanks to John for having the platform for doing so and being awesome as well.
I’m happy we are able to have a conversation about this openly and frankly. That’s the first step in changing how things are done. Things that have been going on for a very long time.
“Or is Matthesen effectively ruining Frenkel’s career because he made a poorly thought out advance at a party (or worse yet, what was wrongly interpreted as an advance)?”
Are you shitting me with this?
Jeez, Todd, get a grip.
Elise thank you for making this so public and helping things change. A lot of thanks to all the people with big audiences for hosting the post and providing the deserved amplification.
Some people seem to forget that no-one here is accused. People, eye-witnesses, are just describing who they saw where involved. In cases like this it is all about the perception of the victim, period.
@Phoenician, since you didn’t cite me, I’ll fill it in. You quoted a portiong of my comment:
Inevitably, someone has asked “So just what happened”, even though it’s glaringly obvious that the post was written to focus on how to report harassment. Period.
And you then said:
That ceased to be true of the thread the moment the name of the editor accused of harassment was given out.
It has never ceased to be true of the post. What happens in the thread does not change the post, no matter how much attempted derailment takes place. By the same token, the presence of trolls in a thread does not turn a post into an accusation, or a deposition, or a giant green weasel for that matter.
I’ll confess that my little antennae are all a-quiver, wanting juicy, gory details. Fortunately, I’m able to read the post and observe that those juicy, gory details were deliberately left out. I suspect that it was for two reasons: to keep the post focused on how to report harassment, and to make derailment a little more difficult. Potential derailers will have to make up excuses instead of finding them textually.
Yeah, I’d love me some juicy details. I’d also love a piece of chocolate the size of my head. I am entitled to neither, and I’m not counting on getting either.
One problem with the phrase “radical feminism” is that it’s meant various things at various times and to various people. Back in the 70s it was used within the feminist community to identify a particular strain of feminist theory, in contrast to other strains like “cultural feminism”. That kind of categorization presumes a fair amount of prior knowledge of feminist theory, and my impression is that a lot of those categories aren’t used much anymore. (Perhaps because the distinctions people want to make change over time.) I’ve also seen some people use that phrase when they want to emphasize links between patriarchy and capitalism. And then of course we’ve got Mr. Todd’s use of the phrase to mean something along the lines of: any kind of feminist he doesn’t like. I suspect what all this means these days is that using that phrase is likely to impede communication, unless you’re using it within some very specific community that has its own shared understanding.
I can’t remember ever having had a conversation about feminist theory with Elise, so I don’t know whether there’s any particular category of feminist theory that she particularly identifies with, or, indeed, whether she finds such a taxonomy useful. I can confirm that she’s a nice person, that she commits jewelry, and that she’s very good at SHINY. I’m sorry that this happened, to her or to anyone else, and I’m sorry that reporting sexual harassment is hard enough that one has to think about whether to make the report.
We are now at the point where there is no one who can possibly say they were cross-posting when I wrote to tell people about shutting down the “innocent until proven guilty” aspect of this conversation, so anything else on the subject from here on out gets the Mallet (as will any replies to anything I Mallet, should they be posted before I do said Malleting). Do me a favor and spare me the swinging, please.
Your “what works for me” disclaimers aside, this is victim blaming. No one’s asking for men to protect them while they abdicate “personal responsibility.” We’re demanding institutional solutions to societal problems—problems that are bigger than what one person, however capable, can solve on her own. That means getting the problem recognized by more than those immediately involved; setting up a formal reporting structure run by people trained to deal with victims, witnesses and harassers/rapists; encouraging others (of any gender!) to become supporters whom the victim can turn to during the process without fear of being judged or brushed off; and meting out consequences to perpetrators that will deter future incidents.
No one should have to always be on guard against abusers and predators. You shouldn’t have had to come up with such an emotionally demanding strategy to thwart them. Maybe it doesn’t feel like a restriction on freedom to you, but given how you describe having to work at it, it sure sounds like one to me. It certainly would be a restriction on many other women to need to remake themselves that way.
Abusers are the ones who should have to remake themselves to keep from doing harm. But they’re never going to do that if society is on their side. Society should protect us from problems bigger than ourselves as individuals. It should enable us to take personal action by providing support. That’s the point of its existence. You’re not weak or less free if you rely on its help. You, like all of us, deserve better.
What’s more, deflection by one person only sends the abuser after someone else. It might make you safe for the moment (and I’m not judging you for that) but it’s a very limited solution. If you’re good at projecting confidence and strength, you could report abusers and help keep them from getting away with harming others. You could do a lot to change the culture that tolerates them. If that’s not something that you feel up to, then I can respect that. But if you would hold back because you feel that reliance on institutional solutions encourages some kind of weakness or dependence and that everyone should hold themselves accountable for being targeted by predators, then I am going to judge you for that.
@lif strand: The problem is that your comments were about what you believe works for you in preventing harassment. We are not having a discussion about how to keep creeps from getting their creep on in your general direction. We are having a discussion about what can be done, post-creeping, so that the creep will face consequences and be deterred from creeping on others in the future.
The reason you are getting blowback is that you are shifting the topic from “hey, other people, here is what to do if this happens to you” to a celebration of how you, through your own efforts, avoid having this happen to you in the first place. I assume you can see why this is both irrelevant and rubs people the wrong way?
Up to a point, Lance. But here’s a proposal (harking back to an earlier related thread): If you see anyone backed up in a corner by a creeper, obviously scanning the crowd for anyone who can help them get the fuck out of there? STEP UP. That’s not man-tronising “white knighting”, it’s about being part of the solution rather than perpetuating Rape/Harassment Culture. It can be as simple as just walking up to a harassment victim and asking “hey, are you OK?” instead of your silence screaming “carry on, dude.”
The first time I ever went to a sciffy convention (a small one, here in my home town), I had an awful experience of sexual harassment of the luring-bait-and-switch-super-creepy-wait-this-isn’t-the-con-suite-and-why-is-your-shirt-suddenly-off-sir kind. It was horrible and shaming and embarrassing. I felt stupid and alone and I didn’t want to tell anyone – not even my husband. The man in question was well-connected and important, and I was no one. That’s how I felt. I was twenty-nine, and I didn’t go to another Con for many years after that.
And the thing is? Here I am, nine years later, and what I feel – EVEN NOW! – is shame. Shame for my silence. Shame for my fear. Shame for my retreat. I feel that I would have been a better role model for my daughters if I had spoken up and made a formal complaint. Elise, you are my hero. And so is Genevieve Valentine. And so is any other person who says, unequivocally, THIS STOPS NOW. My hat is off, ladies.
And thank you, Mr. Scalzi, for broadcasting.
[Deleted because I said we’re done with this topic – JS]
@kellybarnhill: please, please know that you did nothing worthy of shame!
Pish. As Elise so eloquently said, in that fucking terrible moment you made a call. It’s what you needed to do to keep yourself safe in what sounds like a really epically unsafe environment and a wretchedly fucked up Harassment Culture. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and anyone who judges you negatively needs to be served a double shot, extra tall shutthefuckupachino.
@Kilroy Based on a comment farther up, you could try attending a romance con.
[Deleted because I said we’re done with this topic – JS]
[Deleted because I said we’re done with this topic – JS]
[Deleted because I said we’re done with this topic – JS]
I should note that the malletings for being late to the topic I’ve closed do not mean the folks who made those malleted comments can’t continue on the thread. Simply stay closer to topic, please.
Oh, crap. I’m sorry, Mr. Scalzi, I read Todd’s comment and rushed down to post a rant without reading the rest of the new comments. Lesson learned. It won’t happen again.
No worries, Floored.
[Deleted because I’ve already noted we are done with this topic – JS]
Thank you for this. We’ve just posted our event’s Code of Conduct policy today.
@Peter Cibulski: In earlier days, there was at least a quiet grapevine among many convention promoters (fan or commercial) as to “people to watch out for.”
One of the worst, to my knowledge, was a staffer on a popular genre TV show who was frequently the show’s rep at conventions. His agreement with cons always specified that he be provided with a personal gofer by the con, and he always made a point of meeting with the volunteer gofers and picking one himself. Invariably, until the promoters caught on, this was the youngest and cutest guy in the volunteer pool – and by “youngest” I mean usually under the age of consent – and the guest then spent most of his off-time at the convention trying to get into the gofer’s pants.
But the promoters did catch on, and word got around…and suddenly that bit of his appearance contract got negotiated away every time. (Or, as in the first and best instance of a con responding to his reputation, he got TWO gofers: one the cute boy he’d picked out, and then a second and more experienced volunteer, who just happened to be the con’s deputy Security chief, a 6’2″ and friendly former Marine…with private instructions to break up any creepiness by any appropriate means.)
As I understand it, many conventions got a little easier to run the day this guy was fired off the show (from internal politics, sadly, not for being a loathsome human being.)
Thing is, tactics like this (and others reported to me by friends and confolk of that era, or in my direct experience) shouldn’t be necessary. They were at the time, because employers didn’t have the framework in place to deal with them, and because too much was taken as allowable even 15-20 years ago. If that was ever a reasonable excuse, it sure isn’t now.
Thank you, Ms Mattesen (and Scalzi.) Well done, both then and here. Great comments about documenting, following up, following the proccesses.(which can be an embarrasing pain.)
The little notes can add up. I took a subordinate to the company lawyers (HR had been … dismissive. The lawyers were not. They’d heard of Big Shot before, had a file folder with his name. No official complaints. A half-dozen Post-Its, though, from other incidents. She made it official and he was gone that afternoon.
@jennygadget — I’m too slow.
In further defense of the formal reporting in corporate and convention/trade show culture, the existence of formal reports and witness depositions puts the lie to he-said/she-said claims and frees organizations to take punitive action without fear of lawsuits*.
*I’m hoping mention lawsuits isn’t treading into the verboten topic, but if it is, I readily accept Malleting.
Thank you for this thread. When I first joined fandom more than thirty years ago, I was told that fandom was a safe place, that we looked out for each other. Well it may have been true to a certain extent, but fans and geeks are still people, and still have the problems that the rest of the world has.
This has focused mostly on men harassing women, but I’ve heard of problems with men harassing teenaged boys, and women harassing men, etc. None of it should be acceptable.
Many of the conventions I’ve attended don’t have a “Safety” officer, but most have “Security” or “Ops”. Any con staff member should be prepared to help you find the right person to report to.
Thank you for reporting, Elise – by which I mean having the courage to make the formal report to the con staff and to the guy’s company, as well writing up and sharing your experience for our benefit. I’ve shared forward, as well.
@Bailey, re not all organizations being as responsive as WisCon. Surely this report is also a guide, however tangentially, for organizations in how respond effectively. There’s plenty of between-the-lines information (which we SFF readers gather like we breathe) about the structure, staffing, and probably training, that WisCon had to have thought through and put in place to handle a variety of situations, of which this was unfortunately one.
For instance, they had a Safety staffer, who was available, knew the difference between formal and informal reports and how to handle each one, and how to interact supportively and effectively with a complainant. Indeed, there was a whole Safety staff and con committee people who proactively checked in, etc.
Clearly, it takes some thought and work and ongoing maintenance to have that in place, but it’s clearly doable, and if this post helps even one organization improve, that will help create more, safer places, yes?
Mary Dell at 4:48 pm @lif strand: ‘Even if “exud[ing] confidence and strength” was a universally effective way for women to protect themselves, what about those who can’t? How many women at conventions are disabled and unable to “exude strength?”‘
Just wanted to point out that disabled people are by no means automatically unable to “exude strength”.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.
[Deleted because I’ve already mentioned we’re done with this topic. All responses to this likewise deleted (without the subsequent notifications, sorry, it’ll just make the thread look cluttered).
People, when I say a discussion is done, it’s done. Insisting it’s not done does nothing but give me work deleting your comments.
Related: when you see someone you know is commenting on something I’ve already said I’ll mallet, why on earth are you responding to him? Because then I’m just going to delete your comments, too. Come on, guys. Give me fewer things to Mallet, please. – JS]
Elise is awesome.
As a middle-aged slightly chubby woman, I come off as simultaneously mom-like and non-threatening. So I will support anyone who’s being harassed or wants to report it officially. I will ask if you’re okay as you’re backing away from some sleazebag, and I will give the sleazebag the hairy eyeball. If I’m not there at the time, later
I will hold your hand while you make a formal report to con ops.
And the serial harassers? Those of us who’ve been around a while know who they are. We steer pretty young things (of both sexes) away from them. We are unsurprised when their name is said publicly, since either we or one of our friends has been creeped on by said name. Heretofore we’ve settled for just warning others about them, but that isn’t enough. We need to report them. And support those who do.
Is there a place that can list the People to Watch Out For at CONs?
Elise — thank you for this “how to do it.” It’s not only relevant to sexual harassment. I’ve used similar techniques to address inaccessible facilities. Keep on leading. I hope your “pretty” can relax into merely wonderful soon.
Reblogged this on G. L. Morrison.
What Floored said way back at the beginning about using sleazy chat-up lines? Now imagine you’re old and privileged enough to think they sound ironic and humorous.
