HUGE news from American Atheists re harassment (now with link to press release)

David Silverman, Amanda Knief, and the rest of the crew at American Atheists have put together what I feel exceedingly comfortable in saying is absolutely the strongest anti-harassment policy implemented in this entire campaign. AA just closed a conference call (to which I was invited, though my day job impeded my participation). They have gone above and beyond my wildest expectations for delineating what actions are objectionable, and what might happen if you engage in those actions regardless. The policy hasn’t yet gone live but here’s what was apparently sent around to the conference bridge participants. In the event that this policy is significantly altered after I’ve posted this, I’ll amend.

I’ll highlight in italics (emphasis) some of the most relevant parts. Bold in the original.

Conference Code of Conduct

American Atheists is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.

 

We expect participants to follow this code of conduct at all conference venues and conference-related social events.

 

Yes means yes; no means no; and maybe means no. Please take no for an answer for any request or activity. You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!). There are folks who do not like to be touched and will respect and like you more if you respect their personal space.

 

We have many different folks attending this conference: sexualities, genders, gender identities, races, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs—these are just a few. Blatant instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, or other stereotyping and harmful behaviors should be reported to conference staff immediately.

 

Please do not wear heavy fragrances—including perfumes, colognes, scented shampoos, etc. Some of those attending have allergic reactions to scented products. No one will object to the smell of your clean body!

 

Please respect the sessions and the speakers. Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices, take conversations and noisy children outside the session room, and move to the center of your row to make room for other attendees.

 

There are chairs and spaces at the front and back of the room that are marked “reserved.” The front row chairs are reserved for attendees with vision or hearing impairments. The back rows are reserved for attendees with mobility accommodation needs. Please leave these chairs and spaces free throughout the conference for those who may need them.

 

This conference welcomes families with children and expects all attendees to treat these families with courtesy and respect. Parents or guardians bringing children are responsible for the children’s behavior and are expected to remove disruptive children from the session. Parents or guardians should be aware not all language may be suitable for children.

 

American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of or by conference participants, speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, or staff in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

 

Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Anyone violating this policy may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference (without a refund) at the discretion of the conference organizers.

 

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. Conference staff can be identified by t-shirts/special badges/other ID.


Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.

 

[Email address for organizers]

[Phone number for conference security or organizers]

[Phone number for hotel/venue security]

[Local law enforcement]

[Local sexual assault hot line]

[Local emergency and non-emergency medical]

[Local taxi company]

 

It’s almost like they read my musings on how to take this stuff seriously. Or, say, basically anything Stephanie Zvan has contributed to the conversation. Thank you for paying attention, American Atheists!

I’m also pleased to note that the JREF has included the following in their TAM FAQ:

How does JREF handle safety concerns?

The Amazing Meeting, while a private event, is held at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, which is open to the public. The safety of our attendees and speakers is a priority. If an attendee encounters a problem within the conference area, they should report the situation to TAM staff or hotel security. JREF has also engaged an independent consultant on these issues, with decades of experience handling security, boundary and safety concerns, to assist us in dealing with any matters should they arise at the event.

I’m optimistic that this new language (unsure when it was added) signals that they’re planning on publishing a code of conduct soon too.


UPDATE:
Amanda Knief informs us that the official press release is right here. They’ve also published the policy in docx format. Let me know if you need it converted to something more portable, I’ve got the skillz to make it happen.

From the press release:

Silverman continued, “We are training our staff and volunteers to be able to take information from our attendees who have been harassed. These reports will be given directly to one designated senior staff member at each event to be assessed and to determine what action should and needs to be taken.”

“The Code of Conduct is a living document. We will adapt it as we learn from what works and what needs improvement. But the overall goal is to create fun, enjoyable, and safe conventions and conferences for everyone,” Silverman added.

The Code of Conduct will go into effect immediately and be used first at American Atheists’ regional conference in Minnesota, August 10-11.

Well done, folks. Well done indeed.

HUGE news from American Atheists re harassment (now with link to press release)

76 thoughts on “HUGE news from American Atheists re harassment (now with link to press release)

  1. 52

    I think there should be a serious revision of the clause “unwelcome sexual attention” unless you clearly define that flirting is still okay – assuming it is.

