Odyssey Con is a Madison, Wisconsin convention scheduled to take place later this month. I want to share two tidbits from their website.

From their harassment policy:

“It is the intention of Odyssey Con to create a safe, friendly, welcoming environment…”

From their Who is Odyssey Con? page:

James Frenkel, Guest Liaison

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I’ve talked about Frenkel on the blog before.

As have others.

As is the nature of these things, there’s a lot more that isn’t written about publicly. I’ve spoken with other people harassed by Frenkel who chose not to post about it online, or to file complaints. Given the way we tend to treat victims of harassment and assault — demanding details and proof, blaming them, excusing the harassment, telling them why they’re wrong or overreacting, and so on — I can’t and won’t blame anyone for making that choice.

Even so, knowledge of Frenkel’s history is widespread in the SF/F field. He lost his job with Tor Books shortly after the 2013 incident. He was banned for life from Wiscon. Hell, some of this stuff is on his freaking Wikipedia page.

In other words, there’s no way Odyssey Con was unaware of this history. But they still chose to allow Frenkel to serve as their Guest Liaison.

That’s their right. It’s their convention, and if they want to put a known repeat harasser on staff, they can do so. But that choice has consequences. Consequences like their Guest of Honor withdrawing from the convention. Or having other guests and companies withdraw because the con prioritized a harasser over the safety of their guests.

ETA: Or then having another guest of honor withdraw…

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I haven’t seen a public response from the convention yet, but I’m bracing myself for the typical refrain:

“But he’s such a nice guy. I never saw him harass anyone!”

He was a nice guy to me, too. He was genuinely kind and supportive when I was a nobody starting out in this business, and I hated learning about this other side of him. But the fact that he was nice to me doesn’t mean he’s nice to everyone. Harassers can be quite charming, and they learn to isolate their victims.

It would be like saying, “But Hannibal Lecter never tried to eat me, so how can you say he’s a cannibal?”

“He has a long history with the convention.”

Yes…he also has a long history of harassing women. What’s your point?

ETA: Called it! From the Odyssey Con program chair:

I have been personally acquainted with both Richard and Jim for many years, and, as program chair, I am 100% certain that they will both conduct themselves in responsible and appropriate fashions. Both Jim and Richard have made valuable contributions to Odyssey Con for years and I expect that they will, given the opportunity, continue to do so for years to come.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong since Wiscon 2013. Doesn’t he deserve another chance?”

Some things aren’t mine to share, but I question the assumption behind that statement. As for deserving another chance…personally, I think it depends. What work has he done to try to earn another chance? I do believe that everyone deserves the chance to learn and grow…but not at the expense of their victims. In other words, why is giving Frenkel yet another chance more important than giving your convention attendees a safe, welcoming event?

“It’s a witch hunt!”

Oh yes, of course. I’m sure it’s a big old conspiracy between Matthesen, Kowal, Priest, Kendall, Wiscon, Tor Books, and everyone else who’s spoken out about their experiences with Frenkel…

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You can try to create a convention that’s safe and welcoming and friendly. Or you can put a man with a long, public history of harassment in a position of authority, with access to your guests.

You can’t do both.

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ETA: Odyssey Con has posted a statement on Facebook (now removed, but screencapped by Natalie Luhrs), which includes this gem: “Odyssey Con is now, always has been, and always will be, open and welcoming to all. We do not allow anyone, not even a guest of honor, to dictate that someone else must be excluded from it.” (Read the full statement for context.)

ETA2: As of 4/12, Odyssey Con has posted a new statement on Facebook. This one notes, “Frenkel is no longer a member of our ConCom in any capacity, he has no position of authority in the convention proper, and he is not a panelist or lecturer. He has the right to purchase a badge and attend the convention, but as of this writing, I do not know if he is planning to do that.”

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Rachel Swirsky is one of the founding editors of PodCastle, served as Vice President of SFWA, and is a prolific author as well. She’s twice won the Nebula award, and has also been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, Sturgeon, and the World Fantasy Awards. Her second Nebula win was for her story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” which was also nominated for the Hugo.

Like every other award-winning story in existence, you had people who loved this story, and others who didn’t. And just like the rest of us, when faced with a story they didn’t like getting such honors, everyone calmly accepted that different people have different tastes, and looked for worthy work to nominate and support for next year.

Yeah, not so much. A small group set out to harass the hell out of the author, up to and including “jokes” about killing her.

