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Feminist Monday--Sexual Harassment at SF Conventions

Please note: this is an older post. Please don't comment on it without having read the Nov.1 entry. Thanks so much.

Last week was World Fantasy Con, and it was wonderful. Seriously wonderful.* Many, many, many thanks to those who volunteered to work and chair the convention. Convention staff aren't paid--they don't even get to attend for free, and if you think it's easy to throw together a convention--particularly one as huge as WFC... well... you don't know shit. Which is why I hate bringing up any SFF convention flaw. (Every convention has them.) However, the problem of sexual harassment at SF cons needs to be addressed in a serious way. NOW. So, here I go. I'll attempt to do my best to communicate well, but try to understand I'm more than a bit jet-lagged. Above all, please understand that I don't wish to berate the well-meaning con committee. They just weren't prepared to deal with this kind of issue. No con committee is, in my experience. Therefore, my problem is with an inadequate system. Again, this could've happened at any convention--and often does.

On Thursday night a man groped my breast during one of the parties. Of course, he was drunk, and he did it in such a way that it was difficult to tell whether or not it was done on purpose. (That's how these assholes work.) I didn't report it at the time.** These things happen. You just learn to avoid the man in question, which I did. The next day I started hearing stories about how the same man (we'll call him Motorhead after his t-shirt) had harassed other women. Motorhead claimed to be working for a small publisher. He also claimed to be a professional writer from Canada. He told me (and others as well) that he was a "dark mage." (It was easy to see he was off balance, mentally.) There were many stories of how he'd touched other women's breasts, how he'd said that all he had to do to get a woman to sleep with him was compliment her. That he wouldn't leave when asked. That he refused to back out of women's personal space when they clearly didn't want him there--on and on. That was when I started putting it together. (Each attack started with a compliment regarding the woman's looks, including the "accidental" breast grope in my case.) As the con progressed nothing was done and Motorhead grew more and more bold. I rescued my hotel room-mate from the jerk on Friday night before she could be victimized. (He had her cornered on the balcony.) Since I couldn't do it myself without escalating--he'd only change targets--I asked my friend Keffy for help. (Keffy did a wonderful job. Thank you, Keffy!) Women started complaining among themselves that nothing was being done. You see, each time an incident was reported the only result was a lot of outraged talk and how they would do something "next time." Frankly, I was told that there was a no tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment. In fact, by the time late Friday night rolled around the asshole got so bold that he attempted to kiss and grope several unwilling females at the Aussie party. When he was escorted out, he just returned (to the same party) a few minutes later. My friend (who was one of the women he attacked at the Aussie party) said he shouted over the crowd to her. "See? I'm back! You can't do anything about it!" By Saturday morning, again, we were told that there wasn't enough evidence. It hadn't happened enough. There weren't enough documented reports or witnesses or proof or... What the fuck is wrong with people? It took until late Saturday night--three nights into the con before anything substantive was done. You know what happened? Jayne (I'm sorry, I don't have her last name) called hotel security to have him removed. I don't think she was on con staff, but she might have been. (I've had too little sleep at this point to remember.) This was after I got Jason Sizemore (bless him) to strong arm the creep out of one Saturday night party. The jerk only showed up at the Brit party two rooms over less than five minutes later. I pointed it out to Jason. Jason got angry. I told Barry. (He heads my literary agency.) He got angry. That's when Jayne stepped in. Her call to security had three big security guys show up and remove Motorhead from the hotel by car. I left at 11am on Sunday. I don't know if Motorhead showed up again. It wouldn't shock me if he did.

For the record: it didn't occur to me to call security because it wasn't my party, nor was I in charge. Frankly, I should've. My bad.

Anyway, as I understand it, there is some sort of motion being worked on regarding not allowing the creep back into another WFC. They have his name, after all. Right. I wish I felt like that meant anything. You see, Motorhead knows the system. He'll just move to another party... I mean SF convention. He won't see any sort of real consequence for his actions, and he knows it and so do the women attending the conventions. The issue seems to be getting worse and worse. Which brings me to my question...

