A conversation about harrasment

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A conversation about harrasment

Postby Dave2 » Fri Mar 08, 2013 1:02 pm  •  [Post 1]

Over on http://www.michaelnugent.com/2013/03/08 ... ent-197970

D4m10n and I were discussing having a conversation about what might make effective anti-harassment measures at conventions without things being marred by calls of misogynist or misandrist and so on.

He asked:

"What anti-harassment measures do you think work best for non-professional conferences such as comic cons and skeptic cons? Do the existing policies at national orgs like CFI leave too much room for organisers to reinterpret harassment to include banal things like replying to Tweets?"

I think conventions goers should be made aware of who they can talk to in the event of any problem with another attendee. It seems sensible to me to have this information up front. I don't know about logistics of this, but a member of staff who is knowledgeable about the law pertaining to harassment would clearly be an asset to those running a con. Any complaints that are not unambiguous could be directed to them so that they can be looked at seriously and fairly.

As to what constitutes harassment I suggest the law be the first guide and the sort of policies adopted by successful pubs, clubs and sports arenas make the second. These places - like cons - wish to be both safe and fun, and presumably have policies that take the facilitation of fun into account whilst treating the safety of participants seriously too.

Now this is speculation on my part, but should this thread prove fruitful I would certainly like to look at that sort of thing more closely.

Not knowing anything about CFI, I can't comment, again, should this conversation continue I would be willing to find out more.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby d4m10n » Fri Mar 08, 2013 2:42 pm  •  [Post 2]

For those not familiar with the harassment policies campaign, here is the backstory from the FtB POV: http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck ... or-events/

I don't have any serious objections to the idea of having a policy, but I harbour serious doubts about whether any given policy would be implemented fairly. From what I've seen, there has been some confusion of legitimate criticism with personal harassment on occasion.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Dave2 » Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:04 pm  •  [Post 3]

Is that confusion about online criticism or disagreement between people at conventions?
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Dick Strawkins » Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:14 pm  •  [Post 4]

I don't see a problem with having a basic policy - and even one that circumscribed sexual behavior, (trying to pick up sexual partners etc,) for specific parts of the conference area.
I suspect that most of the potential for harrassment occurs in bars and hotel room parties and it is, unfortunatley, going to be difficult to include anything other than basic law of the land rules for those places.
Still, having stricter rules for one place (main conference area where talks are held, poster sessions, coffee (ooops) etc) may ease the minds of those who are particularly worried that they may be sexually harrassed at any time.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Dave2 » Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:43 pm  •  [Post 5]

I've been reading through one of the suggested policies linked to in the lousy canuck post:

Harassment includes offensive verbal comments [related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, [your specific concern here]], 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.

OK - I suppose the notion I find hardest to take at face value is that following constitute harassment, but I will try to put to put myself in the scene...

I suppose that if I was at a con and someone took it into their head to continually follow me about - an overfriendly person whose sustained company I did not desire, for instance - I might start to feel uncomfortable and ask them to stop, and if the behaviour persisted I would appreciate help from the staff. As to whether an accusation of following is made against someone I think the staff could check that the request to stop was made, and ask it on behalf of the participant if they were too intimidated to do so themselves. I do think the followee also needs to be informed that the behaviour may not have been deliberate or malign in intent, and that unless it was truly egregious it does not constitute harassment unless it persists after fair warning.

If the follower insists the movement was coincidental there seems little way to prove otherwise, but it could be pointed out that giving the individual concerned more space would be better. If the followee raises another complaint I suppose the best way to sort it - logistics allowing - would be to check that the follower is actually persisting in the behaviour. Such checking could also take into account that the followee may be playing some sort of entrapment game. I realise this is hard to judge but most staff with half a brain should be able to work out if the putative followee is playing up. One last chance and then an escort from the premises seems understandable at this point.

I do think "sexual images in public spaces" covers an awful lot of ground. I would leave it up to convention organisers to decide what they deem a breach of good taste. I certainly would object to some kind of categorical eschewal of anything remotely sexual.

[Exhibitors in the expo hall, sponsor or vendor booths, or similar activities are also subject to the anti-harassment policy. In particular, exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff (including volunteers) should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes, or otherwise create a sexualized environment.]

I'm totally lassez faire about this sort of thing. If you object to a stand with sexualised images (within the bounds of the law) do not avail them of your custom. I suppose that there might be something that's in such bad taste that a con organiser might not wish to be associated with it - I would leave that up to them.

If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the conference [with no refund]. 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/head sets.] 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.


No real objections - though I wonder if things like escorts are realistic of the logistics available at smaller cons.

[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]


Seems utterly sensible to provide this sort of information, perhaps as part of a flyer or programme people receive on reception.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby windy » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:03 pm  •  [Post 6]

Dave2 wrote:D4m10n and I were discussing having a conversation about what might make effective anti-harassment measures at conventions


Wouldn't that depend on what types of harassment tend to occur at these conventions and how often?

*hint hint*, Secular Census, what happened to the absolute numbers from that recent survey?

http://www.secularcensus.us/analysis/2013-01-23
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby windy » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:43 pm  •  [Post 7]

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/ ... ent-549817
Sample size is complex. It’s not as simple as saying, “this percent of the total number of women” There is the largest group: registrants. There is the subset of women. There is the sample size for a particular form or forms, depending on what data I’m analyzing; not everyone chooses to complete every form. The women’s data used 3 forms. And in some cases a particular question’s sample size may differ from its form’s sample, since some questions only appear when a previous response has been recorded. (You don’t get to indicate HOW you were made to feel unwelcome till you’ve 1. said that you’ve been involved in secularism AND 2. said you felt unwelcome at some point.)