    You may want to remind yourself what flirting is.

    This is incredibly controlling and will, I would suggest, inhibit many more people than might be offended by being touched on the shoulder to get their attention. I would say the onus should be left to the people who object to any kind of social contact making this known rather than asking social people to inhibit themselves.

    Perhaps you should ask the people who have problems with being touched whether it’s a matter of being “offended”. In fact, I think talking to any of these people instead of assuming what they want would probably be quite educational for you. Score one more for the policy.

    ‘Inapropriate’ touching, with a definition of what that would reasonably entail, can be spelled out.

    It just was. Unwanted touching is inappropriate touching.

    This is grossly un-egalitarian. I find it totally unacceptable to tell people how they groom themselves.

    Heavy perfume is not grooming. It serves no cleanliness purpose. It does not make a person more attractive. What it does do is interfere with people nearby, which is actually anti-egalitarian.

    By the way, for someone who claims to not like heavy hands on people’s business, you’re doing a lot of dictating about what people should be expected to put up with to attend a conference.

  2. 54

    I don’t think anyone has argued that Elevator Dude actually knew his comment was inappropriate. I re-listened to the original story by RW, and while maybe he *should* have known, he obviously didn’t. Perhaps this is why RW’s initial response was a characteristically calm “Guys don’t do that” putting men on notice that it is outside her comfort zone. But there is a difference between knowing your advance is unwanted and not knowing if it is wanted.

    Don’t get me wrong, it is an improvement. There has to be something governing the areas in between illegal activity and socially acceptable flirting (ie the creeper zone), but we’re obviously not dealing with a culturally homogenous group of socially adept communicators here.

    Finally, Mr. Thibeault, thank you for assuming that I lied rather than just disagreed with you or was mistaken.

  3. 55

    Charles, perhaps have a look at Stephanie’s recent post on ‘Elisions’. To make your claim about EG you had to ignore significant parts of the narrative, which have been gone over in minute detail and done to death dozens, perhaps hundreds of times on FTB since July last year. It’s not as if we (and other regular posters will back me up, if any are still reading this thread) haven’t seen people turn up with an incomplete grasp of what actually happened and proceed to call the shots (again, a tangential post on this sort of mistake is Jason’s ‘In medias res’). Finally, it is not as if this sort of argument hasn’t turned up on a regular basis for most of the last year, to the point where a lot of people are heartily sick of having to respond to them. That’s frustrating for you personally, but you might consider it’s splash damage from discussions like this one being all-too-frequently derailed by anti-feminist trolls; come in with a post evincing a poor grasp of the facts, and the Bayesian calculation has a strong prior probability for drive-by troll that you need to work at to disprove.

  4. 56

    Thanks Stephanie, your take on flirting is interesting but I don’t think it’s definitive. Humans misread sexual signals all the time, for many reasons, alcohol being a biggie. Also I would contend that flirting is a sexual signal, especially where it’s obvious. Watson felt “sexualised” by the exchange – being told she was interesting and did she want some coffee (which on a scale of human interaction I would put squarely on the benign) But obviously, Watson herself has a different idea of what flirting is from you also Stephanie.

    I think all this vetting of peoples sensibilities would be unmanageable. And surely having to ask everyone they meet if they mind being touched would derail any conference Humans are social animals. People touch each other all the time. Banning social touching is, IMHO, utterly ludicrous and bordering on fascist. Far far to controlling – the opposite of liberal. That’s a big minus for the policy from me.

    Inappropriate:
    Adjective:
    Not suitable or proper in the circumstances

    Unwanted: not wanted

    Unwanted and inappropriate and not synonyms.

    One grooms with cosmetics. It is not up to anyone to dictate how another human grooms for social interaction. Again, this is a gross violation of liberal values. The rights of the individual trump here. If someone doesn’t like a smell, walk away! That’s individual choice right there.

