About That TAM Harassment Policy

I have a number of problems with D.J. Grothe’s apology to Rebecca, but there’s a little something that’s eating at me:

One way we worked to combat problems was by publishing a code of conduct for our particular event last year (http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/jref-news/1354-with-tam-right-around-the-corner-some-important-announcements.html).

That phrasing is decidedly odd. Not “a code of conduct for TAM”. Not “a code of conduct for JREF events”. But “a code of conduct for our particular event last year”.

That sent me on a little quest. The discussion about TAM anti-harassment policies started on Twitter the same day I suggested events should have such policies in place.

JREF hasn’t responded to the last tweet in the nearly two weeks since Kim’s request. Interestingly, though, this has the same past-tense wording as D.J.’s apology.

His comments on my post asking women to comment on why they might not be going back to TAM?

(6) TAM is the only major skeptic or atheist or humanist event so far that has ever had a harassment/Code of Conduct policy. Last year’s statement was distributed to all attendees in the TAM printed program.

Still past tense. The closest thing I can find to D.J. talking about policies for this year are in an exchange in the comments on Ashley Miller’s blog.

Ambidexter: I handle sexual harassment complaints at my company. When someone feels they’ve been sexually or in any other way harassed, then company policy is for them to write a statement giving who, what, when and how. Perhaps JREF and TAM might consider doing something similar. I’d be happy to send a copy of our statement form to JREF for them to develop their own form.

D.J.: Thank you. We’d love to see that. We felt our statement last year at the con was clear but possibly it was not clear enough. Please send to [email protected].

Now, this past tense verbiage could all be D.J.’s way of trying to remind people that TAM had a policy first. I, however, don’t have a lot of trust left on this issue. I would like to see JREF answer some basic questions about their policies.

  1. Does JREF intend to have an anti-harassment policy that applies to TAM this year and in future years?
  2. Will this policy include information for staff and volunteers on how to take reports of harassment? (See the sample policy I previously recommended for information on how simple that can be.)
  3. When will this policy (assuming there will be one) be posted where people who are considering coming to TAM can easily find it?

No, I’m not asking D.J. these questions behind the scenes. I’m doing it this way because it’s important, at this point, that these questions be answered transparently. If any of you do ask him more privately, please share the answers you receive.

About That TAM Harassment Policy

40 thoughts on “About That TAM Harassment Policy

  1. 1

    This is the full text of the “policy” as it was printed in the programs, according to that year-old JREF post:

    We want TAM Las Vegas 2011 to be a welcoming experience for everyone who attends . . .

    Please respect your fellow attendees by not disparaging them based on unfair grounds such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability; and by not making uninvited sexual comments toward others.

    If someone asks you to leave them alone or to otherwise stop a behavior that is directed toward them, please do so. Continued unwanted behavior directed toward another person is harassment. People who harass others or cause multiple complaints of disrespectful behavior may be required to leave without a refund.

    Problems can be reported to TAM staff or volunteers who will bring it to the attention of JREF management. A warning will be given when appropriate, but there will be zero tolerance for violence, physical intimidation, and unwanted intentional physical contact.

    Let’s make TAM fun for everyone!

    That’s all well and good, but D.J.’s comment that you highlighted above suggests that D.J. is equating this printed statement in the program with a “policy.” So far, I see no evidence that the policy goes beyond “let’s print up some words in the program” to include things like training the staff to recognize and handle complaints, to conduct in-the-moment investigations, or to record the information thereafter. To use your sample policy, D.J.’s offered no evidence or even inclination to suggest that there is an “Internal Version” of the policy for the staff.

    It’s possible that there is, but I’d sure like to see some sign of it. Because at the very least, it has failed to work appropriately and needs better implementation. But that comment at Ashley Miller’s blog really suggests to me that D.J. thinks printing the policy in the program is/was the only necessary step.

  2. 2


    Why on Earth would JREF not have an anti-harassement policy, if they have had one last year? What makes you think they will ditch it this year, and in the years to come?

