Completed Updates: 9/25: Addendum posted for GeekGirlCon. 9/20: Addendum posted and conclusions updated for SteamCon. 9/19: Addendum posted and conclusions updated for Penny Arcade Expo. 9/18: Added Rose City Comic Con. 9/16: Added SteamCon; Addendum posted for Foolscap. 9/13: Added Foolscap, GameStorm, GearCon, Kumoricon, Portland Comic Con, and VCon; Addendums posted for Kumoricon, RadCon, and Sakura-Con. 9/12: Added Sakura-Con.
There’s been a strong push recently to ensure that all conventions of a “geek” persuasion– sci-fi cons, comic cons, gaming cons– have clearly worded and strongly enforced anti-harassment policies in place. This effort picked up momentum in the wake of some highly publicized incidents of sexual harassment; I also feel like there’s a growing awareness and consensus that harassment is a problem at conventions, and that it should be strongly addressed. Geek culture is sometimes (okay, almost always) not as enlightened or progressive as we’d like it to be.
Many of us who regularly attend conventions value them as safe spaces; anti-harassment policies help ensure that the idea of “safe spaces” is built into the culture of conventions, and also that cons are not caught off guard by reports of harassment. They ensure that volunteers and staff know what to do; they ensure that resources are in place for victims to seek help; and they spell out clear consequences for harassers.
In July, John Scalzi posted his own personal policy when it comes to attending conventions– namely, if they don’t have an anti-harassment policy, he won’t go. As one of the most popular science fiction authors writing today, it had an impact, and nearly 700 people (including myself) co-signed his policy. You can read it for yourself here.
I must admit, when I co-signed, I thought, “well, it’s a nice gesture, but it probably won’t affect me much. It’s 2013, right? Scalzi is just stating the obvious, right? Pretty much every con has this in place by now– I can’t imagine that I’d actually have to skip a con because of this.”
Well, fast forward to a couple days ago, when I was planning my convention schedule for 2014 and I realized that things were not nearly as clear as I’d expected. Of the major cons I checked in the Pacific Northwest, less than half had a clearly posted anti-harassment policy that met the guidelines as laid out in Scalzi’s post. So I started doing research and e-mailing cons, and below I present the summation of my results. I present it as a resource for other co-signers, or anyone who just wants to know what they can expect at cons in the Pacific Northwest region.
For the purposes of this effort, I considered a good anti-harassment to be one that contained, at minimum, the following elements:
1) A definition of what specific behavior constitutes “harassment”
2) Resources that victims and witnesses can go to for help
3) A description of what actions the con will take in the event of reported harassment
Here’s what I found. If you’d like me to add a PNW con to this list, contact me or leave a comment. I will also update this post as required when more current information comes in:
Emerald City Comicon
The ECCC website has no anti-harassment policy as of 9/12. However, after e-mailing them, I received an official response that one is ready, and will be posted on the FAQ section of their website by the end of the month. In addition, the anti-harassment policy will also be printed in all next year’s program guides.
When the policy is publicly posted, I’ll update this space with more information.
Foolscap does not have a policy on their website. However, when I e-mailed them, I got an extremely fast and thorough response stating that they do print an anti-harassment policy in the conbook, and a promise to correct the oversight of it not being on the website as soon as possible. When that’s available, I’ll add a link to it. In the meantime, here’s the overview of their poicy, quoted with permission from e-mail:
The gist of the policy is that we ask people to report any incidents that they experience or observe – even if they seem small – to a member of the convention committee, and we point out some places where a member can always be found during convention hours. We commit to documenting the report (with whatever detail the reporter wants to provide), quickly convening a subset of the committee to discuss an appropriate response, and implementing the response immediately. We also commit to informing the reporter of what action we’re taking immediately.
It’s tough to judge a policy from an overview, but it seems to have all the pieces in place. I like the emphasis on who to report to, and the commitment to quickly making a response and informing the reporter of what action was taken. And the speedy e-mail response is encouraging as a general indicator of how responsive they are to this issue.