    Elevator guy did not have any reason to know that a polite, respectful , private exchange would create such a shitstorm. So I for one AM arguing that this guy did nothing wrong. Had he persisted after Watson brushed him off, then maybe Watson would have had something to genuinely complain about. It wasn’t simply that she griped about it – she has a right to gripe about it – what was unfortunate is that it was griped within the context of sexism and misogyny and that she referenced this exchange as being part of that, which it plainly was not.

    The premises are all wrong so hence the conclusions are suspect. That’s my problem with the whole affair.

  5. 57

    I am mightily encouraged that positive responses like this – actual policies, and firm statements to enforce them – are arising from the noise. Time will tell which organisations mean what they say in these, but it’s encouraging to see so far.

    I must agree, though, that “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to … religion …” shouldn’t be there. The rest of the list is attributes of a person that are not valid for harsh comments; religion doesn’t belong on that list.

    I hope we can agree that freethought entails the notion that a person’s religion is *not* part of that person in the way that “gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race” are.

    If a coment deprecates a person’s disability, that’s unfair and it’s right to call it harassment.

    A comment deprecating a person’s religion may cause offense, but we should care about that person’s offense no more than offense at a comment about the person’s taste in music, new-age theory, or political opinion.

    That is, a person’s offense at a comment merely deprecating their religion is *not* harrassment, it’s part of the market of ideas. Please take religion off that list; also advise whoever you cribbed from that it doesn’t belong on their list either.

  6. 58

    I hadn’t seen that but would agree with Ben on this too.

    It is nigh on impossible not to offend some people in a frank exchange of views. Legislating for this will make any and all debates toothless. Please don’t fall foul of the tyranny of political correctness – it kills debate and free thought. The law already legislates on harassment and abuse.

  7. 59

    Watson felt “sexualised” by the exchange – being told she was interesting and did she want some coffee (which on a scale of human interaction I would put squarely on the benign)

    He was propositioning her for sex. That’s plain to see. “Would you like to come up to my room?” is a long standing and well understood way of saying “Wanna knock boots?”

    You’re welcome to keep pretending it wasn’t and that it isn’t but it only makes you disengenuous.

    what was unfortunate is that it was griped within the context of sexism and misogyny and that she referenced this exchange as being part of that, which it plainly was not.

    Yes it was. Someone (a man) disregarded her explicitly stated feelings towards being propositioned at events she was speaking at. He decided his desire for sex superceded her wishes.

    Setting that aside, there’s still the whole location/time angle. Watson was not only complaining because she’d been ignored but also because she was placed into an awkward position that could have made some feel threatened for reasons to do with violence against women.

    Not the best anecdote to bring into a discussion of sexism or misogyny but none but the most extreme ever are.

    ((Of course he did leave her alone when she gave a direct no but that doesn’t excuse his earlier dismissals.))

  8. 60

    A comment deprecating a person’s religion may cause offense, but we should care about that person’s offense no more than offense at a comment about the person’s taste in music, new-age theory, or political opinion.

    It’s worded poorly but it’s perfectly possible to be ‘deprecating’ towards a person’s religion in the wrong way (like with a disability) For example, calling all Muslims terrorists or insisting every Catholic secretly rapes children in their basement.

    I’d swap “offensive” for “bigoted” personally even though I realize it wouldn’t change anything. Many believers view legitimate criticism as hate speech.

  9. 61

    I’m not pretending anything, neither am I being disengenous. A man wanting to have sex with a woman isn’t sexist. Whatever his intention, he put it politley and respectfully. If he’d said, “wanna knock boots?” that wouldn’t have been sexist either. Crude, but sexist – no. I guess he could have gone the caveman route and knocked her out with a club, not even bothering to get her opinion – THAT would have been sexist!

    She was speaking nebuloulsy about ‘sexism’ in a response to another female speaker. She was very vague and gave no examples of what this sexism entailed. She did not say that she has specifically announced herself as a no-go area for respectful, tentative flirting.

    He did not supercede her wishes. I don’t remember her saying he did.

    I’m sorry but as a liberal equity feminist the definition of sexism and misogyny is very important to me. Men are not sexist for finding women attractive. Adult women are quite capable of brushing off an unwanted come on. Unless the idea is that they aren’t? Which is sexist.

