Elise Matthesen talks about what happened after she reported being harassed at Wiscon 37, in a post also posted at: C. Lundoff, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stephanie Zvan, Sigrid Ellis and John Scalzi‘s respective blogs.
Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment. One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.
I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.
Let’s get some backstory to this, shall we?
As discussed here previously, Elise Matthesen was harassed by somebody who was later identified as Tor editor Jim Frenkel. Shortly after this, he was no longer. It turned out that Matthesen’s experience with Frenkel wasn’t unique; he’d long had a reputation in some circles in fandom. Wiscon at first seemed to take the harassment complaint as seriously as Tor had done, but then it turned out that not only had Frenkel been allowed to attend, he had also been allowed to volunteer at this year’s Wiscon.
That was in late May. Wiscon was slow to react to this but eventually formed several subcommittees, one to look into the general problem of harassment and safety and two to look into specific allegations, with the one looking into what happened to Elise Matthesen finally reporting its verdict on the 18th of July, formally banning Frenkel:
WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is “provisional” because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.
Allowing Jim Frenkel to return is not guaranteed at any time, including following WisCon 42; the convention’s decision will always be dependent on compelling evidence of behavioral change, and our commitment to the safety of our members. If he is permitted to return at any time, there will be an additional one-year ban on appearing on programming or volunteering in public spaces. Any consideration of allowing him to return will be publicized in WisCon publications and social media at least three months before a final decision is made.
Responses to this announcement were largely critical, with e.g. Kameron Hurley calling for Wiscon to be abolished completely while others said they’d be unlikely to attend Wiscon in future. Elise Matthesen herself had already said she wouldn’t, despite the loss in revenue this would cost her. EDIT: to clarify, she said she would stay away for a year, not forever; see the comments to this post.
In response to this criticism, one of the members of the subcommittee handling Matthesen’s case wrote two blogposts in a personal capacity explaining and apologising for the process with with the committee had handled the case.
From the discussion in those two posts it became clear Wiscon had been doing what Rose Fox had warned about two years earlier, in the context of a similar harassment case at Readercon:
When someone does something we find noxious, they become the focus of attention: how will they be punished? Will they apologize? Can they be brought back into the fold? Meanwhile, the person they targeted with their noxious behavior is forgotten, dismissed, or scorned. Harassers are often charismatic, which is how they get close enough to harass, and they often target the shy and vulnerable, who are that much easier to ignore if they manage to speak up at all. We are all intimately familiar with the narrative of sin-repentance-redemption, and it’s startlingly easy to try to follow someone through it while all but forgetting that they wouldn’t have even started down that road if they hadn’t treated another person badly.
They also pointed out that focusing on the harasser’s redemption means at least two other people would no longer be comfortable at Wiscon.
Following up on all this criticism, Wiscon put out an update saying that
1) In light of the intense community response to the Frenkel subcommittee’s decision, and the concom’s own concern about the “provisional ban,” the WisCon concom is itself currently appealing the subcommittee’s decision and will vote on the matter this week.
2) Debbie Notkin has resigned as Member Advocate, effective immediately.
3) The Bergmann subcommittee is assessing if they can continue given the valid concerns about Wiscon’s existing process.
To which Elise Matthesen’s post was a response.