    What other problems do you have with his apology (which is also an invitation to solve the problems at hand)?

  3. 3

    Claus, I’ve already answered your first question in the post. Try reading it for comprehension.

    An answer to your second is available to you if you click on the link for the apology itself. It’s the very first response to the apology. It even has my name and the same avatar I use here. I think you can find it.

  4. 4

    Came to this post wondering how long it would take before someone accused Stephanie of being uncharitable. Turns out, two comments. I had guessed “first”. I lose.

    I second Tom Foss: this does not sound like a “policy” so much as a warning that a policy is in place. Where’s the internal one circulated to employees? Where’s the official full policy stating what happens if it’s violated? Because “there will be zero tolerance” doesn’t actually say what happens.

  5. 5


    I think you are wildly over-interpreting what D.J. says, not just wrt his apology (which is also an invitation to solve the problems at hand), but also in his comments two weeks ago, long before this had blown up.

    I don’t see a lot of trust that D.J. and JREF can handle anti-harassment issues at JREF conferences. Be that as it may: How can he regain that trust?

  6. 6


    DJ lost most rights to a charitable interpretation of his comments around the time of the kerfuffle surrounding Greta Christina, with him claiming feminist atheists were just trying to start shit to drum up page views. I’m not inclined to fault people for not viewing his remarks in the best possible light.

    Or did you not see “http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/01/09/two-questions-for-dj-grothe/”?

  7. 7

    This should be at least one thing that is easy for JREF to fix: make a few edits in line with what has been suggested, issue a statement affirming that it’s good for TAM10 and all future events, and prominently post the policy on the site and print it in the programs.

    That would be one concern down, several dozen to go judging by the issues raised over in the Skepchick thread in reply to DJ’s comment.

  8. 8

    I don’t know what comments you’re reading, Claus. Maybe you’re the target audience for D.J.’s frequently “misconstrued” posts, because the minimizations, dismissals, victim blaming, and so forth are pretty clear to everyone else.

    As to what he can do: he can stop blaming others for the failures of the anti-harassment policy, and for allegedly driving away attendees. He can admit some responsibility that instances of harassment have occurred despite the policy’s existence and that this is, in part, a problem with the policy rather than simply and fully a problem with victims failing to report. He can accept that it should be the job of the staff and volunteers, not the victims and attendees, to know the guidelines of the anti-harassment policy and to enforce them, to conduct in-the-moment investigations and record details as they happen, rather than assuming that the survey will catch anything that the staff didn’t. He can post the anti-harassment statement prominently on pages related to TAM and include a link on the JREF site to the actual internal guidelines for handling harassment complaints. He can stop waving around the exit survey as if it is a valid tool or accurate evidence of whether or not harassment has occurred. He can stop pretending that he is in any kind of reasonable position to determine how “welcoming” the movement is toward women. He can cease using minimizing, dismissive language and apologize without qualifications for doing so (and continuing to do so even after his apologies). He can start an active campaign to improve things by bringing in some of the people who have levied complaints to provide suggestions on how to make things better, then take their advice. He can do this somewhere clearly visible, like the JREF blog page, rather than in comments on various blogs.

    That would be a good start toward regaining the trust that he has squandered. But frankly, I don’t see any indication that Grothe feels any real responsibility at all in the failures of the policy, and is continuing to make attacks and lay blame anywhere but on his own head. That is a serious failure of leadership, and I don’t know that he can recover from it in terms of public opinion.

  9. 10

    Ordinarily the Internal Version of a policy isn’t necessarily visible to the general public or to all attendees, but given how badly the existing (as of last TAM) policy has been mishandled, in this case the process and training (if any) definitely need to be daylighted.

  10. 11


    No, not “at least one thing”, “in line with”, or “prominently”, because then, you and others can go over it with D.J., round by round, word by word, arguing endlessly whether or not it has been done. Now is not the time to be vague.

