Code of Conduct at events

Ian Jackson ijackson at
Wed Nov 10 11:59:19 UTC 2010

Thijs Kinkhorst writes ("Re: Code of Conduct at events"):
> Writing into a code which is already not allowed and for which exists an
> entire system of enforcement professionals and fact finding procedures,
> seems superfluous at best.

It seems that you may be unfamiliar with the context surrounding
sexual assault and rape.  I don't know where you live, but in most
places only a very small proportion of even rapes result in a
conviction, let alone serious or minor sexual assaults.

A few years ago Harlan Ellison, a very famous SF author, committed a
sexual assault by groping a well known and prominent female SF writer
_on stage in front of hundreds of witnesses_, _captured on video_, and
he was not even thrown out of the convention, let alone prosecuted.

So it is wrong to point to the official criminal authoritises,
because they are not solving the problem.

Also note that criminal punishment is enormously more severe than
censure or even exclusion by a conference organiser.  It is therefore
right that criminal punishment should have a higher standard of

Put it like this: if I'm hosting a party and one of my guests reports
being assaulted by another of my guests (whether it's a sexual eg a
nonconsensual grope, nonsexual eg or pushing or shoving, or whatever),
I'm not going to say "let me call the police".  I'm going to listen to
both sides, and if I believe the complainant I will probably ask the
attacker to leave and never invite them back.

I think that the conference organiser stands in the role of the host
here.  Because it's a large and diverse group, we need to do things
formally, but that doesn't mean that the organisers don't have a
responsibility to everyone - a responsibility which includes asking
people to leave when their behaviour is unacceptable.

In Ellison's case he issued a statement (which you can read quoted on
Wikipedia) which is more of a defence than an apology.  Astonishingly,
after this, he still seems welcome on the US SF convention circuit!

> In general, the majority of the accusations of sexual harassment reported
> to the police turn out to be false, [...]

I don't know why you have turned this from "sexual assault" (which is
a crime, and similarly defined, pretty much everywhere) into "sexual
harassment" (which varies a lot from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and
is something of a moveable feast).

Nor do I believe that most reported sexual assaults turn out to be
false.  If you mean that most don't produce a conviction, that is true
but it does not occur because the reports are false.

>   It seems rather strange to me to recodify certain illegal
> behaviours while leaving out other similarly undesirable and illegal
> ones.

The reaction to the most recent incident seems to show that there are
a substantial number of people who think that, and are willing to
loudly and cleary say that, it is somehow OK to touch someone sexually
without their permission, or that victims of sexual assault bring it
on themselves, or other such nonsense.

One of the key factors that makes people willing to report these kinds
of attacks is the knowledge that they will receive appropriate support
from their community.  That's a big part of the point of having a
code of conduct.  

The other part is to make sure that everyone knows that at least in
our spaces, nonconsensual touching, not taking no for an answer, etc.,
are completely unacceptable.


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