Swirsky responded with a fundraiser, “Making Lemons into Jokes,” which has so far raised more than $700 for Lyon-Martin health services, one of the only providers that focuses on caring for the LGBTQIAA community — especially low-income lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. As part of the fundraiser, she’ll be writing a new story that riffs in part on this year’s Hugo Award mess, “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

I asked her to talk a bit about coping with this kind of harassment. Read on for her thoughts.

Also — and this should go without saying — if you start trolling or bullying in the comments, my web goblins will ban your ass so hard you’ll spend the next month farting through your nose.

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My warm thanks to Jim for letting me come into his space to talk a bit about the fundraiser I’m doing for Lyon-Martin health services through my Patreon. We talked a bit about what subjects I might want to discuss. For Ann Leckie, I wrote about why advice to ignore the bullies misses the point. For Mary Robinette Kowal, I wrote about a few of the many threads in my life that make advocacy important.

Jim asked me to write about how to cope with harassment. That overlaps a little with what I wrote for Ann, but on her blog, I wrote about how to be part of a community that was coping, not how to be an individual who copes with being a target.

A few years ago, there were a lot of pieces circulating about how hard it could get for women online. The VOLUME of hate and harassment; the INTENSITY of it; the terrifying PERSISTENCE. It spoke not of ordinary road-rage-type flame outs, but of something with more emergent structure. Not just drivebys, but pack hounds, stalking victims.

I wrote to a woman who had published such an article. “I so admire your courage,” I told her. “I don’t think I could stand up to it. I’m a weak person.”

It’s strange, I suppose, to identify yourself as a weak person. I am, though. A long time ago, I was on a panel about apocalypses, and someone (I believe it was the keenly insightful Eileen Gunn) said that viewers and readers always identify with survivors, assuming they too would survive.

I don’t. I’d die.

That’s fine. There are zombies or there are Rachel Swirskys and the twain shall not meet, except for the bloody moment of skull-breaking and brain-scavenging. I hope the zombie comes out of it with nagging depression and Star Trek pedantism.

I could write a whole essay interrogating the concept of weakness as I’m using it, of course. But that’s not this essay. I want to talk about how I feel about myself, not culturally critique the feeling.

I am weak because I am vulnerable. It’s dangerous to admit being vulnerable. Bullies go for the vulnerable. That’s one of the things they do.

When I wrote to the woman mentioned above, to tell her that I admired her courage, she expressed concerns. In retrospect, I think she meant that it does not take unusual courage to stand up to harassment. The women who stand up to it are not superhuman. They have done and are doing a difficult thing that no one should have to do, but they undertake that labor as people, with their own strengths and stresses.

I do not need to look at that woman and think, “You are brave. I am not.”

I can look at her and think, “Courage is work you do, not who you are.”

(A complication: Some people really are less vulnerable and more buoyant than others. Often, they’re the ones who speak more, which is perfectly natural.  They do everyone a great favor by using their resources and energy to speak out. But it can feel intimidating sometimes, which is no one’s fault.)

Personally, I complain to friends a lot. I really, really like listening to the audio recording of Alexandra Erin’s John Scalzi Is Not a Very Popular Author, and I Myself Am Quite Popular. I subtweet; over time, that’s mostly become overt tweeting. I suspect specific solutions are very personal.

This I’m sure of: for me, it feels better to talk than stay silent.

If you’re vulnerable as I am, and you become a target as I have, this is the best I know to give you: You’re not alone.

Don’t count yourself out.

Best,
Rachel

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

I get it. It’s one thing to write up policies on harassment and appropriate behavior for a convention. It’s another to find yourself in the midst of a mess where you have to enforce them.

Emotions are running high. The person accused of violating the policy isn’t a mustache-twirling villain, but someone who’s been attending your con for years. They’ve got a lot of friends at the con — possibly including you. If you enforce the consequences spelled out in your policies, someone’s going to be upset. Someone’s going to be angry. Someone’s going to feel hurt. It feels like a no-win situation.

And it is, in a way. There’s nothing you can do to make everyone happy. But we’ve seen again and again that there’s a clear losing strategy, and that is to do nothing. To try to ignore your harassment policy and hope the problem goes away on its own.

It won’t. As unpleasant as it is to be dealing with a report of harassment, doing nothing will make it worse. Here are just a few examples from recent years.

