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.)
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:
- 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?
- It helps your staff recognize when there may be a problem. This makes it easier for them to do their jobs!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.