Jim Frenkel Banned By Wiscon

A year ago, the unnamed alleged harasser in a widely publicized incident at WisCon 37 was eventually identified as Jim Frenkel. He soon thereafter lost his position as a Tor editor.

WisCon 38 was held in May and several fans complained because the committee allowed Frenkel to attend and even volunteer in the con suite.

Now he has been provisionally banned from WisCon through 2018.

Whatever influenced Frenkel’s decision to attend this year, travel wasn’t an issue because he lives in Madison where the con takes place.

In response to the complaints WisCon agreed, “We know that we have failed very significantly in how we followed up on a couple of incident reports from WisCon 36 and WisCon 37.”

Ariel Franklin-Hudson, Wiscon 38/39 Head of Safety, apologized and explained that despite Elise Matthesen having made an official harassment report in 2013 the committee had failed to reduce it to a formal record or document:

During WisCon 37, and for many previous WisCons, WisCon Safety maintained a notebook in which Safety volunteers on duty during the convention recorded incidents as they happened — anything from loose plastic on the 6th floor party hall to a report of harassment. This informal log book was WisCon Safety’s only form of record keeping, and WisCon had no official procedure or system in place to convert those notes into a formal written record. I want to stress that the notes, and the log book for WisCon 37, were never lost or mislaid; but because they are notes only, WisCon does not have a formal written record of Elise Matthesen’s report. Reports made to Safety were transferred through the log book, and orally from Safety volunteer to Head of Safety; in large part, this was because of volunteer informality, and Safety’s traditionally minor role at WisCon, but confidentiality was also an important consideration.
Everyone in WisCon Safety and WisCon leadership from WisCon 37 through WisCon 39 understands that Elise made a formal report; this has never been in doubt.

So the fragmentary information needed to generate a WisCon Safety Incident Report was reassembled.

Her report was treated with extreme seriousness at the time, including follow-ups by Co-Chairs with both Elise and with Jim Frenkel. These follow-ups have some email trail, and the WisCon 37 Co-Chairs — Jackie Lee, Kafryn Lieder, and Gretchen Treu — have now created a formal report based on the log book notes, the email trail, and their memories. In addition, the log book notes of Elise’s report from WisCon 37 have now been entered into a formal WisCon Safety Incident Report Form; I initiated these Incident Report Forms for WisCon 38.

And now WisCon’s harassment subcommittee has provisionally banned Frenkel for up to four years

WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years  (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is “provisional”  because if Jim  Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of  behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.

The subcommittee – Debbie Notkin, Ariel Franklin-Hudson, Jacquelyn Gill, Jim Hudson and Jackie Lee — signed the decision “as an act of transparency and an acknowledgment of WisCon’s previous failures in this regard” although they say WisCon’s policy is to keep incident subcommittees anonymous. 

[Via SF Site News.]

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23 thoughts on “Jim Frenkel Banned By Wiscon

  1. I do not approve of sexual harassment and/or battery, but in no report about this have I ever read what it was that Mr. Frenkel was accused of doing. What was so heinous that he both lost his job and is publicly ostracized? These are both extraordinarily severe punishments for something which occurred during a casual, multi-person, convention conversation, but I, and I suspect others, have no basis on which to make a judgment for themselves of the events.

  2. I read that link, and the links from it. I still sense a remarkable vagueness in what specifically he was accused of which would be considered sexual violence — my perception is that the heart of what he did which was considered so heinous is still being danced around rather than stated specifically.

    I do note that one of the links from the link is to a person who hypocritically engaged in an emotionally violent, permanently damaging, internet harassment and bullying of someone with whom he/she had never before had a physical or written relationship, just because all her/his friends were involved in it. As that person is involved in WisCon programming, it’s a fair bet that the person he/she harassed as part of that group will never be attending a WisCon again, either, even though the harassment and bullying was non-sexual in nature.

