Readercon Bans René Walling for 2 Years

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, 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.

37 thoughts on “Readercon Bans René Walling for 2 Years

  1. I’m shocked. But, despite the difficulty of establishing the facts in such cases, I have to go along with Rene that unsubstantiated complaints shouldn’t be enough to condemn anyone. It’s a basic principle of justice that one is innocent until proven guilty and that accusations must be proven. It gives too much power to the accuser, otherwise. Simply a wrong word could led to prison… or, in this case, banishment.

  2. Taral,

    We are not talking about unsubstantiated complaints here; we are talking about substantiated complaints, plural.

    I think your post here is the first time I have seen anyone raise the red herring of “unsubstantiated complaints” in this affair. By raising it you are suggesting that Walling’s victims are making it all up. Was that what you intended?

  3. Accusations must indeed be proven. However, according to the official Readercon statement:
    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…. 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.

    So he admits he did it, the witnesses and victim testify he did it, even the Board agrees he did it.

  4. Taral:

    unsubstantiated complaints shouldn’t be enough to condemn anyone

    And what about thoroughly substantiated complaints? Because in this case several people other than Valentine came forward to corroborate her version, and the Readercon committee’s statement states quite clearly that the facts of the harassment are not in dispute. Given that according to that same statement Walling has expressed remorse, implying that he has admitted to the wrongdoing himself, your comment all the more irrelevant and infuriating, exemplifying as it does the tendency to dismiss and disbelieve claims of harassment and abuse even when the evidence for them is overwhelming.

  5. I was totally, completely and utterly shocked to read the headline; I’ve not known Rene for long but have been getting better acquainted at bid table after bid table over the past year or so and have to say that not for one second did I suspect any kind of behavior issues. He struck me as an involved and experienced fan – nothing more, nothing less.

    That said: I’m a rules maven and have watched many an event (sporting and con) hoisted on its own petard because of rules that have unintended consequences (for the authors).

    One piece of advice I always give rules writers is this: NEVER write a rule that you are not willing to enforce to the maximum – regardless of the circumstances.

    A similar situation once found an event promoter in the unfortunate position of having to ban one of the event’s major sponsors because they’d violated a ‘zero tolerance’ rules (albeit innocently and unintentionally) – OR – piss off a good percentage of the paying customers who felt that the rule breaker was receiving special treatment because of their status as big money sponsors.

    I do not know what the real circumstances, intents or details were in the Readercon incident. Clearly the committee reviewing the situation felt that they warranted suspension. But now they are in exactly the same circumstances that the event promoter was.

    My suggestion for the Readercon committee is this: enforce the rule(s) as written so that everyone will know that they apply regardless of any secondary considerations.

    THEN re-write the rules (if it is believed that is necessary) and include a clause that allows those who have been “banned for life” under the rule a possible path of redemption: perhaps the opportunity to have the ban lifted after two years following a review.

    Preserve the integrity of the system that has been laid down because that system was put in place for EVERYONE and then modify the rule later (appropriately) based on the lessons learned as time goes by.

  6. Taral Wayne – you should read the Readercon decision, specifically the last half of the first paragraph quoted above. I say ‘read’ instead of ‘reread’ for reasons that should be obvious. I am curious as to where you are getting Rene’s statement about ‘unsubstantiated complains’ that you are agreeing with.

    This is not an ‘innocent until provent guilty’ case. This is a case of “pleading guilty but apologizing”. Is it a basic principle of justice that if someone says they’re really really sorry that they should get a much reduced punishment? Or is that only true for certain someones – or certain accusers?

  7. Hi,
    I’ve known René for years and years and do not understand what happened at ReaderCon. I read the Live Journal entries, and still don’t get it. He touched her elbow? He put his arm around her and helped her through a crowd? Maybe there’s a cultural difference, but in Montreal people are always hugging and kissing. I was embarrassed a bit when I first moved into this area, and still find the hugging a bit difficult, but when in Rome..etc. What I understand from this is that René realized the lady was discomfited and tried 3 times to apologize only to be called a stalker. He was honest with the committee, he realized he had offended the lady, he tried to apologise but was rebuffed.

    Is there more to this story than has been published on line?