    What should JREF do, specifically, to solve this conflict?

  11. 12

    Yeah, I’m a bit confused at the idea that this is some kind of “gotcha” for D.J. As Rebecca points out, adding clarity on this is really not that hard.

    As for regaining trust, that’s going to be pretty hard for D.J. to do with me, particularly as he’s shown no interest in doing so. For others, well, there are plenty of people in that Skepchick thread, the Pharyngula thread, threads at Jason’s, and here telling D.J. how he’s lost their trust. Listening to what they have to say is a very good start.

  12. 13

    Claus, when there is a colon after a phrase, what follows is a clarification of that phrase. As for what’s been suggested, have you read the sample policy? It has very specific suggestions on how to disseminate a policy and what should be in it.

  13. 14


    It may be pretty hard, but is it impossible?

    If so, just make it clear, so we’ll all know.

    If not, I’ll ask you the same question I asked Rebecca:

    What should JREF do, specifically, to solve this conflict?

  14. 16


    Whatever the problem is. This is not about what I think. This is about how we solve whatever you and others feel is wrong.

    I have read the policy. Will that satisfy you, or do you have something you want to add to or subtract from the policy?

    I’ll list the criteria as they arrive:

    1) Listen to critics.
    D.J. has already done that to a large extent, but apparently not to everyone’s satisfaction. How do we ensure this?

    Let’s work the problem.

  15. 17

    Oh, good. If you don’t know anything about the situation and you don’t actually care what the issues are, you won’t mind bowing out of the conversation and making room for the people who do both. Now.

  16. 18

    Trust is earned, not ordered off a menu. Has anyone ever betrayed your trust before, Claus? Were you able, at that very moment, to give them a detailed point-by-point list of what they needed to do to regain it?

  17. 19

    Tom, Claus can’t even be bothered to go read what other people are saying needs to be done to establish trust. He’s not actually interested in what I have to say on the matter either.

  18. 20

    Claus, DJ isn’t just entitled to making this go away. People aren’t vending machines–you can’t push a few distinct buttons and get the response you want. He needs to seriously consider what people are saying. There have been tons of comments and criticisms of his apology on Skepchick and here at FTB, and it is nowhere even close to being a genuine invitation to work together, and all the reasons why have been abundantly described on those threads. Go to Skepchick and read. Go to Lousy Canuck and read. If you are unclear about why someone is still dissatisfied, THEN you can ask, but there are a lot of multifactorial reasons why what DJ is doing is not okay, and you can’t just JAQoff here and expect people to rehash what they’ve written on in detail elsewhere.

    For you to just say “I think you’re wildly over-interpreting” is not a substantive argument…so if you want to understand, you need to do more work YOURSELF and not make people lay it out for you. If you’ve shown you’ve TRIED to understand something, then you can ask a specific question. But until then, do not ask the same broadly-encompassing questions that have been answered many times over and act like you deserve to have them specifically re-answered for you.

  19. 21


    Please, this is not about me, or how I feel about things. I know some things, but not everything, just like everbody else. Obviously I care about the issues.

    Now, we could all go on endlessly about how I feel, how you feel, how everybody else feels. But it doesn’t really solve anything, does it?

    You, Rebecca and others, have specific problems with the way D.J. and JREF have handled this. I have started listing what specifically needs to be done. Only you and other critics can add to that list.

    Let’s work the problem, OK?


    Sure, it is earned. That’s what I am asking: What should D.J. and JREF do, specifically, to earn that trust back?

    It’s been some days now, and a lot of posts have been flying about. Maybe it’s time to see if the problems can be solved.

  20. 22

    No, Claus. It’s about my time and how you’ve been wasting that. As of right now, you don’t get to do that anymore. Go read the resources you’ve been given if you actually want an answer.

  21. 23

    Claus @21: Stephanie made specific recommendations in this post (and several others you’ve commented on). I made specific recommendations in the link @7. Do your homework. Nobody’s going to pour this knowledge into your ear.

