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Jessica Price @Delafina777
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Okay, so here's the other thread. I'm going to talk about a thing that's harmful, and why it's harmful, and how it can be fixed. I'm not interested in discussing the character of the people involved. You want to do that, there are plenty of those discussions going on elsewhere.
And I'm not saying those discussions are invalid. I *am* saying that they're a related but separate issue from the one I'm talking about, and I'm not interested in having this discussion get sidelined into one of them.
You're perfectly within your rights not to like those ground rules. But my thread, my space, my ground rules.
The S.T.O.P. Harassment code of conduct proposed for the GAMA trade show, in its current iteration, is more likely to reinforce problems with dealing with harassment than help with any of them, and it's actually, actively dangerous.
I don't think the intentions of the people who worked on it were bad--quite the opposite. But I also don't think the current draft should ever have been published.
I think that the primary goal of the current draft is to protect GAMA from legal liability. I don't think that it was intended to discourage reporting, but that's the effect of it.
And look, I've been in a lot of discussions about codes of conduct and it's HARD. The convention can't be victims' therapist or legal advocate. It's out of scope, and they're not qualified. So there's always a tug-of-war between what you want to do and what you CAN do.
The bigger the show is, the more caution. So I really am sympathetic to those limitations. But this policy goes beyond recognizing the show's limitations and protecting it from legal liability and is actually harmful to victims.
So. This first paragraph? Doesn't need to be revised. It needs to be gone. This is... marketing for the policy? Like, it serves no actual policy purpose, and moreover, almost everything in it is factually wrong.
A good policy starts with a statement of purpose and scope. Here's what we're trying to accomplish, here are what we believe are our responsibilities, and here's a definition of our scope.
Starting with a statement of purpose and scope serves multiple purposes. It gives the reader a sense of what they can and can't expect (and what they'll have to go elsewhere for), and it helps the people drafting and enforcing the policy feel confident in where they can act.
But perhaps most importantly, by its very construction, it sort of solicits ongoing feedback. If you've defined the scope of the policy, and there's something within that scope that's missing, it's very easy to have a focused conversation about it and fix it.
If the actual rules of the policy AREN'T advancing the purpose stated at the beginning, it's not easy, but certainly EASIER, to bring them into alignment.
Paragraph 2 is also a problem. For starters, I'm not sure that ANY of this language should be in a code of conduct. "How do we handle false allegations?" is actually, probably, a separate and ancillary document.
Oops, sorry, here's paragraph 2.
But more to the point, this is weirdly defensive. There's no recognition in the first paragraph of harm to victims--just a lot of trumpeting of how this policy is going to change the world.
To basically lead, after your preamble, with a lot of stuff about how awful false allegations are, BEFORE you've even discussed what constitutes harassment, how to protect victims who report, etc. is bizarre.
And this has the effect of making it seem like the primary purpose of the code of conduct ISN'T to actually protect attendees from unsafe behavior--it's to protect anyone accused of unsafe behavior.
And yes, events DO need to know what to do if an attendee is falsely accused, just as they need to know what to do if they actually need to involve law enforcement. But instructions to staff aren't the same thing as your code of conduct.
Like, you don't expect to see "here's what happens if you're falsely accused of shoplifting" under the "no shoplifting--dressing rooms are monitored by staff" signs in a clothing store.
Even IF you decided that for some reason you wanted to combine your code of conduct for attendees with your practical instructions for how to enforce the code of conduct for staff, you don't LEAD with your edge cases. That's an end of the document thing.
Putting it as the first thing after your preamble sends the message that your sympathies are with harassers, not victims, and serves the function of intimidating victims into not reporting.
Because in the way these things are usually defined in statistics-and-HR-land, any accusation of harassment/assault/etc. in which the victim decides not to pursue it after initially reporting it gets classed as "false."
E.g. if I report harassment on the job and then I decide that rather than try to pursue this, I'm just going to go work somewhere else, my report often gets rolled into the stats on prevalence as a "false report."
