We’re starting to prepare for next year’s convention season at work, which got me thinking about cons and, inevitably, because of the experiences of a lot of my friends, about the harassment that happens there.
And in thinking about and researching how to make conventions safer for women and other groups that are frequent targets of harassment (usual disclaimer — I’m going to approach this from the gender angle because it’s the one I’m most familiar with and immersed in, but men can be victims of harassment, women can be harassers, and most of what I say, I believe, holds true for harassment directed at other marginalized groups as well), I discovered that most of the advice out there is targeted at two groups:
- Victims of harassment, focusing on how to report incidents, how to ensure their own safety, dealing with fallout, etc.; and
- Con organizers and staff, focusing on explaining why it’s important to have policies about these things, handling reports of harassment, discussing legal liability and how to minimize it, calling out both good and bad examples of how conventions have responded, and so on, as well as pieces such as John Scalzi’s policy (he won’t attend cons that don’t have policies in place to deal with harassment), groups providing collections of resources for getting cons to step up in this regard, such as the Con Anti-Harassment Project.
What I didn’t see a lot of was advice on what to do if someone tells you they’re being harassed, and/or asks for help. There’s the Backup Ribbon Project, which I admire and support in theory, although I have some concerns about its effectiveness and the potential for abuse. And Jim C. Hines has a great post on the subject, but it is mostly a list of things not to do. For the most part, however, there seems to be a tacit assumption that wanting to help is the same as being effective in helping. In my experience, however, that’s not true for a lot of reasons.