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Readercon zero tolerance debacle

By Petrea Mitchell| July 30, 2012 | Comments Off on Readercon zero tolerance debacle

Reports emerged over the last few days of harassment of one Readercon attendee by another, who happens to be a well-known member of the fan community. Readercon has a “zero tolerance” policy for harassment: if the accusation is substantiated, the harrasser is to be banned from the convention, permanently. It has been appluaded before as a bold statement in support of female congoers.

However, in this year’s case, the Readercon board (the group in charge of the organization that controls Readercon, not the committee running the convention this year) chose instead to suspend the offender for two years, later explaining:

When we wrote our zero-tolerance policy in 2008 (in response to a previous incident), we were operating under the assumption that violators were either intent on their specific behaviors, clueless, or both.

During the course of our conversation with Rene it became immediately apparent that he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions. It was that recognition and regret that influenced our decision, not his status in the community.

The admitted harasser is René Walling, long-time con-runner, co-chair of the 2009 Worldcon and the public face of the 2019 Montréal bid. Despite the Readercon’s board assertion that it does not matter, public opinion continues to be that his fan credentials were key to allowing him the chance to make his case.

Reaction has been almost universally negative. One committee member has publicly resigned.

A full roundup of online reaction is available here. Two recurring themes provide useful takeaways for other conventions:

1) Zero-tolerance policies are not really a good idea. As the Readercon board belatedly realized, committing yourself to a single penalty does not work where there may be differing degrees of wrongdoing.

2) Whatever your policy is, enforce it, no matter who the offender is. Readercon is being hammered far more for refusing to follow its own policy than for the possibility that a well-known fan could have been banned for life.

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