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July 27, 2012

We want to thank everyone who came forward - both in person and via email - to report a harassment incident at Readercon 23. 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. In the three years between Readercons 23 and 26 we will actively look for evidence of real and permanent positive change in his behavior. It was made very clear to him that if we receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at any venue - during or after the suspension period - his suspension will become permanent.

Should any other incidents occur, we encourage witnesses to report them to us at info@readercon.org.

We want to reaffirm our continued support for all members of the community who are the targets of harassment, and our continued determination to make Readercon a safer space.



Bob Colby, Merryl Gross, B. Diane Martin, David G. Shaw, Eric M. Van

Readercon Board of Directors


EDIT: Please read the Readercon convention committee's statement on recent events: http://readercon.org/publicstatement.htm

Comments

( 454 comments — Leave a comment )
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admnaismith
Jul. 28th, 2012 05:51 am (UTC)
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.

That's a valid assumption. so, how is it that Walling's behavior--WHEN VIEWED IN THE MOST FAVORABLE POSSIBLE LIGHT--does not qualify as "clueless"?

Because he got a clue after he did it? Seems to me, you don't get points for "not being clueless" after you've already done the clueless thing. Seems to me, Walling acted well within your assumption, and within the parameters of the mental state your policy was intended to address.

Also, Walling did NOT "realize what he had done" immediately afterward. He did these things throughout the con, over the course of the entire weekend. Once might arguably be called a faux pas; this was a pattern.

Please do the right thing and reconsider. Please impose the ban your policy mandates.

If there are some extreme extenuating circumstances we don't know about, then maybe he might be allowed to petition for reinstatement some time farther down the road, if and after he demonstrates a firm understanding of boundaries and a pattern of respect for them. The choice you've made today does not address your membership's safety concerns. It does not make them feel heard. It creates the appearance that Mr. Walling is not the only "clueless" one involved.

Look at the comments here. As of this writing, NO ONE is satisfied with you, and many are furious or scared or both and are parting ways with you in search of a venue that will actually commit to policing itself. Is this what you want?

Think it over. There is still time for you to retract this very bad decision.
teratologist
Jul. 28th, 2012 06:01 am (UTC)
You've already had the manifold reasons why this is a terrible idea explained at length. I just want to put my voice in as one more former attendee who has revised her stance on going back to Readercon in the future. The one Readercon I attended was a lot of fun, but I simply can't support this.
ellen_datlow
Jul. 28th, 2012 06:08 am (UTC)
This statement is beneath you. I've been attending Readercon for many years, I've been a GOH, it's one of my favorite conventions.

By admitting that "the facts of the incident are not in dispute" you have a responsibility to follow your own rules.

If you choose to change those rules in the future and not impose a "permanent ban" on an offender, but instead, a temporary ban (for whatever length of time), then do so and announce it far and wide.

By not taking the action set out in your current rules you have done the victim, the reputation of the convention, yourselves as board members, and our field great damage. I sincerely hope that you re-think what you've done.
rushthatspeaks
Jul. 28th, 2012 06:18 am (UTC)
I am terribly, terribly disappointed with this decision. This is my home con, I have been on programming on it for years, I have conducted a Guest of Honor interview, and I have brought many friends and family members.

Do not prioritize the extremely doubtful apology of one person who has a history of this behavior over the safety of women.

Your actions are making a beloved place and community feel unsafe to its members. Please change those actions-- by doing what you said you would do in the first place.
sprrwhwk
Jul. 28th, 2012 06:20 am (UTC)
This is super-lame. I expected better of a convention about which I often hear such excellent things. It was only being called out of town at the last minute which prevented me from attending this year. Will I attend next year? I think that's really up to you.

You're covering for him. Knock it off.
heavenscalyx
Jul. 28th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
You're covering for him. Knock it off.

I want to Tweet this and reTweet this (and send it to them in letters, and post it in signs in doorways and on walls) to every rape apologist and abuser apologist and "aw, he's just a nice guy who made a bad decision" apologist ever, INCLUDING the Readercon Board.
vschanoes
Jul. 28th, 2012 06:31 am (UTC)
To echo what others have said: you seem to care an awful lot about how Walling feels. Do you care about how Genevieve Valentine feels? Or how other women who had previously had confidence in your policies regarding harassment feel?

When I was harassed at Readercon in 2008, I was told by one of the women who met with me--I believe she was head of con security--that she would not allow a predator to ruin her con for any woman. I thought this was still the priority of the con, indeed, of all decent human beings.

I see that now you're reluctant to allow some woman to ruin your con for a predator. I wonder what happened to change your minds? I have my suspicions. Regardless, know that you have informed women that you can no longer be relied upon, and that our feelings matter so little that you won't even bother to mention them when writing up your official statement. In fact, you won't even bother to write up an official statement unless the heat is on. Your behavior here is immoral, unprincipled, and enabling of a harasser. I hope you feel proud of yourselves, because the rest of us are deeply disappointed.

And I, who'd had such faith in Readercon's desire to keep their con good for women, feel very betrayed.
esmeraldus_neo
Jul. 28th, 2012 06:32 am (UTC)
I'm an academic, and I have been most comfortable in the past at academic conferences. This was my second Readercon. Friends told me it was both bookish and welcoming, and they were right. I was happy to step outside my comfort zone and meet more people.

