Monica Valentinelli Withdraws as GoH of Odyssey Con

Author Monica Valentinelli announced today she is withdrawing as Odyssey Con’s Literary/Game Designer GoH, just two weeks before the con takes place, due to a specific individual’s continued presence on the concom and her concern for her safety.

I was invited to be a guest of honor in 2016. At the time, a known harasser was working at the con. I, personally, had several uncomfortable interactions with this individual and I did not feel safe around him. At first, this individual was my guest liaison, and I had considered pulling out of the convention as a result. Thankfully, my point of contact was changed and I never had to speak with this individual again. I assumed that he was no longer working at the convention following this act.

Although the person was not named in her blog post, he was subsequently identified as Odyssey Con’s guest liaison Jim Frenkel, a former Tor editor banned from WisCon (permanently).

Yesterday, I found out that I was scheduled to be on programming with him and he was still part of the concom. I also learned that peers and friends were uncomfortable with his role at the show, and they had decided to avoid the convention altogether. His involvement with the con meant that I would have to interact with him, especially as a guest of honor, and I do not feel safe around him nor would I want to put any of my friends, peers, or fans in that situation either.

Yesterday, Valentinelli wrote to the concom.

To resolve this, I sent the concom an e-mail. I told them that I, personally, had several problematic experiences with him, and that if he was still working the convention that I would have to withdraw. The response I received was incredibly dismissive of not only me, but of past reports as well. The e-mail went on to say how this individual was a long-time close friend of the concom, and I should judge his behavior for myself.

I have judged his behavior for myself, and I do not feel safe being in the same room with him let alone the same hotel. This blatant disregard of my concerns also worries me that should any new harassment complaints arise, that they would not be dealt with appropriately. I am extremely disappointed that a member of the concom would be more valued that an invited guest, and though I recognize the invitation is an honor I cannot and do not find this resolution acceptable.

Program participant Patrick S. Tomlinson followed her out the door.

Tomlinson added, “If they change their mind, I’ve offered to attend. But not with him participating in any capacity”.

And Catherine Lundoff said:

On Twitter, dozens of writers have lined up to support Valentinelli’s decision.

Odyssey Con is an annual Madison, WI event founded in 2001. Frenkel, who also lives in Madison, has a number of friends among its organizers and works on the concom. The President of the convention’s executive board (OCSI) is Richard S. Russell. Russell, after having worked every WisCon since its founding, was ousted from the WisCon committee in 2014, in part for his continuing expression of his views in committee channels about WisCon’s People of Color Safe Space and the Jim Frenkel harassment complaint.

Odyssey Con’s program organizer, Greg Rihn, is another longtime Frenkel acquaintance. His answer to Valentinelli’s email was the first from someone on the concommittee and said in part —

I have known Jim personally for more than thirty years. Although there have been unfortunate events in the past, I do not now believe, nor have I ever, that Jim is dangerous to any one, in any way. I believe that the lamentably widely disseminated idea that he is, is exaggerated and grows from a lack of knowledge of the facts in his case. His reputation since the WisCon incident has been spotless.

I will, if you wish, take Jim off any panel that presently features both of you, which I hope you would find a reasonable compromise. Banning Jim entirely would be unfair to him, and, in refusing to attend if he is working the con at all, you are being unfair to yourself. Why let other people make your decisions for you? Come and see the man for yourself. You will see that he is a decent man, and not a monster.

Subsequently, Rihn regretted his answer and he has written on Facebook:

I take complete and personal responsibility for my stupid response to Monica’s e-mail. I believed the matter urgent and wrote with too much haste and too little thought. Hospitality is a sacred obligation. I would defend a guest against my brother, let alone a supposed friend (who would cease to be a friend the moment he offered harm to a guest).

Co-chair Janet Lewis posted the entire email correspondence between Valentinelli and the committee on the con’s Facebook page but those posts have since been deleted. Gone with them is OSCI President Richard S. Russell’s public response to Valentinelli:

There has been much discussion regarding Monica Valentinelli’s announcement that she has withdrawn from the Gaming Guest of Honor position at our convention. Much is being said in social media, so we would like to take a moment to make the following statement.

Yesterday, April 10th, Monica contacted our convention through various email addresses expressing her concern and problems with our convention with Jim Frenkel as a part of the event. Last night one of the members of our committee contacted her to try to address her concerns. Unfortunately the position and words were his own, but did appear to be an official statement from the convention. It wasn’t, and he sent a further communication to Ms. Valentinelli to help clarify that.

Up until yesterday we had no knowledge of any problems Ms. Valentinelli had with Mr. Frenkel at Odyssey Con – both had been at Odyssey Conn previously, and both had been on panels together during that time. So we were surprised to hear there had been a problem. Here are the facts as we know them to be:

1) No claims of harassment against Jim Frenkel have ever been made at Odyssey Con that current ConCom members are aware of. We have a firm anti-harassment policy and all charges are treated seriously.

2) We have never made a secret of the fact that Jim works at the con. The assumption that Ms. Valentinelli made to the contrary was an unfortunate failure of communication.

3) Jim Frenkel has volunteered to step down from any official capacity with Odyssey Con to help the organization involved to move forward with a successful event.

Before making any updates and changes on the website and social media, we have been working to verify everyone’s position before making the appropriate changes. These changes do take a little time. Please keep in mind these issues were brought to us less than 24 hours ago.

The official statement from the president of Odyssey Con Society, Inc.:

Odyssey Con has immense appreciation for Monica Valentinelli and her work. We admire, respect, and honor them both, and were fully prepared to do so publicly at our upcoming convention, before Ms. Valentinelli withdrew as one of our three guests of honor.

