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A Huge Step Forward

I just got off a conference call with Amanda Knief and Dave Silverman of American Atheists. They invited me and several of my fellow FreethoughtBloggers, along with other prominent bloggers throughout the community, to discuss the harassment policy they’ve just adopted. You know what’s fantastic? Seeing an organization this large and established step up and do the right thing. That makes 11.

What really came through in that call, from my perspective, was just how sensible doing this is. Dave had a situation recently where an attendee reported harassment to him, and he realized he has nothing in place to deal with it. That’s not a great position for the head of any organization to be in.

They had been considering the adoption of a policy for about a year, and were committed to making it happen. They reviewed a number of sample policies, adjusting them to their specific needs, and will continue refining theirs as needed. They want American Atheists’ conventions to be safe, happy, and informative, where people are allowed to have fun (hell, even have sex!) as long as it’s consensual. Sexual and physical harassment won’t be tolerated: Dave is “emphatically intolerant of harassment.” Don’t pester other people, follow a few simple guidelines, and you’re good to go.

These are the points I found most important:

  • This policy will help create a safe and fun (yes, you can haz both) environment in which everyone can enjoy themselves.
  • Staff and volunteers will be trained.
  • Reporting procedures will be solidly in place for every conference, and incidents will be documented.
  • The policy applies to attendees, staff, volunteers and speakers – no one is exempt.
  • There will be consequences for violating the policy. As Dave said, “Not just don’t do this, but don’t do this or else.”
  • Victims of harassment will have their concerns taken seriously.
  • People who are engaging in inappropriate behavior will be given an opportunity to correct that behavior. It’s not “one strike and you’re out” across the board – although in some situations (such as if you assault someone) you won’t be given a second chance.
  • This is a living policy. It will evolve, adjust, and improve over time. I love this, because it tells me Amanda, Dave, and the rest of the staff at American Atheists aren’t just putting a document up for CYA and PR purposes. They really mean for harassment to be effectively addressed and stopped.

And least people believe this means the end of sexy fun times, keep in mind that nothing in this policy prevents you from having consensual fun with willing partners. Nothing. Here, let me underline that for you: nothing. Folks who are afraid the policy will make everyone turn into terrified mannequins can relax. Good times are good to go. You just have to ensure the folks you want to have fun with are on board for good times, as well.

Amanda Knief is phenomenal. She understands how harassment policies work, she understands how to effectively implement them, and since she’s a lawyer, she knows how to navigate legal minefields while protecting victims of harassment. Reports of harassment will end up in her hands, and I can’t think of better hands for them to be in. Anyone who is the target for bad behavior can feel confident, knowing she, Dave and the staff and volunteers will take care of it. Dave will be the one who makes the ultimate decisions about what happens with harassers, and believe me when I say people do not want their bad behavior reaching him. He and Amanda will be fair, but also very, very tough.

So, y’know, read the policy before you go.*

This is a huge step forward. It’s good to see an organization like American Atheists stepping up and putting policies in place that will ensure harassment is not welcome at their conferences, and is dealt with effectively when it happens.

 

*I’ll link to it directly once it’s live on the American Atheists site. For now, I’m linking to PZ’s post, which includes the draft we were sent. The Code of Conduct is now online. You can see the press release here.

Comments

  1. F says

    This is great.

    It is also one more data point to throw in the evidence pile for “see, that wasn’t so difficult”.

  2. Rob says

    *listens carefully for a moment*

    Nope, world doesn’t seem to have ended despite predictions. Now really, why was that so hard for so many people to accept?

  3. Dana Hunter says

    Moderation report: Cremnomaniac argues that common sense won’t save us from the policy being used to stifle consensual activity, and wants a clause added to protect people from false accusations. I’m debating if I really want to see this thread turn into an argument over the finer points of how the policy will be applied, or whether I should advise him to address his concerns directly to American Atheists instead. What say you all?

    • Emptyell says

      Does zie make any valid points? It’s a bit hard to imagine.
      Would it be productive to dissect it here? Hard to say without seeing it.
      If it seems like an earnest effort to discuss the matter in good faith it could be appropriate. If its just an attempt to shit on a good thing then I’d say no.