At what point is enough enough? Seriously. How many times does it take? What's the number? This creep wasn't even a big wheel in the industry. He was just some jackass in a Motorhead t-shirt. (He was white and male. I guess that's all it takes.) Frankly, I feel that if someone is called out for this kind of behavior one time and then repeats the offense his membership should be history. He shows up at the convention again? Police should be called to forcibly remove him from the hotel. THAT'S what no tolerance looks like, boys and girls. Oh, and by the way, World Fantasy Con is a professional convention. There were no costumes, no women in Slave Leia outfits or whathaveyou. (There's a strict no costume rule.) Just professional writers, editors, agents, publishers, translators, artists and such from all over the world. Every one of these women was dressed in normal street clothes--including myself.*** Hell, I was wearing a bulky, definitely non-sexy turtleneck when I was attacked.

So, come on SFF people. What the hell does it take to actually DO SOMETHING? Let's make a substantive change. How about having a specific person whose responsibility is to deal with these situations? A volunteer whose job is to be clear on the laws/policies involved, has ready access to the police and hotel security, and is prepared to deal with the victims in a thoughtful way? That's a lot of work, but so is volunteering for ANY staff position at a SF convention and that's the truth.
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*I'll post about how wonderful it was shortly. I promise.
**Ask any woman. That kind of crap happens all the time. You learn to shrug it off. You have to because a)there's no proof and b)even if you do have cast iron proof, witnesses, photos, and forms filled out in triplicate--society at large is more inclined to let the matter slide in favor of the scumbag.
***Not that I buy that what a woman wears dictates a man's behavior. I absolutely don't. Men aren't weak-mined little babies, and women's clothing doesn't have a mind control switch. If it did, I'm thinking groping the wearer wouldn't be the result of turning that sucker on.
  • 126 comments
Motorhead was a significant problem, though I didn't know he groped anyone. He was basically chucked out of one party and threatened to use his magic powers to curse the partygoers. I was part of a network of people who warned folks about him (luckily, he never changed his shirt, so was always Motorhead). I had only heard of the Thursday trouble, not anything after that. I didn't realize how prolific the guy was in his harassment. I'll try harder next time to help out however I can!
Thanks! And thanks for your efforts. But honestly, there needs to be a formal system to deal with it. That's the only way it'll be consistently handled, and consistancy is what is required in this instance.
(Anonymous)
As a former victim advocate, I think your idea about having a couple volunteers present specifically for this sort of thing is a good idea. I don't know where WFC was held, but incident #1 could probably have gotten the guy summonsed into court if police had been called. Might have deterred him from coming back. Might not have.

Melanie
Albuquerque
Thanks! I feel some sort of established system needs to be in place. It's nice to think that the con will self-police but that isn't workable in an emergency situation.
Also, was it Jason Williams? I don't think Sizemore attended.
OMG this would so not fly at an anime convention. There is security around every corner except at private parties in people's personal rooms. :/ I can't believe nobody did anything about the guy. @_@ *shocked*
I didn't know that was how things were handled at anime conventions. Nice that they've got it organized so well.
This asshole wandered up to my boyfriend at the Nightshade party 'looking for the blonde' and proceeded to go on a tangent about how 'uppity bitches' (he used the word bitches about sixteen times in a three-minute go) made him totally want to use his magic astral powers to fuck with their dreams. Also how Lemmy from Motorhead totally taught him how to control strippers with his mind. BF, bless his heart, stood there for something like twenty minutes distracting the guy before giving him a bum lead on the mythical blonde and escorting him out of the party.

This was on Friday night. It took them 24 more hours to kick this dude, during which time he decided to occupy the party/reading I was at and basically made me uncomfortable to come out of the back room. So yeah. The people who banded together to finally get him kicked deserve medals and cookies.
I believe it was Jaym Gates that called security.

The Aussie party story is detailed in Alisa Krasnostein's post.

Personally, I think that if the Australian contingent reported a) multiple instances of harassment and b) his threat to grope a convention attendee if she didn't cede to his demands for information, he should have been out of the convention. Threatening sexual assault is game over. Period.


Edited at 2011-10-31 10:36 pm (UTC)
It was! Sorry. I was a bit unsettled and hadn't had any sleep. So, details have slipped already. Regardless, I"m thankful that you did what you could.
I'm sorry, Stina.
Motorhead is not welcome to try that in my presence, in any convention I happen to attend.