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ReaderCon: In 2012, a ReaderCon attendee reported ongoing harassment by René Walling. Readercon had a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. Whatever you might think of zero-tolerance policies, this was the promise the con had made. The board ignored its own policy and instead issued a two-year ban.

This generated a great deal of anger and backlash. In the end, the entire board resigned. ReaderCon issued a formal apology and voted to reverse the board’s decision and enforce a lifetime ban against Walling.

World Fantasy Con: In 2013, WFC chose not to have a harassment policy at all, saying in part, “…it is extremely unusual for this kind of behavior to take place at a World Fantasy Convention, as it is largely a professional-oriented event.” (Source) Multiple people ended up reporting multiple incidents of harassment. The convention did…pretty much nothing.

One of the effects of this and other harassment-related mistakes has been long-term damage to the reputation of the convention. I know professionals who refuse to attend for this reason.

WisCon: In 2013, at least one person reported Jim Frenkel to the convention for harassment at WisCon. This was not the only report of harassment WisCon had received about this individual. The convention later said they misplaced at least two complaints, and Frenkel showed up again in 2014.

Frenkel was “provisionally” banned for four years in July 2014. At least one member of the concom resigned. In August 2014, the con voted to permanently ban Frenkel from the convention. Natalie Luhrs has a roundup of some of the reactions and negative press that came about as a result of the slow and inconsistent handling of harassment.

ConText: In 2014, a consuite volunteer named Jeffrey Tolliver was banned from Context following multiple complaints about this individual’s conduct. However, this process involved a great deal of internal conflict over the enforcement of the harassment policy, to the point that several volunteers resigned because they did not trust the convention to take harassment seriously. There were also statements defending Tolliver as a long-time volunteer, a friend, and someone who was being attacked for being old/clueless.

In addition to the volunteer resignations, the ConText board was (I believe) eventually dissolved, and ConText was cancelled for the following year.

ConQuesTMark Oshiro just talked about the racism and harassment he experienced as Fan Guest of Honor at ConQuesT. He followed the convention’s processes in reporting the incidents. Eight months later, after multiple follow-ups, he discovered that nothing had been done.

At this time, one member of the concom has resigned, and it feels like most of the SF/F internet is discussing all the ways ConQuesT dropped the ball and screwed up.

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These aren’t the only such examples, but I hope they’re enough to see the patterns.

Again, I’m not trying to pretend that enforcing such policies is easy. It’s not. We go to conventions to have fun. Volunteers pour countless hours of work into the events, trying to host a successful weekend party for everyone involved. No one wants to have to deal with confrontation. But choosing not to deal with it is almost universally worse for the convention, leading to things like:

  • Resignation of volunteers
  • Negative publicity, including people publicly stating they won’t be coming to your convention
  • Cancellation of the convention
  • Feelings of anger and betrayal from attendees
  • A lot of broken relationships

And in most cases, the convention still ends up having to follow through on its harassment policies and deal with what happened.

The logic seems pretty simple to me. It makes a hell of a lot more sense to just follow through on policies in the beginning. It sucks to have to do it, but it sucks even more to be dealing with all the additional consequences of not following through.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Several people have emailed me about reports of harassment at Context this year, which resulted in an individual being banned from the convention for five years. Here’s my roundup of links about what happened. (Please let me know if I’ve missed anything.)

  • March 30, 2015: Passing along the following announcement.

    • The Fanaco Board regrets to announce that Context 28 has been canceled.  Refund checks to anyone who preregistered were mailed on March 29.  Thank you for your support.

      If you have any questions, please contact:
      Context
      PO Box 163391
      Columbus OH 43216

