What Happened After I Reported

Elise Matthesen–who I am honored to call my friend–has written the following essay about what happened after she reported harassment at WisCon 37.
 
Comments are moderated. The ban hammer is out.

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment. One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite — WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18. Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee. To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension. People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one. Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation: (1) act promptly, (2) gather all existing written information and reports, (3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct, (4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation; (5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and (6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way. WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate. In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

“Is it you?”


Other posts about this subject:

WisCon: The Frenkel Decision

This past Friday, the subcommittee announced their decision about the harassment reported by Elise Matthesen and Lauren Jankowski.  Here’s the relevant part:

WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is “provisional” because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.

Allowing Jim Frenkel to return is not guaranteed at any time, including following WisCon 42; the convention’s decision will always be dependent on compelling evidence of behavioral change, and our commitment to the safety of our members. If he is permitted to return at any time, there will be an additional one-year ban on appearing on programming or volunteering in public spaces. Any consideration of allowing him to return will be publicized in WisCon publications and social media at least three months before a final decision is made.

Based on the policies adopted by WisCon’s Harassment Policy Committee before WisCon 38 in 2014, Jim Frenkel has the right to appeal this decision to SF3, WisCon’s governing body. If he enters an appeal, we will make public statements both when he does so and when the appeal ruling is issued.

As you know, Bob, Fridays are among the best days to release news you want to bury. Also good are holiday weekends.

Jim Frenkel has a right to appeal this decision to SF3, WisCon’s governing body. Elise Matthesen and Lauren Jankowski do not. Neither does the membership.

WisCon has, with this decision, decided to prioritize Jim Frenkel’s reformation and redemption over the safety of the women who reported his harassment a year ago and over the safety of all the women over the years that chose not to report.

This is not okay. This is beyond not okay. How, exactly, is Jim Frenkel going to prove that he’s stopped harassing people? It’s not really possible to prove a negative–so what is probably going to happen here is that he’ll lay low for a year, appeal, and he’ll be back in 2016. Or in 2017? It’s hard to tell–there was a clarification posted yesterday that has some really disturbing information in the comments. Specifically that the reason for the four year ban has to due with an agreement he has with his former employer to not speak publicly about this–not even to apologize–for five years. I am honestly not sure what Frenkel’s agreement with his former employer has to do with WisCon.

Shortly after that information became public, Jacquelyn Gill–one of the members of the subcommittee–posted an extremely long and convoluted explanation of their process. A process which, apparently, didn’t bother using Google–since the comments show that the subcommittee had at least one individual on it who had no idea what had happened with Readercon two years ago.

Let that sink in. No. Idea. What. Happened. With. Readercon. As xiphias says, “It feels like Wiscon is lagging behind godforsaken mens’ rights neckbeards in terms of consent culture. Those people are fighting against consent culture — but it feels like Wiscon isn’t even aware that the debate is happening.”

Mikki Kendall is also reporting  that she was asked for information about her encounter with Frenkel during the course of this investigation. And yet based on Jacquelyn Gill’s blog post, they kept to the contents of the incident report and whatever information they received from Jim Frenkel. Mikki’s written a summary of her experience with Jim Frenkel–along with a helpful visual aid.

I am appalled. I am further appalled at the comment left by Elise Matthesen in which she states that at no point was she contacted by the subcommittee and that one of the people on the subcommittee was present when she reported.

Everything that WisCon could have done wrong, they did. They took no action for a year. They buried themselves in layers of bureaucracy and then adopted a quasi-judicial model that is known to privilege the safety of established institutions over that of those who have been harmed.

Here are some other folks’ reactions (I will keep this list updated as I can):

Additional reactions:

But there’s something else.