(ADDENDUM: Karen G. Anderson of the FoolsCap ConCom posted the full Foolscap policy in the comments, excerpted here: “Unacceptable Behavior. It’s our aim that everyone involved with the convention (members, guests, and dealers — also visitors and hotel staff) be treated with fairness and respect. If you have concerns about behavior you see or experience at the convention, we urge you to notify a Foolscap ConCom member quickly (during convention hours, find us at Registration or in Hospitality). In case of urgent concerns about someone’s immediate safety at the convention, please notify police and hotel staff. If unacceptable behavior occurs at the convention (behavior so judged by three or more members of the ConCom) the ConCom reserves the right to to revoke a membership and ask the offending member(s) to leave.”
The policy is short– it doesn’t exactly define harassment, but it does urge people to find con staff (or hotel staff, or the police) if they experience or see questionable behavior. The acknowledgement to both witnesses and victims is nice. I do wonder how quickly the ConCom would take action in case of harassment, as it’s a little unclear, but since offending member can clearly be asked to leave it gives me hope that the ConCom’s actions would be quick.)
GameStorm’s anti-harassment is online, listed under their Code of Conduct. Up top, the consequences of violating the policy are clearly spelled out. A nice touch worth calling out is their explicit mention that It applies to all pre-con, at con, and post-con activities that are related to GameStorm. (Some cons will exempt areas or things not under direct con control, like room parties or the hotel parking lot. Props to GameStorm for making sure their policy covers everything.)
Under the “Personal Interaction” section there’s a nice description of harassing behaviors, as well as a section that says If you do not feel comfortable talking with the individuals involved, or if talking to them once does not work, please immediately report the situation to any GameStorm committee or staff member. If possible provide a badge name or name and a physical description of the person or persons involved. The committee or staff member will notify Convention Operations and/or the Con Chair.
There’s no mention of how to identify a con staff member or where the security desk is located, but since this is just a web policy, hopefully those details will be clear on the ground. The site DOES have a web form for contacting security, which is a nice touch I haven’t seen elsewhere.
In the comments, Wes brought to my attention that GameStorm is sponsored by the same fan group that sponsors OryCon (OSFCI), who were extremely responsive to my queries regarding OryCon’s policies and by all appearances take this issue extremely seriously.
GearCon’s anti-harassment policy is online, located here; the anti-harassment policy is included in Section 4 (“Code of Conduct”). It’s got some nice notes to it, but is light on specifics. Here’s how they define harassment: subject other attendees to unwelcome sexual attention/behavior, or engage in harassment based on age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. In particular: role-play and historical reenactment are not justifications for abusive behavior.
I do like the broadness of the definition (if not the vagueness), and the explicit statement that roleplay does not excuse being an asshole. However, there’s no mention in the overall Code of Conduct as to who to make a report to or seek help from. There’s some implicit references to “venue security,” but it’s not clear if there’s a security desk, or an Ops desk, or how to identify con staff to whom you can make a report.
In other sections of the overall policy (i.e. Section 3, “Security”), it does specify consequences (Attendees and participants may be ejected from Portland GEAR Con for engaging in injurious or illegal behavior), however for the Code of Conduct section the consequences seem to be more implied. I’d like to see more specifics spelled out, particularly for sexual harassment.
If anyone involved with, or who’s attended GearCon, wants to chime in (are con staff easily identifiable? Is there a security desk? Who would a harassed con attendee make a report to, and would they be easy to find?), please leave a comment. I’ve also e-mailed them with a few questions and will update this when I hear back.
GGC’s anti-harassment policy is easy to find on their website. It has clear guidelines of what steps the con should and will take in the event of harassment, as well as a few examples of what may constitute harassment (albeit a bit hard to find, under the “Expulsion” section) and who can take a report. And it goes into lots of specifics for how convention staff should address potential incidents.
