Friday, December 1, 2017

We Need To Talk

Recently, it has felt like every industry has owned up (at least minimally) to the problem of sexual harassment and assault in their own ranks. Personally, I have focused a lot of my energy on the problem of sexual assault in the military and how it affects the women who suffer it. The problems of harassment in veteran circles, and how it alienates. It's close to my heart, it's an experience I know, so that is where I go to force change.

But we need to talk, crime fiction community.

Before we pat ourselves on the back for miraculously being immune to the problems in Hollywood, the military, other genre groups, universities, construction sites, wherever your day job is, and middle schools, let's take a deep fucking breath. If the blinders didn't come off when a member of our community was charged with (and later convicted) of sexually assaulting children - a "nice" guy many of us had supported financially, morally, and even allowed in homes of other writers - then I don't know what to say.

We are not immune. Women are speaking out and not being heard. Most of our conferences and conventions don't even have a way to report misconduct (of any kind, let alone sexual harassment). When an act is inappropriate but not criminal, that means it simply cannot be dealt with. When it is criminal, that means the victim doesn't have the support of the conference if she makes the difficult decision to involve the police in a city she doesn't live in and must leave in a few days.

Further - some of the men who are trying so hard to do better have crossed lines themselves, and they know it. Whether it was blatant sexual harassment or simply sexism in professional circles, we can't trust men who claim to want to "do better" when they have not owned up to when they "did worse", have not apologized, have not made amends. We can't trust the other men who know about these incidents and still choose to be chummy with these guys, who promote their work, who collaborate, who invite the women they've stepped on out to drinks with the man who did the stepping. Responsibility has to be taken. I don't mean to say that there are no second chances, regardless of infraction, but if you don't even privately apologize to those you've wronged, your pledge to "do better" sounds a lot more like a cover than a promise.

Lastly, men who want to help. Thank you. I mean that. But chill the fuck out. This isn't about you. This isn't about how you feel. This isn't about being able to tell yourself you're one of the good guys. When you find out a woman has been the victim of sexual harassment/assault your job is not to investigate her claims (which will make her feel like she is not being believed), it is not your job to excuse your relationship with the perpetrator by telling her "what a nice guy" he is (most women already know  that "nice" guys sexually harass, undermine, grope, and rape women. It's a surprise to you, but probably not her), and it is not your job to tell her what to do.

Ask her if she wants to talk about it. Ask her if she wants to report it. Ask her.

If you are in a position to take some kind of action against the perpetrator, but feel you need her first person account, ask her if she would like to talk to you about what happened so you can take appropriate action. And use those fucking words. Don't ask her for evidence. Don't make it clear that you're "investigating" or that you're dealing with the shock that "such a nice guy" could hurt someone. Because it is not about your heroics. It is about facing a serious problem in our own community that will take women out of your conventions, away from your publishers, and off your social media.

There is a type of man who would be totally okay with this, I hope our community is good enough  to know it's unacceptable.


Thomas Pluck said...

Thank you for writing this. I read the #MeToo thread about Bouchercon. I was thankfully not friends with the child abuser. I had to dig to find out who it was. Even though it was public record. That smacks of insular groups protecting predators. Just like DragonCon did for decades. We can't tolerate it.

Erin said...
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DJ said...

I'm not sure that sexual assault happening at the bar at Bouchercon makes it any less of an assault.
Conferences -- DragonCon, Comicon, Bouchercon, Left Coast, etc -- have a responsibility to protect attendees.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...
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Erin said...

Alex, I have deleted my comment. I'm not Erin Alford, though (she is an avid reader, but have no idea what her thoughts on this subject are). I was not speaking to your motives, but rather your Facebook posts.

Would that it was so simple as throwing up a statement. Because Bouchercon is a volunteer-operated non-profit organization, we do not have the infrastructure nor the resources that ALA does, nor are we a large corporate organization like Reed (ComicCon and BEA). Suffice to say that we are working on this, and have been for a long time.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

So what's the path, here? How would Bouchercon like people who have been harassed or assaulted to take action, in order to keep other people from being victimized?

Erin said...

I cannot speak for Bouchercon (no one person can; the organization is explained on Bouchercon's website), but I can do so as a chair of Bouchercon 2018 and member of the board. It’s simple, really. Get involved. This can be as little as attending and speaking up at the General Members Meeting. Or, for people who are willing to contribute more time and effort, work on or with the Board or a local organizing committee. Or put together a bid to chair a Bouchercon. There are lots of options. And quite a few of us who have been working on this particular issue for years. We would welcome productive assistance. Interestingly, in all the online “discussion” that’s happened since October, not one person has bothered to ask for or find factual information about Bouchercon. But some have chosen to cast it as a monolithic entity that is a haven for harassment. Which is a nasty slap in the face to those who work hard every year to put it on.