(Or, don’t; I’ve been imagining other people’s view for decades, to no effect, now that I think about it.)
I personally know both of the principals. I’ve had words with the guy about his mouth myself. And out in the big world, that power dynamic s a lively topic lately, from our local cons to the Air Force. Like fish starting to discuss the water quality, it’s been like that all my life.
What can we do about clueless men who refuse to get a clue? So far the only thing I’ve seen work is to GET THE OTHER MEN TO TALK TO HIM so as there’s a chance in hell he’ll listen.
So thank you for that signal boost, Mr Scalzi. I’m glad Elise has written so clearly about the ways we silence ourselves. Now I must screw my courage to the clicking point…
So apparently another rule about reporting harrassment is: tell the internet about it AFTER you’ve reported, because otherwise you might make the mistake of listening to the herds of guys eager to tell you that you’re overexcitable and probably just invented the whole thing out of inflated ego (because as if that was actually a pass!). Hold onto your truth; spend it where you need to. It doesn’t need to be pawed over by the masses.
I want to be clear about what a lynch mob actually is. It’s a group of white people engaging in extrajudicial torture of murder of black people.
Lynch mobs look like this: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/lynching-of-young-blacks/ (tw: graphic images). They look like murdered black people surrounded by crowds of “regular folks” taking pictures & cutting off souvenirs. Reporting sexual harassment is in no way shape or form a metaphorical lynch mob.
[Deleted because while I understanding you’re disappointed to be deleted, it was done for a reason — JS]
Thank you, starkeymonster! For that dose of reality.
Thank you Elise and John for continuing to fight the good fight. Until a time when more people report these problems, these problems will continue to exist.
“What can we do about clueless men who refuse to get a clue? ”
“So far the only thing I’ve seen work is to GET THE OTHER MEN TO TALK TO HIM so as there’s a chance in hell he’ll listen.”
But this isn’t a new problem. Jerks know that they are being jerks.
No amount of talking fixes people who are like this. Plus, why? If they were a friend, you would be right to call them out. And when they continue to be a jerk? Time to find a new friend.
No amount of talking fixes people who are like this. Plus, why?
I think it’s probably the desire to Do Something. You want to help. You can’t take the White Knight approach with every incident of harassment, even if it was a good idea to do it and the jury seems out on that. The harasser clearly doesn’t respect women, but you think maybe you can get through to him. Maybe you can use his underlying sexism to have what you say taken seriously since it’s coming from a man. And if you can get through to him you may prevent a lot of future incidents.
This is just a guess – I’m not speaking from personal experience. I agree that a friendly, informal chat isn’t likely to straighten someone out. But it may be better for those who try it than feeling like they’ve done nothing.
Just to let folks know: at around midnight EST, I’m turning off the comments here for the night. I’ll turn them back on when I wake up in the morning.
“So far the only thing I’ve seen work is to GET THE OTHER MEN TO TALK TO HIM so as there’s a chance in hell he’ll listen. ”
That doesn’t work either, because the kind of dudebros who hang around the deliberately clueless privileged man are the kind who make excuses for him, tell everyone else the woman (or women) are lying, exaggerating, hysterical or troublemaking, consider requests for moderation of behaviour or language on their part IN ANY WAY to be an inconscionable limitation on their freeze peach, and are themselves prone to behaviour that would embarrass anyone with a working sense of empathy.
You know, arseholes. Like the defenders of Harlan Ellison, Ron Lindsay, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, James Frankel (wait for it, they’ll be there) etc etc.
How do I know this? Because it’s already started, right here in this thread.
Yeah, that’s all you can do. Unfortunately there are more people with influence of the type I describe here than the kind who would do that. Even Scalzi, after all, was happy to contemplate having dinner with Ellison despite what he did to Connie Willis and dozens of other women over dozens of years. (I’d hope Scalzi’s learned better by now).
These men keep doing this because they always got away with it. I’m not convinced that things will changed, even with awesome women like Elise Matthesen standing up and being counted. I’ve seen way too much high powered pushback against the very idea of women being equal citizens with equal rights to respect and autonomy within the SFF community in the last month alone, to think otherwise.
[Deleted because Simon, you’re reeeeeeeeeeealy stretching, here. I think it’s best for you to walk away from this particular thread because it’s pretty clear you haven’t anything useful to add to it – JS]
A very sensitive, thoughtful piece. It is not only hard to report on something like this, it is even harder to put your name on it in a public context.
Jae Leslie @10:00:
As more and more accounts roll in, more and more other men are coming forward to say that they HAVE talked to Frenkel, and told him that was he was doing was not ok. He knows he’s doing something wrong. He just doesn’t care. And this is regularly true of serial harassers. Yes, men should speak up to other men they see doing this shit, and if it really is just a clueless guy doing clueless things, or a guy who’s doing it because he thinks it makes him look macho in front of his friends, that can stop him. But that isn’t what we’re talking about here. Where that works is guys catcalling at women on the street, or teenage boys whogot all their information about how to interact with people they’re attracted to from TV and movies. This is a grown man — Frenkel is 65 or so — who has a pattern of doing exactly this.
We were around 20 when my SO was raped by a guy who nearly killed her but cutting her throat. The police came to the hospital and showed her maybe a dozen photos. She picked the guy and the officer looked ill. She sat on the bed and painfully explained that her rapist had several other rapes already and had walked either because the woman would not press charges or the rapists mother gave him an alibi (being the days before DNA testing). The officer painted a very dark picture of the odds and then pled with her to press charges because htis guy was getting worse and worse. Between the physical damage, the physiological damage and dealing with the pain of having to relive the event over and over for the police and various lawyers I honestly don’t know how she did it.
The only good thing was that mom was appalled by the attack and refused to lie for him again. He was sentenced to forty years and has not been granted parole. We just got a notice he will be released early next year. So we are dealing with this again. At some point we (and here I am looking mainly at us guys) have to put an end to this. I hope every woman goes after the bad guys but I know there is no way many can. There is the fear of retaliation, as there was in the harassment case here, there is the mental anguish of having to explain what happened over and over and have your motives and your actions and your history questioned with no assurance of justice. We can’t expect women to do ths all by themselves. We need to drill into our sons proper behavior. We need to identify potential perps and get them help before they offend. We need to stand with women when they do come forward.
@ucity88 @ 9:25, as a volunteer on the Wiscon con com, I know we’d really hope that known creepers get reported to the Safety team/co-chairs with as much notice as possible, so that they can prepare, whether just to pay close attention or to take more serious steps if they deem it necessary/reasonable. Wiscon’s policies mean that they can warn someone, ask someone to leave, or even blacklist someone. This definitely depends on the con, though, and I can’t speak to other ones.
For those of you at a con where you can’t figure out who the safety person is, ANY member of staff is a great place to start. If they want/need you to talk to somebody else, they’ll find you that somebody else. But seriously, as a con staff person, we want to know, and we want to know immediately – not the next day/after the convention/when you’re about to go home.
@Gulliver: a “witness deposition” happens once a lawsuit has been filed. And a company firing people for cause without properly documenting the reasons deserves to worry about lawsuits.
[Deleted because it’s responding to a comment I deleted. No worries, Ann, it doesn’t mean you can’t otherwise comment here – JS]
[Deleted because Simon Primer doesn’t seem to understand he’s off this particular thread -JS]
[Deleted because responding to a deleted comment – JS]
Ms. Matthesen, nobody should have to go through what you did. As others have said, you were brave to report it, and brave to tell us about it. Thank you. Let’s hope this is another step toward the end of sexual harassment and other forms of abuse.
Without referencing deleted comments or disinvited commenters, let me reassure men that women *can* tell the difference between a friendly nudge, being used as a physical example in a conversation, even an overfriendly touch, and someone trying to get unpleasantly close under the guise of the above.
We can tell the difference between ineptitude and creepitude. We can also tell the difference between an unwelcome advance and a full on sexual assault, while also telling you that both are unacceptable.
We aren’t idiots, and we’re also not passive dolls. Please don’t talk about us as if we are.
[Deleted because in addition to clearly not believing the rules here apply to him, Simon is now going out of his way to be a sexist dipshit. Take your trolling elsewhere, Simon, it’s not welcome here – JS]
Comments are now off for the night — back on tomorrow morning. Night, all.
Update: 10:50am 6/29: Comments back up. Reminder: “We should be able to see the evidence” and “the alleged harasser shouldn’t have been named” are settled issues on this thread, so please don’t bring them up again. Also, if you’re going to accuse me of harassing anyone, please do a better job of it than suggesting the video of me on Oprah somehow contains an incident. It doesn’t (and also, it’s a derail). Thanks.
[Deleted because oh for fuck’s sake will the stupid and/or obstinate please stop posting in this thread -JS]
@mythago 5:21 P 06/28/13 wrote: “The reason you are getting blowback is that you are shifting the topic from “hey, other people, here is what to do if this happens to you”…”
With respect, I would argue that Mr. Scalzi didn’t limit these comments to only what *you* say the topic is, and further that discussing how to not get in trouble is just as useful as how to report it after you do get in trouble. The mallet being the ultimately final thought on the issue, of course.
With respect, I would argue that Mr. Scalzi didn’t limit these comments to only what *you* say the topic is, and further that discussing how to not get in trouble is just as useful as how to report it after you do get in trouble
It did read a little bit like “If only you’d done this, you’d have been fine” despite the disclaimers. You may not have intended that, but…
[Deleted because Spectator appears not to believe that I’ve already tabled for this thread the discussion he wants to have — JS]
@lif strand: Correct; you are free to change to any topic not disallowed by our host; others are free to point out that the topic is a) orthogonal to the subject, b) not really helpful in context and c) tone-deaf. The portion of my comment you snipped observed b) and c) particularly.
On the other hand, as has been noted before, this thread is presenting as a good exemplar of why people often don’t formally report harassment; in addition to the process, they must deal with everything from “you must be lying” to “oh, well that wouldn’t have happened to me, because I do the smart things.”
Thank you, Elise. Your story has persuaded me to formally report harassment at work rather than letting sleeping dogs lie. Not sexual and I suspect not even deliberate, but part of a pattern that needs to be recorded for the future.
In my role of a “Hey your blog’s doing odd things” person, when you closed the comments, the “view all ## comments” link disappears from the front page. The work round is to open the post to see them, but it looked as though there would be no comments for the post.
No, it’s not just as useful. It’s not useful at all. It’s regressive, toxic, enabling BS. It’s the equivalent of saying that wearing longer skirts and staying in at night will keep women from getting raped.
You’re putting the burden of avoiding harassment on the wrong person—the victim. That you have avoided harassment doesn’t mean that it works for anyone else. (I mean, as you said, it’s about power over others, and there are plenty of dudes who revel in the challenge of tearing down confident, strong women.)
I know you say you’re not “recommending [your] approach for anyone else,” but this claim seem a bit thin when held up against your talk about “personal responsibility,” the supposed usefulness of your strategy, and the distastefulness of relying on others (men) for protection. Plus, as I pointed out above, deflecting abusers just sends them after someone else.
Now, you’ve had to do what you’ve had to do, but yours is not a way of dealing with harassment that promotes change. It’s not something that gets rid of harassment. Reporting is.
Sorry if my offering of an alternate take is such a bad thing. Sorry if doing so somehow makes people think I think I’m somehow better or smarter for it. I said that I was older (a senior citizen). Perhaps, just maybe, there’s a teensy little chance that what I offered would be useful to someone because it’s based on not only having shared experience but also because of having time to reflect, to alter my own behavior and to see results over time. This is my last comment on this topic. Blast away.
Anyone who thinks John harassed that woman in the Oprah segment is completely tone-deaf.
Besides, he’s doing service by arguing against the stupid, manipulative, anti-feminist crap represented by The Rulles. It’s hilarious how one of the women on the dais (the authors?) realizes that John has the audience and she doesn’t.
Yes, sometimes, in a specific situation, there can be a man on the side of feminism and a woman against it.
The Rulles? Rules, I meant.
Lif, I’m not sure how a snarky, passive-aggressive, butthurt, flounce helps.
Also, something else to chew on. No one is suggesting that your approach is wrong, only that it is limited in its effectiveness. It protects you, and you alone. So even if one follows your advice, and shuts the assholes down, to protect oneself, one should then go report the assholes, to protect everyone else. It’s not the self defense that anyone here objects to. It’s the insinuation that self defense somehow makes reporting unnecessary. Also, the insinuation that reporting makes one weak and dependant.
My apologies for my casual use of technical legalese.
I agree entirely, even though I lived with that concern for years. Paper trails are very necessary evils, the alternatives always being worse.
Would you listen to people about why your alternative is not good advice instead of getting defensive?
Telling the targets of harassment to alter their behavior is the wrong damn solution to getting rid of harassment. It’s what you’ve had to resort to, but you deserve better. YOU. DESERVE. BETTER.
It’s time to make the harassers alter their behavior. That’s what reporting does.