My only nitpick is that it is clearly written for staff as opposed to victims. Don’t get me wrong– education convention staff is incredibly important, but I’d like to see a section added which starts with something along these lines: “If you feel you’ve been harassed, please immediately report the incident to (con staff/con security/desk located at _______). Con staff can be identified by (T-shirt/Badge Ribbon/etc).”
It’s possible that such an item will be at the con or in the program guide; I e-mailed the con a couple days ago to see if such might be the case, but haven’t yet received a reply.
(ADDENDUM: On 9/24, I got an e-mail from GeekGirlCon with some additional details. Quoting from it, with permission: “We are currently in the process of updating all the convention-related content on our website, and that includes a more robust anti-harassment policy. We hope to have this new language posted by the end of the month. The new language will include some of the issues you raised around the current harassment policy being more directed to staff, and less clear for convention-goers.” I’ll post an updated link when that’s available.)
Kumoricon’s anti-harassment policy can be found online under the “Registration” menu option. In addition, they also have their Full Program Guide and Pocket Guide Online, which was nice to see, as I was able to verify that the program guide also contains the anti-harassment policy. The pocket guide does not, although it does contain a map with the location of the 24-hour Con Office marked. That’s a good start, although it’d be nice if there was a phone number listed to reach the con office or security.
The policy itself contains a fairly comprehensive list of behaviors considered harassment, as well as clear consequences for those found in violation of the policy. Like many cons, it’s a little unclear about where to seek help (how do you identify con staff? Can the “Ops Desk” labeled on the map be considered the Security Desk?), although as usual, hopefully that’d be clearer on the ground.
(ADDENDUM: Jeff, a previous Kumoricon staff member, posted in the comments with the following: “Having worked staff at Kumoricon before, I can say that staff members are incredibly easy to find. They are all supposed to wear convention t-shirts that have Staff printed on them somewhere.”)
Norwescon is one of two cons that actually posted a brand-new harassment policy while I was researching this post (the other is RadCon, down below). The NWC anti-harassment policy can be viewed here, on their website.
The policy is a good general statement of intent, although it’s a bit light of specifics. The statement on what constitutes harassing behavior is okay, but a bit general: Harassment is behavior which focuses unwelcome attention on a person and either inappropriately crosses reasonable expectations of social boundaries, or continues after a clear showing of disinterest or a request to desist.
Moving on, who can victims seek help from? Well, any staff member wearing a badge may receive a report of harassment. Fine, but how can you identify them? And what about the security desk? I know Norwescon has one, but it’s not really mentioned. I’d love to see some additional victim’s resources listed, including a phone number they can reach the security desk at.
In fairness, it’s likely this information will appear in the convention guide. I hope it does, preferably in the same section as the anti-harassment policy.
OryCon’s policy is online and easy to find. The first two paragraphs are very clear about what constitute harassment, so the first element of a good harassment policy is definitely present. Initially, I was a bit concerned that the second element (“where can victims find help?”) was not present. I e-mailed the con chair, who replied and stated that there were already plans to have signs in registration with visual aides of how to find con staff and what their badges looked like.
Moreover, in the past two days I see that a paragraph has been added to the online policy stating: “If you feel have been harassed, please find the nearest OryCon volunteer, identifiable by a burgundy badge ribbon with gold lettering. Alternatively, please contact the Information Desk in the lobby, the Office staff in the Weidler room during operating hours, or the Operations staff at any time in the Portland room on the second floor.”
Someone on the OryCon staff deserves a fist bump for moving that fast in response to my e-mail.
The policy also spells out clear consequences for harassers in the fourth and fifth paragraphs. In fact, of all the cons I’ve listed here, OryCon’s harassment policy is, in my opinion, the clearest and most comprehensive. Props!
Penny Arcade Expo
PAX’s anti-harassment policy can be found here: Rules and Guidelines for PAX
It’s very light on specifics. The first element I’m looking for (what constitutes harassment?) is pretty much entirely absent. It does say who to report to, and having been to PAX, I know that Enforcers are pretty much omnipresent and easy to locate, which is nice.
