Why Cons Need Anti-Harassment Policies

Wired has an excellent article on why harassment policies are needed — it’s because the social dynamics of conventions can mess up people’s perspectives.

Conventions need anti-harassment policies. Not because convention attendees are disproportionately boorish or creepy–they’re really not–or because of social obliviousness. Rather, the difficulty lies in the very thing that makes conventions conventions: the social phenomena that come into play whenever humans gather in large groups.

Read the whole thing. It’s very thorough in discussing the psychology behind harassing behavior, and why it’s not just something evil psychopathic trolls do.


  1. peptron says

    It reminds me of a social experiment that was done, but I can’t remember where.
    The test was in 2 parts:
    One night, they played drum with their windows open. The police lines were full of people calling to complain.
    Another night, they hired actors to create a scene of extreme household violence, and tried to recreate the same amount of noise as the drummer did. NOBODY did anything. No calls to the police, nothing. People didn’t even go outside to check what was doing on.

  2. says

    It’s band camp for grown-ups. Everyone is outside of the usual networks of obligations and limitations that tend to constrain behavior. So we find out who’s inner sense of restraint works well and who’s does not.

  3. okstop says

    Good article! Thank you for linking to it. I’ve never been able to understand how con organizers get from “we absolutely think this is wrong and no one at our con should be doing it” to “we see no need to have a policy against it.” It basically amounts to saying, “we think it has no place at our event but we will take no measures to see that it doesn’t actually occur.” And that’s fucking stupid.

  4. says


    Another night, they hired actors to create a scene of extreme household violence, and tried to recreate the same amount of noise as the drummer did. NOBODY did anything. No calls to the police, nothing. People didn’t even go outside to check what was doing on.

    That’s not unusual. Domestic violence situations generally trigger people’s “don’t get involved!” switches. There’s also a general assumption that someone else will call or take care of it.

  5. peptron says

    Caine, Fleur du mal:
    Domestic violence situations generally trigger people’s “don’t get involved!” switches.

    Now that you mention it, I had an aunt that ended up in the newspaper for getting involved in such a situation. She was convinced that the children next door were being molested by their parents, and having been to her home, I can see why she would think that. However, in the newspaper it seemed that they tried to depict her as the crazy neighboor that sees and hear things. She has been struggling with major depression her entire life, she might have sent that vibe to the police and journalists…

  6. says

    Why does my McAfee site advisor “red flag” this page?

    Is some mischief afoot? Or is it Hanlon’s razor?

  7. unclefrogy says

    I can understand why some conventions would not understand why basic rules of behavior would be necessary, different level of awareness and or rationality or simply taking it for granted that the attendees would all be self selected to be well behaved as naive as that would be but that others , like the skeptical community or the sci-fi or comic book crowd it just boggles the mind. This is 2013 and we still need an Op-Ed about the need for basic rules?
    uncle frogy

  8. says

    But, but, but, its such a small issue and it would just discourage people from attending by establishing a policy meant to keep them safe and all the fun will be gone. Also, who are we to stop people from acting like they are evolved to behave? This article was obviously influenced by the feminatzi wing of the Illuminati.

    *neurons slowly reattach themselves into the previous configuration*

    I’m reminded of Sagan’s quote about evolutionary baggage…

  9. freemage says

    So, trying to do my part, just sent this to Lauren Pieczynski, PR director for the Origins Game Fair:

    Ms. Pieczynski:

    As you may be aware, there has been a recent surge of discussion the internet lately regarding the convention scene and sexual harassment. The latest incident involving WisCon ( http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/06/28/reporting-harassment-at-a-convention-a-first-person-how-to/ ) is just that—the latest incident, in a long line of them. More and more victims (mostly women) have been coming forward with their stories. Now, to be clear—to the best of my knowledge, there’s been no mention of Origins in that discussion, and this is a good thing, and a point of pride for me as a member of this particular sub-niche of geek-dom. My hope is that by writing to you now, nearly a year before the next Origins (and one I’m hoping to attend), you and the GAMA staff can take proactive steps to make certain that it never becomes a problem. The time to act is now, before an incident, and the subsequent toxic publicity, should occur. In short, this is my attempt to urge GAMA to get ahead of the curve.

    I am sure that a convention as long-lived and professional as Origins has a policy in place, and I’m just as certain it’s a good one. However, the website makes no mention of it; a quick Google search turned up nothing directly online. Having these policies visible and readily available is key to making them effective (again, please read the story at the link above). It removes the mask of plausible deniability that many harassers try to use; it also lets victims and their allies quickly determine what steps they should take following an incident. It’s the lack of an easily-found policy that prompted me to write to you.

    My first suggestion, therefore, is that the written policy not only be placed in the convention publications, but also on the website (an extremely easy resource for people to check in the era of tablets and smartphones). At first glance, my suggestion would be to have a button for “Conduct Policy” just between the “Volunteers” and “Media” buttons on the website. This link would lead to a full copy of the policy, including a reasonable description of infractions, a listing of possible penalties, and (very, very important) instructions for victims on how to file a report. Furthermore, on the Contact US page, you should have a person identified as being responsible for handling reports of conduct violations.

    On a specific note, I’d also urge GAMA to consider adopting a color-coded lanyard policy for photography. Several cons use this method to allow a relatively stress-free method of declaring preferences on the subject of photographs.

    Simply put, you provide three colors of lanyard for the badges—Red, Yellow and Green. Green means “Go ahead, take a picture if you want,” Yellow means, “Please ask before taking a photo,” and Red means, “Please do not take photos or request to take them.” It helps people, especially cosplayers, have a less stressful convention if they can feel that they are in control of how their image is used. And ‘less stressful’ means ‘more fun’, which is, of course, the whole purpose. It also gives photographers seeking to chronicle their time at the convention a way to know at a glance whether their photography is welcomed.

    Thank you for your time, and if you’d like some further pointers on the structure of a publicly posted policy, here’s a solid start (though it would need to be edited for Origins’ specific needs): http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/index.php?title=Conference_anti-harassment_policy

    Thank you for your time and consideration, and I hope to enjoy the convention next year!

    Longtime Geek & Gamer

  10. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Why does my McAfee site advisor “red flag” this page?

    It redflagged Pharyngula all day, and the rest of FtB was open (at least those I checked). Nice to be home on my iMac.

  11. brive1987 says

    The article and it’s links demonstrated that a) there is group think that stops self policing and b) that harassment comes from devious socially enabled people and is not endemic.

    This suggests we need a common sense general “play nice” for the ‘nerds’ and a general coverall “if you have been harassed by ‘some slimy/devious roach’ talk to us” backed by some serious behind the scenes training for staff to deal with all the different types of plausible deniability actions.

  12. csue says

    Having been on senior staff for many conventions over 20 years, I can tell you that, at the very top echelons of *some* of them, there is very much a circle-the-wagons, take-no-responsibility-lest-we-be-held-liable mentality. In response to one specific incident of staff assaulting a con-goer (!), a top-level staffer actually said, “Never promise someone that something will never happen again.” They actually think they have enough money to be worth suing, and therefore don’t want to be acting “in loco parentiis” in any capacity whatsoever.

  13. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Is there not a general legal requirement to provide a safe environment?

    Well, technically, the sponsor is responsible. But, like with companies, it may take a few multi-million dollar settlements to make sponsors sit up and take notice. Which is why all major and most minor companies have harassment policies, however ill enforced.