I am very disinclined to attend again if the anti-harassment policy isn't enforced evenly.
sparkymonster
Jul. 28th, 2012 06:43 am (UTC)
To me this is the classic *test* of a policy. You have a SMOF harassing a lesser known fan. Do you apply your stated policy evenly or not? Genevive had harassing events happen in public with multiple witness & corroboration. It's awkward that the offending fan is a BNF/SMOF works with Tor blah blah blah. Good thing a zero tolerance policy prevents his social capital to be used as a get out free card....

[side bar: I personally think that 'zero tolerance' policies sound tough but are often unweidly. A range of punishments starting with immediate removal from the hotel for this day/event, 10 year ban, life time ban. I'm throwing those out as examples.]

Readercon's initital bullpucky filled asnwer is here: read it in full here

To quote: Earlier today I was contacted by a Readercon representative, who let me know that by decision of the Board, my harasser has been suspended from Readercon.

For two years.

I was not given the reasoning behind the decision; the board's deliberations, I was told, were confidential.

I was assured the board had taken everything into account – my report, my eyewitnesses, others who had come forward with information they declined to detail. They asked me if I felt they had taken my complaint seriously. They hoped to see me at next year's Readercon.
...

Then I hung up and realized, from the pit in my stomach, that I really had felt they were taking my complaint seriously - right up until the verdict.

Bolding added by me

That half assed ban has ended up making the person who was harassed feel worse while making the harassser feel better because official people are reinforcing his belief that he's a nice guy (tm). THAT IS SUCH A PILE OF BULLSHIT AND IGNORANCE I AM SLIGHTLY HYPERVENTILATING

Onward to but he seemed so sincere & nice guys
[trigger: discussion of rape]

A good friend of mine in high school was "such a nice artistic guy. He's so friendly and helpful. Not like those jerks." He did art, wrote poetry, he listened to wt political pins etc. He seemed like a nice safe guy. He walked me and my friends home many times. I shudder to think of what would have happened.
hat women wanted to say, he bought the right Ani DiFranco CDs, wore the righ
Here's the flip side. He also plotted for weeks to bring about a situation where he could rape her. He made sure no adults in the house or the houses next door (he had tested how far sound carried). They were cutting class, so getting school help meant punishment. There was no way out. He also convinced her that if she told anyone, her family would try to kill them and then she'd be responsible for putting her dad/uncle/brothr in jail. Besides who would believer her. After all she willing walked in the front door).

He got away with it. Totally got a way with it. When she finally told, all these people went "but he's such a nice guy. You must have misunderstood. Maybe he's changed." Some of us stood by her, but a lot didn't

20 some odd years later her attacker does exploitative sex tourism under the guise of looking for new items to import. I'm not saying no one changes, but getting away with it doesn't give you much of an incentive.

I *strongly* suggest the readercon con com and board educate themselves RIGHT THE FUCK NOW on this issue. Contact the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center BARCC. DO not rely on Shadesong, she is on a leave. Talk to them about this situation

Go to INCITE's web page. They have lots of info. Read their zine on confronting partner abuse in activist communities. (direct link to free PDF Read it again. I have found it incredibly helpful in my own healing from sexual assault.

Incite does have a section on reform and reintigration into a community. It's led by the comfort level of the person harassed, not the perpetuator OR an outside group.

Sorry. Super tired but I need to write this out so I can sleep.
vschanoes
Jul. 28th, 2012 01:09 pm (UTC)
I realize that this doesn't even matter, but Genevieve isn't even a lesser-known fan! She is an invited, Nebula-nominated writer! But, oh, I forgot, she's a woman.
(no subject) - sparkymonster - Jul. 28th, 2012 02:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vschanoes - Jul. 28th, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
samhenderson
Jul. 28th, 2012 07:21 am (UTC)
Given that the Rene Walling was told again and again over the course of Readercon that his actions were unwelcome, the fact that the board is not abiding by its stated policy of zero-tolerance because he is "sincerely regretful" come across as 1) a classic example of a harasser and a sexual predator being manipulative when caught out and the board falling for it or 2) the board looking for a reason not to permanently ban someone who has a degree of prominence in the field. Or maybe a little of both.

Before I read this I would have said the Readercon board needs to make a statement to avoid internet speculation making a proxy, and unflattering, statement for them. But this is worse.
dharma_slut
Jul. 28th, 2012 07:33 am (UTC)
You have got to be kidding me.
samhenderson
Jul. 28th, 2012 07:38 am (UTC)
And you didn't follow up with another woman who had stopped volunteering because of Walling's harassment (following her, sound familiar?), and you violate your own policy because he's "sincerely regretful" about THIS incident, and you think he can reform? And you use language like "if we receive any SUBSTANTIATED reports of continued inappropriate behavoir?"

How dare you.
swan_tower
Jul. 28th, 2012 07:49 am (UTC)
I attended Readercon once a few years ago, and very much enjoyed it. Even though I now live on the opposite side of the country, I frequently considered whether I might tackle the cost and time of flying out there to go back.

