When author Genevieve Valentine came home from Readercon she protested the harassment she’d experienced from a man at the con – repeated, unwanted touching – and described the discomfort she felt when he approached to apologize and remained in the vicinity of the Clarkesworld table she was staffing.
Particularly because Readercon has a published zero-tolerance policy towards harassment fans have been following the complaint, waiting to see how it would be handled. The con committee rapidly came to a decision, announced on its website July 27:
We followed up those reports with interviews with the target of the harassment, various witnesses, and Rene Walling, the harasser. The information we collected and reviewed was consistent, consequently, we feel the facts of the incident are not in dispute.
When we wrote our zero-tolerance policy in 2008 (in response to a previous incident), we were operating under the assumption that violators were either intent on their specific behaviors, clueless, or both.
During the course of our conversation with Rene it became immediately apparent that he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions. It was that recognition and regret that influenced our decision, not his status in the community. If, as a community, we wish to educate others about harassment, we must also allow for the possibility of reform.
Our decision was suspension of his membership for at least two years.
René Walling is a high-profile fan — co-chair of the 2009 Worldcon, a writer for Tor.com, and Arisia’s fan GoH in 2011. He is also on the Kansas City in 2016 bid committee. Some have questioned whether that is why Readercon did not follow through with its policy of “permanent suspension of membership.”
Valentine was dissatisfied with the result despite feeling there were some positive aspects:
But if I go back [to next year’s Readercon], I will go back knowing that some reports of harassment are more valid than others, and that if someone gets harassed there, they should be sure they are receiving the kind that falls under the con’s sexual harassment policy. (You will need to brush up; I was told they are rewriting it for next year, for undisclosed reasons.)
Nick Mamatas thought Readercon should have stuck to its guns:
Really, if a con or other organization wants flexibility in consequences for harassment, build it into the policy. Offering only one consequence—banned! for! life!—and then failing to follow through means that there either is no real policy, or that the policy only applies to special people.
However, Readercon’s lenient penalty unexpectedly resonates with Walling’s 2009 post to the Convention Anti-Harassment Project where he agreed with someone’s snarky opinion:
“yes, actually, because you are a woman I will give you the benefit of the doubt.”
See, that’s where I have to drop out of their idea. Because I’m a guy I don’t get the benefit of the doubt? I don’t think that’s right.
I am a decent person as are many other men. (note: I am NOT saying there are no indecent men)
Meanwhile, Lynnne Thomas’ disapproval of Readercon’s decision is typical of many of the early responses:
This is the kind of experience that discourages women from attending conventions. If I don’t feel safe reporting harassment at a convention because you have an enforceable and enforced policy in place, then I don’t feel safe being at your convention. Period.
Why, then, should I care enough about your convention to participate in it? Why would I volunteer to do panels? You’re asking me to put myself out there without the assurance that it will be safe to do so.
[Thanks to Dan Goodman for the story.]
Update 07/28/2012: Corrected year Walling was Arisia fan GoH.