  8. Cathy – that’s one interpretation, most likely Rene’s interpretation, of what happened.

    From the victim’s standpoint, however, it’s more like “the guy made unwelcome advances and was rebuffed, showed up later and touched her, was rebuffed more sharply, then KEPT SHOWING UP NEARBY AND TRYING TO TALK TO HER AGAIN – for the rest of the convention.”

    I don’t care how sorry you are, if you can’t get the apology in immediately, following someone around like a stalker to try to apologize is only going to make it worse, not better.

  9. Tell me, is it a common practice in Canada to inform a lady of your “dirty thoughts” about her a few minutes after meeting her? To repeatedly put your hand on the arm of a woman you’ve just met even though she keeps pushing it off and backing away? To, after you’ve been explicitly rebuffed, grab that lady from behind?

    He tried to apologize once and was indeed rebuffed. She didn’t need him to apologize. She needed him to leave her alone.

  10. Cathy – I think your personal affection for Rene has caused you to rewrite the situation. He repeatedly touched her even though she was uncomfortable, and told her to stop saying things that made him want to say “wrong things”. I’m comfortably certain that’s creepy in any context, and I notice it didn’t make it into your recap. He didn’t ‘help her through a crowd’, he went up to her and put his arm around her. He didn’t “try 3 times to apologize”, he refused to accept her response of “Don’t want to talk about it, don’t worry about it, goodbye” and kept trying to get an answer he liked better.

    Also, if you had to adjust to a different culture when you moved to Montreal, by the same token isn’t Rene obligated to adjust when he’s in New England? This isn’t the first time he’s left Montreal, after all.

  11. Cathy — One more point, which you seem not to understand: the “[trying] 3 times to apologize” isn’t mitigation of the original harassment, it’s a continuation of the original harassment. Mr. Walling had been told explicitly that his target did not want to have anything further to do with him. He knew that his attentions were unwelcome; the attempts to “apologize” (which deserves the scarequotes in this case) were about his comfort, not hers. And they constituted, once again, a demand for the victim’s time and attention, to which he had no possible right.

    He doesn’t get to make her pay attention to him. He doesn’t get to insist, repeatedly, that she use her time and life force to make him feel better about his bad behavior. And that he tried to do those things after being warned off in terms that no reasonable person could misconstrue doesn’t exactly help his case here.

  12. I suspect that the culture clash in question isn’t so much Montreal-New England as 1970-2012. It hasn’t always been the case that fan culture—any more than mainstream culture—has valued or acknowledged women’s freedom to participate in public life without being the target of threatening behavior or unwanted sexual contact.

    But we do, now.

    And the existence of a different past doesn’t—can’t—excuse continuing to pressure someone for contact or validation after she has clearly indicated her discomfort and unwillingness to proceed. We’ve agreed that harassment matters, now, which is why we have policies about it. And it’s on the board to enforce the rules they established. Doing otherwise is a breach of faith.

  13. @Ian: What are my thoughts? I felt quite sad and sick as I read the things I linked to. I hated to hear that any con was a venue where heartbreaking things could happen, although we know they do.

    Happens in clubs, too. I’ve been part of organizations that had to deal with a couple situations like this. Frankly, we were unequal to the job thrust upon us of choosing consequences for the behavior.

    The first time had nothing to do with harassment. One club member had stolen stuff from another, then been arrested and jailed. The facts were clear. Still, there were several members who oposed revoking the fellow’s membership. I believe they worried that if we started kicking people out of the club, even for strong reasons, we could go down the slippery slope to voting people out for any reason and they didn’t feel all that secure about their own future as members. That’s always a good question: Is the process I’m engaged in one I’d submit myself to? If it’s not, what are we doing wrong?

    Years later the club was asked to revoke another person’s membership and this time the charge was harassment. Both parties appeared at a Board of Directors meeting, gave statements and answered questions. They disagreed with each other’s version of events. And that was a sticking point. Hard to render a fair decision when it’s not clear what really happened and the accused strongly disputes the complaint. The fellow eventually did have his membership revoked on other grounds. This all happened before the invention of the internet, but it contained many of the elements driving the controversy over the Readercon decision except for the violation of an explicitly worded policy.