Substitute fan/con terminology. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
This is a (way too long) process comment about how to deal with a friend who’s had an experience that left them unhappy, angry, traumatized, whatever. It doesn’t have to be sexual harassment, or even sexual. It might be a battering, it might be getting beaten up and robbed, it might be getting bullied at school, it might be as “little” as having a really shitty day with their boss at work.
Imagine yourself sitting down with such a friend, maybe just you and them, maybe with a few mutual friends. Really, imagine that. There you are all around a table, sipping a cup of tea or having a stiff drink or whatever, talking to your friend who has just reported to you having an exceedingly unpleasant experience.
First, you walk carefully, because you don’t know what THEY need, and this is about THEM, not YOU. You might consider starting with the Ms Manner-ish, “Oh dear, that clearly was horrible for you. I am so, so sorry you had to go through that.” Accompanied by a pat on the hand if appropriate.
Assuming they are someone you care about, this is guaranteed to be a 100% true statement. You are talking about their feelings. You are not judging or evaluating what happened. You may not at that point what happened. Or any other “sides” to the story. That is irrelevant. You’re addressing the factual matter of how they feel.
Which takes me to my next point. It is never appropriate to demand details of what happened to them. Some people feel better talking an incident out. Others would much rather not have to relive it and explain it in detail to someone else. There is a way to handle that. Which is to ask! “Would you feel better talking about this?” If they choose not to, respect that.
Something that is not going to go over well around that hypothetical table: making the conversation about you. Any version of “Well, I would’ve handled it differently, but that’s just me,” unless it has been solicited. Really, think about it, think about you and your friends around that table. The best way it’s going to be perceived is as descriptive, in which case you’ve dragged the conversation away from the person who’s been victimized to make it about YOUR experience. That is how it will be perceived, regardless of how you mean it to be perceived. That’s a guarantee, unless you have been directly asked.
And if you mean it to be descriptive, or if it’s simply taken that way, well, you just told the person who was victimized that they handled it wrong. That’s probably not what they’re wanting or needing to hear at that moment. (Ya think?!) Regardless of whether or not you think it to be true.
I’m going to trust that everyone here is perceptive enough to tell whether any of this might apply to their comments and behavior. No names, no finger-pointing.
– – –
Now, some (hopefully briefer) comments on content. Elise wrote an essay about how to handle a sexual harassment situation in a way that has a hope of shutting down a serial harasser so they do not pray on others. She used her experience as a springboard, but it was not about her experience especially, nor at all about how she individually would fend such a person off. It was how to solve a larger social problem. If your proposed way of handling this doesn’t address that larger problem, it is fatally off-topic.
I can think of several rather obvious reasons why Elise might not want to give you details. The first is that it distracts from the issue. She’s not focusing on an incident of harassment, she’s talking about a larger prevention issue.
That one I’m pretty certain of. Now I get speculative, because really I haven’t asked Elise her particular reasons. But again, put yourself back around that table with a friend who has had the unpleasant experience. How much do you think they would be inclined to explain and relive the details to a large audience, where it could be guaranteed that a certain percentage would misinterpret it, distort it, deny it, demand to hear the “other side,” blow it out of proportion, and otherwise challenge her experience and cross-examine her over every misplaced participle. Doesn’t that just sound like a whole load of fun for her?
Even in as civilized a corner of it as John’s, that is the world of the InterWebs. We’ve already seen it in this comment thread, even when Elise has done her best to write about a different topic and not provide any details of the incident, and totally none about how she fended it off. There are people trying to assert that she must somehow have it wrong about what happened, even when she’s told us nothing.
Why would you expect your friend to want to go through that, especially when it is not even to the point of what she is trying to address?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand how we all like to dish, how we all want to hear the dirt. God knows, I have more than my share of prurient interest. I do want to know all the details.
Sometimes, though, (dammit) it isn’t about me.
pax / Ctein
You know, I’m starting to feel like I don’t ever want to go to an SFF convention. I’ve been to Star Trek cons (in high school) and anime cons (post college) and never had a problem. I feel like if I did go to an SFF con, I’d be really tense from waiting for something to happen to me or someone else and how would that be fun?
Mrs.Arkban @ 1:48–Please don’t avoid SFF cons more than any other type of con; I don’t go to all that many any more, but for a period of about 15 years I went to at least 10 a year, and I can count the harassment incidents I witnessed/heard about on the fingers of one hand and not need a thumb. I suspect that there were some I didn’t hear about, of course, but I still believe that SFF cons are no more, no less, safe spaces than any other large gatherings. The problem is, I think, that a lot of cons started as fairly informal, amateur- and volunteer-run organizations of friends . . . who didn’t worry about how to deal with problems because “oh, no one WE know would behave like that!” Wasn’t true then, isn’t true now. That’s why having a policy in place is important, why knowing what needs to be done is important–and why I carefully read every word of Elise’s post to make sure that there was nothing I needed to add to my own personal list of responses. (There was, as it happened–never occurred to me to make a formal report to the harasser’s employer, but then, I’ve never happened to face an analogous situation with someone actually in the business.)
The first time I witnessed an incident, way back when, I honestly didn’t have a clue what to do about it. Fortunately, the con committee in that instance was responsive and had a fairly good policy in place; today, I’d probably be more forceful about reporting and supporting, because I realize that anyone running a con should know better. But that’s why talking about formal reporting in public is a good idea–because when something happens, anywhere, in any context, we all need to have an idea of how to respond.
I have just had my first experience as a junior manager dealing with a situation that is ambiguous because it’s cloaked in humor and the target still thinks he can protect himself. What I see is that once I know about it, it’s also about my behavior: whether the target can protect himself or not, I have a responsibility to report, although the process is a little different: in addition to writing the email to the target with the factual description of what I personally saw, I also reported up.
It’s a scary, sick feeling, as the post comments. What if everyone discounts me?
But it’s not a discount. It’s a real thing. When it’s written down, it matters. And writing it down for the first time means there’s a benchmark. Anyone can be just plain stupid–once–but thereafter, there is no argument about who’s “misinterpreting” what’s going on.
As one of the people who did the “What happened?’ thing, I’d like to apologize. I was not intending to start a derail, and nor was I questioning the guilt of the accused – that actually was not my point at all and I feel I explained myself poorly. I was attempting to point out that many times those with no “name” feel they have no power and don’t realize that what happens to them happens even to people who are “names” in the community. i.e – this is what harassment IS and yes, report that immediately because it’s NOT you it’s them.
In other words, I wasn’t trying to get the author to actually explain what happened so it could be judged, but more pointing out that it’s good for those with less experience in these things to know that that thing they just dealt with, yeah, that’s harassment and you shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid because even those you may look up to experience it. I thought for purposes of this sort of essay, that would be a useful addendum going forward.
I’ll endeavor to be more clear in the future.
Another aspect to keep in mind about reporting harassment, as I’ve learned the hard way, is that some states have statutes of limitation on the time you have to report.
For example, in Connecticut, if you don’t report the harassment, formally, within 90 days of it ending, then no action can be taken. As I said, I learned this the hard way when I didn’t report my own experiences with being harassed (in a work, not conference setting) for more than a year because it took me that long to get up the nerve. Then, when I did, the delay was actually used against me, rather than for me, by those in power.
Except for the very last part of your comment, which I address below, I don’t disagree with any of what you said. But I am slightly confused. The second half seems to say that the focus of the this discussion is intended to be about how to respond if you believe you’ve been harassed, and I concur. But in the first part are you saying that this discussion should elide details because that’s the wrong way for us here to be supportive of Elise Matthesen in the particular, or only that digging for details is insensitive in instances where someone is there to be supportive of someone else who needs their support? Apologies for my confusion.
Interest in gossip is not universal. With respect, that’s an unwarranted assumption. This is not an attempt to elevate myself above you or anyone else; only to rectify an inaccurate generalization. I don’t believe my disinterest in gossip makes me a better person, and I’m noting that because I full well realize that is how it could otherwise come across.
I can’t speak to your experience, but women (and men, though less often sexually in my anecdotal experience) I do and have known get harassment outside of conventions. Indeed, the geek women (including one my closest friends for nearly a decade) I know who cosplay and go to cons (which I’ve yet to attend) have been sexually assaulted outside their place of work. That’s not to say their experience is representative of everyone’s, but rather that harassment is by no means limited to fan conventions.
Gulliver, ‘we all like to’ is an expression that means “many people like to, including the speaker, and it’s not necessarily something to be ashamed of.” People say “everyone likes chocolate,” but a liking for chocolate is not universal either; it’s just so common that the slight exaggeration passes well enough. I’ve even, IIRC, heard people say “everyone likes chocolate, but I don’t.”
@Xopher: Perhaps I was being overly pedantic :-/ And I agree, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. A person’s character is, in my own estimation, determined by their choices and actions, not their interests. I’ll try to be more mindful of figures of speech in the future.
I haven’t read all of the comments (I have other thing to do for the day or two it would take), and if this (or something I say due to ignorance) gets me Malleted, so be it.
What I have read leads me to believe that the time has come when this is no longer a women’s issue, but an issue for all, and that the number of people of all genders and orientations who regard harassment as violent, anti-social, and wrong dwarfs the number who are still oblivious (and/or simply behaving badly with full awareness and malicious intent).
To anyone experiencing such behavior: the time has passed when you’d be facing this alone and without support. This doesn’t, as Elise says, make it easy — but it does mean that most people will have your back, and even if you’re young and afraid because you feel you’re taking on a Goliath — you have other Goliaths who are ready to go unto battle with and for you.
In other words, you have more than just moral and emotional support: you have real allies who will do their utmost to protect you from any additional harm that you may fear, and to extract the appropriate, just, and fitting revenge. Powerful creeps are relying on their positions of power to enable them to exercise their creepiness, and you now have the ability to strip them of that power.
It’s not easy, and you may choose not to take up what’s still going to be an unpleasant fight — but thanks to people like Elise and John and the people at the con where this occurred and the hundreds of people who have commeted here, you’ve got a good chance of coming out of such a fight with a victory for yourself and the knowledge that you’ve made the world a better place.
Please don’t stop participating. I don’t think you’re a bad person. I don’t think you did a bad thing. It’s not like you were trying to create any grief. I know that. It was just a thing that, under the circumstances and for the reasons I laid out, was almost assured to go south on you.
On that note– People, can we declare the “Let’s Pile Up On Lif” subtopic to be officially and completely over? Dead? Buried? Stake through its heart, bullet to its brain, salt the earth, sprinkle holy water on the grave and draw a pentagram around it? ‘Cause, well, every possible way to dissect it’s been done.
Put yourself in her shoes. You try to say something useful and constructive; you’re not trying to sabotage or poison the discourse. Anything but! You are well-meaning and in sympathy. And what you get is flak from all directions. So, how are you feeling right now? It’s not hard to appreciate how it might make one feel just tad defensive (understatement) and even picked on.
As I wrote previously, I think what Lif did was a sure fail, and so it was not appropriate to the circumstances. But I think she’s got that and I think it’s been said every way it can be. Time for moving on?
My apologies. You’re right.
My explanation (note: NOT excuse, they re not the same thing). I was writing colloquially and I was trying to get across the same idea as you– that I wasn’t setting myself up as nobler than other people, that I had the same impulse as everyo…ummm…many (lookie, see, evidence of learning behaviour!). I said it maladroitly.
Elise is an old, dear friend, and she told me of this on Monday. The first things out of my mouth (not sure in which order) were “Ohmygod”, “How could someone be so fabulously stupid as to pick YOU for their target,” and “Who?” And she told me, ’cause I’ve been aware of the Frenkel Problem for about a year (which is another post). The second thought that went through my head was , “What exactly happened?”
Which, remarkably, did not make it to my lips, ’cause every so often I show evidence of a clue. But I really, really wanted to know because she’s important to me and I want to know what happened to her, and I care a lot, and I’m nosy.
Which is all I was trying to convey, that I truly understand the impulse to want the details, because it’s huge in me.
pax / Ctein
“No one is even demanding his firing (that I’ve seen, and I think that would be inappropriate too, at this point).”
I don’t see why that would be inappropriate. If a tenth of the stories that have been told in the last 36 hours, both here and all across the web, are true, Mr. Frenkel has been considered a problem many times, dating back decades. Multiple people have said that they have talked to him about his behavior with no positive results. We’re well past his word against Elise’s word here.
Given that, I find it hard to see why he should remain in a position that requires him to be able to interact professionally with females. Unless he is the victim of a massive smear campaign, it seems clear that he is incapable of handling that responsibility.
Meh, Xopher’s right. I took a figure of speech too literally. By it’s kind of you to clarify.
Xopher can, of course, speak for himself, but I believe his point was that that should be handled through official channels since they do, in this case, exist. You are, of course, free to disagree, and Xopher and anyone else is free to disagree with you.
Rather more to the point, that was neither Matthesen’s purpose in writing this nor Scalzi’s purpose in hosting it. Their clearly stated point was to have a discussion about what people who believe they’ve been harassed can do about it and what recourse and resources they can call upon. Deflecting the discussion from that, however innocently, is somewhat disrespectful to both, IMO.