I got upset on behalf of my female colleagues at work last week because a clearly sexist pig of a customer tried to pin the blame on a failure of our product on being told to repair it with a certain kit by a woman.

What happened to you is on that spectrum, but far worse, and neither should fly in this day and age. I would never want a writer or a fellow fan decide never to go to a con again because of such behavior.
Thanks for the support. All in all, I think something good will come of this. If it does, I'll be happy.
If I might ask, what's his name?

I mean, if we do know, I see no reason in being shy about it at this point. Maybe that is how we get him barred from every con in flying distance.

(And it was very nice to meet you, besides.)
This shit is pervasive at comics and gaming cons, too. There's this creepy-as-hell "anything goes" mentality--as if the con is a dedicated playground for fan (read: straight, white, male, doucheweasels) wish-fulfillment, and calling out harassment is somehow ruining the fun for everyone, or at least everyone who counts; I've heard otherwise pretty sane, decent folks go to insane lengths to defend behavior that, in any other context, would be at best unambiguously creepy, and at worst, blatant assault.

A few potentially useful resources and references:
http://backupproject.org/
http://www.cahp.girl-wonder.org/
Back when WFC was in Austin, there was a guy following some of my younger friends around and seriously creeping them out. (He was not, by the way, a white male. This being Texas, he was Hispanic. Still, the behavior was the same.)

Because I was older and had been to a lot more cons, they grabbed me and asked what to do. The first thing I did was find a male friend to stay with them. The second thing I did was grab hotel security who dealt with him right away.

Going to people in charge of the con never occurred to me. They were no more prepared than I was to cope with a man determined to force his attentions on women who wanted nothing to do with him.

And I see that as a huge obstacle to getting any kind of all con, institutional policy in place when it comes to unwanted sexual attentions, harassment or--heaven forbid--sexual assault. The people who run cons are volunteers and they just aren't trained to deal with the creepers. And no con that I know of can afford to hire a trained security team.

Men like Motorhead should be reported to hotel security, or have the police called, each and every time. The first time he was asked to leave a party should have been the last that was seen of him, after he was hauled away. I don't care if they are Big Name Editors from a big publisher, or a person as obviously disturbed as Motorhead appears to be.

And honestly, putting the responsibility on con committees doesn't always strike me as fair. They can write all the policies they want, but there is very little they can do to enforce those policies, other than calling the police.

Women, and men too, attending cons need to take an active part in keeping each other safe. If I'd seen Motorhead groping anyone at WFC, you can bet the ranch I'd have called hotel security immediately.

That's the kind of zero tolerance policy I'd like to see spread.
we tried to have (Holly did) the bar make some sort of action, but alas, it did not work. (as in, no more booze also less being in the bar with other humans)
Wow. I didn't hear about any of this until today; while I'm glad to have avoided the unpleasantness others suffered, I feel bad that it means I didn't do anything to help.

Thanks for the post.
Hooray for Keffy and the other people who stepped in to help out the harrassed. Thanks for naming the good guys so we know who they are.

Just as important is finding out the name of the bad guy and circulating it widely so that everyone can be on watch for him at future cons. I hope anyone who knows who he was speaks up.

How did he get into these parties without a badge? That's one thing the con volunteers can do to help with such a problem—keep out people who don't have a badge and clearly don't belong there.

Stina, I was really glad to meet you Wednesday night, and I look forward to reading OF BLOOD AND HONEY. So sorry that your conference was not as good as it could be because of this jerk.

He had a badge and was attending the convention as an author. He had a short story in an anthology that was being launched at WFC.
David
(Anonymous)
I wish I had known had bad this guy was. I'm guy and he creeped me out. I had met him on the first night and he seemed like an alright guy but that was prior to him drinking. I didn't see where he had gone at the Aussie party but when I was ready to leave I saw him drunkenly engaged with two girls at the party. I did try to pull him away and he threatened me. I told the girls (whispered to them) to get away from him if they could. In hind-sight I should have done more and am sorry I didn't.

Jaym is the one who is stirring up a sexual harassment policy (check the #wfc2011hashtag in twitter.) My hope it includes criminal prosecution for inappropriate behavior.

As a side note. David was encountered at the airport on his way home. His response to getting kicked out of the con was "Whatever. Some bitch had a bee in her bonnet. " He really doesn't even think he did anything wrong.

