This year’s World Fantasy in San Diego seems to have been very successful, and I for one was delighted with the award results. However, there has been one very unpleasant story emerging — one about sexual harassment.
I first heard about the goings on via this post on Alisa Krasnostein’s blog, but judging from this post by Stina Leicht the problem went on much longer and was much more serious, including physical harassment.
Obviously everyone wants conventions to be safe places for attendees, and that extends far beyond sexual matters. Convention behavior policies should address other issues such as weapons, theft, and probably even people who make a nuisance of themselves in panel audiences. However, Stina and some commenters make specific complaints about the effectiveness of the convention committee in dealing with this, and I’d like to address those issues as they are not as clear-cut as they might seem.
If an individual misbehaves in space rented by the convention then it is relatively easy to chuck him out. That’s especially so at Worldcon because the venues are generally convention centers that won’t let you in unless you have a convention badge.
A convention in a hotel is somewhat more difficult to police. If the perp is a guest in the hotel it may be difficult to bar him effectively from convention spaces unless something like an entire floor has been rented. When I used to go to WisCon I recall that we had the entire 6th floor to ourselves, and were allowed to restrict access. This was necessary as the hotel was often used by wedding parties over the weekend, with the result that drunk young men often tried to gatecrash our events. But it is not always possible to reserve space like that. Sometimes convention events even take place in public spaces in the hotel, and anyone can walk through.
The events at World Fantasy, however, appear to have all taken place at parties, and here the situation is even more complicated. While most conventions are happy to publicize the fact that parties are taking place, those parties are not normally staged by the convention. They are put on by private groups: publishers, other conventions, fan groups and even private individuals with something to celebrate.
In some cases the convention will book the party space and sub-let it to interested groups. In such cases they can lay down policy, and insist that parties are restricted to convention members. However, it is quite normal for the party holders to contract directly with the hotel. In those cases those responsible for the party may well decide to let in people who are not convention members, and there’s nothing that the convention can do about that.
As I recall (and I’m going from memory on running one in 2009 here, but I may be wrong, or out of date), World Fantasy is one of the events that books the rooms on behalf of party organizers. I believe that’s true because I remember having discussions with potential party hosts who wanted to restrict access to their events to a subset of convention members. We wouldn’t allow that for a party that we helped organize. So my guess is that WFC 2011 did have a fair degree of control over party space, but I don’t know that for certain and the same is certainly not true of all conventions.
Obviously, if someone wearing a convention badge behaves badly towards other convention members at a private party, you can still complain to the convention and expect him to have his badge taken away. But again if he is a guest in the hotel he still has a right to his room there, and to be in the hotel’s public spaces.
The key here is good communication and cooperation between the party throwers, the convention staff and the hotel. If someone has to be thrown out of a party at a convention (and that should be done by the people running the party, though they may ask the convention for help) then the convention staff should be informed so that they can warn other party hosts. And if the perp continues to be a problem, hotel security can be brought in to deal with the guy. Once they are involved, there is a possibility of him getting ejected from the hotel, and he’s much less likely to try to sue a hotel than a convention.
Hopefully it goes without saying that punching the guy out, no matter how gallant and well-intentioned, is not the right way to go about things.
As we all should know, conventions are put on by volunteers. Those people do have a responsibility to put on a safe event, but equally we all have a responsibility to help them out where we can, not just assume that someone else should deal with any problems. That’s particularly the case if you are running a party at a convention, and even more so if you are serving alcohol. If someone is causing problems, throw them out of your event, and make sure everyone else gets warned.
Finally, this shouldn’t stop when the convention is over. The perp in question apparently claimed to be representing the Canadian small press, Edge. As Jaym Gates lists Brian Hades, the boss of Edge, as one of the people who helped sort things out, I am sure that is not true, and that Brian will already have taken action to ensure that this guy can’t embarrass his company again. But in other cases it may be necessary to report people to the company they work for, or are published by. Jim C. Hines has a helpful guide as to how to do this.
And if anyone happens to have a sample behavior policy that other conventions might want to copy, please let us all know.
Update: Jaym Gates has also blogged about the situation. I note that it was finally resolved when the perp misbehaved in a room rented by someone prepared to do something about it.