@Ctein: Also wanted to add that your ability to repress your desire for details when you knew it wouldn’t help your friend shows admirable restraint and self-discipline, and that is pertinent to good character.
“Deflecting the discussion from that, however innocently, is somewhat disrespectful to both, IMO.”
That’s a very fair point, and if that is what Xopher meant by “inappropriate”, I certainly apologize. (I know “if” apologies are generally meaningless, but in this case, I don’t want to assign the wrong meanings to his words a second time.).
OK, you hit an issue for me (a good one). I first heard of the Frenkel Problem a year ago. It had/has been going on for many, many years (ten?). It involves many, many incidents, far too many and far too specific to ever be excused away as chance, misinterpretation or merely maladroit behavior. The guy’s been pulling “Hollywood Producer” on a lot of women for a long time.
I was very disturbed I didn’t know of this– men rarely see the behavior and sometimes don’t recognize it when they do– but that no one had told me in that whole time. I’ve no doubt some of his targets were “over-the-transom” authors who weren’t connected into our subculture. But not all, not by any means. Like Elise, I’m well-connected in this world, and I’m a man who (many) women feel (mostly) safe talking to about Things-That-Really-Matter. But, until a year ago, I heard none of it. It was propagating subrosa via the girls’ grapevine (see the end of this post**). And it really upset me because, godammit, at least some of those authors wouldn’t have been without an army of support. (One has to take the existence of an army of detractors as a given whenever a woman complains of such things.)
I finally figured it out. It wasn’t speaking to the nature of our particular subculture, or of Frenkel’s targets, or even to me (not about me?! Oh, the horror.) It was speaking to me directly, in language I could not fail to understand, just how incredibly hard/scary/dangerous/threatening it feels for a victim to speak up about this, to make the formal complaint, to be the one to say, “This fucker needs to be taken down and even if no one else has stepped forward, I must be one who does.”
My world, my community, my friends, my causes, my politics, and it’s still too hard for the victims or even victims’ friends to tell me of this. For years.
THIS is why Elise needed to write the essay she did.
And now I think i’ve hogged far more than my share of bandwidth for the day.
pax / Ctein
**Aside to men: Many of you don’t seem to know this, but women talk. They talk to each other about you. They exchange information about how you behave socially *AND* intimately. This is not locker-room banter nor bragging rights. This goes far beyond, “Is he nice, do you think I’d like him?” chatter. It is a serious matter, concerning their survival and safety. In the absence of the traditional Proper Introductions and chaperones and all that, this is how women vet you, how they establish that you are OK to be around and with, that you are not a genuine threat to their well-being.
What happens in “Vegas” does NOT stay in “Vegas.” I promise it will serve you well to remember this.
[Deleted because it’s something I already said we were done with this topic – JS]
I know people get sexually harassed outside of cons. In fact, all of the times I’ve been sexually harassed/assaulted have been outside cons (the street, work, college, subway). My point was I don’t want to go somewhere that it seems like the odds of getting sexually harassed are quite high.
Thank you Elise and Sigrid and Doire for standing up in public. Thank you lexica and CJoshuaV and Louise for being specific, intelligent, and accurate. The more people talk about sexual harassment (whether reported to the authorities or not) the smaller my probability of being harassed gets, and whether or not that decrease is only a small thing, it’s still a good thing.
Jae Leslie and others, I’m also happy when guys speak up when someone they associate with or are in a conversation with says inappropriate crap. If the harasser is teachable, that’s great; if they’re not, at least you tried. It is also a thing that makes me feel reassured because I can see that the social sphere around me (or a social sphere) does not think the harassment is acceptable.
Terry Trueman, thanks for feeling it was honourable to say something. I’m in a younger generation and I’m not clear on what you meant or the implications of what you wrote besides the fact that you’re uncomfortable with the subject, not clear how to tell the best thing to do in all circumstances, and also feel you should say something. We may or may not share a lot of opinions but I hope you find benefit in reading people’s first-person accounts and observing what results other people’s words/actions have.
FWIW, I’ve been harassed quite a bit at school, work, and on the street, but *never* at cons. I’m not saying my experience is universal, maybe I’ve just been incredibly lucky. But the impression I’ve gotten is that the ratio of creepers to decent people is actually a lot lower at cons than it is everyplace else.
And while it’s true that an awful lot of otherwise decent people will stand aside and let harassment go unchallenged, I don’t think it’s out of malice or siding with the harasser, it’s because they just plain don’t know what to do.
That’s why articles like this one are so important. Protocols have been put in place, now we just have to follow them.
Official reporting mechanisms have the great benefit of indicating that harassment is an action against not just one woman but against society itself and that society, even a small portion of it at a conference, has a stake in stopping it cold. It is the harasser who should feel small and alone, in the face of a united front. Bravo Elise.
GOOD FOR YOU!!!!
I didn’t report the harassment I suffered in my 20s because I ended up convinced it was my fault — not so! Well done, you — for reporting and for passing on how to do it…and that it SHOULD be done!
@MrsArkban, it’s just that cons are willing to talk about it publicly, so that you’ve heard more about it lately. You’re actually safer at a con than out in the real world. The odds of something bad happening are lower; the odds of someone doing something about it are higher. Unlike society as a whole, we’re not hushing it up like before.
Unfortunately, this being the internet, there will always be those who want to make it into a trial, and others who will help them do it by assuming the role of the defense, irrespective of the avowed wishes of the target and the people trying to have a discussion about how to deal with harassment.
I say this as someone who’s been the object of unwanted sexual advances by a workplace superior (a woman incidentally), when I was underage and at my first real job no less. So yes, of course women can harass men, and of course harassment can take the form of lies and retaliation, from either sex. I know this firsthand as I was prudently advised by the person on who’s recommendation I was hired to insist on filing a report (to the chagrin of the HR manager) so that when my harasser attempted to get me fired by fabricated charges of insubordination, shirking and, yes, sexual advances, there was a paper trail and witnesses. Just as an editor might lie to try to kill the career of an author who spoke out about being harassed by them. Reporting harassment is scary when the harasser is someone who can ruin your career.
But speculating about smear campaigns is no better than speculating about the guilt of the accused, and none of it’s on the frakking topic.
@The Wife of Another Accused
Comparing the incident that catalyzed this discussion about the importance and means of reporting to what happened to your husband because he didn’t report his alleged harasser misses the entire point spectacularly.
A factor I haven’t seen commented on yet is that sf/f fandom and cons have changed a lot since people like this harasser got into it as young men and felt at home in the community back in the 1960s and 1970s.
These days, cons are family-friendly events where parents can reasonably bring their kids, and the bigger cons even offer programming and activities for kids. But if you talk with old-timers about what sf/f, fandom, and cons were like 40 years ago, when this harasser was getting involved in the field… It wasn’t the sort of environment where many people would bring kids for a weekend. There were more illegal substances being passed around, and there was a lot more bed-hopping and casual sex.
Even people who were married back then have told many anecdotes at the bar about sleeping around at cons in those days, etc. Male writers of that era have talked about female fans walking up and offering them sex. Editors have been named who promised contracts to women who slept with them. If you look at masquerade photos from the 1970s, many of the women are topless.
I don’t mean “everyone was there for the sex,” or even that this was a majority experience (I’ve no idea about that), but it was a lot different in those days than these days. And so behavior that now leads to a man being the subject of a sexual harassment complaint was behavior that, in those days, was somewhere between completely acceptable and–particularly if the man was an acquiring editor, I would think–ensuring he’d get laid at the con. For someone who was very comfortable entering that community with those mores 40 years ago and found his behavior toward not only acceptable but rewarded (with sex), an inability to learn or change (or pull himself together) could lead to him still behaving toward women at cons 40 years later and totally not understanding why it’s unacceptable and leads to widespread warnings, censure, and even formal harassment charges.
It’s like a guy who keeps lighting up in restaurants and waiting rooms, and is baffled over and over in 2013 that he keeps getting asked to put out his cigaratte and then, when he refuses, getting thrown out of those places. When he started smoking in 1973, after all, you could smoke anywhere and everywhere–so “what’s the PROBLEM? what are you TALKING about, I ‘can’t smoke in here’???”
And me… OH, so glad not to have been a woman in sf/f in 1973.
Drugs, toplessness and casual sex, while not “family friendly” (at least in our culture, mores and attitudes towards drugs and breasts being rather different in some cultures) do not equal sexual harassment. Seriously, if someone fails to recognize that, then they don’t know what sexual harassment is and they need to learn without doing it to other people. But I can tell you this: in all the accounts of harassment that I’ve heard of directly from friends, the four I’ve witnessed firsthand (yes, I intervened, though in one case that was in breaking up a fight after a woman with excellent reflexes had broken the wrist of the creep that grabbed her ass) and the one I’ve been the target of, the harasser(s) knew exactly what the fuck they were doing and were visibly getting off on it.
So you’re reply is to speculate about the possible guilt of the alleged target? Pot, meet kettle.
“if someone fails to recognize that, then they don’t know what sexual harassment is and they need to learn without doing it to other people. ”
@ Gulliver, that was my point. There are people not adjusting to circumstances where behavior that was widely accepted 40 years ago in fandom is out of bounds now. I don’t mean that it’s all just relative and wasn’t wrong. I mean that this individual may be stuck, due to character flaws, in a paradigm where no matter what the consequences, he’s not recognizing that behavior that was accepted (or even rewarded with casual sex) 40 year ago isn’t okay, and now people are TREATING it as not okay.
I’d like to tell a story. It’s a true story, but it’s an ugly story. It’s a story that still mystifies me in a lot of ways. But think it shows the importance of reporting harassment.
In the late 70’s, at a fairly small convention, two young female Star Trek fans reported to the con committte that they’d been molested by one of the attendees. I don’t know what the details were, but “molested” was the word used.
The committee acted promptly, to their credit, and confronted the suspect.
Here’s the problem: The young women had reported that their molester was “a guy named Bruce, from Arizona.”
I was the only guy named Bruce from Arizona at that convention. So it was me the concom came to.
I was completely mystified, and said so. I was taken to the young women for a visual confirmation.
I was NOT the guy they’d been molested by. They had never spoken with me, and I had never spoken with them. I was in the clear.
The molester was never identified, to the best of my knowledge. But if those young women had NOT reported the incident to the concom, if they instead had just passed the story around the gossipvine that they’d been molested by “Bruce from Arizona”, I might have been privately labeled as a creepy molester. (Since the two Trek fans looked about 14 or 15, possibly as a child molester.) And in that instance, I might hever have found out about those allegations for months or possibly years.
This begs the question, of course, of why the guy chose to identify himself as “Bruce from Arizona”. And if he was deliberately falsifying his name, doesn’t that say his intent was to molest those young women? Was it just a name picked from the air? Or was he somebody who knew me, and for unknown reasons wanted any possible blowback to come back on me? Why would someone do that to me? This still mystifies me, over forty years later.
So, goddamn, ladies, REPORT, REPORT, REPORT! Because not only does it make it possible to have real consequences for harassers and to deter other harassers, it allows someone who’s been misidentified or falsely accused to try and clear their name.
Bruce–WHOA. Excellent point! Glad you told that story.
Divine: I think you’re too optimistic. The thing that separates the harassers and the stalkers from the clueless ones is that the harassers and stalkers know full well that what they’re doing is wrong. They’ve got wide-eyed denial down to an art form. What they’re used to is getting away with it and I think in some cases it’s the buzz from getting away with it that’s so enjoyable for them.
As an FYI, I just vaporized a bunch of comments from “Wife” and people responding to her. Folks, again: when you respond to someone on a subject I’ve already ruled off topic, you just make more work for me. I’m slightly exasperated that I have had to say this more than once in the same thread.
“At least one commenter said Mr. Frenkel clearly isn’t capable of handling the responsibility of his position, where he will have to interact with women. If that isn’t finding him guilty without evidence, I don’t know what is.”
You are clearly misrepresenting what I said. I made it clear that I would feel that way IF the stories being told about him turn out to be true. If all of these men and women are working together to smear his name, he not only should keep him job, there needs to be an organized investigation into why so many people are be lying about an innocent man.
Excellent point. Sexual harassment and other sex crimes are extremely underreported in this country. Reporting is the most important part, because no culprits can e caught if no one is looking for them.
Divine: “There are people not adjusting to circumstances where behavior that was widely accepted 40 years ago in fandom is out of bounds now. I don’t mean that it’s all just relative and wasn’t wrong. I mean that this individual may be stuck, due to character flaws, in a paradigm where no matter what the consequences, he’s not recognizing that behavior that was accepted (or even rewarded with casual sex) 40 year ago isn’t okay, and now people are TREATING it as not okay.”
I agree that this is a possibility. There is no way for us to know, but it’s one of the possibilities.
