An Unenforced Policy Is Worse Than None

Note: Updates below.

Here's the Readercon harassment policy in writing:
Readercon has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy.

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.

As always, Readercon reserves the right to strip membership at its discretion.
Here's the Readercon harassment policy in practice:
Earlier today I was contacted by a Readercon representative, who let me know that by decision of the Board, my harasser has been suspended from Readercon.

For two years.

I was not given the reasoning behind the decision; the board’s deliberations, I was told, were confidential.

I was assured the board had taken everything into account – my report, my eyewitnesses, others who had come forward with information they declined to detail. They asked me if I felt they had taken my complaint seriously. They hoped to see me at next year’s Readercon.
I love Readercon and have been on the programming committee for the past two years. (I am not on the general con committee, so had no involvement in this decision.) Because I rarely go to other conventions, it's the one time in the year when I get to see a lot of friends from around the country and world.

But I cannot support an organization that doesn't enforce its own policies.

The language is clear, blunt, and unambiguous. The decision is a violation of the stated policy.

Two years is not permanent.

If the convention committee wants to change the harassment policy to give them more leeway, then they should do so and make their decision public so that people who attend the convention know the policies under which they are agreeing to attend. But until then, the committee should enforce the policy that exists — the policy we all agreed to abide by when we decided to attend Readercon.

I'm just learning about this now, and I have respect for the members of the convention committee, so I hope they will address the discrepancy between their policy and practice soon. 

But I promise this: I will not be associated with an organization that so blatantly violates its own policies. Until the decision is either better explained or, preferably, changed, I will not be associated with Readercon.

Update: The head of my committee, Rose Fox, responds to the decision: "This is not the outcome I wanted, and it makes me very unhappy." Rose is one of the major reasons I got involved behind the scenes at Readercon, and I respect her tremendously.

And as Rose says: Feedback on the board's decision should go to

Update 2: The Readercon Board of Directors has issued a statement about their decision. I wrote my post pretty soon after reading Genevieve's, and my language was a bit wishy-washy in some spots because I was so surprised and shocked. I thought there must be something I'm missing, some miscommunication somewhere, something that would make this make sense. But that's not the case.

I've officially resigned as a member of the programming committee. This is heartbreaking for me, but it also feels obviously necessary. I support the people who are continuing to work with Readercon despite their disagreements with the Board. We need people to do so. We need people to help the convention get better, because it's been making all sorts of great strides until now. But I just can't do it.

Our trust was betrayed by the Board of Directors. Before the convention, at least one email went out reminding attendees of the con's various policies. They're on the website and in the program guide. We agreed to attend Readercon 23 with those policies known and in place. Our expectation was that the policies would be enforced. They were not.

There is a time and place for helping people who have made mistakes learn from those mistakes, atone for them, and grow from them. I've said and done plenty of things I have heaps of regret for, and I'm grateful to friends and acquaintances who have helped me learn from them — and will, I hope, continue to do so, since I'm not done living and thus not done making mistakes. I want to live in a world that's more about rehabilitation than punishment. But rehabilitation is not the responsibility of an event or its committees. If you hold an event, your job is to make sure the people who attend are as safe as you can reasonably ensure. Your job is to put policies in place and to enforce them. That's your responsibility. Readercon has failed in that responsibility.

And so I have resigned, and will remain so regardless of how this plays out further (and I expect we have not heard the last of this). Perhaps I will attend next year, perhaps not; I'm never exactly sure what's going on in my life that far in the future, anyway. If progress is made (and my schedule permits), I will attend, because I support the convention overall, and I want it to continue to get better. The Board's statement is not evidence of this so far. But I hold out hope for improvement.

Update 3: The Readercon board resigned and Readercon has instituted new policies. An excellent response to the situation. My thoughts are in a new post.

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