    Being in a elevator with anyone can be construed as arkward. Elevators are famous for being awkward! Again, ‘arkward’, ‘unconfortable’ are not symonyms for sexist. Abigal Williams saw Goody proctor with the devil, doesn’t mean it was true. This is turning into a witchhunt against reasonable men, exhibiting reasonable behavior within the bounds of social interaction. Misogynists are misogynists and are very easy to spot.

    This is doing more harm to feminism than you could ever imagine.

  10. 62

    The CFI policy (which I’ve yet to blog about — I’m slacking) has explicitly added a clause that says something like “criticism of your beliefs is not equivalent to criticism of your person.” Which is important, because evidently a lot of people think that criticizing a belief is offensive, including people on our side as evidenced in the comments section on this post.

  11. 63

    Paula Wright — why do you keep bringing up the elevator incident as though it’s some kind of litmus test to what can and cannot be done? It’s a strawman here, because I expect that even with a harassment policy in place, it would do absolutely nothing to prevent people from making drunken creepy passes at people in predatory situations.

    No, that harassment policy would have given her a framework to make a complaint about it. See Stephanie’s Elevatorgate Challenge. If you can’t talk about the event without leaving out huge chunks of the event in question, don’t talk about it here, because that’s lying by elision.

    The “misogyny” unearthed in the community was the shitstorm of privilege that emerged in the face of Rebecca Watson saying “don’t do that”. It was reinterpreted from “don’t do that if you want to actually respect women’s wishes and have a decent chance of actually getting laid” into “don’t ever flirt with anyone ever or else you’re a rapist”.

    That conflation came from the people arguing against her. The people calling her a cunt and a feminazi and calling for her to be raped and killed. That you’re conflating the elevator incident with the shitstorm that came from her mentioning it because she thought it was funny or indicative of a minor issue in the community does not mean that the harassment policies would have done anything to change Elevatorgate itself.

    And you rehashing Elevatorgate in an effort to try to say that we feminists are claiming that guy was a rapist and a misogynist and whatever else, or that someone wanting to have sex with someone else is sexist, isn’t helping the anti-feminist case at all.

    Well, actually it is, but it’s not helping the case for rationally discussing things that actually happened. But hey, if your goal is to smash the feminists, it turns out lying about what we’re saying is a good way to go.

    And if you’re just interested in lying to smash the feminists, go someplace else, please. This is a rational discussion for rational people who are capable of discussing things truthfully.

  12. 64

    It isn’t a straw man. It was the kindling moment of this whole debate. ‘Sexism’, ‘misogyny’ and ‘harassment’ are red flag terms. Because of this they need to be strictly defined. I think it would be a missed opportunity if the whole question about what people are talking about when they use terms like this is not examined, especially at a time when people are drafting policies attempting to sanction the behavior of others.

    This is an important issue. It goes to the core of what feminism says it is. And that core is ill-defined, as demonstrated in this whole incident. I’m new to the debate so maybe the elevator is old news to the rest of you, but not to me.

    It is an issue that will come up again and again. Fundamentally, I have problems with the integegity of such a policy based on such vague premises.

  13. 65

    I have no idea what ‘zero bad’ means sorry. I am not ‘anti-Rebecca’ but anti a policy attempting to sanction the behavior of others on premises such as ‘harassment’, ‘sexism’ etc which are not defined. How could I sign up to a policy if I do not know what it actually means? That is all I am trying to establish.

  14. 66

    “people calling her a cunt and a feminazi and calling for her to be raped and killed. ”

    As I’ve said already, misogynists are easy to spot by the language they use; the guy in the elevator wasn’t a misogynist, but this is the VERY type of person this policy would/could be invoked against. That is why it is relevent. The majorty of men are not misogynists. I am a feminist, but I can understand why feminism and facism can be conflated in the term ‘feminazi’ sometimes. This policy being one of those times. This policy, while it discriminates against perfectly normal, acceptable, legal social behavior, resembles conservatism not liberalism.

  15. 67

    I guess he could have gone the caveman route and knocked her out with a club, not even bothering to get her opinion – THAT would have been sexist!

    That would have been rape.

    She did not say that she has specifically announced herself as a no-go area for respectful, tentative flirting.