I don’t think for a moment that you’re suggesting that they should get a pass because they’re stuck in this old paradigm and can’t seem to see beyond it. But I’m not sure what point you are making. Just speculating on human psychology? I do a lot of that. It’s interesting. It’s what makes fiction and memoirs so fascinating for me. Sure, it’s possible that if Mr. Frenkel did what he has been alleged to have done, on multiple occasions, and has been told–by multiple people–that it’s not okay and to knock it off, and he persists in not knocking it off, it is possible that he is acting on an old paradigm and is somehow stuck in it. He wouldn’t be the only person to be so with regard to any number of issues (coughPaulaDeencough). I’m sure I’m holding onto some old paradigms without necessarily realizing it. I suspect most people do, particularly as we get older and acceptance of change comes more slowly. But I have to live with the world as it is, not the world of 40 years ago, and so do these folks.
Folks (and me), don’t make John pull this thread over.
Oh, okay, thank you for clarifying. My only quibble was that sexual harassment may have been tolerated back then in SFF circles (I wouldn’t know as I didn’t discover SF until the late 90’s), but it was never not wrong. I realize you weren’t saying it was, but those other things you mentioned – drugs, toplessness and casual sex (not sure how they could really enforce that at a convention) – may not be tolerated nowadays, but they aren’t intrinsically wrong. Harassing someone, sexually or otherwise, is, and I merely wanted to point to you that you were (inadvertently) drawing a false parallel with the way your initial comment was worded.
Formal reports and investigations are both the best way to stop false allegations and the best way to create a safe society. Most people recognize this readily enough with other crimes. Who would seriously argue that a killing should go unreported in case it wasn’t murder? Who would argue that the public’s tendency to decide before the facts emerge means there should be no homicide investigations? If someone is wrongly punished by the justice system, we blame the investigators or the courts, not the victim of the crime.
Yet that’s basically what opponents of reporting harassment often argue. It makes no sense. Formal, open, transparent investigation is always a better avenue than the grapevine, and it’s in everyone’s interests but the harassers to work to create policies of investigating allegations and to encourage people to use them if they believe they’ve been wronged.
Elise Matthesen could have kept everything on the QT. Instead she used her experience to help guide people who believe they’ve been harassed, and their friends and allies, on the best way forward.
Lurkertype @6:34pm That is a good point. It probably is safer to go to an SFF con now than it was, with all the safety/reporting protocols that have been put in place. I guess I’ll just avoid the ones giving out complimentary cattle prods and I’ll be ok.
@MrsArkban: Surely they have safety protocols at BDSM conventions, of all places :D
I love this post. I particularly love the idea of turning it, and hopefully the “what to do if you witness harassment” stuff in the comments, into a handy HOWTO for conventions. Hopefully for all kinds of conventions. I’ve passed the info on to someone I know who’s involved with the NoLose convention, and I’m thinking about how to adapt it for a 12-step convention I’m involved with that’s still at the “we’re so tiny/nobody would ever!” stage.
I also want to tell a story in support of reporting.
My dad used to teach at one of the Universities of California. He had tenure; he was as tenured as you can get. He was at the same one for 20+ years.
When I was about 20 years old, he lost his job. This was in the middle of my parents getting divorced, which perhaps meant that I learned more about what happened than I otherwise would have. They were in the “telling their adult child all the details” stage at the time.
My mother also made a point of telling each of us three kids – ages 13 to 20 – what the truth was of the situation that led to him losing his job, because she wanted us all to know that what he did wasn’t okay and that she didn’t think it was okay. And that we should know what to do if we were ever in a similar situation.
The situation was that he had been reported by a student for sexual harassment.
He had, evidently – and this is second- or third-hand – put his hand on the student’s thigh while flirting with her in his office. (He probably thought he was talking, not flirting. Pro tip: If you feel moved to put your hand on an acquaintance’s thigh, you’ve been flirting.)
In a way, it was the inverse of Elise’s experience. The young woman who had reported him said, apparently, that what he did didn’t bother her so deeply, but that – and here is where she becomes my hero – she wanted to be on record so that the next person who had a problem with him, who may be deeply traumatized, would be believed.
She wanted to be that first person to report what was going on, so that the next person would have automatic backup.
As it turned out, she wasn’t the first.
He’d been reported and investigated for sexually harassing his students three times before, over a span of at least ten years. I know my dad, and I would absolutely stake my life that these were not isolated incidents. They were the few people who wanted to report it, AND felt able to, AND could find out how to, during that time period.
The third time, he had been exonerated (for THAT incident only). But he had received a stern warning that if this was his absolute last chance, and that if he was ever found to have done it a third time, he would be out of there.
That was pretty bad. Then, too, the current young woman’s father did not take as generous a view of his behavior as his daughter had, and started kicking up shit as soon as he found out what had happened.
Then, too, whoever it was who had given him that final warning was still around, and remembered it, and laid down the law in a very thorough and determined manner.
So, despite having tenure and as much seniority as, I think, they could give him, he was out on his ass.
Here’s the thing: This is one of my favorite stories in the entire WORLD.
My god! The number of teachers and professors I’ve heard of who were skeevy around their students, who never got more than a slap on the wrist! And here’s a situation where someone not only lost their job for sexually harassing their students, but lost it DESPITE TENURE.
I think that’s one of the greatest triumphs of the system, and of feminism, and of our culture’s growing understanding of healthy boundaries and relationships, like… ever.
I love this because yes, he’s my father. And yes, he’s pretty much never going to change. (He could, if he wanted to; there are programs that work for abusers who want to stop abusing. Sex Addicts Anonymous comes to mind, for one. But it would take a very, very, very profound shift for him to even want to change – if losing that job didn’t do it, and having been accused of sexual abuse by one of his kids didn’t do it, ain’t nothing gonna do it.) And yes, losing his job was doubtless traumatic for him, and he couldn’t (I also love this) get hired at any other universities or colleges anywhere, if I remember right. Anywhere he went, people would pop up and be like, “Ask him what happened at his old school!”
BUT: It may have changed nothing in his behavior. But it changed something for the department. For the students. For the school. For the entire higher education system. It meant one creeper was removed from the equation.
AND: It changed something for his kids. For his students. For the world. It meant that people, a lot of people, got to see that reporting sexual harassment does work. That people will believe you, and people will stand up for you. That even people who you think will be treated as indispensable may actually have to face the consequences of their actions.
It won’t necessarily happen to everyone, every time. Sometimes people just have to lay the groundwork for the eventual comedown. But you know, I spent many years learning to set boundaries and to report things as appropriate. In one case, I reported every detail I saw of abuse and neglect of a child I had in my life, and saw very little happen as a result: but it strengthened me to stand up and say “This is not okay.” And it may have helped him; his school counselor had much more information about what was going on, and he must, I think, have had a sense that somebody was standing up and speaking out for him.
Even if reporting harassment, abuse, or whatever other inappropriate behavior around us, seems to do nothing, it piles up evidence. It shifts people’s experience, so that it becomes possible for them to imagine reporting things themselves. It slowly spreads awareness of what people don’t have to put up with anymore, and why, and how.
My infinite thanks to everyone here who’s ever done it, who’s now thinking about doing it, who’s thinking about helping others do it, who’s more open to the whole idea of how to end harassment, as a result of this amazing post. And thanks to John Scalzi for providing this space for this post and wielding the Mallet with such dedication, and to Elise Matthesen for awesomely standing up and awesomely writing about it.
I am currently attending a con.
A vendor across the way is getting creeped on hard by a skeevy guy who apparently came, sat behind her table, and began creeping. Since it’s a loud room and an isolated table, no one could hear this and just assumed that he was one of the people working the table.
The other vendor at the table told him repeatedly to leave, to get out of the chair, to stop talking like that in front of her son (there is a child at the table) but he refused to leave. Eventually she wound up talking to my husband and I once the guy had left. We tried to convince her to report it–I offered to go with her, I said “We can get this taken care of, this is wildly inappropriate!” etc–but she refused for all the usual I-just-want-this-to-not-be-happening reasons. About all we could do was send my husband over to fill the chair (the creeper had followed the first vendor to a panel, I think) and when the creeper came back, there was nowhere to sit. He stood there for awhile, then kept circling the area, hoping for an opening, before finally leaving again.
The vendor being creeped also refused to report it, saying she wasn’t THAT scared (Jesus wept) and that she could take care of herself and all the usual stuff.
What the hell do I do now? I mentioned the guy informally by name to the guest liaison (to noncommittal noise) nobody wants to make a formal complaint, I did not personally witness anything incriminating. I sure as hell don’t want to compound a miserable con experience these women are having by doing something they have clearly stated they don’t want done.
All I can think of to do is go in early tomorrow, find Security, report the creeper without naming vendor names, and saying “He’s causing a serious problem for some of the vendors, somebody better collar him and tell him to cut it out or this will end badly.”
I want to give the con the chance to fix this, I don’t want these women to hae to put themselves in any more distress, but what in the name of god is the ethical thing to do?
If he’s creating an ongoing problem, you have a responsibility to other vendors, patrons and the con to report him to security. Ask them what they intend to do and follow up with them. They need to send someone to shadow him and witness him being a nuisance if none of the witnesses will make a report. If they don’t take it seriously, or you feel they’re being unhelpful, try to contact someone involved with organizing the con. If you don’t know, ask around. Someone will.
Additionally, try appealing to the witnesses’ sense of civic responsibility. Make it clear that they’re putting others at risk by letting this person’s behavior go unchecked. If their own safety doesn’t motivate them, the risk to others may.
@Temporarily Anonymous — what I would do is what you’ve proposed to do tomorrow, but I’d do it now, so he can be met at the door tomorrow morning.
OK. So, I am a litigator, and sometimes represent parties in sexual harassment cases (both sides).
In addition, for the last five years or so, I’ve given presentations for clients — giving sexual-harassment-avoidance training to staff (including what not to do, and what to report), and giving investigation-and-management training to supervisors.
A robust discussion of how to report harassment, and how (without details of the harassment) the reporting process worked and felt, is great.
However, one thing I always tell clients, employees, and people I am training is this: report the harassment to the appropriate people, cooperate with the investigation, but then don’t talk about the harassment. Don’t discuss it with coworkers, don’t discuss it with friends, don’t write about it.
That advice is calculated to (1) preserve the integrity of the investigation process, and prevent problems with it, and (2) minimize risks of liability when the accused is litigious.
Of course people who report sexual harassment have a First Amendment right to discuss it. I would vigorously defend their right to do so. (In fact I have.) But if someone’s concern is an effective investigation and a good result, then doing what Ms. Mattheson has done here — talk about the process, but not the details of what happened — is the best practice.
After there is some conclusion to whatever various convention authorities want to do, then perhaps she will re-evaluate. Openly talking about harassment — if the victims feel comfortable doing so — helps empower and deter.
I long ago stopped being shocked by the narcissistic, sociopathic behavior of harassers, not to mention the apologias and defensiveness of their friends and supporters.
(I should note that I am currently off-site, or I’d be doing it now. I’m frustrated with myself that I didn’t report immediately—I’m honestly out of my depth here, and this isn’t a con I know well so I can’t just grab someone from Security by the earlobe and say “You Will Fix This Or I Will Call Your Mother.”)
@Temporarily Anonymous — It’s hard to do. Especially the first time. Don’t beat yourself up over this minor delay. (I laughed out loud at your threat to Security!)
@brucearthurs, @floored, @Gulliver
Reporting sure is important. Yep. It is. It really, really is.
But do you folks get why it DOESN’T get reported? (I think Gulliver might.) People, especially women, don’t report because they are afraid of what will happen to them. This is reasonable, because women who do report go through a lot of shit. Often far more than their harassers, especially when the harassers have more power than they do (hint: this is most of the time, since harassers intentionally pick vulnerable victims).
Frenkel picked somebody this time who had the connections and the clout and the, i dunno, intestinal fortitude to fight back. Elise is well known and well liked. She’s not a pro writer nor hopes to be one, so there’s not much he can do to her. And she is not easily intimidates. By anyone.
But Elise is not the sort of person harassers usually pick, and for most victims of harassment who report, there is incredible backlash (as, indeed, there is towards Elise), and damage to their career and reputation. Total strangers talk about how stupid or slutty or bitchy they are, how they’re just trying to ruin nice guys, all kinds of things. They are made to doubt themselves, and what happened.
If you want victims to report more, then it needs to be safe for them to do so. That means they need to be believed, that they need to be protected from attacks, that they need to be protected from damage to their careers.
Now, you who have stressed how important it is to report, tell me, how do you plan to make is SAFE for people to report? Bruce and Floored seem to be particularly interested in keeping men safe from false accusations and conclusions. How about keeping accusers safe from everything that comes after?
Don’t berate yourself over what you could’ve done. Focus on doing what you still can. Unless it’s the World Narcissism Summit (where everyone’s a keynote, hehe), chances are there’s people there who know who to call and will share your concern. If you don’t know who, ask anyone you feel comfortable approaching if they have some idea who you can contact. If the convention has any online forums, or you know of forums where current or past attendees hang out, ask there. But in meantime, you’re best bet is security, and you may find they’re as responsive as they should be. Remember, you’re not just telling them about someone being a jerk, you’re reporting someone who’s demonstrated blatant disregard for boundaries and that makes him a threat to everyone. They better damn well care about that. Good luck and godspeed.
