Twitter was alive before World Fantasy Convention 2013 with disappointment, unhappy amusement and anger at the emails sent by the convention committee to attendees, which can best be categorised as patronising and thoughtless, summarising badly thought-out policies: £75 for a replacement badge (they were not made of gold or the feathers of a mythical mountain bird), £5 for a Kaffeeklatsch to pay for the biscuits (a whole packet of nice M&S biscuits is not even that much), a very minimal statement about harassment. The latter of these is, obviously, a lot less absurd and a lot more worrying, although the classism inherent in the first two is not to be overlooked. Post-convention refunds for the Kaffeeklatsches are all well and good, but that refund was not adequately advertised before the convention, so many people did not bother signing up (and some authors opted out on principle – not even they knew the refund was forthcoming). PS: I am not voting for your convention book that was so pointlessly heavy that I didn’t bring it home. (Yes, in their latest email, they asked for award nominations/votes for their book. Really now.)
I want to talk specifically about the harassment part of WFC2013′s failures, because they’ve sent out a post-convention email and it is appalling.
Here is the relevant quote in full:
“Regrettably, we learned of one small harassment incident that occurred on the Saturday night when an extremely drunken fan made a nuisance of himself in the hotel Lobby. Unfortunately, he was not reported to either of the professional Security guards who were on duty at the time or any member of the con committee. As a result, by the time we had found out about the incident and ascertained the details, the individual concerned (who was not attending the Awards Banquet) had apparently already left the convention. The person affected did not wish to pursue the matter with either the hotel or the police and, for legal reasons, we cannot publicly identify the individual responsible. However, after full consultation with the Hilton management and our Security team, we have passed the name of the nuisance-maker on to the organisers of next year’s World Fantasy Convention, who will decide on any appropriate action to take.”
Let’s take that to pieces.
“one small harassment incident”
I am not happy to see any harassment described as “small”, as it makes it sound like it is not a big deal. The only person who can determine whether it is/isn’t a big deal is the person harassed. How hard is it to write “a harassment incident”.
“an extremely drunken fan made a nuisance of himself in the hotel Lobby”
1. Why is his drunkenness relevant? Many people got drunk at WFC2013, despite the price of drinks in the bar, and the vast majority did not harass anyone. Drunkenness is a behaviour, not a force of nature, not ever a reason – an excuse – for harassment or any other harmful behaviour. The only reason it is brought up in discussions of harassment is to in some way explain – ie: excuse – events.
2. The word “harassment” has been dropped in favour of “nuisance”. Someone making a nuisance of themselves while drunk is someone, I don’t know, singing harmless songs loudly in the corridor: annoying, but not a huge deal. Harassment is never a “nuisance”, it is harassment. Call it harassment. Always.
“Unfortunately, he was not reported to either of the professional Security guards who were on duty at the time or any member of the con committee.”
1. I am not the only person at WFC2013 who didn’t even notice that there were security staff in the lobby. I saw volunteers during the daytime, providing very helpful guidance through the clusterfuck of a badly signposted hotel, but I never noted security staff. If I had been harassed, how would I have known to go to security?
2. More importantly, someone who has been harassed should not be obliged to report their harassment immediately. Their number one priority is probably going to be their safety, which probably entails getting out of there a.s.a.p. Whatever their personal priority is, that is their priority and they should not be shamed for doing it.
3. Someone who has been harassed should be given support if they choose to report, whenever that is. Note the “if” and the “when”. It can take time to decide to report, because reporting is stressful: it involves being blamed for what happened; being told the harasser was drunk and made a nuisance of himself, nothing more. It involves recounting the incident multiple times. Many people do not report harassment and they should not ever be shamed for this. If it takes time for someone to decide to report, they should not ever be shamed for this.
It is not unfortunate that someone did not report their harassment immediately. It is unfortunate that they were harassed.
It is unfortunate that this email from WFC2013 – hopefully unintentionally – acts as if not reporting immediately is something they did wrong. Intent, however, has little relation with consequence. The WFC2013 email is upsetting and unsupportive.
“we have passed the name of the nuisance-maker”
The words you’re looking for are “the harasser”.
We then come to the issue of the “one” in “one small harassment incident”, as I heard on twitter shortly after WFC2013 that there had been three incidents of harassment. To quote @LR_Lam on twitter today:
More important information comes from Cheryl Morgan, who has written a lengthy post about the running of World Fantasy Conventions, including specific reporting from WFC2013. The comments are worth reading for even more information. In it Cheryl reports that
the WFC2013 twitter account posted on Sunday Correction: it was posted on the display boards in the lobby:
“It’s Sunday. No one has lost their badge and no one has been harassed.”
Not only is this infantile passive aggressive bullshit, but it’s factually wrong. People reported harassment on Saturday night.
Even if no one had reported by Sunday morning, it’s awful to say that, because what about anyone harassed and still considering reporting? That is not a lot of time to make that decision. What about anyone harassed who never reports? Their experience should not be erased by assuming it doesn’t exist.
Blithe updates and dismissive official emails indicate little to no compassion for people who have been harassed at WFC2013. That is exactly the kind of environment in which people do not report harassment – and harassers know they are safe to harass. They know that harassment is not a serious issue for the people running the con. They know that the reports that are made will be minimised to a single report in the official email. Whatever the intent of the person who wrote that display board update and the person(s) who wrote that email, the consequences are this: WFC2013 was more safe for harassers than people who were harassed. This is not a proud legacy. This is not a safe legacy. This continues after WFC2013 finished, as anyone harassed at WFC2013 who reads that email – people who reported, people who did not – will know who is safe and who is not.
I want an apology from WFC2013 and a statement that all future World Fantasy Conventions will be run with the safety of attendees as a major priority. (Also: ACCESSIBILITY.) Look to Readercon as an example. It’s not fucking difficult, the only reason not to do it is that you don’t give a shit.
Originally published at Alex Dally MacFarlane. You can comment here or there.