  • September 30, 2014: Jonathan Maberry is one hoopy frood. Context is pretty cool too. Andi Brunett-Libecap describes her encounter with a consuite voluneer as part of her (overall very positive) roundup of the convention. In a follow-up post, she talks about feeling conflicted, noting, “He didn’t seem BAD so much as STUPID. There’s a difference, and the difference is important to me.”
    • In the comments to Brunett-Libecap’s second post, Context’s workshop director Lucy Snyder clarifies that, “Yours wasn’t the only complaint about his behavior that was received by the convention … The other piece of this, which maybe isn’t clear: [he] was a convention staff member working in the con suite and not just a regular attendee. Context holds convention staff to a higher standard of behavior … But even if he hadn’t been staff, his behavior was unacceptable.”
  • October 28: Two More Con Code of Conduct Complaints Go Public. File 770 reports that a consuite volunteer named Jeffrey Tolliver was banned from Context following multiple complaints about this individual’s conduct. Includes a quote from Tolliver, saying, “I owe deep apologies to you, your friend and all the attendees of Context 27. If stupidity was contagious I would have infected more people that the Plague.”
  • November 16: Statement Regarding Complaints Of Harassment At Context 27. Context posts an official statement on their Tumblr page.
    • “[T]here have been complaints regarding multiple incidents involving a ConCom member/volunteer. These incidents have been reported both in the current year and incidents have come to light regarding past years … We had corroborating reports of the incident(s) in question, and have received information that the person in question did not dispute the incident.”
  • November 28: Why I Am Resigning As Programming Director For Context. Steven Saus resigns, saying, “Without myself and a very few others, I do not believe there would have been any public response to the reports of harassment at Context 27.  I do not have faith that the harassment policy will be enforced or that reports of harassment would be treated seriously at Context in the future. I do not realistically have the ability to make that change before Context 28.”
    • Sharon Palmer, who oversaw the Context Consuite, says in the comments, “I am a member of the committee am saying this as my own opinion, and NOT that of the committee, that Steve has misrepresented the issue. Since he has chosen to make this so public, I want to say that he is wrong.  Context has had an antiharassment policy for several years, and has never tolerated harassment and never would, especially not by a staff member.  Please give us time to work through the ramifications of this. We want Context to be an awesome and SAFE convention.”
  • November 28: Lucy A. Snyder resigns as workshop director of Context. “Steven M Saus announced earlier today that he is resigning as programming director for Context Convention; I am also resigning as writing workshops director, for many of the same reasons.”
  • November 29: A few notes replying to some replies about my leaving Context. A follow-up post from Steven Saus.
    • Sharon Palmer comments that, “Steve made many missteps handling it, and acted as if any disagreement to the way STEVE DID THINGS, was support for the harasser. In Steve’s own words to me ‘My response was not based off what you wrote, but what I thought I heard.’”
    • Palmer also states, “A staff person in the Con Suite talked to people who didn’t want to be talked to. He made bad jokes and showed people the chainmail he was working on. Which happened to be a chainmail bikini. He made people uncomfortable. He was guilty of being OLD. His wife was also in the Con Suite through most of the weekend. I was head of the Con Suite. No one said anything during the con. I wish they had, so I could have stopped it. We banned the guy for FIVE YEARS for an unacceptable level of social cluelessness. I really don’t see how this is a betrayal of our gender. Steve and Lucy said ‘handle it our way or we quit’. And we did. They quit anyway in a way that seems designed to destroy the convention.”
  • November 29: Jason Sanford, a frequent author guest at Context, posts about the situation on Facebook and his blog.
    • Jerry Robinette, of the convention’s publicity division, comments, “has anybody mentioned that the only ‘investigation’ was done by [Snyder] and Saus: that the ConComm and board never had an opportunity to hear from the ops person who had a run-in with the blogger that started all of this? And that you (Snyder) and Saus are now attempting to bully your way into complete control of a convention which has been a valuable revenue stream for you and your husband?”
  • November 29: Why I won’t be returning to the Context SF convention, by Context volunteer Sarah Hans.
    • “[Steve] received several reports of harassment committed by the same individual. At least one report claimed the harassment spanned years. At least one woman was uncomfortable going into the consuite at Context 27 because that was the harasser’s hangout; at least one other said she would not be returning because the harassment was so troubling to her.”
    • “I was singled out with Lucy and Steve for a bullying email from a member of concomm who disagreed with us on one occasion; on another, I was singled out alone by one of the convention chairs for verbal abuse when I admitted that I no longer felt safe attending Context if the harassment policy was not going to be enforced … I was told that my opinion didn’t matter because I didn’t do enough work for Context 27. The words ‘how dare you’ were actually used.”
  • November 29: Resignations From Context Committee Over Harassment Policy Enforcement, from File 770.
  • November 29: Michelle Dupler, Context volunteer, steps down.
    • “As someone watching this more or less from the outside, and with no emotional investment in the issue, I do not believe that Steve has misrepresented the discussion, or at least the portions that I personally witnessed on the concom email list. His account, and Lucy’s, have mirrored my own perception.”
  • November 30: Steven Saus Comments on Resignation, also at File 770.
    • “Convention goers need to know that if they report harassment that it will be taken seriously. They should not have to guess which members of the convention staff will ensure their report is taken seriously… or which members of convention staff will dismiss their concerns. Convention goers need to be able to trust ALL of the convention staff to do the right thing, regardless of personal feelings.”
  • December 1: A Short (but significant) Update About Context, from Steven Saus.
    • “I learned late last night that the board met and dissolved itself.  The convention is starting over, with last year’s Con Chairs (who were not part of the resistance I experienced) starting over … This change resolves the concerns that led to my resignation.
  • December 1: Sharon Palmer Posts an Apology on the Context Facebook Group page.
    • “I want to apologize for my part in this. I do not want to be part of a convention where harassment is accepted. It is traumatic and emotional when the harasser is a friend and colleague. I want to apologize to the people who were hurt by Jeff’s behavior. It never should have happened. When it happened, it should have been stopped.”
  • December 6: Official Statement Regarding the Dissolution of Fanaco’s Board of Directors.
    • “This new Board will be immediately tasked with creating new by-laws and other policies, including an anti-harassment policy that is clear and enforceable.”
  • December 27: Mark Freeman’s Statement on Context, as posted on Steven Saus’ blog.
    • “…on the day of the scheduled meeting, [Jan] had a lawyer send a rather over-the-top email to me saying that she would not sign the form and threatening me with police action if I went to her house, among other things. The new Board is, of course, now walking away.”
  • December 27: CONTEXT is Dead, from Steven Saus.
    • “When the president of the new Board, Mark Freeman, arranged to meet with Jan Province to get her to sign the paperwork to change the agent of record … he recieved a threatening e-mail from a lawyer claiming that contacting her in any way would be considered “harassment” and that there would be no new board. At which point, all the new people who wanted to be part of the new board, who wanted to see Context survive and thrive, realized that they couldn’t fight a (frivolous) lawsuit and simultaneously prepare a convention.”