But 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.

Odyssey Con is also a safe environment. We have policies in place ( http://odysseycon.org/policies.html ) strictly forbidding harassment and a designated ombudsperson to whom any such complaints may be directed. Anything beyond harassment, of course, is a police matter and would be promptly dealt with as such. No such allegations have been made with regard to anyone expected to attend this year’s convention, and therefore Odyssey Con has no basis for excluding anybody.

We sincerely regret that we will not be able to provide our members with the full experience we had advertised and will, of course, refund the membership fee of those who feel that they must now cancel their attendance.

Richard S. Russell, President, OCSI

Other people are weighing in outside of Twitter:

Jim C. Hines – “Odyssey Con, Frenkel, and Harassment”

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 withdraw because the con prioritized a harasser over the safety of their guests.

Kelly McCullough – “On The Matter of Jim Frenkel”.

I don’t remember ever seeing Jim make unwelcome advances or any of the other reported behaviors that have given him his reputation as a serial harasser, but I don’t have to witness a behavior myself to condemn it. All I have to do is believe the accounts of the women who were affected, and I do. It’s that simple. So, though it gives me no pleasure to say this about a man who advanced my career and who I thought of as a friend, I will repeat myself.

Jim has no business being a guest liaison for any convention.

K. Tempest Bradford – OdysseyCon and Why Serial Harassers Are Safe In Our Community.

I’ve seen a bunch of people commenting on this wondering how it is that Jim Frenkel is in any way involved with any convention at this point in time given everything that’s happened. Well. This. This is why. It’s multiple people (see how many folks are listed on this concom who know Jim and are real sure he didn’t ever do anything wrong, despite those third hard reports from the Internet (who trusts that?? Pish) continuing to allow him to be in official roles because we wouldn’t want to lose all his knowledge and experience.

This is how fandom has worked for decades.

And the potential for today’s developments has existed for some time. Sigrid Ellis wrote an open letter to Odyssey Con a year ago criticizing the use of Frenkel and Russell on program.

[Thanks to Rose Embolism, ULTRAGOTHA, and Cat Rambo for the story.]

115 thoughts on “Monica Valentinelli Withdraws as GoH of Odyssey Con

  1. Sean Kirk:

    Co-chair Janet Lewis said:
    “Up until yesterday we had no knowledge of any problems with having employed a serial harasser, even though complaints had started to come in a year ago. Even though we had been told again and again and again how bad idea it was to employ serial harassers and what problems this would cause, we were surprised to hear there had been a problem.

    There, fixed it for you. Janet Lewis was also the person who without permissions put the private emails from Monica Valentinelli on Facebook. I guess that is also Valentinelli’s responsibility.

  2. Sean: at least two of the concom, including the one who emailed Ms Valentinelli and its President, had been very publicly involved with the arguments surrounding Frenkel’s extremely-well-documented history of repeated sexual harassment. The problem isn’t that Ms. Valentinelli had personally had bad experiences with him — it’s that *he should never have been put in a position where he deals with the public*, as he is a known harasser.
    This is not, in any way, Ms. Valentinelli’s fault.

  3. @Sean Kirk:

    Odyssey Con didn’t need to hear from Monica Valentinelli to know there were harassment concerns involving a member of the concom. You’re questioning why she didn’t make it an issue sooner, but they knew for at least a year that there were such concerns. People contacted them to raise the issue. Valentinelli had raised the issue previously.

    Realistically, the members of the concom knew a lot earlier. Wiscon and Odyssey Con are in the same city. Members of the Odyssey concom were involved in the blowup over Jim Frenkel’s ban from WisCon in 2014. Richard S. Russell was ousted from WisCon’s committee over his reaction to the ban.

    The fault for this is entirely on the concom. They were not uninformed. They decided it wasn’t an issue for them.

  4. New update from Odyssey Con:

    “We, the Convention Committee of Odyssey Con, deeply regret losing Monica as a Guest of Honor, especially in the way the last twenty-four hours have unfolded. Odyssey Con strives to be a warm and welcoming place for all people to express themselves and engage in fandoms. We took a long and hard look at the issue of having Jim Frenkel continue to be a member of our convention committee when he was banned from WisCon in 2012. Our position at that time was to look at our policy on harassment and ensure that any situation that may take place at our convention would be dealt with professionally. We now have an ombudsman, anonymous reporting procedures, and a very detailed policy. There have been no complaints filed against Mr. Frenkel from attendees of Odyssey Con. However, in light of Monica’s email, the following changes have been made: Mr. 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.
    I personally wish to apologize for the mishandling of our response to Monica’s concerns. It has never been our intent to minimize any guest’s complaints. Odyssey Con is an all volunteer organization staffed by people who have many strengths, but not all of us are great communicators.
    I have already reached out to Monica to personally apologize for the email response she received from one of our ConCom members and for the subsequent posting of email chains publicly. This exchange was not an example of Odyssey Con as a whole, which is run by fans, for fans. I hope to have a continued dialogue with you all.”

  5. 1) If the accusation is of a professional, the con/people making the report/etc. could be liable for being sued under the rubric of damage to that person’s professional reputation.

    2) If the accusation isn’t, they could *still* be sued because of the damage to a person’s reputation, *period* — it’s just harder to win.

    I assume you have case citations of this happening. If so, please provide them.

    I assume that Frenkel and Russel either have or are going to sue a bunch of people over the accusations that have been leveled against them. Could you provide the citations for those cases?