  3. @ David Klaus: “what it was that Mr. Frenkel was accused of doing. What was so heinous that he both lost his job and is publicly ostracized? ”

    RE loss of job–as I understand it, when one (or, as it later emerged, TWO) harassment complaints were made against Mr. Frenkel for his behavior at WisCon 2013 (with witnesses in both instances, I’ve read), he was attending in his capacity as an editor at an imprint of MacMillan, a very large publishing corporation–which may well have taken a typical corporate view that his being the subject of such complaint(s) while representing the corporation at an event made him a legal liability they preferred to shed. One standard-level editor in a corporation the size of MacMillan (a company paying out tens of millions in settlement monies over the antitrust price-fixing scandal, for example) is probably not seen as being worth the risk of litigation in a harassment suit. His corporate masters may not have been concerned with what Mr. Frenkel specifically did so much as what they might be asked to pay out as recompense for sending him as their representative to conventions where his behavior led to such complaints.

  4. Okay, correction, it’s vaguer than I remember. But it does address the fact that Tor had received complaints before. So he wasn’t fired for just that one time.

  5. After reading almost everything I could find on this incident regarding Jim Frenkel, I am compelled to ask the following questions:

    A) Exactly what did Jim Frenkel allegedly do (or say) to Elise Matthesen?
    B) Was this a physical and/or a verbal confrontation?
    C) Were there any witnesses to this incident?
    D) What was the process of investigation by the con-com?
    E) Was there any oversight to insure both parties were fairly represented?
    F) How were witnesses interviewed; in person, by phone or email?
    G) Did the convention committee consider bringing in an independent, third party to make a determination about these events?
    H) Who is going to determine whether or not Mr. Frenkel has been “rehabilitated” and will that process be made public?

    After the Readercon incident in 2012, I thought it was a great idea for conventions to issue non-harassment policies to insure that everyone knows what sort of behavior is acceptable and has a good time. But that also means that the convention committee MUST insure that if there is an incident, what happens next must be fair, transparent and public.

    I don’t want to dismiss the allegations and complaints of Elise Matthesen and others nor do I want to think the very worst of Jim Frenkel, but I can’t do so either one way or the other by allegations that have been presented so far.

    While I support vigorous investigations of harassment and assaults at conventions, any established system must be evenhanded and unbiased, lest an innocent party be smeared by anyone bearing a grudge, for life.

    Since, in my opinion, the Wiscon con-com has totally bungled this , I cannot form an informed opinion about any this.

  6. The accusations seem rather nebulous. Also, was there no actual criminal complaint filed with the police or any sort of legal proceedings? Something seems fishy here folks.

  7. Chris: There is a division of opinion about making the details public. Some think confidentiality spares the victim. Some feel the bright light of day is exactly what the harasser deserves — see today’s post by secritcrush which says in part:

    End the cloud of secrecy. Yes, anyone who reports harassment is entitled to have their details and circumstances of this harassment kept private, but no such confidentiality should be extended to the harasser if the accusations are found to be valid. It should be announced when people are banned from the convention and for how long. The community should be kept safe from those who choose to harass.

  8. There are no specific allegations, because then lawyers get involved. Suffice it to say that his reputation for certain behaviors goes back to the previous century

    In an age where people react very negatively to reports that decades ago Isaac Asimov, John Brunner, and others engaged in conduct which *now* is considered abhorrent, the bars for certain conduct have been lowered.

  9. “…lest an innocent party be smeared by anyone bearing a grudge, for life.

    What planet are you from? Claude Degler still hasn’t been forgiven eighty years after his sins/alleged sins.

    Innocent parties being smeared by grudge-bearers is to some merely faanish sport, something akin to fox-hunting, only with humans being run to ground.

  10. Dear David,

    “I, and I suspect others, have no basis on which to make a judgment for themselves of the events.”

    And what in the world makes you think you should? You have no standing in the matter, legally, morally, or socially. Whether or not you would agree with the decisions regarding Mr. Frenkel, if you had all the salient details at your disposal, is of no importance whatsoever.

    Your judgement is supremely irrelevant.

    Other than your egocentric interest, what possible reason is there for any of the principals involved to indulge your whim?

    And, under the heading of sauce for the goose: I’m privy to information regarding the history of this matter that has not been part of the public discussion, and I choose to hold my tongue because I don’t have standing either! It is not about me.