So: leading with talk about false allegations essentially says, "if you're feeling at all uncertain/nervous about reporting what's happening to you, don't. Because if at any point you decide it's too draining or you just want to move on, you could be treated as a false accuser."
And, spoiler alert: almost EVERYONE who contemplates reporting harassment or assault has doubts about whether they want to go through with it. It's unpleasant, a lot of people have shame around it, etc.
Paragraph 3 I have no real issues with. I'd change some stuff if I were editing it, but it's minor. You could restructure it and massage it a bit and it'd make a fine statement of purpose.
The definitions are largely fine (again, I see stuff I'd tweak but I think it's largely solid), &members stuff would be good if the policy were good. It's a good idea to define who you expect to use your policy, but also saying who you WANT to use your policy is new to me.
But FFS what even is this. No. What you say in your products and how you behave at a conference are two different issues. The former is beyond the scope of an event to regulate, and the latter has nothing to do with "artistic freedom."
And you know WHY the latter has nothing to do with artistic freedom? Because at its core, harassment at an event is behavior that goes on after the target has told the person doing it to stop.
And regardless of what sort of live event or whatever you're doing that might be covered under creative output, you don't get to continue to involve attendees who haven't consented to continue to be involved. There aren't circumstances at a con where that's appropriate.
This would in theory be good, but it doesn't define retaliation, which is a problem. A bigger problem is that it's rendered moot by a section a little bit later that says they don't have to keep anything confidential. Confidentiality is Step #1 in preventing retaliation.
But we'll get to the confidentiality thing downthread.
So, fixes here: nix the artistic freedom stuff. It's irrelevant, and again, makes it look more like the policy is about protecting harassers as long as they can claim they Did It For Their Art. And define retaliation.
And oh no, Reporting Procedures, which is basically the reason I'm doing this thread, in hopes that it goes beyond the TTRPG community and gets seen by other people who run events in case anyone was looking to this as a good example, because boy howdy, DO NOT DO THIS.
"Before we, the convention, responsible for providing a safe environment for attendees, want to hear anything about how you don't feel safe, you must provide a written statement to the person making you unsafe telling them to stop, and then...
...if you want us involved at all, you must provide a full-on report to us with a list of witnesses." Preferably in triplicate. Get it notarized, while you're at it.
If I've told a guy I'm not interested in having sex with him and he starts following me, I'm not going to go, "hey, dude, what's your email address? Okay, now hold that thought while I compose an email to you telling you to stop following me."
"Okay, harasser dude, did you check your email and get the written statement I provided you telling you to stop following me? Cool. Hey, crowd of strangers in this noisy, busy, environment! Did any of you happen to overhear the sexually explicit stuff he said to me?"
"Oh, you DID sort of overhear something? Great! Can you give me your name and contact info so I can put you on this list of witnesses for my report? No? You don't want to be involved? ...okay."
The crux of the matter is: wanting a legal standard of proof for behavior prohibited by a code of conduct is absurd, because behavior can be utterly unacceptable at a private event and still not rise to the level of an actual crime.
(Which is why the "usually this stuff has been handled through the courts" stuff in the first paragraph is so wrong. This stuff is almost NEVER handled through the courts. Court cases are the edge case exceptions.)
Victims should not be expected to reach out to abusers.
This is reasonable, with the caveat that often victims feel more comfortable going to someone they know, so a relationship with the victim isn't a reason to recuse yourself from *any* involvement in handling a harassment issue.
What you should recuse yourself from is decision-making on consequences for the harasser or on weighing the truth of what happened. You can serve as a witness in that, certainly, but probably shouldn't be part of DECIDING it.
I'm not going to go into detail on most of the Investigative Guidelines section, since it's long and most of it is pretty standard, and fine.
But here's a problem:
A) Again--and I'm trying to keep my tone calm here, but it's exasperating as hell--this is not a criminal trial. GAMA doesn't have the authority to fine or jail someone over this. So the idea that criminal or civil law standards have to be used here is absurd.