    When the person’s membership was finally revoked the decision was not explicitly about either the old or new accusation but under the rationale that members can decide that they don’t want to associate with a person anymore.

    That decision seemed worthy of Solomon in the 1980s but it would be a failure today. If harassment is the issue, not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done (as the saying goes), otherwise the organization ends up looking as if it is abetting the conduct it opposes. That’s why I found Readercon’s decision surprising. They held themselves out as enforcing an explicit policy and they apparently had the great good fortune of working with a factual record that all parties accepted.

    I haven’t researched the question and it may be this is more prevalent than I know, so I will just admit my surprise that Readercon had an explicit harassment policy in the first place. In one way it attaches to the idea that hosts are responsible for the safety of their guests, but are clubs or con committees legally equipped to take that responsibility? Many of the things defined as harassment are violations of local or state law. As difficult as women have found it to get governmental authorities to deal with questions of harassment, I think it’s more realistic to refer people to that alternative than expect fan organizations to impartially investigate and then take steps that can lay them open to litigation which they are neither socially nor financially able to withstand.

  14. Yes, my bad. I rushed through the official statements and overlooked their interviews and Rene’s own statement. Under the circumstances, I guess he was let off leniently.

  15. @Taral: I appreciate the clarification.

    @Dan: True, and how do you see that fitting into this situation?

  16. Mike wrote:
    >I haven’t researched the question and it may be this is more prevalent than I know, so I will just admit my surprise that Readercon had an explicit harassment policy in the first place.

    There have been several incidents recently. which led to the formatin of the Con Anti-Harassment Project a few years ago . Windycon also has an harassment policy that I helped write (along with Jim Hines, who has written on the harassment problem at cons several times on his blog).

    They list some incidents in their FAQ at

  17. I condemn the Readercon con-com for adopting a ‘zero tolerance policy” in the first place.
    It’s inflexible and does not allow for sincere apologies, personal growth after misunderstandings, accidents, personal grudges and animosities between the parties involved, lying, set ups or other situations.

    This policy has also painted Readcon into a tight political corner; it has imposed a two year ban on Rene Walling when the policy they imposed clearly states a lifetime band is called for.

    The whole situation is a mess and there will be NO easy nor quick way to resolve it.

    My advice to would be revise the suspension policy with a wider rage of punishments and make said proceeding public, so everyone understands the consequences of any sort harassment.

  18. Rereading the original blog, I realize that I glossed over:

    At one point he said I had to stop saying things that “made [him] want to say “wrong” things”; I shut him down politely, turned my back on him, and talked to someone else until he eventually left.

    I’m very used to hearing second language people saying”wrong things” I did not make the same assumptions that others did. (It’s very common, for instance, for Francophones to say “sensible” when they mean “sensitive” or “deceived” when they meant “disappointed”.)

    Maybe too much television, too, I sort of thought of police interrogations, where they do get people saying all the wrong things, ie things that get twisted, misinterpreted.

    I also am inclined to accept apologies. Apologies are so very rare, I don’t doubt their sincerity unless I have reason to believe someone twisted somebody’s arm behind his/her back.

    Leaving aside all that–I do know René, so everything I’ve read about the incident is obviously filtered through that glass–A more important issue is the code of conduct and its implementation and enforcement.

    Readercon made a zero tolerance rule, and should have enforced it, but then found they didn’t want to because René is a BNF. So now they are guilty of a double standard, which is also wrong.

  19. Cathy, did you also gloss over the bits about the facts of the matter not being in question and René’s admission of guilt? What are you not getting here? Your friend is a sexual harasser and has admitted such. Genevieve Valentine is not the only woman to have come forward.

  20. In addtion to being involved with the KC bid, he was the one who announced the 2019 Montréal bid, so I presume he’s on that one (for now) as well.

  21. I recall of one fan tossed from a worldcon because he charged meals to a room where he was staying, and it wasn’t under his name. But Dave Carldon is long gone. That would have been Iggycon.

    Likewise, methods of “harrassment” are known by pros who complain of too many pictures being taken (I generally ask, since flash does distract). Or taken without knowledge. Harlan Ellison made this a prime topic at his last convention.