Yes, of course. I recognize it takes courage, and no one can tell someone else what risks they must take. But that’s why supporting people is so important. It’s not even a question of believing people. I support my friends and even strangers because they deserve to be listened to by people in authority, and to have their claims taken seriously. A person’s right to be heard and receive justice for wrongs against them and protection from further wrongs has nothing to do with their credibility. Elise Matthesen sounds like a wonderful and credible person. But that is not why she deserves to have her claims investigated. Everyone does.
Actually, their point was pretty obviously that they believed the formal reporting and investigation process is the best defense against false allegations, and they’re absolutely right. Moreover, in that particular case of misindenitficaiton, they seem particularly interested in finding and stopping the actual harasser. I would think you would share that priority.
False allegations, regardless of how rare or rampant they are, are just another form of harassment, and should only be punished if there is actual evidence (not mere character attacks like we’ve seen here and see every time someone accuses another in a position of power). It does no actual target of harassment any good to pretend that false allegations are not harassment.
Speculating on the veracity of the claims is not your job as a friend or ally unless you were a witness. Your job is to support the person in making their claim and to support them against blowback and intimidation for making it. Harassment is a crime. It needs to be taken as seriously as any other crime and we as a society have a responsibility to ensure it can be reported without the person reporting it getting mobbed by the internet or the public, irrespective of whether we believe them or not or simply do not know. That responsibility begins with each every one of us. If investigation finds out later that the allegation was false, then and only then is the time for public opprobrium.
Will be turning off the comments at around midnight, Eastern. Will be back up in the morning.
Edit, 8:38am ET, 6/30: Comments back on.
@ Temporarily Anonymous:
As Gulliver said, don’t worry about what you could or should have done, but focus on what you can do now. If the security is competent, they should respond swiftly and strongly. Try approaching a female security officer first; you may get a better response that way.
If going to Security does not work, I suggest finding a large, muscular friend to deter the creeper. If your husband is suitably large, he should do fine. Have the deterrent sit by the creeped-upon woman and make small talk. He (or she, if you use a female friend as a deterrent) can even play with the vendor’s son to keep him out of his mother’s hair.
I hope that you can find a solution to the creeper quickly and that the creeper suffers the consequences.
Divine: Ever noticed how those guys who “forget” they’re not allowed to light up in a restaurant aren’t doing it while their boss is around? And have managed to incorporate rapidly changing technology into their lives? Oh, people get that things have changed, they just like to pretend they don’t because it helps them get away with things, and makes the change less real. And I don’t see how someone can be interacting professionally with a community over a long period of time, including editing material which is successfully sold to that community, and yet somehow be out of touch with that community in such a selective way.
And yet — what proof has he had before that things really had changed? Despite con policies, increased awareness, and the shift in the community, the rules had never been applied to him before, so he could pretend they didn’t exist. And in a way, until the rules were enforced, they didn’t truly exist and things hadn’t really changed as much as we’d like to think.
So thank you Elise, and all those who are enforcing those policies, for making the change a real one rather than a theoretical one.
One thing that should be emphasized about harassment is that it’s whatever the victim decides is harassment. What one person may not consider to be harassment is what is harassment for someone else. A hand on the shoulder, a long look at cleavage, a passing brush against the buttocks, a risque joke, all of these may be harassment if that’s what the victim thinks it is.
Ambidexter – no, that’s not correct. Behavior on the part of another person that a victim feels is unwelcome forms the basis for a harassment *complaint.* Whether or not that constitutes actual harassment depends on further evaluation. That’s one of the reasons why it is so important to document harassment complaints – precisely because they can be evaluated.
As someone new to writing conventions – but not cons in particular – thank you for this. I have had to report sexual harassment before and it is an uncomfortable place to be as a woman. Especially those of us born in the 60’s. We were told by society that women were supposed to be silently supportive to men and tolerate their ‘foibles’. Luckily, we grew up in a world that changed that social ruling – sort of.
Thanks again for being brave, strong, and loud.
Ambidexter, the information you’re putting forward is not correct. Anything can certainly be the basis for a complaint, but any number of complaints can be filed and subsequently dismissed.
A sexual advance (request for sexual favor, verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, etc.) has to be unwelcome. (I understand that no one’s arguing Elise welcomed the incident. I’m simply going over what traditionally constitutes actionable sexual harassment.) Such unwelcome conduct can constitute harassment in three situations.
1. When submission to such conduct is, explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of employment.
2. When submission to a rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions.
3. When such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
The first two situations are quid pro quo–this for that. The third situation revolves around whether or not the conduct created a “hostile or offensive work environment.” This means that the conduct itself has to be severe enough or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
In my humble opinion, many of the folks who have given platform to this discussion are, indeed, brave. Because many folks have opened themselves up to some serious lawsuits. Legally, it’s difficult for me to go into exacting detail why because of Scalzi’s “Mallet” policy.
Unless this turns out to be an open and shut case (quid pro quo with witnesses, for instance) then Frenkel would seem to have some options. In fact, Frenkel could easily make an argument that the current state of affairs has actually created a hostile work environment for him.
Thank you to Elise for reporting the incident, and than you for sharing it.
@ lif strand – I’m glad you can stand on your own and take care of yourself. However – if your purse was stolen, would you personally scold the thief and ask for it back, or would you report? If someone slashed you, giggled, and ran away with the dripping knife, would you scold them or report?
Harassment is illegal, these days. “I’m brave and bold and stand up for myself” is nice, but doesn’t prevent the harasser from finding another, weaker, target.
Reporting can get the harasser thrown out of the con. Reporting can give courage to a woman giving an unofficial report – if she’s not the first, she might be more willing to put her name on the report.
“I’m brave and bold and don’t report” has much the same legal effect as “I’m young and scared and don’t report.”
Jo, WisCon has a formal policy defining harassment which trumps general principles of employment law. From their website:
“Harassment is generally any behavior that annoys, alarms, or threatens another person or group. This includes unwanted physical contact, following someone around a public area without their consent, or threatening to physically attack someone. If you approach someone and they tell you “no” or to leave them alone, you must do so and have no further contact. If you fail to honor their response, they may have a legitimate complaint of harassment.
“Harassment of convention members online or in electronic venues will be treated as seriously as physical harassment. If you aren’t sure what constitutes harassment, err on the side of caution and restrict your contact. For more information, please review the privacy policies in the following section. If you feel you have been harassed please report the matter immediately to the convention committee, especially Safety and the convention chairs. Please remember that we need to know about any incidents during the convention to be able to take immediate action. If you have been accused of harassment and feel that a committee member’s response was unjustified, you may appeal to the convention chairs, but that decision will be final.”
Tor’s policies, of course, may be different, but it’s hard to see how Frenkel could argue that the reaction on the Internet by people not working for Tor to an incident occurring at a public event not sponsored by Tor could possibly constitute a hostile working environment at Tor.
I am not a lawyer, but would like to point out that your list of conditions is relevant and possibly definitional for workplace harassment. J Random Bigname following, making unwanted sexual remarks to, and groping a random convention attendee who does not work in the field, or want to, is still harassing her. And it would be harassment if neither the creep nor the target had a job/professional/financial interest at stake.
The behavior described upthread, of a congoer creeping on a vendor at a convention and refusing to leave her alone when told to is harassment, even though the harasser doesn’t influence whether his target will get a booth at the next convention; it doesn’t have to be shown that he is making it harder for her to do business at the con.
@ celia – yes, offering to ‘be a witness’ has two effects –
it jumps over the ‘deer in the headlights’ effect many people feel – did that just happen? did he really do that? am I just imagining things? was it really as bad as it seemed to be? – and lets the person know that yes it happened, yes it was as bad as you thought
it gives the harassee an ally and backup when talking to HR, without which many people seem afraid to speak up.
Kudos for the idea.
I’m puzzled as to why the Mallet would prevent you from explaining why commenters here “have opened themselves up to some serious lawsuits”; Scalzi has not warned anyone against discussing such, so if you believe that people have put themselves in legal jeopardy, by all means explain why.
I’m also not following your last paragraph; unless the commenters are the harasser’s co-workers, how do comments here create a “hostile work environment” in his workplace? Why do workplace harassment policies have anything to do with the original post, which discussed sexual harassment at an SFF con by people who are not co-workers? Why do you believe a quid pro quo allegation with witnesses gives the harasser “options”?
Dave Hogg: I don’t see why that would be inappropriate. If a tenth of the stories that have been told in the last 36 hours
First point: you posted that 25 hours and 32 minutes after I posted mine, which means about 2/3 of “the last 36 hours” happened between our two posts.
Second Point: Gulliver had it mostly right when he said I believe his point was that that should be handled through official channels since they do, in this case, exist. Elise has been pleased with how the two organizations involved have been handling it, so letting that play out has some virtues. If they come up with a solution that satisfies Elise, and does keep him away from vulnerable people (like, say, he’s not allowed to attend conventions anymore), would you insist on his firing?
But really, with all the additional reporting, I’m no longer sure it is inappropriate to call for his firing. But the reports have to be formal ones, or his employer can’t act without risking being sued.
That’s a very fair point, and if that is what Xopher meant by “inappropriate”, I certainly apologize.
I was talking about the SFF world in general, not about this conversation, so I didn’t actually mean “inappropriate” in the sense of disrespectfully deflecting the conversation. So it turns out you don’t apologize! :-) Which is fine; you don’t owe one at all IMO.
I made it clear that I would feel that way IF the stories being told about him turn out to be true.
Which is what I meant by “inappropriate…at this point.” I probably should have said “premature,” come to think of it.
Danica Stone: thank you for sharing your story about your father, and for your overall amazing attitude
The one thing that I keep coming across over and over in accounts like these, the single absolute constant comes at the point where the victim reports the offence. The victim always–ALWAYS–says, “I was afraid [to report it].” As if the reporting of harassment was the true offence, not the harassment itself.
Forty years ago, I went to the police about a stalker and that’s exactly how I felt. Plus ça change, plus ça çame çhit.
Steven, regarding WisCon’s policy, that’s certainly a fair point, I suppose. I was referring to actionable sexual harassment in a legal sense though. To my knowledge, WisCon’s policy is just that of a private organization. It outlines their policy in regards to whom they allow to attend the con. It gives WisCon a measure of protection when they decide to eject someone from their convention. This is much the same as a company that may have a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” policy. It’s informative, but has no bearing on statute law.
That said, I’m very thankful that organizations do have policies that are designed to encourage safety and comfort. I attend numerous conventions–I’m well aware of the “creep” factor, and I’m a big supporter of policies that mitigate such. Still, I’m not under any illusions about a private policy actually defining legal terms.
Regarding how Frenkel could argue the online events of the last couple of days as creating an intimidating/hostile work environment, well, there’s several ways the argument could be crafted. But I’ll try to limit my response to what seems to be your primary thought: none of the participants engaging in the online discussion work for Tor.
1. Many of the participants involved are writers who may (in some cases do) contract with Tor. Some of those writers are arguably influential.
2. Creating a hostile work environment in no way stipulates that the harasser has to be an employee for the company in question.
In regards to the larger issue of defamation of character, it first has to be determined if Frenkel is a public or private person for the purposes of the hypothetical case. Such would have a significant bearing on the approach. Regardless, could Frenkel show the positions taken by some displayed a “reckless disregard of whether [the accusation] was false”?
I actually just deleted quite a bit of what I wrote. For two reasons:
1. Mallet policy would likely have deleted it anyway as I was forced to touch on subject matter that Scalzi has already disallowed.
2. I’m not particularly of a mind to outline a plan of attack for anyone, especially with the limited information available to me at present. Suffice to say, I’m of the (reasonably educated) opinion that a strong case could be put together.
Contingent, that is, on how open and shut the case is. If, as I mentioned before, this is a quid pro quo matter, Frenkel doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
Shrug. Just my two cents.
Mythago, I apologize for not addressing your point in my last comment. I did not see it until now. You wrote quite a bit, so I’ll try to address each of your points in order.
“I’m puzzled as to why the Mallet would prevent you from explaining why commenters here “have opened themselves up to some serious lawsuits”; Scalzi has not warned anyone against discussing such, so if you believe that people have put themselves in legal jeopardy, by all means explain why.”
Mythago, I do not believe the commenters here have opened themselves up to lawsuit. I do believe that the following folks have potentially done so: Scalzi, Robinette, Hines, and Elise. If others have done so, I’m unaware.
Discussing why I believe that involves going heavily into the topic of veracity. And that discussion has, as I believe Scalzi put it, already been put to rest on this thread.
“I’m also not following your last paragraph; unless the commenters are the harasser’s co-workers, how do comments here create a “hostile work environment” in his workplace?”
Please see my answer to Steven above.
“Why do workplace harassment policies have anything to do with the original post, which discussed sexual harassment at an SFF con by people who are not co-workers?”
The convention may have any policy it wishes. I’m speaking more toward the report filed with the company in question.
“Why do you believe a quid pro quo allegation with witnesses gives the harasser “options”?”