  6. Sean Kirk on April 12, 2017 at 5:24 am said:
    According to the Co-chair yesterday was the first time that they received a complaint from Ms. Valentinelli regarding the presence of Jim Frenkel. Am I to be expected to believe that the concom is conspiring to deceive everyone in order to save face?

    Given all the facts on the table and the people involved, not one of whom has any reasonable way to claim they didn’t know Frenkel’s history (Madison, WI is a small city, guys. The main players were involved in the blowup at WisCon, too.), I’d have to answer that question with a pretty strong, “Yes, that’s exactly what you should believe.”

    ETA: The latest post from the concom posted while I was composing this. Looks like they finally got their act together.
    Hey, it took United Airlines about the same length of time to fess up to stupidity, and they are professionals at it.
    However, follow through is the key here. We’ll see if this all happens.

  7. A database about “known offenders” won’t change anything, and likely will make things worse.

    I think you’re wrong.

    The issue isn’t not knowing, it’s not wanting to know, or protecting one’s buddies, or trying to paper things over and keep things hobbling along until the situation becomes unsustainable.

    In this situation, the concom has spent a lot of time talking about how they just didn’t know about Frenkel’s bad behavior, because no one brought it to their attention. It is only because this has blown up now that they are scrambling to save face. Had it not, they would have happily continued to pretend that there was no problem with Frenkel. Having a public record of Frenkel’s actions – a paper trail – would make such denials much harder to maintain.

    Here’s a question: If there is such a huge danger of people suing over public accusations of harassment, why is it that Frenkel has not been suing people left and right over these very public accusations?

  8. No I have read it couple of times.

    So you read it, but decided to act like a clueless dick anyway.

    [Reads the rest of the thread]

    Yep, you acted like a clueless dick and then doubled down on it.

  9. Those of you who think organizations should talk publicly about the people they’ve banned for bad behavior (which WisCon did at length, so I’m not sure why it’s part of this thread at all) despite the “overblown” threat of lawsuits, would you be so kind as to donate to Skepticon’s legal defense against one of these lawsuits? You wouldn’t want them to bear the financial burden of that moral obligation alone, would you?

    Full disclosure: I’m also a defendant in that same lawsuit and fundraising separately for my own legal defense for talking about this stuff, but Skepticon’s fundraiser is at least tax-deductible in the U.S.

    Or to be more direct, sure, Odyssey Con can claim they didn’t know. Anyone can say anything. Ask Trump. That doesn’t make what they say the truth or anything but absurd. They knew. However, many of the links you’re commenting under document just how thoroughly they knew. I know it’s a good feeling to walk into a problem years late and feel like you’ve discovered the obvious solution everyone else missed, but in reality, that doesn’t happen very often.

  10. Aaron:
    “I assume you have case citations of this happening. If so, please provide them.”

    No, I do not. Because the *threat* of a lawsuit is often enough to quell resistance. I cannot cite those cases, because, well, I might get sued over them, and I have no desire to expose myself to significant expense and inconvenience to persuade someone over the Internet.

    “I assume that Frenkel and Russel either have or are going to sue a bunch of people over the accusations that have been leveled against them. Could you provide the citations for those cases?”

    See above.

    “Here’s a question: If there is such a huge danger of people suing over public accusations of harassment, why is it that Frenkel has not been suing people left and right over these very public accusations?”

    Perhaps it’s because Jim Frenkel thinks he’d lose. However, I’ll point you to recent events in national politics regarding suing over public accusations of harassment, and that was by a public figure who would have a much higher bar to clear for libel or slander. I think you can figure out who I’m talking about, but feel free to ask for citations there as well.

    What you are repeatedly missing (and I am reminded, once again, of the “if it can’t be proven in court, it’s not a fact” that I heard many, many times over previous allegations of harassment) is that it is the *threat* that makes people go “Well, is it worth risking our con’s financial health/existence and concom members’ financial health in order to make an official stand by submitting someone’s name to a database for something that does not rise to the level of a criminal offense, and which we might not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt as far as a court was concerned?”

    If you *don’t* have the kind of evidence that would stand up to a lawsuit, then your choice under that circumstance (if database reporting were a thing) would be to not report — because you would be putting yourself in jeopardy. Thus, rather than *help* the problem, you’d be making it *worse* for all but the very worst cases — the ones where people are likely to say “Sure, we’ll take you to court over this, because we’re *that convinced* that we’ll win.”

  11. No, I do not.

    Then I’m not going to take you seriously. You are just fear-mongering without anything of substance to back your hand-wringing up. You’re just another person who is trying to come up with reasons to skate out of making conventions safe.

    Your “arguments” (such as they are) are exactly the same mealy-mouthed excuses people used to claim that conventions couldn’t have harassment policies at all, and they are just as much bullshit now as they were then.

  12. “Then I’m not going to take you seriously.”

    Fine: I’ll cite Stephanie’s case above, since I had forgotten it, but there it is.

    I *cannot* cite other cases I am aware of, as I just said, *because* the concoms (plural) in question decided to handle matters in such a way as to not raise the risk of said lawsuits.

    ” are exactly the same mealy-mouthed excuses people used to claim that conventions couldn’t have harassment policies at all, and they are just as much bullshit now as they were then.”

    Go ahead, then, since you’re so concerned; build your database of harassers, since cons often *do* publish when people have been banned for a time period; and if you’re not sure, poll conventions and publish your answers on the list of “people who are banned from conventions as harassers”. Or is it that it’s so vitally important that *other people* do the work and take the risk, but not enough so for you to take either?