    She has (within the context of places where she’s a speaker). Multiple times which EG should have been aware as she did say so at the event and has on her blog and videos often. He really doesn’t have any excuse for ignoring her wishes.

    Adult women are quite capable of brushing off an unwanted come on. Unless the idea is that they aren’t? Which is sexist.

    No. This is blisteringly not true. Not every adult woman is capable of brushing off unwanted come ons. Autistic women, illegal immigrants or otherwise very poor women at work, prostitutes, women who’s employment depends on them remaining cordial no matter what (not even getting into non Western women), the list goes on. It’s absurd and self defeating to pretend pointing such obvious realities is sexist.

    Misogynists are misogynists and are very easy to spot.

    Also painfully not true. If it were that’d be nice but how exactly are misogynist easy to spot? Do they wear name tapes?

    Besides, misogyny, like racism and homophobia, is a set of attitudes, ideas and beliefs we hold. Someone can be racist/misogynistic without being a hooded stranger burning a cross.

  16. 69

    Oh for gods sake, this equivocation speaks volumes.

    1)what defines harassment, sexism and misogyny in the terms of the policy, because at present, these are too vague and hence can be subject to misuse and abuse. ‘Unwanted sexual attention’ is not sufficiant unless words like ‘sustained’ and ‘inappropriate’ are added.

    2) Dictating how people groom themselves is grossly unegalitarian and should be removed

    3) A ‘no-social touching’ policy is similarly controlling and conservative.

    4) The right to offend is enshrined in liberal democracy. There is a difference between offense and bigotry. You need to make the difference crystal clear.

  17. 70

    The policy doesn’t say anything about misogyny, but it does say sexist comments might rise to the level of harassment. Harassment is actually pretty clearly defined.

    Why are you consistently conflating the multiple lines of discussion into one overarching one, when the ways you’re doing it elide huge and important chunks of each?

  18. 71

    Sexism and misogyny are linked by feminism, not me. The three terms have been linked on multible forums in this debate and are central to feminist debate. These are not spurious connections.

    I have stated my questions and concerns clearly. You do not have to address them, but my reservations about the aims and egalitarian nature of this policy will remain.

  19. 72

    Yes, paula. But as you said, the equivocation speaks volumes. It’s your equivocation here, though, that’s in question.

    Take your concerns to the policy handlers. If they don’t answer you adequately as to the stated goals and intentions of each line-item, then go ahead and discuss on your own blog what improvements can be made so we’re not all forced to wear burkas and paralyzed with fear about accidentally touching one another.

  20. 73

    Please point out my equivication? I have spelled out mu concerns and questions again and again, in good faith, to a rationalist community. The questions have been continually dodged. And I’m a feminist not a misogynist. I guess it’s your way or the highway. I won’t be supporting the policy.

  21. 74

    I missed this first time around and what a shame as you cover yourself in glory in it:

    “And you rehashing Elevatorgate in an effort to try to say that we feminists are claiming that guy was a rapist and a misogynist and whatever else, or that someone wanting to have sex with someone else is sexist, isn’t helping the anti-feminist case at all.

    Well, actually it is, but it’s not helping the case for rationally discussing things that actually happened. But hey, if your goal is to smash the feminists, it turns out lying about what we’re saying is a good way to go.

    And if you’re just interested in lying to smash the feminists, go someplace else, please. This is a rational discussion for rational people who are capable of discussing things truthfully.”

    Can you please clarify who you mean by “we” feminists? I am assuming I am in that number? Or am I not?

    My only reference has been Watkins’ video. Since I am concerned here with an adhereance to egalitarian values, I would not boot me to “lie” about anything. If you can prove such lies, do so, if you cannot please retract that.

    And I care more about women, gender relations and egalitarianism than ‘anti-feminism’. Feminism is supposed to work for women, not the other way around and my challenges are meant to strengthen the policy, not “smash” it.

    I have asked some difficult questions, that does not make me want to “smash the feminists”, whatever that means.

    But we’re getting nowhere and your claims are taking on a decidedly ad hominem flavour – never a good sign that rationalism is prevailing.

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