I do not. A quid pro quo allegation with witnesses would, imo, leave Frenkel with next to no options. I think an open and shut case of that nature would pretty much ruin Frenkel’s career.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of, and anyone who judges you negatively needs to be served a double shot, extra tall shutthefuckupachino”
LOLROTF can I buy some at my local Starbucks?
But really, when someone does something bad to you, the shame seems to fall on the person done-to, not the person doing. Hence, psychiatrists.
First, I’m so glad to see a complaint handled properly and seriously. Second, I’m a little saddened that this is so rare that when we see or hear of it, we all feel a smidgen of pleased surprise. It should be something we all take for granted. I look forward to the day that when we read about things like this and the story gets to how the con/employer properly handled the complaints, we wait patiently for the other shoe to drop instead of assuming that handling it properly is the ‘other shoe’.
On a side note, “He is OLD and from a different time,” no longer holds any validity for me. Unless that person has pulled a Rip Van Winkle and slept through the last three plus decades (or has a time machine that allowed him to skip them), it just doesn’t hold any water. This is especially true of those that are still highly active in a profession that requires human interaction and still attend conventions. In my opinion, those kinds of people simply don’t want to change (for whatever reason) and thus, they don’t. They just ignore the changes and then claim to be “old fashioned” or from “a different time” when called out on them.
Thank you, Elise for having the courage to make a formal complaint and start a paper trail on this creep.
2. Creating a hostile work environment in no way stipulates that the harasser has to be an employee for the company in question.
How can someone be responsible for creating a hostile work environment in a place they don’t work? And by what mechanism would the employer prevent an outsider, over whom they have no control, from creating a hostile work environment?
OTOH, my Spidey sense is telling me this whole discussion of the legal technicalities regarding sexual harassment in the work environment may be far enough off the topic of reporting harassment at cons to get Malleted.
@Jo, I appreciate your clarification but I am still not following as to what “veracity” has to do with lawsuits in this context. If, as you seem to suggest, you are talking about defamation, then Scalzi has already noted that (whatever other standards apply, such as proof of damages) truth is pretty much an absolute defense.
WRT your reply to Steven, The harasser would have to actually bring an EEOC complaint and/or lawsuit against his employer claiming some kind of discrimination or harassment related to his employment, yes? And the discrimination or harassment would have to be related to his work environment. Situations where a non-employee acts in a way that is relevant to a claim of “hostile work environment” would be, say, if an employer tells its female employees they are not to complain when Mr. Important Customer Dude hits on them. I don’t see how you’re drawing a line between ‘some writers X’s employer contract with are claiming he did such-and-such” and “the employer is creating a hostile work environment.”
I understand that you don’t want to ‘outline a plan of attack’, but so far your argument is really some vague suggestions that amount to you’re saying that you’re right, but the Mallet and discretion prevent you from saying why. That’s….not persuasive.
Josh, good question.
Take a look at bullet point number two in “Facts About Sexual Harassment” here: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm
You’ll note it stipulates that the harasser does not have to be an employee of the company in question. The harasser simply has to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Though any hypothetical argument put forward by Frenkel almost certainly would not allege that he was sexually harassed (although anything is possible), he could potentially allege that he was harassed and that his work environment was turned hostile.
The larger issue deals with defamation of character and the potential to show damage.
Josh, I think you’re right. About the malleting. Well, crap. Malleting isn’t a word. But I still think you’re right. In fact, the more I think about it, the more certain I feel this whole discussion is violating Scalzi’s policy. It’s heavily touching on veracity and the naming of the alleged individual.
My apologies to Scalzi. I certainly want to respect the rules of the thread; this is, after all, Scalzi’s domain. And I’m feeling as if I’ve overstepped the discussion he wanted folks to have.
@Jo, you do realize that what you’re saying is coming across as concern-trolling and a sly attempt to silence Elise and others by “warning” them about lawsuits, right? It’s certainly how it’s coming across to me.
Mythago, you are correct. My thoughts on this matter are not persuasive.
Initially, I simply wanted to clarify a point I saw raised by another poster, then say that I felt certain individuals were indeed brave.
From there it sort of ran away.
Again, my apologies to the community if my comments have derailed from the topic, which I feel that they probably have.
Let me rephrase my question. How could someone with no involvement in or connection to the work environment, such as an internet blogger, be construed as having sufficiently impacted the work environment that they’ve made it hostile without any further action by someone within the work environment? It feels like we’re missing an intermediate step between “unpleasant things said about a person on the internet” and “said person’s work environment is hostile.”
Unless the people within the work environment began treating the person in question in a hostile manner because of the internet postings, the environment would not have changed. And if that’s the case, coworkers’ behavior toward someone changes based on internet writings, then it’s the coworkers within the environment who have created the hostility, not the internet posters. As you suggest, the posters could be guilty of libel, although that would be a tough case to make since as Scalzi has pointed out, “truth is an affirmative defense.”
In fact, the more I think about it, the more certain I feel this whole discussion is violating Scalzi’s policy.
Yeah, while it’s an interesting discussion, perhaps we should agree to drop it here?
Wow, I didn’t get “concern trolling” from what Jo wrote at all. I thought Jo was attempting to throw some light on how these things work in terms of legal proceedings. What seems like common sense to most people is not necessarily how things go when it comes to lawsuits.
uldihaa, yes. I see that.
But some things are, imho, worth discussing. Even if they are scary and seem like concern-trolling. I think it helps us all to be as informed as possible. Some topics have to be tackled as opposed to avoided.
Just my opinion.
Josh, you asked such an awesome question that every fiber of my being is itching to answer. That’s just the kind of person I am; I’m built that way.
But you’re right. It’s time to drop it.
I stand corrected. I was operating under a misunderstanding of what constitutes harassment.
Ambidexter, I think where you’re absolutely right is that if something feels like harassment to me, I get to decide I don’t like the way it feels and tell the other person to stop doing it. I don’t have to justify my discomfort to the other person or to anyone else. It may be something that wouldn’t bother someone else, but if it bothers me, I’m fully entitled not to put up with it. It doesn’t have to meet anybody else’s definition for me to decide that I won’t be subjected to it further.
What else constitutes “possibly useful information”?
Since this is a how-to, a little elucidation might be helpful.
(I know it’s deep in the comment thread to be posting this question, but I am in a different time zone from much of the audience, and comments were closed last time I looked in. A quick search didn’t show that the question had already been addressed.)
@BW, as our host has already pointed out, discussion of lawsuits does not belong in a thread about how to report harassment and why making it a formal report is so important. That is a completely separate issue. Jo brings it up repeatedly, both originally and in response to others, despite clear warnings. That is where it crossed the line into concern trolling for me.
Moving beyond a discussion we shouldn’t have had, I wonder if a part of the problems with reporting harassment is that so many people confuse skepticism with objectivity? Or perhaps they believe that in order to be objective, you must be skeptical.
To me, being objective is non-committal, a person hasn’t made a choice or formed an opinion either way. Being skeptical is saying, “I don’t believe you. Convince me.” One is receptive, and other vaguely hostile.
For the record, I like it when people have an awareness of drift and self correct, so thanks for that, folks.
IANAL, but my understanding of defamation of character was that the person bringing the suit would have to show that the defendant made false claims about him or her. With the exception of one sentence spoken by the alleged harasser, Elise Matthesen (and by extension John Scalzi) haven’t said anything specific about what transpired. I haven’t read Jim Hines posts on the matter. Mary Robinette Kowal (and others) have outed the person named in the complaint, but the only way, AFAIK she (and possibly they) could be legally forbade from doing so would be if there was a court gag order, and even then I’m not sure that applies to third parties. The fact that there is a complaint isn’t in doubt, so outing the person named in it isn’t saying something untrue about that person. Whether it was a good idea or not, I don’t see how it could be illegal. The only way I could see it undermining the complaint itself would be if it could be proven that Elise Matthesen asked others to out the individual on her behalf, which seems highly unlikely.
I don’t mean to harp off topic, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think they couldn’t talk about this just because they work in publishing.
Sure it is, right next to truthiness.
Well, there’s legal harassment (workplace and public), there’s the policies a person or organization gets to post and enforce on its private property, and then there’s respecting other people’s boundaries. It’s not as simple as anyone gets to decide anything anyone else does is harassment. In the most general sense, harassment is something that’s done to another person even once its been made clear it’s unwelcome. So, for example, politely asking someone out on a date is not harassment. Continuing to bother them when they’ve asked you to leave them alone is.
Based on the one thing Matthesen did tell us about what the person said, it sounds like the person was intentionally goading her, which, in addition to be childish behavior, is harassment. Employers have a lot of leeway in determining how someone in their employ may behave in public. Even if the person isn’t officially representing them at the time and place of the complaint, the employer can pretty much fire them for instigating a scandal, provided the scandal isn’t over their race, sex or religious affiliation. My understanding is that some states have a longer list, but those are the classes protected under Federal employment law. You can bet your bottom dollar that the publisher in question is consulting their legal department to help navigate this minefield.
To make it entirely about “how to report” and “what the reporting process can be like”, it would probably be better to remove mention of the who, what, where, when’s of the specific incident. Mention what convention and people will want to find out what happened there. Mention the name of the person who is accused of harrassing, and some people might want to get his side of the story, etc. If it is entirely about “how to report” and “what the process is like circa 2013” then that information isn’t needed.
As far as the “how to” part goes, good description of both the paperwork process as well as the emotional process.
Instead of the who, what, where, when of this particular incident, a straightforward definition of sexual harassment might help:
Unwelcome or uninvited conduct or communication of a sexual nature… Sexual harassment may be physical, such as kissing, hugging, pinching, patting, grabbing, blocking the victim’s path, leering or staring, or standing very close to the victim. It may also be verbal, which may be oral or written and could include requests
and then jump into the “how-to” portion.
This might help victims realize that, yes, the thing that just happened to them was sexual harassment. And then the how-to explains how the reporting process might look like.
It would appear that Ms. Matthesen did everything extremely correctly during this incident, as did the people to whom she reported the incident. Having said that, not knowing either her or the person she reported, I have no reason to believe her rather than the person she reported (assuming he didn’t admit to being a harasser). This would not change even had she given details of the incident. Therein lies a problem with harassment incidents that have no witnesses (if I’m incorrect on my reading of this, please tell me so), As someone who’s been accused (wrongly, as that’s sorta important) this is a rather important point.
The more important thing is that she was safe for the rest of the convention. As for her alleged harasser (and that’s what he is, to anyone who didn’t witness the event), assuming there are no witnesses who also reported to his HR dept., he can expect, perhaps, a stern talking to, which one hopes will deter him from future incidents, whether or not he happens to be guilty of this one (which is unknowable to anyone other than him and Ms. Matthesen, apparently).
diogenes: Ms. Matthesen made it very clear by her use of phrases such as “joined the conversation” that there were, in fact, witnesses. And later on, she says she told the convention safety officer “the names of other people who were there when it happened.” You are not reading attentively.
Greg: There is nothing wrong with “Here is a thing that happened to me, and here’s what I did about it, and here’s what I learned that other people can do in similar circumstances.” There’s nothing at all prurient in Ms. Matthesen’s account — in fact, it’s clear she went out of her way to elide details about the incident itself, only mentioning that it happened and going right into the aftermath. I see nothing objectionable about her story whatsoever.
@ Andrew Hackard No, I did read THAT part attentively (I have not and will not read this entire thread): just because a person says there are witnesses doesn’t mean there ARE witnesses unless and until those people come forward (I thought I implied that in what I wrote but perhaps that wasn’t very clear). In fact, by definition, they are NOT witnesses UNTIL they report on the incident themselves and/or are interviewed by people “in authority” and are found to have witnessed the event. The correct statement AFAIK at this time is that there were “alleged witnesses”. If the “alleged witnesses” turn out to be true witnesses AND substantially support Ms. Matthesen’s account of the event, then I suspect (or at least hope) that the alleged harasser will face somewhat more than a stern talking to.
Diogenes, your scenario requires one to believe that Ms. Matthesen concocted an elaborate story, got several people including our illustrious host to join her in this charade, and yet told an easily disproven lie about who was present when it happened. In other words, she’s both cunning and very, very stupid. I find that impossible to believe, based on her own report and on the testimonials of others in this comment thread and others.
@ Andrew Hackard, Mallet Bait:
Cool it, guys. Mr. Scalzi already banned that topic of debate. Cut it out before he closes the thread for good.
You are correct and I apologize. Shutting up now.
Thank you, guys, for the feedback. The con handled it very well indeed–at least on the spot, and with all due caveats about having no way of knowing future ramifications, I was pleased at how seriously they took it. I think, maybe, it worked out okay.
And possibly in a week or two, my nerves will have settled down again…
@ Temporarily Anonymous: Excellent. Things seem to have worked out about as well as could be hoped. Now let’s hope that the creeper gets his just desserts in court.
@ Andrew Hackard: Thank you. This has been an interesting conversation, and I would hate to see it die.