  22. 24

    I know some things, but not everything, just like everbody else.

    And we have no idea what you know and what you don’t know until you actually put forth what you know and what you don’t know, and we’re not going to waste our time guessing.

  23. 25

    Stephanie: I figured, but I’m an eternal optimist I guess.

    Claus: Instead of asking us to rehash what’s already been said, why not go through the relevant posts and make a list of the suggestions that have already been made? If you’re interested in developing a list and an action plan, the primary sources are all available if you want to do the research. When you’ve got the list put together, then come to us and ask if we’d like to add/modify/change things. And then you can post it publicly, open it to wider review, and e-mail a link to D.J.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve already e-mailed D.J. with my suggestions and responses in regard to his ‘apology’ to Rebecca Watson. I don’t frankly see why repeating it to you–when it’s still up on the Skepchick comment thread for all to see–is a worthwhile use of time. I suspect the other commenters are in the same place.

    To all: If nothing else, this latest brouhaha has propped some blogs up into my must-read list. Thanks a bunch :).

  24. 26

    It’s really not rocket science. There’s a website called Google. Search for harassment policy and you will find gazillions of large companies, universities and organizations who have their policy on their website. Because they know it is important.

    Pick any one, copy & adapt a little for your own needs and you have a big box ticked. 30 Minutes at most.

    The hard part then is to instill in all employees, volunteers and guests how important this is. That takes time and starts with the leadership making it clear to all and every one that this is incredibly important. In fact, the leadership makes it clear that this is more important than the content of the talks, the speakers or how many people there are. The leadership talks about it more than anybody else, just to make the point.

    They desperately need to become more professional in how they run things and how they deal with their staff, volunteers and guests.

  25. 27

    If someone asks you to leave them alone or to otherwise stop a behavior that is directed toward them, please do so. Continued unwanted behavior directed toward another person is harassment. People who harass others or cause multiple complaints of disrespectful behavior may be required to leave without a refund.

    This is very passive and weakly written. It’s asking people to please not harass someone if that person asks you not to. It’s essentially catering to those who would harass by giving them a free pass to go ahead until told no. Now compare it to the last paragraph:

    A warning will be given when appropriate, but there will be zero tolerance for violence, physical intimidation, and unwanted intentional physical contact.

    Zero tolerance for any physical intimidation or (unwanted) contact, but harassment – even continued – might result in being removed from the event.

    Another problem I have with this is “A warning will be given when appropriate…” Do they have an internal guideline that they use to determine if something warrants a warning, if that person should be removed from the premises, or if they should let something slide? If not, who decides when it’s appropriate to give a warning?

    Last year’s “policy” (really a statement) was a start, but they had a year in between events to tweak it and make it better – make it visible. It should be hardline straight across the board. “Harassment is not acceptable in any form. Those found to be harassing anyone during the convention will be given one warning before being removed from the premises. No refunds will be offered to those asked to leave by our staff.” By all means, keep the zero tolerance on violence but, please don’t be so wishy-washy when it comes to harassment.

    Those who are concerned about the old version applying to future events are justly so. In everything I’ve come across so far, when DJ mentions their policy, he mentions it in past tense. He ought to be talking about the present and the future. He should be telling people that JREF is making some changes to their policy to make it stronger. He should stop looking at the past and saying, “We did it first.” You can only be first once, then you have to be better.

  26. 28

    The whining about “give specific advice” seems sort of excessively stupid considering that I know that I wrote a sample statement for Grothe a couple of days ago, and so did a bunch of other people.

    It seems so very easy for someone interested in protecting people from harassment assault to very simply say “We were not as aware as we could have been last year, and we’re sorry. We know we need to be more aware this year. We want to work with the people who are closest to the problem to create the safest place we can. We thank the people who pointed out the problem, and we’d like those people to help be part of the solution.”

    Why didn’t Grothe say that? How hard was that? Why would that have effing killed him to say? Why do all his supporters seem opposed to that sort of obvious statement?