As for the third element, there’s a chain of escalation mentioned, but no mention of what consequences harassers might expect. (Warning? Eviction, with or without refund? Permanent ban from PAX?)
(ADDENDUM: As of 9/19/13, PAX has posted an updated and much more comprehensive policy, located here. It gives a fairly specific definition of harassment, and lays out clear consequences for harassers. It also tells people who to report to, although it’s a little vague on where to find them– PAX enforcers are generally easy to find, but the policy specifically mentions “Enforcer Safety Circle members.” Does that cover all Enforcers or a particular subset? I’m sure any Enforcer could help, but I’m curious.)
Portland Comic Con
Portland Comic Con is run by Wizard World; as a result their site is big on marketing and promotion, but on-the-ground policies are hard to find. That said, through Google I was able to locate the Wizard World anti-harassment policy.
The first and second sections give a broad definition of harassment, with few specifics, but enough to at least suggest they’ve put some thought into it. There’s also a section directed at folks who want to make a report: Anyone who sees or feels that their experience is being compromised due to unacceptable or questionable behavior is encouraged to speak with Wizard World staff immediately with any concerns for appropriate action. Wizard World staff can be located in the Registration area and throughout the show floor in black polo shirts marked STAFF. Props for that.
And finally, there are defined consequences in the second paragraph, with a clear note that harassment is grounds for eviction without refund. Probably my only nitpick with this policy is that it could call out examples of sexual harassment a little more clearly (while I like to see harassment broadly defined, I do think sexual harassment is still the biggest issue, and some more specifics on what constitutes “harassment” would not go amiss). But for a simple, straightforward anti-harassment policy, it seems like a pretty good one.
Along with Norwescon, RadCon is the other con to post a brand new policy online this week. It’s on their website and easy to find under the “Info” menu.
It starts by clearly listing what behavior constitutes harassers; it moves on to a list of consequences for harassers, and a section with directions for victims (“If you feel you have been harassed…”) My only nitpick is that I wish it were a bit more specific as to how to find resources for help. How can you identify a con staff member? (Badge marking or color? T-shirt?) How can you find security? Is there a number to call?
Again, as with Norwescon, I expect that this information would be in the program guide, in which case– awesome! I hope it’s easy to find, preferably located in the same part of the guide as the policy itself for easy reference.
(ADDENDUM: Elizabeth Vann-Clark, RadCon’s Vice-Chair, adds the following in the comments: “Thank you for the revision suggestion to our code of conduct/ harassment policy. Folks who attend RadCon can easily find our security staff, as they wear t-shirts and vests that are labeled “Security” in large letters. Their station is also marked on our convention maps and displays a large banner. Out of all of our staff, they are probably the easiest to find Which is why we didn’t consider describing how to find them in RadCon’s policy. Other con staff have distinguishing badges that do not look like typical membership badges.”)
Rose City Comic Con
It took me a couple e-mails to get in touch with them, but the response after the second e-mail was prompt (albeit short)– just a link to their FAQ page, where they had posted their Anti-Harassment Policy in the few hours between the time I e-mailed them and the time they replied. That link I shall now share with you.
It seems like a very good harassment policy, overall. I like the extra emphasis on photography, as I do think (merely based on my own anecdote-based data set) that tends to be a common form of harassment at large comic cons. It covers various forms of harassment (and lists a few specific types), then states clearly that harassment is defined by the victim, which is a nice and sometimes-overlooked touch. The policy proceeds to lay out some options on how staff can choose to respond, and it also very clearly tells people where to make a report. The encouragement of victims not to take matters into their own hands isn’t something I think I’ve seen elsewhere, and I generally agree with it (seek the help of professional security or, if not available, the cops).
It’s interesting that they call out social media, though. That could be uncharitably interpreted as “please keep quiet about this,” although hopefully it just means “please report the incident and do not post on social media in lieu of seeking help.”
