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Readercon Board Screw-Up

As someone who runs speculative fiction conventions, I’ve been following the recent Readercon events with incredulous dismay. IMO, the Board has screwed up big time.

Summary:

1) Readercon have a zero tolerance anti-harassment policy with a mandated permanent membership ban.

2) In 2008, this policy was used to permanently ban a member found to be harassing other members.

3) An incident of harassment occurred this year at Readercon, and was reported.

4) Readercon have announced that they do not dispute the harassment occurred, but that as the harasser was “regretful” a two year ban would be instituted instead of a permanent ban.

5) Fandom is outraged at the inequity of the punishment, the way the Readercon Board have ignored their own policies, and the message it sends to harassers and harassed.

 

The Problems:

1) Readercon have a policy which mandates a single punishment (a permanent membership ban) for any kind of harassment.

“Harassment of any kind — including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions — will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.”

 

2) Readercon have confirmed that harassment has occurred.

“We want to thank everyone who came forward – both in person and via email – to report a harassment incident at Readercon 23. We followed up those reports with interviews with the target of the harassment, various witnesses, and Rene Walling, the harasser. The information we collected and reviewed was consistent, consequently, we feel the facts of the incident are not in dispute.”

 

3) Readercon believe that when their policy was formulated, it was done so without full consideration of possible circumstances, with the implication that this particular circumstance wasn’t covered.

“When we wrote our zero-tolerance policy in 2008 (in response to a previous incident), we were operating under the assumption that violators were either intent on their specific behaviors, clueless, or both.”

 

4) Readercon have chosen to ignore their existing policy on the basis of the harasser being “regretful” and in the belief that this will somehow educate others about harassment.

“During the course of our conversation with Rene it became immediately apparent that he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions. It was that recognition and regret that influenced our decision, not his status in the community. If, as a community, we wish to educate others about harassment, we must also allow for the possibility of reform.”

 

5) The lessons the community seem to be taking away from this (as I’ve seen in various posts) are:

  • The Readercon Board will retroactively decide not to abide by its existing policies.
  • Readercon is not a safe convention to be at.
  • Some people can get away with harassment, if they know the right people, or are popular / well known enough.
  • Some of the harassed are less important than others.
  • Reporting harassment to Readercon is a waste of time, it’s better to just not go.

 

6) Readercon have a huge PR disaster of an International scope.

 

7) The Readercon Board appear to have lost the faith of the community (has anyone seen any public praise of their decision and announcement?)

 

Recommended Board Actions (IMO):

1) The Readercon Board need to publicly announce that due to community feedback they’ve realised how wrong their decision was, and that regardless of the particular circumstances, the current Readercon policy means they have no choice but to instigate a permanent ban against the harasser.

This is the only action the Board can take, under their existing policy, to regain any semblance of integrity. If the policy is wrong, then it needs to be changed, but the Board can’t choose to ignore it for one person when they haven’t for another. It violates the sense of equity which is incredibly important amongst the spec fic community.

 

2) The Readercon Board need to publicly announce that this incident has highlighted flaws in their current policy, in that it provides no options of graduated response, and should be changed to correct this flaw.

To a degree they’ve already done this in their previous announcement, but they really need to outline the specific flaws rather than a general ‘we didn’t account for some circumstances’ type statement.

 

3) The Readercon Board should publicly offer to stand down, and ask the membership to either re-affirm confidence in them, or elect / appoint a new Board, via whatever method their constitution allows.

Given the large volume of community disagreement with their decision, I think this is critical for the Board (existing or new) to regain a sense of community mandate, from which they can take any further actions. If they don’t do this, anything they do or say can be questioned.

If they don’t do this, then I think it’s on the community to either call for them to stand down, or to express confidence in them.

 

4) Following this, the Board (new or existing) should draft a new policy which corrects their perceived flaws in the current one. Eg, it could allow for both a graduated response, and provide mechanisms of appeal (for both harassed and harassers) if a particular response is considered too lenient or harsh, or circumstances change over time.  This should include community discussion.

It’s important the Board is able to effectively communicate the perceived flaws in their current policy and get general community consensus on a better one which addresses said flaws. If the community is happy with the current policy, then it shouldn’t be changed.

 

5) The policy should then be taken to vote / ratification as per their constitution. If this policy is ratified by the community, it would then open the door for a harasser who’s been permanently banned to appeal, and for the Board to review this in line with the community’s expectations.

 

6) Readercon needs to advertise widely the steps they’ve taken to acknowledge and rectify the problems, both by public announcement and private communications to those who’ve publicly expressed dissatisfaction.

This is important to mitigate as much of the damage as possible that’s already been done to their reputation.

 

prk.

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