Readercon Harassment Debacle
If you haven’t been following the Readercon Harassment Debacle, you can read all about it:
- Readercon: The Bad and the Ugly
- Readercon: The Verdict, and;
- Statement from the Readercon Board of Directors.
After the Readercon Board’s failure to adhere to their own published harassment policy, I sent them the following e-mail. I am appalled by their hypocrisy, and would have wished better of the convention that first introduced me to genre cons. If you agree with my conclusions, I urge you to show your support by reaching out to the Readercon Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Readercon Board of Directors,
I am a lifelong speculative fiction reader whose first introduction to genre conventions was Readercon 22. I write a weekly science fiction/fantasy blog, and am deeply passionate about books, literature, and critical analysis, so it should come as no surprise to you that I felt at home at your convention. Last year, and again this year, I found an environment full of intelligent, passionate people eager to dive into the same topics that so fascinate me. After my experiences last year, I sang Readercon’s praises to anyone who would listen and was delighted to see half of my Viable Paradise workshop class come to this year’s Readercon. But despite my appreciation for the excellent convention you organize, I am appalled by the hypocrisy inherent in your selective implementation of your “zero-tolerance” harassment policy.
In your handling of Rene Walling’s admitted harassment of Genevieve Valentine, there are three clear facts:
1. You published an official policy of “zero-tolerance” for harassment, provided this policy in writing, and displayed it prominently to everyone attending Readercon. This policy explicitly stated that the consequence of harassment was the permanent suspension of the harasser.
2. Rene Walling physically and verbally harassed and intimidated Genevieve Valentine. Per your own official statement, this is not in dispute.
3. Per your official statement, the Board decided – based on Walling’s avowals of contrition – to only suspend the guilty party for two years, which decision is in obvious contravention of the Board’s own official policy.
Taken together, these three facts are shameful. Yes, the right to enforce policies lies in the Board’s sole discretion, which means that you have the right to apply whatever sanctions you choose in this situation. But you have a fiduciary duty to safeguard as best you can the safety of your convention’s attendees, and your original policy was laudable both for its clarity and for its fulfillment of that duty. But by deviating from your own policy, you have failed in that duty and have undermined the relationship of trust you have painstakingly built with your attendees.
Quite frankly, you screwed up and now have no good options: if you rescind your decision and permanently ban Walling (as you should have done in the first place), it will not undo your breach of trust. If you do nothing and merely publish a revised policy (presumably one that is no longer “zero-tolerance” or so admirably unambiguous) you will further erode already-damaged trust. From your perspective, neither is a good option and both will harm Readercon.
Nevertheless, you should take the first option.
First, you should publicly admit to your mistake and correct it. Yes, it will be painful. Yes, there will be loss of face. But that acknowledgment is the first step in rebuilding the trust you have already destroyed.
Second, you should articulate a transparent process for the implementation of your harassment policy in the future. The Readercon Board in its current configuration is clearly not the right body to implement your harassment policy. You have shown that you are abjectly unable to do the job. My recommendation would be to appoint an independent “safety czar” with full executive privileges for a three year term. This safety czar would be an ombudsman (ombuds-person?) for Readercon attendees, their mission to apply the convention’s harassment policy, and their decisions final and completely independent of the Readercon Board. This second step would only be of value if the Board found an individual of great integrity who would have the trust of the Readercon community – otherwise, this step would be valueless.
If you do not take these two steps, or significant steps materially similar, I expect that you will see Readercon attendance shrink, and its wonderful community skew in ways inimical to the diverse discussions that Readercon promotes. Restoring trust will not happen overnight: it will take years, and it will be difficult. But it should be done anyway.
If you are serious about making Readercon a safe environment for all attendees, then you should act that way. If you do, then I for one may return in the future. Otherwise, I will skip Readercon in favor of other events that do take attendee safety seriously.