I was not able to find an anti-harassment policy on RustyCon’s website. I e-mailed their Board of Directors asking for more information, but have not yet received a reply. It’s possible that they will have a policy at the con or in their printed guide. If you are on the RustyCon staff and you are aware of any such information in this area, please leave a comment or e-mail me via the Contact tab up top.
RustyCon is the smallest con on this list, but if anything, I would suggest that almost makes it more critical for them to have an anti-harassment policy in place. If you’d like to contact RustyCon yourself, their contact page is here.
Sakura-Con’s policies are located online (and props for having a Japanese version!) Their basic Code of Conduct is in Section II, which touches on harassment, but then Section III-K covers harassment and assault in depth. It contains a fairly good description of what constitutes harassment, and well-established procedures for dealing with and punishing harassers. It lays out a three strikes policy (Section III-Z), with no time limit between strikes, with an exception for criminal actions which will lead to immediate ejection.
My only concern about the online policy is that, as with a few other cons, it’s not immediately clear how to find someone to report an incident to or seek help from. What are the identifying markers of con staff? It says to report the matter to Sakura Attendee Services, but how would a victim find it? Is there a phone number?
But that’s just the policy as stated on their website; hopefully this information would be easy to find on the ground and in the program guide. (I’ve never been to Sakura-Con, because it conflicts with Norwescon every year, so if any Sakura con-goers have firsthand info, please leave a comment.)
(ADDENDUM: In the comments, John B. provides some additional info on Sakura-Con:
“Identifying staff/S.A.S.: All staff members have a clearly identifiable badge, as well as a distinctive staffer shirt. Sakuracon Attendee Services have a unique badge as well. All staffers, however, are briefed on what to do if they’re contacted by a victim, and know where/how to find SAS personnel.
Policy availability: The anti-harrassment policy is presented in the souvenir booklet given to all attendees, >and< directly linked with the rest of the policies from the registration page. Attendees must read and sign off on the policies before registering.")
SteamCon does not appear to have an anti-harassment policy available online. I e-mailed them asking for more information, but have not yet received a reply. As with RustyCon, it’s possible that they will have a policy at the con or in their printed guide. If you are on the SteamCon staff and would like to fill in any details, please leave a comment or e-mail me via the Contact tab up top.
(ADDENDUM: On 9/20, I received an e-mail from the SteamCon vice-chair stating that they have a new Code of Conduct being double-checked by their lawyer, and it will be on the website and in the program guide in time for the convention next month.)
VCon’s policy is online and clearly available under the “About Us” section. The definition of harassment is broad, which is good (VCON does not permit harassment in regards to sex, gender, sexual orientation, dress, age, race, religion or lack thereof, disability, or involvement / non-involvement in any group or activity at any VCON event or venue), but in the following paragraph also goes into specifics of what harassment actually is, which is nice to see.
There’s a section detailing who to report to (though it’s a bit light on specifics– this seems to be an overall trend with web-based policies) and a clear statement on potential consequences.
In the process of researching this post, most of my initial concerns were assuaged. As a co-signer of John Scalzi’s convention policy, the only cons on this list that I would have reservations about attending is RustyCon. (Since I have direct assurance from ECCC and SteamCon that they will have such a policy in place shortly, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for now.)
Finally, just because we all like a list, here’s my own personal ranking of the harassment policies listed here. This is, of course, just my opinion, and it’s based only on what I can see on the web. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll do a followup post based on how things seem on the ground and how cons live up to their stated policies.
Rose City Comic Con
Penny Arcade Expo (As of 9/19)
Portland Comic Con
–THE SCALZI THRESHOLD–
Penny Arcade Expo
INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION: RustyCon, SteamCon, ECCC
If you are on the staff of any of the listed cons and would like to update or clarify the information here, please leave a comment.
Similarly, if you disagree with my assessment in any case, or think there are other factors I should have taken into consideration, please comment. My objective with this post is to contribute to a dialogue, not present myself as an authority.
Want to make your own list, or add information on a con that I’ve missed? Add a comment! Or write up a post on your own site and I’ll be happy to link to it.