Saturday, July 28th, 2012
6:35 pm - Readercon, R.I.P.  
So, I never got around to writing up my thoughts on this year's Readercon. I started to, even grabbed the descriptions of the panels I attended to use as an outline, but I got distracted by other stuff. The short version is that I enjoyed myself. At some point I hope to do a longer version, at least on a couple of the panels that were of great interest to me. Unfortunately, that's not what I'm going to do today.

When you open up a copy of the Readercon program, the very first thing in it is the list of con policies. One of the policies gets its own section:

Harassment


Readercon has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy. Until recently, we did not feel it necessary to call attendees' attention to the details of this policy—but now we are being explicit.

Harassment of any kind—including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions—will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.

As always, Readercon reserves the right to revoke membership at its discretion.


You can't possibly miss it. Its right there on page two!

The explicit version of the policy was added a few years ago after a woman was harassed by a mentally ill man at the 2008 con who was apparently well known at cons for doing such. The policy was used to ban him from the con permanently. The point is it was made very explicit that the con had a zero tolerance policy* for harassment. Or so everyone thought...

* I myself think zero tolerance policies are a bad idea, because they remove all opportunity for common sense to prevail when required, which often just makes a situation worse. However, that turns out not to be germane to this particular discussion.

This year, another woman, writer Genevieve Valentine, was harassed by a man named Rene Walling. Walling is a fan who blogs for Tor Books, once chaired a WorldCon, and was once a guest of honor at Arisia, another Boston area con. Now, despite the fact that the Readercon Board of Directors reported that:

"the facts of the incident are not in dispute."

the Board is not banning him permanently:

"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."

Of course, this is not at all what their policy allows. They say leniency is required because Walling is very regretful of his actions. I say it's a damned disgrace. There is no doubt in my mind that had it been someone like me in Walling's place, someone who is not well known in the fannish community, that I'd have been banned for life, regardless of how regretful I was.

But wait, there's more. Between the time Ms. Valentine first mentioned the harassment in her blog and the board's decision was announced, another woman contacted Readercon to report that she, too, had been harassed by Walling (although not at Readercon). The board declined to interview her. I suppose that previous patterns of harassing behavior don't matter when you're sincerely regretful.

The best place to find all the history of this is probably Genevieve Valentine's LiveJournal. There is also a terrific post by Veronica Schanoes, who was the woman harassed in 2008. And there are plenty of other posts by folks who are just as appalled as I am.

---
So, that leaves two issues. The first is Walling. I actually had a nice chat with him at Boskone once. People who know me will realize what a rare thing it is for me to initiate a conversation with someone I don't know. In this case it was after he'd made an offhand remark during a panel about how chemists are never woodworkers, or something similar. I felt I had to disabuse him of the notion, and we had a nice chat. Ironically, the panel was called Pathologies of Fannish Culture, about dealing with problematic attendees at cons and such.

At that panel, I spoke about dealing with the same sorts of problems in online communities. Unfortunately I have some experience with that. One of the people I had to ban was clearly ill, and as much as I hated to do it, she needed to be removed from the community because people were feeling unsafe. b.org's banishment policy was a graduated one rather than zero tolerance, but it didn't matter in that case. And although I felt sympathy for her, it was best for the community as a whole for her not to be allowed back in.

Rene Walling, as far as I know, is not ill. Nor is he clueless, given that he has participated in panels and discussions on the topic. I feel no sympathy for him. Because of men like him, there are women who are afraid of me, and that bothers me no end. Even if there were a graduated policy in place instead of zero tolerance, I would still think he should be gone. And not just from Readercon, but from Boskone, Arisia, and any other con where he can use his status to harass women.

Leah Bobet is a writer who knows, likes, and has worked with Walling. She discusses about her ambivalence on the situation here. Still, she also feels he shouldn't be allowed back.

Yet he will be because of the same kind of favoritism that allowed Jerry Sandusky to prey on young boys.

It occurs to me that Walling is Canadian, and visits this country only by the sufferance of the ICE. Perhaps a quiet word, or maybe a restraining order, would get him placed on one of those little lists we hear so much about. That would keep him from harassing USians, anyway. I'll leave the problem of keeping him out of Canadian cons as an exercise for the reader.

---
It's not just that they shot themselves in the foot. It's how fast they reloaded and fired again...

Of course that's actually the lesser of the two issues. The bigger issue is that of the brain dead Readercon board of directors. Did they not just see what happened when Penn State decided to play favorites? The board's decision was abominable, and even should they eventually come to their senses and reverse themselves, they have shown that none of them should be involved with running Readercon any longer***. The people attending their con, and remember that for many of them it's part of their job, not just for enjoyment, should be able to go there without having to worry about being harassed. The current board has done nothing to help them.

*** As much as I like Readercon, I will admit a bias here. I am often bugged by the occasional arrogance displayed by at least one of the board members, so I may be assigning similar attributes to all of the members.

The entire board ought to resign, even those who may have voted against the decision, because they should've resigned in protest then. I have no sympathy for enablers, even passive ones. Or if they don't resign, perhaps they can be forced out. Whatever. Readercon needs to bring in a whole new board, one that will uphold it's own policies. Then we'll talk.

Unless that happens, I won't be going back. Which is a shame, because I enjoyed my experiences there. But then I've never been harassed there, either.
 
 
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nestra on July 29th, 2012 - 12:23 am
The more I read about this and think about it, the more disturbed I am. The guy first told her that she made him thing "wrong things" and then he put his arm around her. I would feel so threatened by that, I can't even imagine.
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DXMachina: Calvindxmachina on July 29th, 2012 - 01:16 am
Someone pointed out somewhere that when he hugged her from behind, it actually went from harassment to assault. It's all very creepy.
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nestra on July 29th, 2012 - 02:46 am
When I first read that, I pictured him wrapping his arm around the front of her body, which was really disturbing. I guess it's better that he "only" put his arm around her shoulders.
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