Came across this all by accident through a friend. i do not, to the best of my knowledge, know the principals, although I imagine we may have crossed paths at a Con at some point in the past 20 years but I have no memory of any interactio with them.
I appreciate the original post, which I find to be beautifully written and informative.
While WisCon’s handling of this situation appears to have been superb (and we are all grateful for that), having now seen the harassment policy’s wording, If I ever go to WisCon (unlikely now) I will be sure to ask loudly as I enter every room whether or not it is the perception of anyone in the room that I might be following them. If anyone has, perhaps, seen me in the dealer’s room and then I happen to turn up in the con suite, I could ask their permission to be in the room. It might make me seem odd and creepy, but I would be following the policy.
Since I am not in the habit of following anyone, or even being particularly perceptive about who was there (in the dealer’s room I tend to only see books), and I have no idea who might have had prior experiences that make them hyper aware of this sort of thing, I will have to rely on others to speak out. Otherwise I might be accused of harassment and have my reputation ruined online before the Con investigation is even finished.
[Side note: Truth is not an absolute defence in all situations and all jurisdictions (and it is a good idea to remember the internet spans jurisdictions and you can find yourself facing legal action lodged in another country – which is expensive even if the suit is spurious).
also see this link, where the advice is that you can say what happened but you have to be careful about characterization without accompanying fact:
In the past couple of years there have been a few cases in the SFF community where an offense has been perceived/committed and the victim has come forward. Generally the victims have been clear and fair and sensitive to the need for good process, as the original post in this thread beautifully demonstrates. What happens after that initial post is that people (often people who were not present) motivated either by good intentions/friendship or tainted by their own experiences then engage in an online court (which occasionally becomes a swarming). This is often done before the investigation is complete and the facts known. I have seen some astonishing twisting of fact and unjustified ad hominem attacks in those settings, and I am grateful to Mr. Scalzi for his application of “malletting”; I wish others in the community were as mindful.
An illustration of sorts: at one Con I attended some time ago, an inexpert panelist made a statement that indicated they might not be aware of some key historical facts related to the topic under discussion. I had information from my professional life that would help clarify the point – information from having “been there” in the time and place the panelist was talking about, but not having any direct stake.
When input was invited from the floor, I offered the information as something the panelist might want to look into. Nothing more incendiary than that. The reaction from the entire panel was hostile (although the original panelist admitted to having had a very narrow background for their comments). I could have perceived the subsequent comments as harassment, since they involved comments on both my gender and race and they made me feel most unwelcome. Although we managed to work through the situation in the room, the hostility from that quarter continued through the Con. GIares, whispers, pointed back-turning. I didn’t try to do anything about it; I hoped the people involved would go home, do some homework, and discover that my information was correct. I resisted the impulse to see whether or not any of the panelists subsequently defamed me in their blogs. Life is short.
The net effect, for me, of the swarmings and the behaviour of self-appointed (but sometimes ignorant) guardians of righteousness is that I no longer feel any Con is safe for anyone who values their reputation. Judgments are made hastily and magnified through the internet and there is no way to completely salvage one’s reputation because the comments are on the net to stay. I would not feel safe at a Con if I knew some of you were attending.
As has been the case with several commenters, I have been the victim of harassment and assault in the past. Sometimes I have reported it and sometimes I have not. In two cases the perpetrator landed in prison – in one of those cases my testimony helped put him there. In other cases the perps suffered no consquences (including a case where the police refused to take an assault seriously and the assaulter stalked me for weeks, terrorizing me and my roommate; I had to move to a different city). I am therefore not unsympathetic to victims and the maelstrom of competing emotions that attends these incidents. I am aware, though, that there is a point where wisdom should prevail.
Ms. Matthesen’s account of her experience demonstrates wisdom. I read wisdom – or at least caution – in many of the posts (particularly Jo’s). There are, however, other posts which were ill-considered. Yes, people believe they have a “right” to post them (keep in mind that the right to freedom of expression is not universal, and the internet opens you to the possibility of prosecution that would not be the same for material published in hard copy in the US), but they must also understand that they will need to be responsible for what they have posted.
Several people have given voice to the belief that in harassment cases the perception of the victim trumps the perception of anyone else. Keep that in mind if the person you are discussing in this thread feels they have been victimized by harassers on the internet; their perception that they are the victim must, according to your own philosophy, trump any justification you offer – and you have then joined the ranks of harassers, whether you feel you belong there or not.
ZG, I bet you’re the kind of person who turns up in discussions about rape culture and derails them by going on and on about the tiny number of false rape accusations.
Hostility is not harrassment.
“Several people have given voice to the belief that in harassment cases the perception of the victim trumps the perception of anyone else.”
Yeah. You know why? Because unlike you, women and other victims can tell the difference really easily. If anything, we’re hesitant to think we’ve been harrassed to the point of making a complaint, simply because people like you have cast so much doubt on what is or is not legitimate cause for complaint. Because people like you like rape culture and do what you can to promote it with posts like yours.
Suggest you read “Please stop touching my breasts, and other things I say at cons” http://carriecuinn.com/2013/06/30/please-stop-touching-my-breasts-and-other-things-i-say-at-cons/
Then sit down and be quiet if you have nothing better to say than claim imaginary victimhood.
As a programming note, once again I’ll be turning off the thread here around midnight, to open up again in the morning.
If everyone treats you like an asshole/creep wherever you go, everyone else may not be the problem.
@Ann Somerville: I loved the Not Grimm fairy tale. I mean, like most fairy tales, you can see the moral coming, but the journey was worth it. Also, the cover is yowza.
And malleting is TOO a word! As much as gaveling, smiting, and so on. Most certainly it is a word here. Does warp drive exist? Nope, but everyone here knows what it is and what you’d use it for.
Typed and then lost a rather pointed post about the way new apologists pop up out of the woodwork every couple of hours in this thread. Let me just boil it down to the most salient point: if you’re posting to this thread with yet another dark warning abut fairness and possible consequences for what posters have said, you are telling victims to be silent. No matter what you claim in your post or what you tell yourself, that’s the message. And everyone else sees it loud and clear.
@Ann Somerville — Hostility can be perceived as harassment, and as such can well be harassment. The claim that someone suffers from imaginary victimhood is … dismissive. I’ve heard it from more harassers, abusers, and victims than I care to count.
Lurkertype: Thank you! If you hurry to my site you can catch the last freebie offering of two novels/novels. One is probably my best book, the other is my most recent.
“If everyone treats you like an asshole/creep wherever you go, everyone else may not be the problem.”
I think in ZG’s case, this is certainy an apt observation.
“The claim that someone suffers from imaginary victimhood is … dismissive.”
Oh please. Did you read the comment this relates to?
Though I’m so not surprised you’ve missed the point.
Comments off for the night. Sleep well, all.
Update: 10:17am, 7/1/13: Comments back on. I note we were beginning to get a little snippy with each other out there. Let’s try not to do that, please.
@ Ann Somerville: I looked at the link. I was appalled that male humans (I won’t call them “men”) could be so obnoxious.
Thank you very much for posting the link. I now have solidified a policy for how I will deal with other males being creepy assclowns at cons (or elsewhere):
1. Get Security.
2. If the creep is being particularly nasty (i.e. exhibiting any of the behaviors described by the blogger in the link), send a friend to get Security while I (a Tae Kwon Do black belt despite my age, so perfectly capable of defending myself) have a “talk” with the jerk and tell him to stop being obnoxious. If I have a larger friend nearby, that friend tells the jerk that he’s being a jerk and to move along while I get Security.
3. If the creep becomes even more obnoxious, warn him.
4. (OPTIONAL–use ONLY if creep becomes violent) If and only if creep becomes violent, incapacitate him quickly and painlessly by clapping over both his ears at once. If that fails, side kick to chest followed by Hap Ki Do arm twist and pin to restrain hostile from behind. Avoid active hostilities if possible; I am a pacifist, and I prefer it when nobody gets hurt.
5. Wait for Security to arrive to take care of creep. If necessary, explain any damage to creep or self resulting from hostilities.
Obviously, there are several ways such a train of events could go. Fortunately, most assclowns are not willing to physically fight, so any confrontation is not likely to go beyond step 3. However, it is good to be prepared for any possible circumstance.
@ everyone: A link about a similar kind of harassment:
Don’t read the comment thread on that one, there’s a particularly toxic troll.
Thanks, John. If I cross a line I trust you will “mallet” me, but I hope that won’t be necessary.
@Ann Somerville: It is a stretch to go from my post about my experience reporting harassment and assault and suggesting bystanders avoid internet swarming to your accusation that I “like rape culture”,
I had already read the article, thank you. At no point did I suggest harassment was not real or that victims should be quiet. I commended Ms. Matthesen and offered my own story, which triggered an unexpected response. Other people’s stories were accepted at face value; mine was not.
In one of your posts you directed us to your website. You write BDSM. Glorification of sexual violence. For money. Did everyone else know this?
I do not need to justify myself to anyone who engages professionally in the promotion of rape culture.
Hello. I’m Carrie, and I wrote the post that Ann S. linked to above. First, thank you for reading. Second, that post is a collection–though, sadly, not a complete one–of incidents that occurred over 20 years, because I wanted to show this isn’t a new problem, it isn’t an old one which has now been solved, and it isn’t at just one convention. When Elise Matthesen, Maria Dahvana Headley, and others recently starting posting more detailed accounts of what had happened to them, I didn’t want them to feel as if they were standing alone out on the Internet. A lot of us have these stories.
That doesn’t mean that all conventions are bad, that all men are creepers, or even that men can’t learn to behave better. I chose not to name names in that post because I hadn’t made formal complaints at the cons, and I don’t know that the men involved hadn’t since realized what they did was wrong. I’d like to believe we humans can improve, when given a chance.
But why didn’t I say anything until now? Because it is so common–not the bigger incidents but the smaller, pervasive attitude of “you should be flattered” and “well, are you really sure it’s harassment?”–that I got used to it. When I wrote that post yesterday, I thought it would be seen by a hundred of my most loyal readers, and a few would feel safer about reporting those things themselves. In less than 24 hours, it’s up over 3000 views, and I’ve realized that it’s not something I should have gotten used to. I should have reported it long ago.
It’s okay if you’re not ready to do that, but it’s also okay if you want to. People are listening now, and getting treated as if you’re being paid a compliment by someone ignoring your right to not be touched, grabbed, kissed, picked up, whatever… that isn’t right. No one has to accept that.
I do think it’s important to remember that there a lot of ways to be abused. Being bullied and harassed is awful, too. I’m getting some of that now, myself, because of what I said. I don’t want that for anyone else, even if they disagree about whether the culture of sexual aggressiveness/harassment at cons needs to change. So, please, let’s not assume that anyone feeling attacked is imagining their victimhood. Maybe they are, but we’re not the ones to judge that. I’d rather we just stood up for the people who want help and we support a community that’s willing to change to better include all writers, editors, publishers, and fans of genre.
Dear ZG: Your own words are demonstrating why your view of, well, anything, doesn’t get the respect you feel it deserves.
You’ve shown that you don’t know what BDSM is. You’ve conflated depiction with endorsement. You’ve tried an ad hominem argument followed by the suggestion that you’re the only one who’s noticed.
You say “Came across this all by accident through a friend” You’ve wandered into somewhere where you are not the local expert, while expecting to be treated as such, and it shows.
I agree with the equating of BDSM with “rape culture” is both facile and incorrect, so let’s not have any more of that here, please.
Also, with regard to both ZG and Ann — you’re better off speaking to the specifics of the argument rather than going ad hominem on each other. It weakens both of your arguments. Also, my Malleting hand is getting twitchy.
What you call “internet swarming” I (and I think many others) would call “showing support for changing the accepted culture.” Speaking up to show support for reporting and publicly identifying those with an extensive history of poor behavior is a way of counteracting the expectation of silent acceptance that has allowed this problem to exist for so long.
Er, “accepted culture” was a poor choice of words. I should have said “current culture” or “existing culture.”
Andrew: There is nothing wrong with (blah) … I see nothing objectionable about her story whatsoever.
Dude. I never said it was “objectionable” or “wrong”. If someone was writing a “What the process of reporting a rape looks like”, they wouldn’t need to give the name and address of the person who raped them to explain what the process of reporting it to the police looks like.
diogenes: I have no reason to believe her rather than the person she reported
Well, if the pupose of the post was to tell folks what the process of filing a complaint looks like, then it doesn’t matter if the incident itself was harrassment or not. But the thing is, if the details of the incident are brought up, and people reveal the name of the accused, (like as happened on this thread) then it is probably inevitable that the incident itself would become the topic of conversation (like as happened on this thread).
Ann: Because unlike you, women and other victims can tell the difference really easily.
By your logic, the best jury for a rape trial would be twelve women who were themselves past rape victims, because they all would have this special insight that allows them to tell the difference so easily.
You know what, since all y’all appear to be entirely unable to avoid dragging to thread to where I said it should not go, I’m just going to go ahead and close it down now. It’s requiring too much effort on my part, which I don’t want to give at the moment. Feel free to be disappointed in yourselves.