You can kick someone out of your private event if you don't like the color of their SOCKS, so the idea that telling someone who's putting other attendees at risk to leave requires legal standards of proof is just... ugh.
B) Hearsay IS actually regularly used in these sort of investigations to confirm that a victim underwent trauma. Other people saying that a victim told them what happened is hearsay, yes, but that doesn't mean it's useless in these investigations.
And yes, there are circumstances in which hearsay IS legally admissible. Again, this isn't a criminal trial, so the standard of proof doesn't need to be as high, but EVEN SO. Saying it's entirely ruled out is, again, a major disincentive to report anything.
This... either needs clarity about what standard of proof GAMA is using or to be nixed entirely.
As it is, I'm not sure what it's trying to say as far as actual policy.
The sanctions section is also long, and largely fine. Want to call this out because I think it's actually important:
"What do you need to feel safe?" is a question you should ask victims. But the victims SHOULDN'T be the ones ultimately determining the course of action the con takes. It shouldn't be ON them to figure that out, or bear the consequences for the decision.
This is a problem.
They're right: the show can't actually guarantee confidentiality. A lot of times, if you take action against a harasser, they're going to know who accused them. Heck, in many cases, lots of other people are going to figure it out too.
You can't guarantee confidentiality any more than you can *prevent* harassment. All you can do is your best to ensure the first and create circumstances that reduce the chance of the latter, and handle it well when it happens.
That said, "we're going to tell people we feel have a legitimate business interest in knowing," isn't something that should be in the code of conduct. And that SHOULDN'T be solely at the show's discretion. It should involve the victim's consent.
This shouldn't be in there at all. Better here than as Paragraph #2, but there's been way more ink on worry about consequences to the harasser than there has been about consequences to the victim, and this just adds to the hostility toward victims.
So, this thing is fixable, but only with a TON of revision. As it stands: PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS AS AN EXAMPLE FOR HOW TO WRITE YOUR POLICY.
I think one of the main problems is that it's trying to do too much--it's trying to combine things that should be in separate documents, and failing at all of them because they have different audiences and aims.
Your code of conduct for attendees is not the same as your detailed instructions to staff (including edge cases) on how to handle reports. Handling reporting in the moment and immediate actions to take to guarantee safety is not the same as continued investigation & consequences.
Legal liability guidelines for the show aren't the same as a code of conduct, either.
When you're writing a code of conduct, lawyers and HR people aren't the only people you need to consult with. You also need to consult with people/orgs who advocate for victims.
But if you're stretched for time and resources, there's been a TON of good work out there already done.
Here's some really good work that you can use as an example. (And I actually think this one should have been multiple documents, too, but it's still got a lot of really great stuff in it.) livinggamesconference.com/living-games-c…
It's probably not something you can just incorporate wholesale, since it's for LARPs and the needs and norms there are different from a non-LARP convention, a trade show, a professional conference, etc. but it's a starting point.
Here's a detailed report on how an investigation was handled. Again, not something you can just adopt as a code of conduct or instruction set for staff, but you could definitely use it to help derive the latter. oneshotpodcast.com/uncategorized/…
And I think CoC work has actually evolved a bit since this was written, but the Geek Feminism Code of Conduct remains a great starting point. geekfeminism.org/about/code-of-…
Anyway, I know GAMA's big and established and may seem like a good go-to for looking at examples for how to do a Code of Conduct, but please don't use this as any sort of good example in its current form.
I hope it gets fixed. I hope they can separate feedback from feeling attacked and actually listen, but either way, the way this policy is constructed is dangerous, and please do not do this stuff in your own.
Again, I'm not interested in speculation as to the motives of the people involved, or criticism of them as people. You want to talk about *this policy* and the problems with it, I'm here for that discussion. But that's the extent of the scope of the discussion I'm having here.
(And I want to thank @annlemay for talking through a lot of the issues with me.)
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