Context’s current harassment policy is here.

It sounds like the Fanaco Board, which oversees Context, is still meeting and discussing everything that’s happened.

I don’t know the details. I became aware of this through email and the public posts and statements I’ve linked here. From that public information, it seems clear that:

      1. There were multiple complaints of harassment against a Context volunteer.
      2. This volunteer has not disputed the complaints, and has apologized.
      3. After contentious discussion, it was decided to ban this individual from Context for a minimum of five years.
      4. Multiple individuals who were directly involved feel that others on the concomm and/or board didn’t take the complaints seriously enough.
      5. Nobody can agree on how to spell concom/concomm.

I don’t know enough to second-guess the convention’s decision. I’m troubled by suggestions that banning this individual for five years was punishment for “being old” or “social cluelessness.” (And I said as much to Palmer.) These are excuses that have been used far too often as a way to minimize or excuse harassment. A single incident might be attributed to social clumsiness, but intentions don’t necessarily change the outcome, and it’s clear that there were multiple complaints here.

The convention investigated, met, and announced their decision about a month and a half after the convention. I know how hard it is to schedule meetings, get everyone caught up, and come to any sort of consensus or agreement. Considering that some of this information didn’t come to light until after the con, that actually seems reasonably quick and efficient for an organization.

Making the behind-the-scenes struggles and frustration public is going to hurt the convention. I highly doubt it’s a step that was taken lightly. I don’t know if it was the right step in this case. I do know that there has been pressure in the past, and in the present, to keep things like harassment quiet to protect reputations. And I know that silencing has allowed abuse and harassment to continue.

Palmer asked for time to work through this, and said they want to make Context an awesome and safe convention. I very much hope that this is what ends up happening. Public scrutiny will likely make that job more difficult; it will also increase the pressure to follow through and live up to the standards in the convention’s harassment policy.

Finally, the idea that Lucy Snyder is trying to get control of a “valuable revenue stream” gets a huge side-eye from me. As an author, I know how much I tend to sell at a convention, and even my best cons have been anything but lucrative. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an author who saw conventions as a significant money-maker. I certainly don’t see how volunteering hundreds of hours to help put a convention together leads to Massive Author Profits. (If anyone knows that secret, please fill me in!)

One last request. Please don’t use this as an excuse to click through and attack/criticize/harass others on their respective sites. I was torn about linking and naming names, but decided to do so for completeness and accuracy. But one thing I do know is that this has been difficult and stressful for all involved.

I’ll be updating this post with additional links and info as they come in.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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