    The public’s knowledge of the two worldcons cited is known by me, and the older one was politcal spite and the other doesn’t deserve to be dug up and aired out.

  22. Chris M. Barkley: It’s inflexible and does not allow for sincere apologies, personal growth after misunderstandings, accidents…

    You don’t actually understand the point of a harassment poly, do you? Any kind, not just zero-tolerance. Sincere apologies, personal growth after misunderstandings, and accidents are all completely irrelevant. It’s not about punishing the harasser, or making him see the error of his ways, or reforming him. It’s about protecting other people from him. No policy should allow for apologies, “personal growth,” or accidents. Even more so because serial harassers and abusers are very, very good at convincing people that they’re very sorry, they’ve changed, it was just an accident, they didn’t know what they were doing . . . and getting people to forgive then, and then going and doing it all over again. This is a real part of the pattern, and harassment policies must deal with it on those grounds.

    But the point is to protect people from harassment. Period. More flexibility can help do that well. What it shouldn’t do is let harassers get away with it for such irrelevant reasons.

    Cathy Palmer-Lister: I also am inclined to accept apologies. Apologies are so very rare, I don’t doubt their sincerity unless I have reason to believe someone twisted somebody’s arm behind his/her back.

    For yourself, personally, in your life, that’s great, you do that. But, as I said above, serial harassers and abusers apologize all the time, and give every sign of meaning it, and then go and do it again anyway. And the next harassee is a lot less likely to report when they know he’s “special” and everyone will believe he’s “sincerely sorry” and he’ll get a slap on the wrist.

  23. I hope at some point we can hear from Rene himself, and get his side of things. I have no doubt this whole thing happened, but what’s Rene’s viewpoint? He deserves to agree or rebut.

  24. @Madgastronomer: What I’ve been taking away from the discussion of harassment policies is they require publicized enforcement. Is that also your sense of things? Any number of times over the years concommittees have privately blacklisted past attendees for anything from bad behavior to writing bad checks. When it comes to harassment, a policy doesn’t make someone feel safer unless they hear what the concom did about complaints. But most of the time harassers deny, minimize and justify whatever happened. Now the concom has to pretend to be a judicial body. Which they’re not. Well-intentioned perhaps, but having neither the competence nor authority to take on the work of police and courts, institutions fans usually want to keep far away from cons and yet who have the real-world training and resources to handle litigation. When a law violation – as forms of harassment tend to be – is involved and can’t be appropriately handled without publicity (like a bad check) it makes sense to use the law and not a code of conduct.

  25. Lloyd Penny, the harasser you refer to admitted his wrongdoing when questioned by the board of the convention. The facts are not in dispute. Why on earth would we need to hear more from him than that on this issue?

  26. Mike, yes, absolutely, at a minimum the name of the perpetrator and the steps the con takes to prevent further harassment (but NOT the harassee’s name, unless she chooses to come forward) should be made public. Harassers need to be named, so that people know who to be careful of, and attendees need to know the steps taken to ensure their safety. And other harassers need to know that there is a policy in place and that it will be enforced.

    I completely disagree that this puts the concom in the position of being police, judge or jury. If the harassment crossed the line into illegal, and the harassee wants to press charges, then charges should be pressed, and the concom can make decisions based on that. But a lot of harassment is behavior that is upsetting and threatening, but not actually illegal, or not likely to be taken seriously by cops even if it’s technically illegal. Cons need a way of handling that kind of situation. But finding out what happened doesn’t take a cop, and deciding what to do about it as a group doesn’t take a judge or jury. The only thing that needs to be decided is, “Is this person a threat to our members? Do our members feel they are unsafe around him?” and if the answer is yes, pick a way of dealing with that that prioritizes the safety of other members. Not punishment, not teaching the harasser anything or helping him redeem himself, keeping other members safe. Period. A harassers motivations, feelings, cluelessness, whatever, should not be taken into account. Only his actions. Including his continued actions. A harasser might be put on an indefinite ban, subject to proving that he can behave himself. If he’s truly only clueless, and actually wants to learn better, and can demonstrate that he knows better now, then maybe lift the ban. But if he’s “clueless” because he doesn’t want to know better, he wants to keep clueless as an excuse, then he won’t learn, and the ban stays. But it’s about his behavior: does he stop harassing people, and stop being threatening? Then he can come back. No? Keep him away. It’s very simple.