  13. Thinking about what Aaron and Laura Resnick have said: Is it possible to organize an independent panel that liases with multiple cons to examine harassment claims and ensure that the convention’s anti-harassment policy is being followed, and to include in the conventions’ policies that they do liase with this third-party and that you need to be aware that actions which result in a ban from one convention may result in a ban from other conventions who make use of this independent third party?

    That resolves the “public v private” issue–nobody’s information is being released, nobody is having their reputation publicly harmed (unless they choose to mention, “Hey, I’ve been banned from these twenty-six cons!”) The ConCom is no longer responsible for bias issues–all they’re doing is handing off the information to the guys they specifically retained to provide them an independent and unbiased examination of the claims, and everyone’s aware of it because it’s right in the con policies. Maintaining a ban list is, in and of itself, not defamatory so long as it’s not made public, and a group that’s working with a bunch of cons can presumably be funded with just a bit of each convention’s money. And it puts some teeth into the anti-harassment policy; if someone knows they’re going to be banned from twenty or thirty cons across the country, and that their local fan connections aren’t going to help them, they may think twice before trying to pull shit.

    (They won’t, but they may. And if they don’t, well, that’s twenty or thirty less cons we see them at.)

  14. I really don’t think that lack of information is the issue in this case….

    I don’t go to US cons, never have, most likely never will… and when I read Valentinelli’s post, my first thought was “hmm, that sounds like that guy who got banned from a con, what was his name, oh, yeah, Frenkel.”

    (My second thought was “naah, no way a con committee would put that guy into a position like that, it’d be a PR disaster waiting to happen”, so I can’t claim better than a 50% success rate when it comes to thinking about this.)

    Point is, if this guy is so notorious that a shut-in on another freakin’ continent has heard of him, there is surely no way the con committee could not have known about these allegations. So I don’t think the problem is lack of information – it’s lack of willingness to take these issues seriously.

  15. John Seavey: That resolves the “public v private” issue–nobody’s information is being released, nobody is having their reputation publicly harmed

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that would solve the specific problem you set out to deal with.

    What’s still lacking, then, is any way for the public to know that harassment policies are being enforced, or that this organization is addressing people whose behavior has become the subject of public notice. Part of the issue of feeling safe is knowing that actions are being taken.

  16. I’ll cite Stephanie’s case above, since I had forgotten it, but there it is.

    Stephanie’s case was a single convention enforcing their own harassment policy. Citing that means that you are attacking the very idea of having harassment policies to begin with. Is that the position you mean to take? Because if so, then not only am I not going to take you seriously, I’m going to consider your ideas to be actively harmful and put you in the same category as harassers and their apologists.

  17. You are just fear-mongering without anything of substance to back your hand-wringing up. You’re just another person who is trying to come up with reasons to skate out of making conventions safe.

    Since you feel so strongly about this and scoff at the idea there’s significant legal risk, despite all of us who’ve shared our differing perspectives and even one person currently facing a lawsuit, I have just one question:

    When can we look forward to the launch of your Accused Convention Harassers Database?

  18. Ah. So what you want, Aaron, is *specifically* someone being sued for enforcing *and publicizing* their policy, not merely enforcing it. I haven’t looked at the Carrier docs in a while, so I can’t say whether the enforcing was, in his eyes, enough reason to sue.

    (Indeed, the reason, from a quick look at the suit itself, that people like Myers were named were repeating, publically, the claims against Carrier, rather than anything else.)

    So, no, that is not the position I am taking. I am taking the position that asking conventions to submit information to a central database about “incidents” or the positions they have taken regarding members/former members of their conventions is opening them up to legal jeopardy that outweighs the benefits, especially since in cases like this one, it would have granted *no* benefit; everyone involved knew about the WisCon events.

    You are free to decide what category you want to put me in; however, you are making the lives of the people who have to actually *make* these decisions — do we ban this person? Do we not? — vastly more difficult by your particular demands. One of the things that has been a repeated issue used by defenders of harassers, especially borderline cases, is the “Is it really so severe they should be kicked out?”. Adding to that “And then reported to a database so that other people can kick them out based on your report” raises the bar significantly, for a group of people who are not judges, and who did not sign up (at least to start with) for a position of significant potential *personal* financial risk.

  19. I’d love to see a database of those folks go up somewhere – we could call it ScumbagTracker.org – but I know it wouldn’t help at all in cases like this. “We haven’t heard any complaints” is just the first in a long line of obviously fake excuses these folks resort to. Excuses like that are designed to do a couple of things – satisfy Some Kinds of people who really just need any excuse at all to feel okay about defending something bad, and waste everyone else’s time.

    Toni Morrison has a really good observation about racism, and I think the core message can be applied to other forms of bigotry as well.

    The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

  20. When can we look forward to the launch of your Accused Convention Harassers Database?

    If you think this is something that could be a one-person project, or even small team project, I will laugh at you.

  21. You are free to decide what category you want to put me in; however, you are making the lives of the people who have to actually *make* these decisions — do we ban this person? Do we not? — vastly more difficult by your particular demands.

    Gee, actually dealing with serial harassers is a difficult job, and you want to make it easier to evade responsibility for doing so. Maybe the world would be better off if people who weren’t willing to make the hard choices weren’t helping to run conventions.

  22. Aaron: To get it started could be a one-person project; heck, gather up all the *reported* bannings you’ve heard of and publish them as a one-stop shop for concoms to look at and see who’s been banned from where, and why.

    That’s a one-person project, and a start.

    You’re quick to accuse others of cowardice and supporting harassers when they don’t like your idea; so, do, please get started on implementing it, or is it only important enough, as I said, for *other* people to do and take the risk?

