I’ve been seeing, in various and sundry threads on the matter, a lot of people babbling nonsense like, “Just report harassment to security and/or the police! And if they don’t take you seriously, look for someone who will!” This is their brilliant solution to the harassment problem. No policy needed! There’s cops and security guards. Problem solved!
There was also one person with apparently magnificent muscles who advocates a physical response, and suggested that Salman Rushdie, for instance, could have responded to a fatwa condemning him to death by gathering a gang and marching through the Iranian streets. This is only the most amusing amongst those who have proffered helpful advice along the lines of, “If someone bothers you, kick ’em in the nads!”
(Note to the nad kicking advocates: I tried this on my rapist. He turned out to be very good at blocking.)
I want to enjoy the event in peace.
Now, it’s possible I’ll go to the conference with no harassment policy and be one of those lucky buggers who has nothing bad happen at all. I may not witness anyone being harassed. All may be peaches and pastry, with a little champagne on the side. But should the lottery return my number, I’d rather not spend the rest of the event pursuing justice. I paid to see talks and have a good time with like-minded individuals. I did not pay to put up with the shit I already have to put up with in public areas containing arseholes.
News flash for the terminally hard of thinking: most people attend conferences with broadly similar goals.
A good policy does several things that makes this experience likely to be a happy one for all but those who have an irresistible impulse to harass.
1. It lays out the ground rules. It sketches out appropriate behavior, so that everyone has the same expectations, and a clear idea of what’s acceptable and what is not. This tells potential harassers that their hijinks are not welcome, and will prevent some of them from going, and others from misbehaving.
2. For those who think the rules don’t apply to them, it gives victims good recourse. It’s not just a sheet of paper with marks upon it. It is backed up by people scattered throughout the conference who are readily available to report to. It spells out how such reports will be handled, and records such incidents for posterity. It ejects abusers and protects the abused.
3. It allows everyone to get on with the business of enjoying the conference or event reasonably harassment-free. This way, paying attendees who did not engage in inappropriate behavior don’t have their experience ruined by either having to tolerate jackasses, leave to avoid them, or spend inordinate amounts of time trying to get the situation taken seriously and taken care of.
4. Oh, and it covers the asses of the organizers. This is a bit critical. Legal protection is essential. So is telling your attendees, who have paid you cash money for a pleasant time, that their money shall not be wasted. This allows attendees to extol your virtues to other potential attendees, a not insignificant number of whom will choose to pay you cash money in the future for the pleasure of attending your event. This prevents attendees from finding it necessary to sue you in order to be compensated for what you had a responsibility to prevent but couldn’t be bothered to even do a half-arsed job at, much less make a good-faith effort. It’s called “good faith and due diligence.” Know it. Embrace it.
The genius thing about a good harassment policy is that it works for everyone. For instance, if I corner you during a mixer and imply I will kick you in the nads with my shiny steel-toed boots if you do not pay attention to me, you can flag down one of those handy conference people who are mixed in with the mixers and have them make me go away. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rough-and-tough man who could have simply picked me up and set me out of the way. You don’t have to risk being accused of assault and battery by handling the situation yourself.
Just to be clear, I would never harass anyone in this fashion. But I use myself as an example to show that such a policy is good for all attendees, not just those traditional targets of harassment.
This is it. This is the request that has stirred up such a shitstorm: have a policy in place that will prevent at least some harassment and deftly handle any that does occur, without blaming victims, without being unfair to the accused, without interfering with the fun of any except predatory fuckwits.
This is what some conferences haven’t yet done.
It bloody well boggles my mind.
As for those who propose roving gangs and brawling as an appropriate remedy for harassment, I suggest a course of vigorous brain exercise. I’m afraid those two lonely neurons of yours are wasting away from disuse.
*We will be discussing the danger of escalation in a future post. People who advocate a firm foot to the fruit as a solution to all problems apparently do not live in a world where this often leads to an unequal and opposite reaction. We, alas, do.
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