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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby rayshul » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:46 pm  •  [Post 8]

I can't see why the law wouldn't cover everything. I have never been to a conference or similar training situation with a harrassment policy that goes beyond the law and I do attend quite a lot (although not admittedly with skeptics).
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Dave2 » Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:13 pm  •  [Post 9]

windy wrote:Wouldn't that depend on what types of harassment tend to occur at these conventions and how often?

*hint hint*, Secular Census, what happened to the absolute numbers from that recent survey?


Can you be more specific? I'm a resident of Belfast and I'm not sure how the info in the census should apply.

If a notion of what is generally acceptable as a policy for cons is a good idea (and I'm not decided on the issue myself) it may be better to worry less about what is happening and just cover the popular points such policies tend to cover for other cons, events and places where men and women gather to have fun (I think even the more sensitive participants agree that the purpose of the cons is to have fun).

If there is a genuine precedent for a type of behaviour not covered by such policies it would make sense to include it, but if we ignore a common complaint because "it hasn't yet been an issue" the risk is a bad PR and a complacency to the notion of that sort of thing happening at all.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby windy » Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:38 pm  •  [Post 10]

Dave2 wrote:
windy wrote:Wouldn't that depend on what types of harassment tend to occur at these conventions and how often?

*hint hint*, Secular Census, what happened to the absolute numbers from that recent survey?

Can you be more specific? I'm a resident of Belfast and I'm not sure how the info in the census should apply.


RIght, that was just one example of the lack of data in general.

Dave2 wrote:If a notion of what is generally acceptable as a policy for cons is a good idea (and I'm not decided on the issue myself) it may be better to worry less about what is happening and just cover the popular points such policies tend to cover for other cons, events and places where men and women gather to have fun (I think even the more sensitive participants agree that the purpose of the cons is to have fun).


I agree that's the best way to go, if something besides the law is needed. But without data we won't know which policies are actually effective and which are just feel-good/CYA.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Dave2 » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:00 pm  •  [Post 11]

I suppose the honest thing to do would admit that and point out that any policy adopted by a con would be part of a work in progress to see what works.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby d4m10n » Mon Mar 11, 2013 8:32 pm  •  [Post 12]

windy wrote:I agree that's the best way to go, if something besides the law is needed. But without data we won't know which policies are actually effective and which are just feel-good/CYA.


As a humanist, I want people to feel good, even if all I'm doing is alleviating irrational fears stoked up by certain corners of the blogosphere. As a former conference organizer, I'd say that CYA has its place as well.

That said, I would also really like to have some data but the only way to do that is to randomly sample and survey attendees from conferences before and after AHP are put in place. To my knowledge, this has never been done. I once suggested that some highly resourced cons might try that out (TAM, for example) and Greg Laden of all people popped into my Facebook page to tell me that it's impossible and then start in with personal abuse. Had to block him when he started talking about my kids. Creepy as all get out.

Anyhow, yeah, some valid data would be really nice. We cannot simply assume that what works for workplaces (policies backed by annual training and life-altering enforcement mechanisms) will also work for avocational conferences.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Skep tickle » Tue Mar 12, 2013 12:57 am  •  [Post 13]

Like Rayshul (and probably others), I've been to many many conferences for work and was never aware of any issues.

The whole point of a harassment policy would be to address problematic behavior, previously known to occur or (I suppose) anticipated to potentially occur, that isn't illegal but would adversely affect the conference, or at least could significantly affect the experience of some attendees.

I could imagine conferences for which the topic was "sensitive" and people wouldn't necessarily share the same boundaries as being prime candidates for policies like this. Not so much about "harassment" but to let attendees know what's considered appropriate behavior and what they should avoid doing or saying when interacting with other attendees. Like, a police officers convention at which attendees are advised to avoid references to "pigs" and to "donuts" [/jk]. Or a PTSD convention, in which attendees are reminded not to make sudden loud noises. Something like that.

I would think Skeptics & Humanist conferences (and attendees) would not fall into the "sensitive" category; seems like pretty much anything should be open season to discuss, rebut, or decline to participate in. At Atheist conferences, seems like the most sensitive situation might be some religionist threatening hellfire to people new to atheism who are just leaving dogmatic religions - perhaps an unusual situation but it'd be the one I might cover in a harassment policy if I had to come up with one.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Vital Signs » Tue Mar 12, 2013 5:47 pm  •  [Post 14]

Do you really need a set of rules to tell you how to behave in a social situation?
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby EdwardGemmer » Tue Mar 12, 2013 5:50 pm  •  [Post 15]

Policy: We don't tolerate harassment

Then hire people with brains and backbones to enforce the policy.
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Re: A conversation about harrasment

Postby Vital Signs » Tue Mar 12, 2013 6:14 pm  •  [Post 16]

EdwardGemmer wrote:Policy: We don't tolerate harassment

Then hire people with brains and backbones to enforce the policy.

And what is harassment? Some people think it is asking someone to have a cup of coffee. You have coffee with friends you haven't seen in 20 years and don't want to see again for another 20 years.

The definition gets truly out of hand when you have hypersensitive people walking around who have seemingly come to the convention looking for people they can lure into "harassing" them so they can provide their loyal readers a few more blog posts.
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