Readercon’s Convention Committee, after taking the time to carefully examine the decision of their Board of Directors and the firestorm of controversy that followed that decision, has issued a statement detailing their response to the situation. In brief: they have admitted culpability, apologized in detail and depth, overturned the decision of the board, applied the Zero Tolerance policy in full to “Bob” (yes, I know I’m the only guy left on the internet who doesn’t name the parties involved. Allow me my indulgences), and accepted the resignations of all the board members. They have also committed to updating and improving their policies — hopefully taking out the Zero Tolerance bits while developing a means of response that protects the safety of the convention — and papering the next Readercon with notices and guides for avoiding harassment and reporting it when and if it happens. They have also offered refunds to anyone who prepaid for Readercon and doesn’t feel they can attend regardless of this response.
Go ahead and click the link above. It’s worth the read.
On the whole, this was the best response they could have had. It clearly accepts responsibility for what happened, takes steps to vindicate those who spoke up, restores the penalties as they were listed — heck, give me a second and I’ll reproduce the penalties section:
The concom has voted to overturn the board’s decision in the matter of harassment committed by [Bob], and to permanently ban him from attending or participating in Readercon in any way. He may not purchase or otherwise acquire a membership; he may not participate in the program; he may not be or work for a dealer in the bookroom; he may not join any Readercon committee; he may not volunteer. We have informed [Bob] of this ban and he has not contested it.
I am a big, big fan of unambiguous statements, and this is a doozy. It makes it clear that this is a real ban, not one that can be worked around. (I can’t imagine Bob intended to try and work around the restrictions anyway.)
Of particular note is their acceptance of responsibility and their apology. They didn’t try to mitigate their responsibility or deflect any of the blame. They simply stated their culpability and their commitment to resolving the situation.
My post on the subject was largely about how the original ruling by the Board had caused a lot more damage to everyone involved than simply banning Bob in the first place had done. So, the question now is — how does the response mitigate that damage? Is Readercon out of the woods? Are the victims? For that matter, does this allow Bob to express contrition and move on as well?
I don’t know.
I think it was the best response they could have — in part because it feels sincere, instead of feeling like damage control. (Whether or not it was sincere is beyond my capability to report, in as much as I lack clairvoyance, telepathy or magic.) However, there was a lot of reporting and damage done, and it took long enough (thanks to the realities of a ConCom’s deliberations even in the Information Age) that there was plenty of time for the poison to spread in Readercon’s well. Will their numbers be down next year? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Further, the review and redevelopment of their Harassment policies is all to the good. Lacking nuance can only lead to pain, as we’ve learned. I hope what will emerge is a policy that outlines a series of potential penalties, up to and including a permanent ban. What may work better — which is to say, erring on the side of safety and affirmation of the victim’s experience while eschewing absolutism — is to ban the perpetrator for the foreseeable future, and then list at what point the perpetrator can petition for reinstatement, as well as the criteria that will need to be shown. That puts the burden on the perpetrator to show proper contrition through action as well as words, and gives the Convention cover should they elect not to reinstate him or her. That’s just one potential way to improve the current policy, of course.
As for the victim and her supporters — the sense of vindication and justice would have to be profound. There is something to be said for the glaring spotlight of indignation being shone on the subject of Con Harassment. While Readercon is (and must) reviewing their policy and will be under a microscope during the process, this situation should be a wake-up call for every fan-run convention: no one wants this to happen again, either to an attendee or to a convention itself. With luck, there will be a lot of different reviews going on.
(An interconvention committee might be a good idea — letting experienced con-runners debate and discuss the issues openly, to help put together a model antiharassment policy for individual conventions to adopt or adapt as needed. Many eyes make for fewer bugs, et al. Of course, herding cats would be easier than fans blah blah blah aphorism.)
Finally, what does this mean for Bob?
Bob’s going to have a rough time of it. There isn’t a convention or fan gathering he can attend without having at least some attention focused on him for this. And I can’t say this breaks my heart — my sympathies remain with the victim. Still, what should have been specific to a single convention (though public enough to give warning to others to watch his behavior) has become fan-wide, and I don’t see Bob recovering from that anytime soon. Internet justice is the justice of chainsaw and grenade, which is why it’s a bad idea to fall back on the internet community’s response for corrective behavior.
Still, all this is resolved, in terms of this specific incident. The discussion is ongoing and will be for some time. With luck and work, this will lead to conventions having clearer, better put together policies against harassment and much greater transparency in their execution of those policies.
Nothing’s going to make this a winning situation for Bob, Carol or Readercon. Nothing could. But maybe — just maybe — this can turn into a win for fandom and fan organizations in general.