I think people who hold the parties need to try and keep an eye on people like him as every party I saw him at he was drinking with both hands. They should have stopped him.

All in all I think many of us are at fault for not acting sooner but kudos to those that called the police and security on him. It's too bad it had little effect on his behavior.
Re: David
It's okay. Something positive seems to be coming from this. Like they say, there's a silver lining....
No one stepped forward to punch this guy's lights out? I'm a little surprised at that. At the wedding I attended this weekend there was the same kind of problem (open bar) and the guy was history before they served dinner.

Not that violence is a particularly good answer but guys like this rarely respond to other deterrents.
I managed to miss hearing any of this until Sunday morning, but I can name half a dozen people who would have been quite happy to use justified and restrained violence to remove him from the scene. Permanently.

The fact that people were not alerted immediately - as in "spread his name and description to every single person in the convention" was a failure of the community. We need to do better to protect each other. As the subway posters say - If You See Something, Say Something.
Totally apologize if I sound snippy or blunt, but I've been typing about this asshole for three days now, and my hands are tired of talking about him!

1.) He claimed to work for EDGE. His actual involvement with them is that he had one story published in one of their anthologies. I am an anthology editor for them, brought it to their attention, and they were furious.

2.) He did, alas, have a badge. That badge was removed, and he was evicted from the con on Saturday night. I agree that this is unacceptably slow.

3.)I do not, alas, have any official role with the con. I am, however, SFWA's publicist.

4.)The above being said, I've started the ball rolling, with Laura Anne Gilman, Jim Hines and others in the email chain, to form a committee to handle this sort of event in the future, and to have a central clearing-house. If anyone is interested in taking part, I'm more than happy to have volunteers.

5.) I specifically got involved because I have a background in dealing with event security, incident management and harassment. Specifically, because friends of mine were being affected.

6.) Since we're also highlighting the good guys: Jeremy Lassen was essential to getting this guy kicked out. Griffin Barber, Mark Teppo, Cliff Winnig, John Picacio, Didi Chanoc, Barry Goldblatt, Charles Tan, Ben Henry, Harry Connolly, Brian Hades, John Joseph Adams and quite a few others expressed support, spread the word, and generally have made their intolerance for this sort of situation known.

While it was a shitty situation all the way around, I think we can all agree that we have unprecedented visibility for this issue, and should take the opportunity to change the environment.
Jaym, thank you soooo much. Seriously. You don't sound blunt to me. You're the BEST. You did what needed doing and are continuing to do so. BTW, I *would* like to participate in getting something done about this so it doesn't happen again, okay? And thanks for listing the Good Guys for me. Again, jet-lagged. [sigh]
There have been concerns in UK/Irish fandom about this sort of thing, with some recent discussions in fanzines, online forums and at conventions about the best way to deal with it. Having a clear zero-tolerance policy from the organising committee is important, and another good suggestion is having someone respected but independent of the committee who con members can go to who with concerns (especially regarding more minor misbehaviour that might be cluelessness rather than harassment, but which needs to be nipped in the bud before it gets worse.)

This particular incident sounds appalling though. All I can say is that many in fandom do support your stance, and many of us will not stand by and allow this sort of behaviour to go on.
Thanks for the support. I guess having someone independent from the committee makes sense. I hadn't thought of the potential for abuse there. It's a good thing to consider.
Stina, so sorry that this happened to you and others. Thank you for speaking up about it.
Isn't that one of the duties of the Dorsai Irregulars/Klingon Diplomatic Corps? When did conventions stop using them?

That's assuming those people recognize the harassment as actually being harassment and not "oh he's just drunk/doesn't mean any harm/etc. etc"

Edited at 2011-11-01 04:51 pm (UTC)
Also a big problem at computer geek events, too. Tim O'Reilly was appalled, wrote about it here:
http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/07/sexual-harassment-at-technical.html

Not sure if there's a formal effort in his realm, but I suspect he has heard from people who would support collaborative brainstorming on the issue. Or he may know of people who have taken the charge and gotten some of the logistics & limitations worked out. Perhaps worth contacting him? He seems to be a fairly responsive twitterer.

