On Knowledge to Make Cons Safer

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I’m painfully aware that the conversation about making cons safer for all attendees is bigger than me. Over the past few days, I have heard many, many stories from past and current attendees, peers, and panelists at conventions that they have had similar experiences or have dealt with harassers. I also feel this is not going to be resolved one con at a time, and I highly doubt that reactive efforts will address the systemic issues, either. I, personally, feel that unless there are avenues and options to proactively make safe spaces and educate con runners and attendees, this discussion will keep happening.

With this in mind, I thought about two solutions that might help; one big picture, one actionable item.

Asking more Questions

In my experience, harassers/abusers do not care about boundaries (either personal or professional), and they often leverage their personal relationships or manipulate what others think to avoid getting caught. There will always be abusers and harassers, but I do believe there are ways we can mitigate the threat. After we acknowledge that harassment does, in fact, happen, I feel additional questions need to be asked before we find solutions.

How can we…

  • …teach people not to harass?
  • …teach allies what to watch out for?
  • …foster healthy and safe communication about harassment?
  • …teach people how best to enforce harassment policies?
  • …address safety concerns that are not part of an official claim?
  • …share experiences between conventions so each con doesn’t live in a silo?
  • …implement better documentation policies so materials aren’t lost?
  • …help allies understand how to support victims?
  • …help victims have the confidence to come forward?
  • …guarantee that personal e-mails will not be posted publicly?
  • …help victims/allies mitigate the losses that come from making hard decisions?
  • …teach con goers how we take their safety seriously?
  • …teach con goers what to do next if something should happen?
  • …address what proper resolutions are and how they should be implemented?
  • …leverage our social communities better to review our convention attendance?
  • …help con runners decide how to implement training for their staff?
  • …help con runners understand how important it is to have the right people on staff to handle this?

I am 100% certain there are other questions I am missing, as I am speaking through the lens of my experiences. Regardless, I feel that the first step is to ask questions like these before they can be answered. Then, we need to have those hard discussions to take additional steps.

For your con, these questions may have already been addressed. If so, great! Then, I feel we need to take that a step further by sharing that knowledge.

Publishing Reference Materials

In terms of implementation methods to address the aforementioned questions, I was shocked to learn that there aren’t a lot of books on the subject of running conventions, convention safety, etc. There is a universe of well-established, knowledgeable convention runners who have volunteered for decades and know what it takes to run a safe, fun con. That knowledge is essential to preserve past lessons and help present and future volunteers learn from their mistakes.

To that end, I feel that our massive, lumbering community (e.g. games/comics/fiction) needs books that are relevant to our interests for attendees, con runners, panelists, and guests. There are many books related to event planning and community management through a business or charity context, but none (as far as I could tell) in our vertical.

Most of the information I found, thanks to ye Olde Google, was published online in articles, but the information that needs to be relayed cannot fit in “a” blog post. I, personally, feel it’s well past time that this knowledge gets collated and published. This, too, is not something I can do by myself; I don’t have the knowledge to write such books, unfortunately. To me, though, it seems like a way to help regain some assurances going forward that this crucial piece of knowledge is being archived and shared.

If you have existing reference material suggestions or further thoughts, please feel free to chime in here or kick off further discussion elsewhere. This post is very rough, and I’m certain I’m missing a lot. I want to move on, however, and looking ahead is one way for me to do that.

Comments will be moderated.



6 Responses to On Knowledge to Make Cons Safer
  1. Richard Lee Byers

    I think the book you propose would be useful. I also think that, instead of a single person writing it all, you could have multiple people addressing different specific topics in different chapters. Of course, someone would still have to be the organizing intelligence of the whole deal.

  2. Peter Newbury

    There’s definitely an overlap between cons and astronomy conferences, not only because of the science and science fiction they share but also because of a history of harassment (#astrosh). I believe the steps taken by The American Astronomical Society (AAS) are admirable, especially their development of harassment policies specific to conferences and making that policy visible at conferences. All AAS-sponsored conferences must also display and enact the policy. The Statement of Policy reads

    “It is the policy of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) that all participants in Society activities will enjoy an environment free from all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. As a professional society, the AAS is committed to providing an atmosphere that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. In pursuit of that ideal, the AAS is dedicated to the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment for all members, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, veteran status, or any other reason not related to scientific merit. Harassment, sexual or otherwise, is a form of misconduct that undermines the integrity of Society meetings. Violators of this policy will be subject to discipline.”

    The full policy, including reporting, investigating, and discipline, is online at

    https://aas.org/policies/anti-harassment-policy

    As you say, there will always be abusers and harassers. I think the AAS is making great strides forward.

    Peter

  3. Ryan Dancey

    All harassment policies must address two salient points or they will fail, and usually fail in a critical way:

    1: What is a fair due process and how will due process rights be protected for all parties?

    2: How will the event be bound to consider information related to incidents that occured elsewhere and elsewhen and outside of a formal legal framework?

    My experience is that there is no answer to these two questions that satisifies everyone, and that merely stating the organization’s policy with regards to these questions is often a inciting event for controversy. Fear of that controversy and its fallout often means these policy questions remain informal which risks an even worse controversy and worse fallout when the moment arises where they must be answered in a real, not hypothetical context.

  4. Lisa Hertel

    Mostly, the manual you’re talking about is the conrunner.net website.

  5. Barry Wilson

    A book on how to start and run a convention would be a huge boon. When we were starting our convention, we scoured Google for advice. ( We found *some* good information, but not enough.) Luckily, we were very, very focussed on creating a safe convention with a well thought out anti-harassment policy. ( We mined bits and pieces from many other convention’s policies. ) We approached many established fan run conventions for advice, and got far too much weird pushback for our efforts. ( Some established old school fan based conventions see newer endeavours as threats. ) We’ve tried very hard to advocate for change to more robust anti-harassment policies at some of these older conventions, I suspect that may be the source of some of the pushback. ( “Don’t be a dick” is insufficient as a policy. )



Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

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