  23. ” Gee, actually dealing with serial harassers is a difficult job, and you want to make it easier to evade responsibility for doing so. Maybe the world would be better off if people who weren’t willing to make the hard choices weren’t helping to run conventions.”

    No, I *don’t* want to make it easier. I don’t want to make it vastly *harder* for no good reason, which is not the same thing, and I would hope you can see that.

    This case — the OdysseyCon one — is one where your proposed database would have done no good. Similarly, (IIRC — please correct me if I am wrong) the Rene Walling case was one where he was allowed to volunteer at a con *after* the Readercon thing had gone significantly public.

    Now, let us consider another case: Someone who is a borderline ban — either because the behavior was arguably heinous, or because the evidence is not as strong as one might hope. Now, what do you do here, if the choice is: “Do nothing” or “Ban them and report them to the Banned Database so that other concoms know publically and are likely to ban them as well”? That’s a much higher bar for punishment than “do nothing” or “Ban them quietly, inform the people who reported them that they’ve been banned”, while “Ban them publically” remains on the table.

    I do not want to think that people will get off because the required sentence, as it were, is so high that people are loath to enforce it in borderline cases.

  24. Hey Sean,

    How about some due diligence on your part, like, oh, reading Valentinelli’s statement as well as the concom’s denial before saying “am I expected to believe the concom is conspiring to deceive everyone”? I have no idea if they were conspiring to do anything, or even if they expected to be believed, but clearly there are people who did believe their denial without checking.

    You clearly didn’t google “Jim Frenkel harassment” before assuming that you wouldn’t find anything relevant, and your idea of “due diligence” seems to be that that’s okay, because the concom also has no obligation to do even minimal checking before making someone their guest liaison, because that’s the responsibility of the people who have been invited as guests. In this case, it wouldn’t even have taken googling, unless several members of the concom had the sort of amnesia normally seen only in the plots of soap operas.

  25. gather up all the *reported* bannings you’ve heard of and publish them as a one-stop shop for concoms to look at and see who’s been banned from where, and why.

    So, in a world in which making such things public is, in your estimation, a quick route to getting sued, you acknowledge the existence of such public records, haphazard and disorganized as they are. Why haven’t there been a parade of suits over those?

    In any event, one could compile them, and I may take steps to do so, but those are already public, so I’m not sure how much added value they would provide.

    I do not want to think that people will get off because the required sentence, as it were, is so high that people are loath to enforce it in borderline cases.

    How many times did that borderline case engage in harassment before? Do you know? Is there a way for you to know? If no record is made of it, how will the next convention that has to deal with him know that this guy has a habit of harassing?

  26. @ John Seavey — I think the idea of an independent panel is worth consideration, but I wouldn’t advocate for such a panel’s decisions applying so broadly, i.e. 20-30 cons banning someone on the basis of a complaint filed with -one- con.

    I would, instead, suggest that such a panel review complaints and make a clear report and recommendation at the end of the review, and information posted publicly that “Harassment complaint for Con XX, date xx/xx/xx, reviewed and completed, recommendation made to con RE two harassment complaints. One recommendation is to do ABC, the other recommend is to do XYZ. Con has been advised to announce compliance or non-compliance with these recommendations within one calendar month.”

    I think the main attraction is to have a CONSISTENT and impartially PROCEDURAL way of dealing with harassment complaints, and to have such complaints dealt with by people who do NOT have long, close, or complex relatioships with the parties in question. Indeed, an inflexible requirement of the panel should be that you MUST recuse yourself from evaluating a particular incident if you are anything more than a scant acquaintance of the people involved. NO ONE should be handling a complaint against someone who’s been their pal for 30 years, or their spouse, or a person they know well enough to feel very sad about the things currently going on in his private life, etc., etc.

    “I know him and he’s a nice guy who didn’t harass me, so I just don’t believe it” is an attitude that has no place in an impartial examination of the complaint against an individual. Nor is, “OMG, I -hate- this person” an attitude that belongs in an impartial evluation of a complaint.

  27. Aaron: So, in a world in which making such things public is, in your estimation, a quick route to getting sued, you acknowledge the existence of such public records, haphazard and disorganized as they are. Why haven’t there been a parade of suits over those?

    A lot of people who’d like to litigate don’t because it’s expensive, time-consuming, very slow to reach a resolution, attracts additional public attention, will add to the trauma they’ve already experienced, and on top of all that, they might lose.

    You also have to remember the circumstances in which some of these incidents became public knowledge, which make apparent why litigation did not follow. For example, after the incidents at ConText in 2014, the harasser’s wife wrote about it publicly, and the harasser made a public apology.

  28. One difficulty with a common ‘serial harasser’ database is the absence of a common measuring stick for harassment. Harassment policies vary and, even when they don’t, tend to be unclear as to what constitutes harassment. That puts it in the ‘I know it when I see it’ bailiwick.

    Two people of good conscience can read the same report and come to different conclusions. Each person judging a harassment claim does so with their own cognitive biases in place. Often there are external influences or agendas that may, knowingly or unknowingly, influence a person adjudicating a harassment claim.

    It would seem to me that not everyone accused of harassment is a Jim Frenkel. ‘Harassment’ encompasses a broad range of behaviors. A person who is ill-mannered and doesn’t know when to stop running their mouth, someone who refuses to turn off their phone-camera, can be tarred with the same brush as someone who engages in sexual harassment.

    Is that the desired outcome?

