Jul 28, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Readercon

At Readercon this year, Rene Walling sexually harassed and stalked Genevieve Valentine. (Warning for descriptions of that behaviour.) Readercon had in place a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, stating that offenders would be banned from the convention for life. What happened to Rene Walling? A mere two-year ban. Why? Because he aologised nicely to the board.

That third link is not to the board’s response (right now I can’t read it) but to a post that links to it and also provides some past evidence of Rene Walling’s attitude towards harassment.

It’s not a positive, supportive view, nor does it suggest that his apology came from any other place than a self-centred desire not to lose out on Readercon attendance.

Especially when you take into mind what Genevieve says in her second post: “My harasser this year was named elsewhere, and since then I have been made aware, via private correspondence, I am not the only person he has harassed.”

No, she does not give names. Demanding them is no one’s right. However, one person has come forward with a statement of the harassment she has experienced.

Given the behaviour that Rene Walling exhibited towards Genevieve and Kate, I believe 100% that he has done this to many other women and will continue to do this to many women at whatever cons he is permitted to attend.

When you take into account the fact that Rene Walling is a known person within fandom (a recent Arisia Guest of Honour, has chaired a Worldcon, and writes for Tor.com), don’t you start to wonder why he was treated so leniently? Why his apology counts for more than Genevieve’s report of harassment? Because when you add “rape culture”* to “slightly famous dude”, what you get isn’t nice.

*What makes rape culture work also causes harassment such as this, even where no rape is involved. (Warning for discussion of rape at that link.)

I was hoping to go to Readercon next year, because I enjoyed Readercon 2009 so much. Now I don’t feel comfortable going. Not because I think I’m particularly likely to be harassed, no more or less than anywhere else, but because I know that if I – or anyone else at the con – is actually harassed, and I or anyone else comes forward, an act of bravery in itself, my or their report will not be taken seriously.

And it’s not just that, because in most places reports of harassment are not taken seriously – but at Readercon we have just witnessed that seriousness and support pulled out from under our feet and used to coddle the harasser and tell him that it’s okay, it’s fine, he’ll be able to go back, two years isn’t long.

And here’s the thing about harassment: it makes you feel helpless. It makes you feel like there is nothing you can do to stop it. In certain situations, there really is nothing you can do. (My experience at school. A lot of other people’s experiences, too.) In certain situations, you might know that there is a con policy in place to support you. You might not feel helpless, or you might feel less helpless, knowing that the harasser will be kicked out of the con for a long time or forever.

Well, Readercon just made victims of harassment feel helpless there, too.

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