    Similarly, it is not about you.

    pax / Ctein

  11. Dear Ctein,

    You are correct in that I have no standing in these events. Nor do I think this situation is about me. I am honestly curious about a portion of a public discussion about which certain information vital to understanding seems to be being withheld. I am not trying to probe into private matters none of my business, but asking further about information publicly published. Nobody is required to answer my questions, a condition with which I can live, and I have no intention to keep bugging people about it — if nobody wishes to answer the questions I’ve posted, that’s acceptable to me.

    I haven’t had contact with you since SunCon in 1977, so I don’t understand why you feel the need to address me in so hostile a tone, but I am not going to return such. I’ve no wish for a flamewar, only peace.

    Regardless of tone, the points you make are reasonable and I will take note of them and action about them.

    I wish nobody any further harm in this unfortunate set of situations.

    Next year in Luna City,

    David K. M. Klaus

  12. Dear David,

    Please do not misunderstand. I bear you no ill will nor animosity. None whatsoever. I just have little patience with this line of inquiry.

    The short answer to why details are not forthcoming in some incidents is that the women don’t wish to provide them. There are other incidents with Frenkel reported by other women online where they have gone into details. That’s the choice of the women involved.

    The long answer: There are many reasons why a woman might not want to present the details to the outside world. The question of legal liability is NOT a primary one. In fact, last year when this all developed, and some intimations were raised that it *might* result in lawsuits, a cadre of attorneys came forward and offered their services pro bono, to any woman who wanted to report harassment and was fearful of retaliation. Just in case. In fact, no minimally credible threat of lawsuit ever materialized.

    But here are two common reasons why a woman would not provide the details. One is that she might not wish to be forced to relive the incident, by having to sit down and construct a clear, coherent, ever-so-carefully worded and meticulously-detailed chronicle of all pertinent events before, during, and after the harassment incident.

    Why would she have to construct such a laborious account? That gets to the second common reason. Because whenever such a report is made, no matter how detailed and specific it is, an unpleasant number of men (and, sadly, a few women) will come out of the woodwork and do their damnedest to discredit her. They will second-guess, Monday-morning-quarterback, belittle, gaslight, dismiss, and disabuse. They will put the woman making the accusation on trial and attempt to convict her with her own words.

    If you go reading through the myriad pages of comments on the Wiscon incidents, you will have no trouble finding any number of such postings.

    Not so remarkably, many victims of harassment do not wish to be subject to that kind of cross examination by a bunch of strangers who weren’t even there, truly have no standing in the matter, and have a demonstrable interest in making her out to be deluded or a liar.

    To be sure, it’s only a minority of the audience who are jerks, but there is more than a sufficient number of them to make things very unpleasant.

    John Scalzi reported on the Mathesen/Frenkel incident last year, in his blog. If you go read the lengthy set of comments there, you are likely to learn far more than you’d ever want to know about how the process plays out.

    pax / Ctein

  13. Dear Ctein,

    Thank you for your clarifications and good will.

    All good wishes,

    David K. M. Klaus

  14. This smacks of smear campaign and vendetta, and Wiscon’s coming back to it after dismissing it at the time turns it into seriously unfair double jeopardy.

    When somebody has his livelihood stripped from him and his name blackened all across the internet, and not satisfied with that, his accusers come back a year later to bar him from socializing with his friends at a public event in his own hometown, the exact offense needs to be made clear and witnesses need to confirm it.

    I was at that Wiscon. I know Frenkel and Matthesen only casually, but I attended several parties they were both at and witnessed no altercation or friction between them, not even dirty looks across the room. And by all accounts, whatever Matthesen claims happened occurred in public — after a brief discussion in a room party. I cannot imagine what Frenkel could have done under such circumstances that would not immediately have been heard of all over the convention. But there was no buzz, no rumor, no pointed fingers, no nothing until Matthesen and her friends began spreading this very vague but extremely damaging innuendo online.

    If he laid hands on her or offered to publish her work in exchange for sexual favors, then all of this is justified. Short of that? This punishment goes beyond overkill.