    The danger of such systems is that, regardless of the originators good intentions, the system is ultimately used to keep out ‘the wrong kind of people’.

  29. Aaron, Skepticon is being sued because they talked about their decision publicly. I’m being sued because I shared that information and talked about other incidents I was aware of. I’m one of the loudest (perhaps even obnoxiously so) voices pushing for solutions to this problem, so if you want to try to suggest that anyone saying your idea is bad just doesn’t want a fix, I’m a problem for you and will remain so.

    If you want solutions that are sexier or faster than demanding more from our conrunners, volunteering to help them plan and deliver it, and holding their feet to the fire when they don’t, look to what Laura’s saying. I have some concerns about consolidating responsibility in a group that isn’t held accountable at least through ticket sales, but professionalization and standardization are what have gotten us the progress we’ve seen in how harassment is handled.

    imnotandrei, thank you.

  30. Aaron:

    So, in a world in which making such things public is, in your estimation, a quick route to getting sued, you acknowledge the existence of such public records, haphazard and disorganized as they are. Why haven’t there been a parade of suits over those?

    Well, we’ve seen one cited above. We don’t know how many haven’t been made public due to lawsuit threats. So, unless you know about said threats (and only people who have been on the inside *would*), you can’t make a judgment about how often they’ve been made/been effective.

    You see, that’s part of what’s going on here; you’re arguing from an incomplete data set, and challenging people who have more of the data set to prove their point from *yours* — when part of the entire *argument* is what is going on with the full set.

    In any event, one could compile them, and I may take steps to do so, but those are already public, so I’m not sure how much added value they would provide.

    And now, maybe, we’re getting somewhere. Now, let’s try a little thought experiment: If *publically available, non-sued-over records* have provided relatively little added value in the fight against harassment, how much do you think adding records that, for whatever reason, have been made less public, would do? Because those are likely to be the more borderline, the harder-to-prove, the more questionable cases.

    Now, weigh that benefit against the risk, and remember where the risk falls; this is a case where “it’s run by amateurs” matters — not that they are any less competent (or should be held to lower standards) — but because they are putting their own financial position at risk.

    How many times did that borderline case engage in harassment before? Do you know? Is there a way for you to know? If no record is made of it, how will the next convention that has to deal with him know that this guy has a habit of harassing?

    Part of it is the grapevine. Part of it is investigation; “Hey; we’ve received complaints against Person X for stuff that’s iffy — have you heard anything?” from one concom to another, or from people within the community to another. And of course part of it is when the case is borderline on whether it’s harassment at all or not — and no matter how we define it, there will *always* be borderline cases.

    Is it perfect? No. Is it better than what we had before? Yes, because people are starting to take the pattern into account — or, at least, *some* people are.

    I suggest that dealing with concoms who persist in working with known harassers in their midst is going to produce more results than trying to widen the investigation, especially in ways that make people more loath to report and investigate rather than less so.

  31. @ Stephanie Zvan –

    I have some concerns about consolidating responsibility in a group that isn’t held accountable at least through ticket sales,

    I agree with that concern and think it should be explored and addressed, if cons were even willing to consider some form of independent evaluation of harassment complaints.

    I think much of the arguing here, and much of the arguing around harassment in general, involves wanting to shame individuals, whether one wants to shame the victim, the accused, or the enablers. While the latter two are understandable arguments (the first one is common, though not admirable), I think they’re beside the point.

    The POINT being that as long as harassment exists in sf/f (and we have no indication that it will cease existing in our lifetime) what really needs to be addressed is widespread and effective means of handling and resolving a harassment complaint, incident, or serial problem in the community–and widespread agreement on how to address a situation where there is a conflict of interest in addressing it (such as: the harassment complaint involves friends, colleagues, or enemies of the people who are supposed to deal with this).

    While Jim Frenkel seems to be exhaustingly ubiquitous in these episodes, the real question IMO is not, “What do we do about Frenkel?” The question is, why was a KNOWN problem tolerated for so long by Tor Books, which reportedly continued sending him to cons as their rep even after being made aware of harassment issues? Why did WisCon put him on their committee (hosting in the con suite, IIRC?) after two harassment complaints were made against him the previous year? Why did another con in the same town, run by people familiar with that situation, make him Guest Liaison? Why, upon receiving a complaint about this, did they prioritize keeping a known harasser on their committee over the complaint of a GoH who had already previously complained about his harassment?

    And this is just involving involving ONE harasser. We’ve seen harassment issues like this over and over. This is systematic and should be looked at in a systematic way, IMO. It’s challenging, obviously, for many reasons–one reason being that there is wide disagreement on what does or does not constitute harassment. The sf/f community is not even in agreement (not last time I saw a discussion about this, anyhow) that groping a woman’s breast in public is sexual harassment, for chrissake, never mind on whether making unwelcome remarks to her or following her around at a party is, etc. Many people respond to stories of harassment not with a question about to address it systematically, but rather with an offer to personally beat up harassers on behalf of the victims. PRACTICAL AS THAT MAY SEEM to someone who’s upset upon reading a distressing account, it’s a pretty typical example of how dead-end and befuddled so much thinking and discussion about how to address harassment still is, let alone how confused we all are about what harassment actually IS.

    And now I have to go. Because nice people are making dinner and cocktails for me, and that is obviously where ALL my priorities are.

  32. Laura Resnick: Those priorities sound right to me, and if the rest of us could be making dinner and cocktails for you this place would have emptied out an hour ago!