  27. 29

    Stephanie, please excuse me for spamming. I posted this also at Ophelia’s, and it’s originally from the brainstorming on Lousy Canuck.


    Okay… I talked to my local rape crisis center (located through the RAINN hotline) about the education they provide. Your local center MAY provide similar services, gotta ask them.

    Their educators do sexual harassment and assault education training as a presentation format and Q&A session, usually 60 to 90 minutes long. Presenters will come to your group’s event or meeting place, days or evenings or weekends. This is a free service and summer is a good time to schedule as it’s not very busy.

    My contact says the presentations will cover the definitions of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, how to recognize suspect or dangerous situations, what an escalating situation looks like, the basics of how reporting should be handled, and bystander training in how to intervene as safely as possible. She says they have never dealt with training event staff before, but it shouldn’t be much different from their usual presentation except possibly in scale.

    She also said (which I’m overjoyed to hear) that they RUN INFORMATION TABLES AT EVENTS. That means, if your group can arrange for a educator to run a table, the Backup Project volunteers can have a professional mentor! The educator’s there to teach and answer questions, not to handle reporting, but still.

    One more note – she said that a group should check with their local crisis center BEFORE listing the center by name on their harassment policy, in case it constitutes an endorsement.

    Printable materials can be requested or downloaded from local resource sites. I’m in Texas, so my local site is:


    which has lists of brochures (in English and Spanish) about non-stranger rape, sexual harassment (in the workplace) and lots of other topics.

    My two cents: y’all who are outraged, make a note to find your local center and either attend a training session or nudge your group, employer, bowling league or whatever to host one. Push this information to the organizers of any events you might attend – they too can probably have a training session for the asking.

  28. 30

    It’s ridiculous to think TAM won’t be having an anti-harassment policy in place for future Meetings. Grothe may currently be suffering from a severe case of foot in mouth but I see no reason to think he’d block the continuation of an anti-harassment policy. What reason would he have? He’s made it clear, whatever his other faults, he does want a policy in place and that it is a point of pride for him that they (TAM) were among the first to have a policy in place.

    That said, if the policy consists of what Tom Foss quotes in the first comment, Grothe really should do less talking (ditto for his supporters) and listen to the suggestions and errors being pointed out. Even if a separate set of instructions were handed out to staff, the small blurb handed out seems inadequate in informing possible victims about their rihts and options, what behavior will TAM not permit and what everyone can expect to be done should anything happen.

    It’s, like a lot of Grothe has said, the bare minimum you’d have to meet to be able to say “We have an anti-harassment policy in place.”

    Hopefully this year, especially after all this dust up, there will be a clearer condemnation of harassment, better recording and less of a burden placed on the harassed to follow up on claims and see to it they’ve actually been recorded (something that should be the staff’s job.)

  29. 32

    I know, and I regret using ridiculous now. These last few comments by Grothe have done a lot to erode the confidence many skeptics had in him, so it isn’t ridiculous. Still, TAM’s anti-harassment policy has been a point of pride for him (which may be why criticism of it has hit him hard) so I can’t see him getting rid of it.


    Kinda related: I think it great TAM had something in place when no one else did. But we need to remember everything is a work in progress and always needs to be updated for relevance and effectiveness. The survey Grothe handed out was a step towards the right direction but, as this last week has reminded us, ultimately an ineffective way of measuring harassment. Being skeptics who are dedicated to what works we can’t allow ourselves to become reliant on poor methods. Doing so keeps us from growing, from advancing and from making this community a more welcoming place for everyone.

  30. 34

    @ Julian

    “Still, TAM’s anti-harassment policy has been a point of pride for him (which may be why criticism of it has hit him hard) so I can’t see him getting rid of it.”

    I understand what you’re saying, this was my first reaction when I read his earlier responses. That he may have felt unfairly attacked, having been first, and so on. But the policy (assuming there’s more to it than just saying “guys, don’t do that” in the pamphlet) is just a beginning.