Not any more. In all the ways outlined by previous commenters, you have failed to understand the situation and respond appropriately. That means we can't trust you. Good luck undoing that damage.
livejournal
Jul. 28th, 2012 07:59 am (UTC)
Are you freakin' kidding me?
User samhenderson referenced to your post from Are you freakin' kidding me? saying: [...] They tell Genevieve there will be no public statement. Boo. But they do make a statement, yay. [...]
aliettedb
Jul. 28th, 2012 08:12 am (UTC)
This is really disappointing.
livejournal
Jul. 28th, 2012 08:24 am (UTC)
Shorter Readercon: Harassment is OK as long as you are a Big Name Fan (and can Fake Contrition)
User secritcrush referenced to your post from Shorter Readercon: Harassment is OK as long as you are a Big Name Fan (and can Fake Contrition) saying: [...] - a two-year banning rather than their stated permanent one. Apparently, if you seem really sorry [...]
secritcrush
Jul. 28th, 2012 08:44 am (UTC)
Here is the message you just sent to me and the rest of the world:

Harassment is tolerated at Readercon.

Readercon does not care if their members are safe.

Readercon will give harassers a slap on the wrist as long as they can appear sorry for getting caught.

Readercon will privilege the feelings of harassers over their victims.

Edited at 2012-07-28 01:57 pm (UTC)
neverjaunty
Jul. 28th, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Untrue! Readercon will only give harassers a slap on the wrist if they are important harassers. No-name attendees might still get banned, but if you're a SMOF, harass and grope away!
piersb
Jul. 28th, 2012 09:26 am (UTC)
You were the people who chose a zero-tolerance policy.

By ignoring your own policy, you're making a statement that nothing you say can be trusted.

You have a policy. Enforce the damn thing.
stephanieburgis
Jul. 28th, 2012 09:59 am (UTC)
This just changed Readercon from a con I had really wanted to attend to a con I do not ever plan to attend, unless serious changes are made, the con's stated policy at the time of the harassment is enforced, and a public apology is issued from the con to Genevieve Valentine and the other woman who reported harassment by Mr Walling.
hawkwing_lb
Jul. 28th, 2012 01:28 pm (UTC)
This. Exactly this goes for me too.

Also, the board should resign, because no one can trust them to follow their own policies anymore.
(no subject) - nonnycat - Jul. 31st, 2012 10:35 am (UTC) - Expand
dxmachina
Jul. 28th, 2012 11:38 am (UTC)
"the facts of the incident are not in dispute"

What does the board not understand about its own finding? Rene Walling violated the policy spelled out as a separate item right there on page 2 of the program. Regardless of how one feels about whether a zero tolerance policy is a good idea or not, once the policy has been agreed upon and published, it must be followed. Otherwise why bother spelling it out at all? It's a shame that one of their own got caught by it, but that doesn't mean that the board can change the rules on a whim. It smacks of favoritism. It enables the behavior.

I am another for whom this is my home convention, a nice little break in the middle of the summer that I look forward to all year. I have greatly enjoyed going and having the chance to interact with people whose writing I enjoy and respect. However, unless there are substantial changes, I won't be going back. The board should resign, and a new board put in place that will respect the con's own policies.
xiphias
Jul. 28th, 2012 11:42 am (UTC)
I don't see what the perpetrator's "regret" has to do with it.

It's not ABOUT him. It's about protecting everybody else.
emilytheslayer
Jul. 28th, 2012 11:57 am (UTC)
This coming year is my third year as a member of the programming committee for Readercon, and this is devastating. I don't care about Walling's redemption story. I mean, this is Readercon guys, we could have an entire panel about how male redemption stories in SF/F are super duper overdone and we're all fucking sick of them. I'm way more interested in the story of the awesome lady writer who bravely reported harassment and got shit taken care of.

Flipness aside, I don't care who the harasser is or who the harassed is, Readercon is actively making their attendees feel unsafe with this decision. I like Readercon, and I don't want to see it die. That's what will happen if new people don't want to come. Please stop making me disappointed in you, I know you're all better than this.
(Deleted comment)
gaudior
Jul. 28th, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
This.
kouredios
Jul. 28th, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
Just adding my voice to chorus of Readercon attendees who won't be back until you fix this.
metagnat
Jul. 28th, 2012 12:30 pm (UTC)
This definitely seems like the board fell prey to the notion that they were never going to have to apply to the policy to anyone they knew and liked or anyone with clout in the community. The sorts of people who will harass, stalk and rape come from all walks of life. It's a pity that you didn't realize that, readercon board, when you wrote the initial policy. We have all known several, even if we didn't know that we knew them.

I have attended Readercon for, I believe, the last five years. It is one of only two cons that I attend regularly and I talk it up to friends. Even if I attend again (and this incident is giving me pause) you can rest assured I won't recommend it to anyone else. You have really made it seem as though the more prominent the harasser, the less likely you are to want to make their target feel safe.
livejournal
Jul. 28th, 2012 01:11 pm (UTC)
Readercon
User lsanderson referenced to your post from Readercon saying: [...] Readercon Board [...]
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