I can’t find any public statement definitively announcing the permanent ban of Rachel Moss. I looked in the public posts on the LiveJournal community and on the WisCon News blog.  I looked through old issues of eCube–the last one I could find for WisCon 32 was one issued 10 days before the convention happened. ckd found a glancing mention to banning Moss in the first eCube from the subsequent year, but that is it. No discussion of what process was followed, if any. Hell, Moss isn’t even mentioned by name. That is the most hard to find announcement I have ever seen in my life–my understanding is that eCube is the membership newsletter, so it makes a certain amount of sense that old issues would be hard to find, however: when you’re banning someone? Maybe you make an actual public statement in addition to a quasi-public one.

To my knowledge, Rachel Moss has never returned to WisCon. But I suspect she didn’t return not because she was banned but because of the massive backlash against her actions–not only by the WisCon community but by the forum she posted her pictures on. She had no support from any quarter and was not entrenched in the community.

I think WisCon 38′s administration was relying on the same sort of social pressure to keep Jim Frenkel away in lieu of an actual ban.  The problem there, of course, is that the man had been getting away with harassing women at conventions for decades and his activity was the driving force behind Jim Hines’s efforts in 2010. And Stephanie Zvan wrote about an incident from 2002.

There was plenty of evidence that this was part of an ongoing pattern of behavior. Decades of predation.

Have any of the volunteers with WisCon received any formal training on how to deal with reports of harassment and assault?

What will prevent Frenkel from getting a hotel room during the convention weekend over the next four years and hanging out in public spaces? Is the convention committee working with the hotel to ensure this doesn’t happen?

How many resources were deployed to assist medievalpoc with their safety concerns? Did they need more people on their safety committee? I am absolutely not saying that medievalpoc’s outside harassment should not have been addressed. It was–and is–a serious ongoing issue for them and I am glad that WisCon stepped forward to work with the hotel to make sure they were safe.

But at the same time, I find it staggering that the convention chose to address their concerns while simultaneously allowing Jim Frenkel to register and sign up to be on programming (he was pulled from programming after other program participants complained persuaded to step down from programming by a convention volunteer–but he was allowed to volunteer in the consuite). Is this a capacity issue? Did they simply run out of people with time and energy to work on safety? If so, this should have been recognized before the convention and addressed at that time.

Since medievalpoc’s harassers are from outside the community–as was Rachel Moss–they are easier to deal with than with a long-time attendee and former Guest of Honor.  I completely understand that. It’s much more difficult to confront the predator who is part of us.

I don’t know what can be done, at this point, to salvage WisCon as an ongoing institution. They are clearly feminist in name only–if they were feminist in actuality, this would have been resolved last year. If you look at the names of the people who have been involved with both SF3 and the convention committee, year over year it’s the same group of people who have clearly become complacent. They do desperately need new blood–however, this isn’t how they’re going to get it.  Publicly complaining about people not stepping up isn’t going to be how they’re going to get it, either.

I get that WisCon is a volunteer organization. And I get that their internal structure apparently follows that of a lesbian encounter group from the 1970′s. But if you can’t or won’t do the work then you shouldn’t be volunteering.  From where I’m sitting–as an outsider to their community–WisCon is run by a bunch of people who talk a good game about feminism but when it comes down to it, down to making the hard decisions about predators in their community, they can’t actually do what has to be done.

With this decision, WisCon has shown where their priorities lie–and that’s with the straight white men who have connections.  That’s fucked up.  Going to conventions is not any sort of right–it’s a privilege. And if you can’t be a decent human being and not harass other attendees, you should lose that privilege. Fuck this provisional ban bullshit. Fuck it all.

My proposed and slightly selfish solution? Let’s all go to Balticon in May and then to Readercon in July.

My other posts on this subject:

And finally, a poem I keep thinking of as I read the discussions.

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.
Sonnet: Against Entropy, John M. Ford

 

Rocket Talk!

Hey, check it out!  I’m on Rocket Talk!

This was a lot of fun to record–so great to chat with both Jenny and Justin about the really strong slate of short stories nominated for this year’s Hugo.

For reference, here are the nominated stories:

In other news, I was hoping to have time to compile a links post to go up while I’m at Readercon–I don’t think that’s going to happen as I seem to be running out of time.