    Being proud of passing Conference Anti-Harassment Policies 101 is fine, but he can’t just keep pointing to that when people complain that there’s more to be done. So far it doesn’t seem that he has done anything proactive about how this is to be expanded and improved going forward. It seems to this outsider more like he feels he passed that annoying course requirement (with maybe a C+) and just wants to get back to his major in skepticism.

    He keeps referring to it in the past tense. Why is there no discussion of present and future? It seems like this combined with a straightforward apology would a long way to improve matters. If he continues to screw this up it will be a remarkable failure since, if I’m not mistaken, even his most vocal critics would really like him to succeed here.

  31. 35

    …and for allegedly driving away attendees…

    This caught my eye as an unresolved issue. To the best of my knowledge DJ, when discussing the drop off in women attending TAM this year, did not indicate whether the historically high number of women attending last year’s TAM had a low repeat rate, or whether the number of women attending TAM for the first time had shrunk. I would presume that women who attended last year have all the data they need to draw their own conclusions about whether TAM is worth attending and whether they will find the behavior at TAM to their liking. I would doubt that Rebecca and other bloggers could sway these women from making their own valid decisions. Therefore, I conclude that DJ thought frank feminist bloggers (and, shrill harpies :-p) could only have an impact on first time female attenders. Does the evidence support declining levels of registration for TAM for the second group, the first, or both? Evenly or unevenly?

  32. 36

    Is it me, or is the discussion starting to shift away from ‘TAM has a policy’ towards ‘here is TAM’s policy, here is how we would like it to be improved and here is how it should be implemented’?

    I say this because the impression I have is that TAM’s 2011 policy is largely a paper construct without much organisation behind it. Outlining harassment reporting procedures, publicising them and training staff in handling reports would seem to be an important step on the road to improvement.

  33. 37

    Claus Larsen has been asking:

    What should D.J. and JREF do, specifically, to earn that trust back?

    I have a suggestion that I haven’t seen come up much: DJ could put someone else in charge of security at TAM. If he were really bold (and serious about building bridges) he would let the women he’s accused pick who it should be.

  34. 38

    Christ, I’m losing patience.

    How about a straight-up “No fucking at TAM” policy? That’s it. No sex allowed. The creepers will stay home or risk arrest for assault, everyone else can have a good (platonic) time, and the people who want to have sex with each other can either negotiate that for another time USING THEIR WORDS, or sneakily (but still USING THEIR WORDS) get it on anyway.

    If they sneak, and do it effectively, nobody will know. Which means that subset of men who love to snivel about women crying rape for no reason will have a damned good excuse to either REALLY TRUST their partners in crime (hah!) or just not sleep with them.

    In other words, instead of Woman’s Default State being assumed to be “yes, convince me, keep trying”, her default state will be “no”, and will be PRESUMED TO BE ‘NO’, not “she’s lying, she said ‘yes’ and now she’s crying harassment to be a bitch.”

  35. 39

    @ smhll

    “Therefore, I conclude that DJ thought frank feminist bloggers (and, shrill harpies :-p) could only have an impact on first time female attenders.”

    I hadn’t thought of it this way before but when you put it that way it makes me think of “Shush girls. You’ll scare off the fresh meat.” Yuch. There are just too many ways to interpret all this stuff badly.

  36. 40

    […] What he doesn’t realize is that he was being patronizing in his opening remarks by reminding women how rough they have it in religion.  They already know that.  Worse, he doesn’t realize that it is important for people to be able to express anger and dismay at mistreatment and such expression is necessary in order to achieve progress.  It is all very well and good to have civil discussions about where things should be fixed, yet when women asked for a concrete sexual harassment policy from the James Randi Foundation’s (JREF) annual skeptfest The Amazing Meeting (TAM)  was to be told that there is no need for a specific policy because there were not really any serious problems (even when those problems were specifically pointed out.) […]

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