Sexual Harassment in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Communities Survey Results

The science fiction and fantasy community has a problem: sexual harassment and sexual predation by men.

I put up a survey recently on the subject. The results, while not surprising, were nonetheless sobering. Of 948 respondents:

• 23% had been sexually harassed at a convention.
• 33% had witnessed sexual harassment at a convention.
• 37% had a family member, friend, or colleague who had been sexually harassed at a convention.

The numbers for the online community were worse:

• 32% had been sexually harassed online.
• 62% had witnessed sexual harassment online.
• 41% had a family member, friend, or colleague who had been sexually harassed online.

The respondents’ detailed description of their experience graphically described the problem. Of the 396 people who responded to the request for details about their experiences:

• 236 had been the victim of verbal harassment.
• 145 had been the victim of physical harassment (groping).
• 29 had been victim of threats of rape and/or violence.
• 3 had been the victim of a man masturbating themselves in front of the respondent (in each case a woman).
• 5 had been the victim of a sexual assault at a convention.

In many cases the harassers are prominent figures: the award winner who likes to use his fame as a lever with which to lure under-age women to his hotel room for sex; the best-selling author who likes to lure young women and under-age women to his hotel room for BDSM sessions–when confronted about this behavior, he claims that since there’s no penetration, it doesn’t count as statutory rape; the award winner who imitates Isaac Asimov’s serial groping behavior; the award winner who uses his fame to pressure young women to sleep with him; the anthology editors who demand sex from female authors in exchange for being published in the anthologies; the small press owners who demand sex from female authors in exchange for being published by the press; the editor who targets children.

In some cases the harassers are known within the industry and to their colleagues to be harassers, but no action is taken against them. One book editor harassed his authors; complaints to the editor’s superior were not forwarded on to the publisher’s Human Resources department, and nothing was done to prevent the editor from continuing to harass his authors.

Some of the victims of harassment refuse to go to specific conventions any more, whether because of that convention’s weak anti-harassment policies, the weak response by the convention’s staff to complaints about harassment, or because a harasser is a regular participant of that convention. Some of the victims refuse to go to any conventions now, because of their negative experiences. Some of the victims are no longer comfortable at conventions unless they are in the presence of a male partner or friend or group of friends. Some of the victims have developed PTSD as a result of being harassed.

Solutions to this problem are not simple. Both WisCon and Readercon were the sites of recent notable cases of harassment, and both toughened up their policies and procedures as a result of their initial failures to properly handle the situations. But it is arguable that convention policies are better at punishment than prevention. Ultimately, what is going to solve the problem of harassment is, first, the strict enforcement of anti-harassment policies by conventions–still a problem, as some convention organizers and runners feel that to publicize anti-harassment policies is to make more of the problem than it is, and that one-size-fits-all anti-harassment policies don’t allow for nuance and personal judgment in dealing with cases of harassment. Second, more victims must report harassment after it happens. There are obvious reasons why victims of harassment don’t come forward: feeling shock and shame at what happened, feeling that they won’t be believed or taken seriously, feeling that nothing will be done about it, feeling that anti-harassment policies won’t do enough, and feeling that conventions won’t handle their complaint in a sensitive and understanding fashion. Thirdly and most importantly, more witnesses, especially more men, must intervene when harassment is taking place and put a stop to it. Many of the survey’s respondents told stories of being harassed in public and no one stopping the harassment or letting the harasser know that what they were doing was unacceptable. Men in particular are reluctant to stop other men from bad behavior. This needs to end. Men must be more proactive in preventing harassment from taking place and stopping harassment when it occurs.

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10 Responses to Sexual Harassment in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Communities Survey Results

  1. Dany Atkins says:

    One thing missing from your list of way to stop it. Men need to stop expecting women to feed their needs. Men need to stop harassment and to stop each other. And all of us need to shun any one who does this. The “but he’s a nice guy” excuse has got to end. I’ve been part of SF/F conventions for forty years. And it disgusts me that this continues.

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  3. Lenora Rose says:

    How did you select your respondents?

    If you asked people to fill out a survey on sexual harassment, you will get a greater number of responses from people who have a story to tell than from people who don’t. This could skew the percentages.

    Fandom absolutely does have a problem with sexual harassment. I am not questioning that. Explicit anti-harassment policies have helped, but I have seen teports of harassmdnt from 2016 and 2017. I just want to see sound methodology in discussing the issue.

  4. Mord Fiddle says:

    What was your methodology? How did you control to make sure the respondents were representative of fandom overall? How did you control for victims of sexual harassment self-selecting to take the survey at a higher rate than persons who had not encountered sexual harassment.

    You seem not to have defined sexual harassment or the witnessing of sexual harassment online. I think this is key, as a given population may not share a common definition of what constitutes sexual harassment. Even Federal agencies such as the National Institute of Health, The Bureau of Justice Statistics, and The National Labor Relations Board don’t have a common, fixed definition.

    Get the facts. Don’t assume.

    I appreciate that this seems a lot of overhead, but this is part and parcel of any survey that seeks to inform policy. You are saying that, based on this survey, you can definitively says that a high proportion of people attending cons are routinely subjected to sexual harassment. If your methodology is flawed, or cannot stand up to scrutiny, you may end up undermining the credibility not only of yourself, but of future victims of sexual harassment.

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  7. Todd Mason says:

    I’m not sure I’m glad nor sorry that I don’t know who any of the cited malefactors are, aside from one of most famously denounced of a few years back.

    As I mentioned when you were prepping your survey, the similarities to Ellison’s essay “Xenogenesis” are telling. That was also an eye-opener for many. That Ellison has been held up as a bad example since publishing that doesn’t change that. But it does suggest that realizing a problem at least can be seen to exist, and how to best respond to that, is indeed difficult…not being an exploitive ass is probably a good start, much less not being an even more acute predator.

  8. Todd Mason says:

    Or, even, “one of the most famously denounced”..

  9. Janice M. Eisen says:

    I missed the survey, but I’ve been harassed verbally at a con by a prominent figure (one whom I regarded as a mentor). It does help to see how widely my experience has been shared, though I wish it weren’t so.

    I reacted the way women often do, by pasting on a smile and trying to smooth things over. This was over 20 years ago, and I still wish I had responded with anger; it feels terribly unfair that while he was the one who behaved badly, I was the one who felt humiliated.

    Sorry to have derailed the discussion by crashing your comments with my personal history. I won’t be offended if you decide to delete it.

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