Is harassment in your community unwelcome? Adopt a Community Anti-Harassment Policy!

Last week, the Geek Feminism community announced that we’ve adopted a code of conduct in our community. Our code begins:

The Geek Feminism (GF) community is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of participants in any form.

This code of conduct applies to all Geek Feminism sponsored spaces, including our blog, mailing lists, and wiki, as well as any other spaces that Geek Feminism hosts, both online and off. Anyone who violates this code of conduct may be sanctioned or expelled from these spaces at the discretion of the Geek Feminism Anti-Abuse Team.

We took quite a long time to do this, after two harassment incidents associated with the Geek Feminism community (albeit, one probably not by people who are actually active in our spaces and who therefore can’t be excluded from them). We’d love it if others learned from our example and adopted a policy within their own communities. To that end, as of today, our Community Anti-Harassment Policy is available for re-use under Creative Commons Zero/public domain and we are beginning to develop associated resources, just as we have done over the past few years for the Conference anti-harassment policy

Here’s what you need:

  1. a policy (remember, ours is available for re-use, either as is, or in a modified form)
  2. a contact point where harassment reports can be received
  3. a group of responders who receive reports and have the power to act on them up to and including excluding harassers from your community

If your community does not have an obvious way to create a group of responders, start discussing how you can create one. In many communities, there is likely to be an existing volunteerocracy at the very least. Can these people reach consensus that your community should be safer from harassment, and that they are unwilling to work with harassers? Simply announcing to people that they must cease a behaviour, or they must leave the community, is in fact very effective as long as there is basic consensus around community norms. For online groups technical structures can help, but social structures are in fact the root of anti-harassment. You don’t need ops or admin power or the crown of the ancient rulers to enforce anti-harassment policies in your community, you need consistent anti-harassment responses by people with social power.

If you don’t know that your community has concensus on being anti-harassment. as a start you can declare your own personal anti-harassment stance, and publicly call for your community to adopt a anti-harassment policy, and a structure that enables the response team to exclude people from the community.

As Geek Feminism shows, activist groups or groups that have advocated for anti-harassment are not safe from internal harassment and still need a policy. And groups with no known harassment incidents are also not safe; it’s quite likely that people in your community have experienced harassment they felt unable to identify or report. Take steps to ensure harassing behaviour becomes known, and that it is known to be unacceptable.

One specific model we encourage you to avoid is the Our community is amazing! So wonderful! We rock! PS no harassment model in which you spend a lot of time affirming your community’s goodness and make a general statement about anti-harassment in passing. We discourage putting this in your anti-harassment policy for these reasons:

  1. you probably do not know the extent of harassment in your community without a policy and a reporting mechanism, and may not rock as much as you think
  2. stating that you are “anti-harassment” without saying what harassment means to you doesn’t give your existing community and potential new members the information they need to find out if their safety needs are a close enough match for your community’s norms

Stating your community’s great work or exemplary behaviour can be really useful for establishing social norms and letting people understand what joining your community means. They form a good basis for specific policies. But don’t make such statements in your anti-harassment policy, make them in a separate document listing your community’s values and goals. And it may be best to say that you aspire or intend to create an amazing space, rather than that you have definitely attained that goal. Statements that you are definitely no questions amazing may be used to silence people with critical feedback and in the end reduce your amazingness.

We also discourage private anti-harassment policies (shared only within a community or within its leadership), for reasons outlined by the Ada Initiative [disclaimer: I co-founded the Ada Initiative].

Do you already have a community anti-harassment policy, or have we convinced you to adopt one? List your community on the Community anti-harassment adoption page! And thank you.

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