  33. I have some concerns about consolidating responsibility in a group that isn’t held accountable at least through ticket sales

    Who said anything about having responsibility in a group that wasn’t accountable? The original idea I proposed was that conventions would form a voluntary association and work together to set standards for handling harassment claims and pool their information to make handling such claims easier to do. The notion that I said some unaccountable third party group would do this is the figment of the imaginations of people who have spent their time screaming about how such an idea would be the end of civilization as we know it. One reason I haven’t “done something” on my own is that the idea of creating a shared repository of incidents is only part of what I see as needed.

    The reality is that if some kind of cross-convention solution isn’t found, then fan-run conventions are likely to continue to have pervasive harassment problems, and will be seen as places that are hostile to a large proportion of their potential audience. The death knell of fan-run conventions probably isn’t going to be competition from big media conventions, but rather their inability to figure out a way to deal with harassment issues.

  34. Frenkel was a volunteer in Wiscon’s con suite, not a concom member. Bad enough, I know. That is an example of the sort of fallout you can get from not handling complaints promptly. Which we didn’t.

    That’s one reason it’s so important to have checks and balances in a harassment control system, because a lot of people don’t handle this stuff well, even if they’re not friends with the accused. You need to avoid having a single point of failure.

    It’s also important to have good internal communication, and a concom willing to ask hard questions when necessary. But those won’t help nearly as much if your single point of failure fails.

  35. Part of it is the grapevine. Part of it is investigation; “Hey; we’ve received complaints against Person X for stuff that’s iffy — have you heard anything?” from one concom to another, or from people within the community to another.

    That’s the problem. Right now the system operates on rumor, innuendo, back-channels, and word of mouth. This is an inherently unreliable system that forces every convention to re-invent the wheel every time an issue comes up. It is subject to pervasive personal bias, both for and against people being investigated, and is about as reliable a means of transmitting information as children playing a game of telephone around the dinner table. How is this a better system than one in which such information was recorded and kept in an organized and above-board manner?

  36. @Laura Resnick: I don’t automatically think that a ban is the best step, but I certainly think that if someone has been doing enough to earn a ban at one con, it doesn’t really make sense to suggest that his behavior is somehow geographically specific. Safety of attendees should always be the first priority. One of the things that predators generally count on is being able to find a new venue to continue their predation.

    Now, not everyone who gets in trouble at a con is a predator, obviously. I think it’d be okay if this hypothetical independent panel came away with other recommendations based on the situation. But I think we’re in agreement that having an independent panel with set procedures, free of bias based on local history with the attendee, is a good central premise to start from.

    @Mike Glyer: You raise a good point. I guess the most important question is, “Do you want people to know how Situation X was handled or do you want to know that they are handling situations?” The latter could be handled with a release of metadata, like, “The convention received X complaints about individuals at the convention. These were forwarded to us within an average of Y days, we returned recommendations to the convention Z days after that and the convention acted on them within the expected time period of A days. The recommendations were…” And you’d know what happened, but not to who.

    If, on the other hand, you need to do a Situation X (which might be necessary if the situation itself received publicity), then you could probably have the individual convention release a statement early along the lines of, “We take this complaint very seriously, and have already authorized an independent body to examine the situation to avoid any concerns of bias on the part of the ConCom. We will be sure to work with them to resolve this issue with the utmost haste and with the safety of attendees paramount.” And so on for the lifespan of the incident. Having a clearly defined procedure would allow everyone to see that things were proceeding, instead of it all bubbling up quickly and then being swept under the rug.

  37. This is an inherently unreliable system that forces every convention to re-invent the wheel every time an issue comes up.

    Not so. I can speak from experience, having dealt with conventions that have a policy, have a plan, and execute it. Sometimes it’s easy to look at the evidence and go “Yeah, no. Thanks, but you’re not coming back.” Sometimes it’s very hard. And it constantly evolves as a process, just as any quasi-legal process does.

    How is this a better system than one in which such information was recorded and kept in an organized and above-board manner?

    I do love the implicit accusation of dishonesty in your question. First off, of course, is that having it be public, and even organized, does not make it “above-board” — it makes it available for more dispute.

    The second is that, again, it places much less risk on people who didn’t sign up for it, aren’t prepared to deal with it (often), and shouldn’t be in a position to have to do so, as I’ve said before, repeatedly, and you apparently refuse to hear.

    If members of concoms were told “Hey, just so you know, if you have a harassment case at your con, you, personally, could get sued for upwards of a hundred thousand dollars, because we are bound to report any action we take about harrassers or any incident that *might* be consider harassment publically”, I suspect you’d rapidly find concom volunteers drying up. I know I couldn’t responsibly take such a position for my family’s sake — because there might be a borderline case.

    I have seen people not want to report small things because they might be the person who is the final straw that broke the camel’s back on an individual being considered a harasser — and this idea of making everything public just makes the pressure *not* to do that much, much worse.

    Indeed, this is the argument for Laura’s impartial, external body — presumably supplied amply with lawsuit insurance by cons who want to buy into their services. Then they could do it, and gather the small bits of information that might make a case against a serial harasser.

    I mean, I suppose we could start putting in the fine print of all convention memberships that con members sign away their rights to sue the convention for anything regarding their reputation/behavior; I wonder how much outrage that would spark, though it would also, in theory, solve that particular part of the problem. (I am not recommending this: I am pointing out some rather extreme measures that could work, without putting a great burden on a few volunteers.)

    One thing I would strongly recommend to you is that you stop accusing everyone who doesn’t agree with your particular solutions, or considers that there might be other factors than theoretical maximal effectiveness in dealing with possible harassers as enablers and minimizers. Otherwise, all you’re going to do is make people you mgiht be able to work with throw up their hands at you and tell you to buzz off.