But I will mention that Elise Matthesen has some gorgeous shinies up for sale. “Everything I Know” is coming to live with me but I was also quite tempted by “Bring Me the Heart of Edward Cullen”, too.

Readercon 25: My Schedule

I’ll be at Readercon 25 this coming weekend–I am always happy to meet new people and if I’m in one of the public spaces, that means I’m approachable. If I’m by myself, chances are good that I’ll be reading or knitting or drawing–please interrupt me! If I need alone time, I will be in my room.

That said, here are the panels I’m going to be on–to say that I’m excited about them all would be an understatement. I am not officially participating in Meet the Pro(se) on Friday night, but I’ll probably stick my head in for a little while.

Friday July 11

11:00 AM G This Whole Situation Is Monstrous!: Supernatural Excuses for Abusive Behavior. Leah Bobet (leader), Liz Gorinsky, Catt Kingsgrave, Natalie Luhrs, Veronica Schanoes, Peter Straub. Paranormal romance for adults and teens often provides supernatural excuses for abusive behavior. For example, in Cassandra Clare’s The City of Lost Souls, a character’s abusive behavior as a teenager stems from his confusion over being turned into a werewolf. Years later the teens reunite, explanations are given, and the boy’s redemption story briefly takes center stage in the narrative. Instead of focusing on abusers’ redemption through human aspects overcoming monstrous aspects, and obscuring the unpleasant truth that abuse is a very human behavior, is there a better way to use the supernatural to talk about abuse?

7:00 PM G Romance Recs for Spec Fic Fans. Saira Ali, Beth Bernobich, Rose Fox, Victoria Janssen (leader), Natalie Luhrs, Cecilia Tan. At Readercon 24, “Making Love Less Strange” discussed ways for spec fic authors to incorporate romance into their work. Building on that, this panel will provide and invite recommendations of romance novels that spec fic fans will enjoy and authors can learn from. Some examples include Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke, a steampunk police procedural; Isabel Cooper’s No Proper Lady, starring a time-traveling demon-battling assassin; and Sara Creasy’s Song of Scarabeus, an action-packed cyberpunk space opera. Prepare to take notes.

Saturday July 12

11:00 AM G Criticism in the Service of the Field. Chris Gerwel, Andrea Hairston, Donald Keller, Robert Killheffer (moderator), Natalie Luhrs. An editor performs quality assurance (QA) on a book, making it the best book it can be. Literary critics might be seen as taking the QA role for the entire industry of publishing, or the specific portion of it in which they ply their trade. How does the practice of criticism change if critics of speculative fiction take it as their goal to help the field be the best it can be?

Sunday July 13

11:00 AM ENL Readercon Recent Fiction Bookclub: Ancillary Justice. Francesca Forrest, Adam Lipkin, Natalie Luhrs, Sarah Pinsker (leader), Sonya Taaffe. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is gender-bending space opera with a thriller pace and sensibility. Critics are hailing Leckie’s worldbuilding in the story of Breq, the remaining ancillary consciousness of a formerly great warship. We’ll explore Leckie’s themes of humanity and justice, as well as the way the book’s use of nearly exclusively female pronouns shakes up or affirms our notions of a gender binary.

“Half-Sick of Shadows”: WisCon

There is absolutely no excuse for this level of organizational failure. None.

WisCon must do better.

It should not be on the people making reports of harassment to make sure their complaints are acted on in a timely and appropriate manner. It is on the organizations to which we have all given our trust to do this as a matter of course.

To delay action and to misplace key documents is unfair to all parties.

I  wonder how many other complaints have been misplaced or not acted upon over the years.  We have two three documented instances. How many more?

WisCon’s been on my list of conventions to go to someday for many years.

It’s not on that list any longer. Not until I see that they’ve addressed and changed this aspect of their culture. Silence and excuses and hoping things will blow over are no longer an options.

We must shine a light in the dark corners of our community. We must.

ETA: to change the number of lost or misplaced incident reports to three. My apologies to Lauren Jankowski.