Edited at 2011-11-01 01:47 pm (UTC)
I think one thing that helps is documenting incidents as openly as possible.

If you want to educate/depress yourself the geekfeminism wiki has a chronological timeline of major incidents
http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents

The "Open source back women up project" (http://www.backupproject.org/) exists (and has ribbons to put on your badge). Sadly when i've worn a "back up" sticker/ribbon etc. I get push back. "That would never happen at *this* con", "well where is the evidence/police reports", etc.

The most common responses I've heard from people who have reported harassment/assault is that they're told "pics or it didn't happen", "well you are wearing ...", "why don't you just walk away?", "well he's obviously not a real fan".

This shit is super frustrating and difficult to deal with.

If conventions choose to have a dedicated volunteer to deal with issues of sexual harassment, they should make sure to find someone with training on handling survivors and/or pay for them to get training.
Oh, and by the way, World Fantasy Con is a professional convention. There were no costumes, no women in Slave Leia outfits or whathaveyou. (There's a strict no costume rule.) Just professional writers, editors, agents, publishers, translators, artists and such from all over the world. Every one of these women was dressed in normal street clothes--including myself.*** Hell, I was wearing a bulky, definitely non-sexy turtleneck when I was attacked.

***Not that I buy that what a woman wears dictates a man's behavior. I absolutely don't. Men aren't weak-mined little babies, and women's clothing doesn't have a mind control switch. If it did, I'm thinking groping the wearer wouldn't be the result of turning that sucker on.



Then why say it at all? As a costumer this comment is really bothering me. It's as if you're saying "yes, men should control themselves when they see women in costume, but if the groping was done to women in costume it would be excusable". If it doesn't matter then why do you go to such lengths to point it out and emphasize how the assault is especially wrong because it was done to non-costumed women?

Edited at 2011-11-01 04:57 pm (UTC)
I am so sorry this happened to you and to others. I was unharassed this time (possibly because the marquis was with me most of the time) but I have lost count of the times I've endured similar things at other conventions. And it isn't acceptable.
Exactly! Others had it much worse. I'm so sorry you've ever had any problem with it. [hugs]

Wish I could've spent more time with you. There's always next time.
Feel better, everyone! I totally talked to this guy (but left @ 10 PM Sat. nite before the "fun" started). For this level of response to come out so strongly, I wanted to give the perspective that today's cons are a much better world. I am sorry it took a long time for this individual to be removed, but a few hours is infinitely better than "never." Really, it's SO much better. SOOOOOO much better. SOOO much better than "What did you expect? Your boob leapt forward and solicited his grasp."
Sexual Harassment at SF Conventions
(Anonymous)
I am impressed with the level of discussion on a topic that, as a woman, I feel needs more of it. As Chair of this year’s WFC, I can tell you that we did our level best to deal with the problem once we knew about it. When we got the complaint, we notified as many of the committee and staff as we could to be on the lookout for this person. We also checked and found that he was not a hotel guest, thus making finding him more difficult. It was the following day before anyone spotted him. Once we did, four rather large men had a talk with him (5 foot me going wouldn’t have made an impression) and warned him that even the slightest complaint would result in immediate ejection from both the convention and the hotel (we had contacted hotel security, so they were aware of the situation). That night (since the word had gone out via the various electronic media), when he again became a problem, hotel security was called, we took his badge, and he was escorted off the premises. It was done quietly and discreetly so that others would not be disturbed. At the time, we got thank yous for the way we handled it from Jaym and others who were present. Had he been a hotel guest, the process would have perhaps been faster, but given the circumstances, I believe we handled it in the best way possible.
Re: Sexual Harassment at SF Conventions
Agreed. Ultimately, the guy's membership was revoked. It may have been a bit slow in coming, but you all worked to resolve the situation which is far, far better than the way it's been handled in the past. Thank you.
Oh, that is some flat out bullshit. I''m sorry this happened to you, and I'm sorry that guy was able to be there and act like that and, at least for now, get away with it. It's a problem at pretty much every nerd-based convention, but it's rare to see it go as far as this, in my experience helping to run one. Again, really sorry you and the other people involved had to go through this.
Thanks, Joe. All is well, though, and I think some good came of it which is the best one can hope for in a situation like this.
  • 126 comments