  38. @Sean Kirk:

    Any professionals in any industry who is asked to be a GOH or panelist at a convention or a trade show should always perform some due diligence, and know who exactly they are who they are getting into bed with and associating themselves with.

    Bullshit.

    As someone who has worked on well over a hundred conventions on every position from random labor to chair, that’s the politest way I can summarize your statement. A guest is a guest; the concom isn’t required to make themselves less than the dust under the guest’s feet, but they are far more under obligation to ensure that the con is well-conducted than the guest is to find out whether the convention will be well-conducted — especially since they’re expecting the guest to help draw people to the convention. “Due diligence” is for investments.

    Aaron on April 12, 2017 at 7:24 am said:
    Please. You present as a lawyer and claim not to understand the difference between a hypothetical and an actual?

    I can’t give a legal-form citation, but I can point to a case beyond Skepticon: Arisia banned a certain person (over 20 years after I first argued they should be banned from Boskone) and had to deal with a lawsuit because the person in question apparently had the money to start one — and IIRC that was without an announcement.

  39. It would probably be a lot safer for concoms in places which have decent Anti-SLAPP laws on the books. Unfortunately, that’s barely more than half of the US states.

  40. Not so. I can speak from experience, having dealt with conventions that have a policy, have a plan, and execute it.

    Yes so. Any system that relies upon word of mouth is inherently unreliable for transmitting accurate information. This is not something that is even debatable. Oral accounts handed from person to person have been shown to be unreliable in multiple studies on the issue.

  41. You present as a lawyer and claim not to understand the difference between a hypothetical and an actual?

    The fact that I am a lawyer is why I discount speculative hypotheticals as a means of determining policy. Hypotheticals are next to valueless when determining actual legal risk.

    I can’t give a legal-form citation

    Then I’m not going to take you seriously. Unless the actual particulars of the case are available to evaluate, everything you say is just hazy memory, and that is never particularly reliable even under the best of circumstances.

  42. If members of concoms were told “Hey, just so you know, if you have a harassment case at your con, you, personally, could get sued for upwards of a hundred thousand dollars, because we are bound to report any action we take about harrassers or any incident that *might* be consider harassment publically”, I suspect you’d rapidly find concom volunteers drying up. I know I couldn’t responsibly take such a position for my family’s sake — because there might be a borderline case.

    Those volunteers are already at risk of lawsuit for a myriad of reasons, ranging from personal injuries sustained by con-goers, to contracts gone bad. If you are concerned about the risk of lawsuits from people who have been found to harass others at the convention, why aren’t you concerned about all of those other risks?

  43. I do love the implicit accusation of dishonesty in your question.

    You’re the one who brought the notion of dishonesty into this conversation. I just said the process should be above-board, not the collection of back-channel, word of mouth system that there is now. No one said that the current system is run dishonestly, but it is a system that is run under a cloak of secrecy.

  44. Indeed, this is the argument for Laura’s impartial, external body — presumably supplied amply with lawsuit insurance by cons who want to buy into their services. Then they could do it, and gather the small bits of information that might make a case against a serial harasser.

    Gee, its almost as if that was the sort of thing I originally suggested when I first brought up this idea months ago. If only you’d bothered to inform yourself before running your mouth.

    In any event, if you are worried about getting sued as a concom member, then outsourcing the job to a third party won’t help you. If you hire an agent, you are legally responsible for the actions that agent takes on your behalf.

  45. Pegasus Games has withdrawn their support from Oddyssey Con:

    “Pegasus Games prides itself in always having been a family-friendly game store, by which we mean welcoming of all ages, all experience levels, all game styles, all genders, all gender-identities. We are disappointed in the Odyssey Con Committee’s failure to treat the initial complaint of the inclusion of a known harasser on the committee with the gravity it deserved. We are further disturbed by the sharing of private e-mails and social media conversations without permission.
    At this time we feel the need to withdraw our sponsorship of the 2017 convention.
    In the future, if we feel that OddCon has addressed all relevant issues in a mature manner that affirms the dignity of all deserving parties, we will certainly consider re-instating our support of Odyssey Con.”

  46. Gee, its almost as if that was the sort of thing I originally suggested when I first brought up this idea months ago. If only you’d bothered to inform yourself before running your mouth.

    I think it’s a bit excessive to fault someone for not reading old discussions. They’re really long. We never shut up.

    By the time this discussion is over you’ll be the only person you take seriously. And then where will we be?

  47. Victor Raymond has offered his thoughts on Facebook. Excerpt:

    WisCon already messed up regarding Jim Frenkel. I know, because I was part of that screw-up. As Safety head for WisCon 37, I was one of the people who dealt with the situation at WisCon 37 and I did not ensure that the matter was properly passed on to the WisCon 38 committee. I assumed that the incoming con chairs would handle the situation, after I informed them that it was an open issue. That was a mistake, and I take responsibility for it.

  48. Aaron: Whether I agree or disagree with your actual concept is currently irrelevant to what i think is my central point: you seem to think the only reason anyone might have to disagree with your idea is that they do not CARE about the problem. You keep saying this, and it is by far the MOST insulting thing you are saying.

    You cannot possibly imagine that people who care about ending harassment could have differing ideas how to go about it? Differing concerns? Differing orders of priority?

    This smacks of puppy levels of “If you’re not with us you are a group traitor”. It smacks of the very demand for groupthink the left is so often wrongly accused of and a very personally arrogant conviction that you are the only one who has any reasonable answers.

    Negging your allies and compatriots is not the way.

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