    And all this stuff about Frenkel having behaved badly for years so that women warned each other about him? All I can say is that, as a woman moving in the same circles, nobody ever warned _me_. All I ever heard was that he had a reputation for mouthing off. So maybe he said something insulting. But the response is carrying a fan feud to extremes.

    Wiscon’s latest action makes me ashamed to be a Wisconsin fan and a feminist, and I will not be attending Wiscon again. I would sign my name, but the way Matthesen’s supporters have piled on with online nastiness makes me afraid of them.

  15. That you didn’t see whatever you think should have followed an incident of harassment is not evidence one way or another. Consider the example of Connie Willis after Harlan Ellison groped her at the Hugos — that she held her composure doesn’t mean there was no offense.

    Readers also should not lose sight of this line from Matthesen’s latest post:

    Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

    So although the degree of detail you call for is unlikely to be provided, Matthesen states that physical contact was part of the harassment.

  16. Dear “Wisconsin Femmefan ”

    And I do not, for one moment, believe you are remotely any of what you claim to be. Including your fabricated need for anonymity.

    Frenkel was terminated because of multiple complaints from credible complainants, of on-the-job sexual harassment over a span of many years. He was terminated after having been warned, on the job, about that behavior several years ago and failing to change it.

    His behavior has been witnessed by numerous others. If I believed for one moment you were as you clam (and I don’t) I’d point out the obvious– that your failure to witness a behavior dos not make liars of myriad others who have.

    But I don’t need to make that point, because you are a transparent fraud.


  17. I don’t have a problem if a woman (or man) wishes to make a complaint and keep it private. But Matthesen didn’t do that. Instead, she announced that she had made a complaint on multiple blogs, and she did so in a way that made it pretty much inevitable that the person against whom she complained would be identified.

    Sure, in general, it’s not our business, and it’s not our place to judge whether a particular complaint is valid. But in this case, she made it a matter of public discussion and debate. If you want privacy, cool. But keep it private.

    In this case, she besmirched a man’s reputation — accused him of sexual harassment. But she (and those who publicly advocate for her) leave out details necessary to evaluate a very public claim they are making. If you are going to accuse him of something in public, then be prepared to provide substantiating details.

  18. When the word “sexual” is a modifier in a harassment story suddenly people demand to have their prurient interest satisfied.

    If Matthesen had reported “John Doe stole my car” would you still be itching for details? “I’m not going to believe her car was stolen til I know the make, model, color, and registration number, whether it was locked, what time of day it was, how she decided John Doe did it, did he have accomplices, etc.”

    There are several different arguments in favor of omitting the details. While not the most important argument, nevertheless, this is a topic that attracts commenters with an agenda, as a result, details do not allay skepticism.

  19. Dear Zippy,

    Along with what Mike said so very well…

    Aside from prurient interest, there is really no need for the details to be published. Nobody except Elise, Wiscon and Tor have standing in this matter, so there is no reason to let anyone else Monday-morning-quarterback the decision.

    If you really feel this is your business, you should be less concerned with his reputation being “besmirched” than his ass being fired by his long-term employer. That’s a far more serious consequence. So, that information having been placed on the intertubes (by his former boss, no less), do you also feel it is incumbent upon Tor to make all the details behind that decision public, so that you may judge for yourself if the termination was appropriate?

    I am hoping you understand that this is a rhetorical question.

    Now, if you think you might be at risk of harassment from Frenkel or/and wish to know how much of a risk/threat he really presents to you personally (or to a convention you’re running), I’d suggest approaching Elise in person with your concerns. She might or might not choose to share information with you. I can’t speak for her on that. But I know her pretty well and I think I can reassure you she’s not likely to get pissed off at you asking her, individually and privately in person, “I’m afraid of this guy, too. How afraid do I/(my convention) need to be?”

    But other than that, no you really aren’t entitled to know how a particular bit of sausage gets made, even though it is public knowledge that there is sausage. That is not how the world works. It’s really not. Not even if you sincerely believe that Elise, Wiscon, **AND** TOR should make all their evidence and reason available to you for judgement.

    pax / Ctein

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