6 reasons event organizers should adopt the Conference Anti-Harassment Policy

This has been cross-posted from my personal blog.

Valerie and a number of my feminist friends have been working on a generic Conference anti-harassment policy which can be adapted to suit specific events. This is a response to quite a number of incidents that seem to crop up in geekdom. (And those are just the ones we know about and have recorded — many people prefer not to talk about problems publicly for various reasons.)

You can read about the conference anti-harassment policy on geek feminism, and even hacker news has picked it up with the free link to the article on LWN.

I want to urge conference organizers to take a look at the policy and consider adapting it, even if you don’t know of any problems at your event. Here’s a few reasons:

  1. It’s a signal that you’re serious about the safety of the folk at your event. How can that possibly be a bad thing?
  2. It helps your staff recognize when there may be a problem. This makes it easier for them to do their jobs!
  3. It gives your staff a starting point for what to do if something happens. That also makes it easier for them know how to respond appropriately.
  4. It makes it clearer to attendees what constitutes appropriate behaviour at your event. This is a courtesy since explicit rules are much easier to follow than implicit ones!
  5. Remember that a number of geeky folk have particular trouble sussing out unspoken rules, whether that’s due to being non-neurotypical, just being so focussed on geekery that other more social rules get missed, or any other reason. It’s easier if people don’t have to guess the rules.
  6. The point of the policy is to prevent problems from occurring in the future. Implementing it isn’t going to imply to anyone that you’ve been hiding incidents, and being asked to implement it doesn’t mean that people think you’ve been inviting skeezy, scary folk to your events. It’s probably just an explicit statement of rules that you thought were obvious.

Think of it like a seatbelt: hopefully you’ll never need it, and maybe it’ll make a few folk uncomfortable, but you’ll be happy it was there if you have to slam on the brakes. Wearing your seatbelt isn’t an admission that you’re a bad driver, it’s just an admission that you can’t control the behaviour of other people, so you might as well do your best to stay safe.

One thought on “6 reasons event organizers should adopt the Conference Anti-Harassment Policy

  1. Annalee

    Related to points 4 and 5, it empowers people to get help when they need it.

    I first started attending cons when I was in eighth grade. I was pretty naive at the time, and I didn’t have a firm enough grounding in what sexual harassment was to know that that’s what was happening to me. I knew that people were making me uncomfortable, but since I didn’t see anyone else stepping up and telling them to back off, I assumed that everyone there–including other women–were ok with the meat-market culture at the event, and that it was the price I paid for getting to go to a place where a bunch of people were talking about things I loved.

    If Valerie and Co’s policy had appeared on the event website or in the program (which I read cover to cover, because it was my first con and I was excited), that would have given me the vocabulary I needed to define what was happening. An anti-harassment policy also would have put an action plan in place ahead of time that I could have turned to when problems arose–because in the moment I was too frightened, angry, and embarrassed to come up with an action plan of my own.

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