    This is part of why it’s so hard to do this well. We want to take feelings and being sorry and redemption into account. It’s hard to remember that it isn’t about the harasser, it’s about the harassee and other people who feel threatened by his presence. (The Con Anti-Harassment Project can help.)

    Many, even most, cons are places where many women do not feel safe. This must change, and the only way it can change is from the inside. If we want our communities to be safe for and open to everyone, then we need to be the ones to make it so. Conduct codes are one tool we have.

    You seem to be against them. Why?

  27. I merely would like to hear or read what Rene would say on what happened. I think hearing directly from him would inform us more as to what happened from all viewpoints.

  28. I don’t know, Lloyd, that seems roughly–strike that, it seems very nearly EXACTLY–analogous to reading news of someone pleading guilty of some crime in the local paper, then wondering why the guilty party doesn’t have a column on the op-ed page. I don’t need to hear apologies, obfuscations, or rationalizations from an admitted harasser, I just need to know that he admitted to it.

  29. *applauds Rowe*

    Dude. Lloyd. He’s not disputing that he did it. What do you need to hear from him for? He did it. He’s a harasser. He’s a serial harasser, by all reports. The only thing you’re going to here from him is excuses, justifications, and maybe some whining. It sounds to me like you’re looking for a reason to let him off the hook.

    This is, actually, a really standard thing in a misogynist rape culture: A man does something bad to a woman. The woman gives details, she has corroborating witnesses, the man doesn’t even deny that he did it. But some people will claim that it isn’t “fair” and we don’t know “the whole story” until we hear The Man’s side of the story . . . and the moment they get that, they will excuse everything he’s done on the slightest of pretexts — like, say, “he’s sincerely sorry,” as the Board did — simply because he’s the man.

    Now, you may not be doing that, Lloyd, but you keep waddling and going quack.

  30. We can allow forgiveness, but the consequences of the actions involved were known beforehand. Such waffling over a zero tolerence policy only sends mixed signals. I’d say ban. Live with it.

  31. Sigh.

    By not banning Walling, they are banning Valentine (and, from the looks of it, a ton of other writers). It’s as simple as that. They can ban him with the threat of a trespassing charge, or they can ban her with the threat of his violence. There’s not really a middle ground there. She’s not vowing never to return as some sort of punishment against Readercon, she’s vowing never to return because she values her safety.

  32. Valentine:

    “At one point he said I had to stop saying things that “made [him] want to say “wrong” things”; I shut him down politely, turned my back on him, and talked to someone else until he eventually left.”

    Cathy Palmer-Lister:

    “I’m very used to hearing second language people saying”wrong things” I did not make the same assumptions that others did. (It’s very common, for instance, for Francophones to say “sensible” when they mean “sensitive” or “deceived” when they meant “disappointed”.)


    That’s not what that statement means. That’s clearly a quote from Rene (it even has ” ” and [] and all!”) not Valentine assigning adjectives to his word choices. And saying that isn’t making an assumption, it’s simply reading what is there in black and white.

    Chris M. Barkley:

    A sincere apology for harassment = staying the fuck away when asked, something Walling has already demonstrated that he is not willing to do. Mere words are irrelevant and often involve, as in this particular case, further forcing one’s attentions on someone despite their stated wishes that the harasser do otherwise.



  33. MadGastronomer,

    In your narrative you forgot this stage (which has sadly played out in quite a few threads on this):

    Spend less energy listening to the woman telling you that she feels harassed and threatened than you do “explaining” to her why she shouldn’t feel that way, or how she could act differently to keep it from happening again.

    EQ 101, my fellow Y-Chromosomers: we have two ears and only one mouth for a reason.

  34. Robert WS writes:

    I recall of one fan tossed from a worldcon because he charged meals to a room where he was staying, and it wasn’t under his name. But Dave Carldon is long gone. That would have been Iggycon.

    I’d just like to verify that this is factually accurate. Since I was the one who did this, after hotel security came to me with it as the director of operations of the con, I can state this as authoritatively as can be.

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