Tag Archives: anti-abuse team

Wiscon Safer Spaces Update

As WisCon 42 draws closer, the Concom chairs and Anti-Abuse Team (AAT) would like to reaffirm WisCon’s stance on safer spaces. In short, WisCon supports its safer spaces and our members who use them and will not tolerate any attempt to compromise those spaces.

Why safer spaces?

A truly “safe” space is neither possible, nor is it desirable: even among marginalized people, there is a risk for harm, and what makes one person feel safe may make another person feel unsafe. A safer space acknowledges that the space is by its nature imperfect and constructed while still allowing it to exist as a welcoming place.

The intent of a safer space, then, is not to censor or restrict, but instead to offer marginalized people a supportive place to express themselves among others who share similar experiences. Marginalized people often face outside pressure to conform to a certain persona or expectation from a dominant group—to hold their tongues, to shrink, to take up less space. The day-to-day toll of being marginalized wears people down, and incidents that replicate oppressive power structures can arise even in a more self-aware space like WisCon. Thus, safer spaces offer a place for marginalized people to decompress and socialize away from the gaze of those with power and privilege over them. These safer spaces include rooms designated by WisCon to be safer spaces, such as the Trans/Nonbinary/Genderqueer Safer Space, as well as unofficial, WisCon-adjacent events, such as the POC Dinner.

Safer spaces and WisCon’s feminist/social justice legacy

Any space that purports to be feminist and social justice-oriented must acknowledge the multifaceted nature of people’s experiences and identities: that people of color, trans/nonbinary/genderqueer people, and disabled people, among others, deal with different forms of structural oppression than white, cis, and abled people. Creating a more just society requires that we work to dismantle these forms of oppression. Safer spaces are one way for WisCon to uphold that legacy of working toward equality and accessibility for all people.

Repercussions for attempts to compromise WisCon’s safer spaces

WisCon’s Code of Conduct provides an outline of WisCon’s definition of harassment and the process for reporting an incident. The Safety team enforces the Code of Conduct strictly with regards to safer spaces: any harassment toward people who use or are in these safer spaces, as well as general attempts to compromise these spaces, will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. These safer spaces are not an incidental part of WisCon but a core piece of its philosophy and practices that will be upheld to the fullest extent possible.

Please be aware that questions about the need for or effectiveness of safer spaces during WisCon should be directed to the Chairs, and not to users of those spaces, or any other WisCon member. WisCon’s membership are not asked or assumed to defend ConCom or SF3 practices on demand. Attempting to argue the merits of safer spaces with a member of a marginalized group will be considered harassing behavior.  

Many WisCon attendees who travel from elsewhere in the world, as well as elsewhere in the US, are coming to the midwest, to Madison—a place that they know may be unfriendly or even physically dangerous for them—in order to experience a convention that they believe is worth it. In return, WisCon will do what it can, as individuals and as a community, to make this place, for this weekend, as friendly and safe as possible. That includes giving folks a place where they can relax, catch their breath, and draw strength from each other. A place that they don’t need to defend, as WisCon will do so for them.

Signed,

The WisCon Chairs and Anti-Abuse Team

Anti-Abuse Team FAQ

What is the AAT’s process for dealing with reports?

During WisCon, if a problem arises, Safety will respond and take immediate action if necessary. After WisCon, Safety passes their records to AAT for archiving and follow-up. We also receive reports and queries directly through our email address (antiabuse@wiscon.net).

When we receive a report, we discuss it at one of our monthly meetings or over email. Sometimes this can take a while – it’s more important for us that we come to the right decision than that we come to a decision quickly.

After discussing a report, if we find that it requires action from AAT, our most common responses are to:

  • Send a caution or warning asking someone to be mindful of their words and/or actions
  • Give specific instructions about behavior (for example staying away from a particular place or person)

In more serious incidents, or where somebody has continued or escalated problematic behavior following a warning or request, we can:

  • Limit someone’s participation at WisCon. For example, we could recommend that someone not take on a Convention Committee (ConCom) position, volunteer at the con, or be on panels.
  • Ban someone from the convention for one or more years. This is not a common action and we don’t make the decision to use it lightly, but sometimes it is necessary to prevent harm to WisCon’s members. When people are temporarily banned by AAT, we ask that they write to us after the end of the ban period to ask for re-admission because we want to make sure that they will be committed to following the Code of Conduct on their return.
  • Ban someone from the convention permanently. This is extremely rare – it is reserved for cases where it is very clear that someone has been actively abusive either at WisCon or in other similar locations, where we have ample evidence that this person’s presence at WisCon would cause disruption and harm to our members.

I was reported for a microaggression. But I didn’t mean to do anything wrong!

WisCon’s Code of Conduct requires that you participate in making our convention a harassment-free space for all our members. When a person from a privileged group (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, etc.) makes disparaging or harmful remarks about others from an oppressed group, or treats members of that group with less consideration than those from the privileged group, the convention is no longer a harassment-free space for those marginalized people. We all live in a society that is shaped by racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and nationalism; none of us, including marginalized people, are free from these (or any other) systems of privilege and oppression. Microaggressions are the times when those systems show up in our everyday words and actions. They are usually unintentional, and they are usually very small. But, for people who are subjected to them daily, they add up.

By encouraging members to report microaggressions and by taking them seriously, we are working to make WisCon a space where our most marginalized members know that other members have their backs. If you hear from AAT or Safety about a microaggression you committed, you have an opportunity to participate in that work. Listen. Try not to be defensive. Try to understand what happened and why the report was made.

I’ve been given a “caution” or “warning.” Does that mean I’m banned?

Not at all! A caution or warning is basically a little note about language and/or behaviour, explaining what went wrong and how to prevent an issue from recurring. Usually it’ll simply be something along the lines of “we received a report of behaviour x that impacted party y negatively, so in the future please don’t repeat it.”

We understand it can be tough to hear that sort of thing, especially if you hadn’t meant to do anything wrong or were unaware that you’d hurt someone.

But please understand that any caution given to you is a carefully considered advisory that does not reflect A) a judgement against your character or B) a personal vendetta by the accuser or WisCon. We all make mistakes! And we all hope to learn from them.

But how do I know it’s nothing personal? Cons can be cliquey. What if I don’t have the right friends?

AAT was created precisely to act as a buffer against the prosecution of personal grudges or “drama.” If a member of AAT is friends with either the reporter or the subject of an AAT action, they must recuse themselves from any discussion of the case and will have no input on our decision.

One of our most important jobs is sorting “drama” from genuine abuse. We expect everyone who comes to WisCon to be mature enough to sort out the former for themselves.

Sometimes folks just plain don’t like each other, sometimes personalities clash. We’re all human, after all. But such issues aren’t the business of AAT or Safety; they’re personal matters that are best handled by the involved parties. We make a point of analysing every report we’re given to ensure we’re not interfering in private matters.

“Privacy” is sometimes used as a cover for interpersonal abuse, however. How do you tell the difference?

There’s whole essays that could be written on that. But in short: two people simply not getting along isn’t “abuse.” However, if a person at WisCon needs protection from someone engaged in abuse, sexual harassment, or racist or ableist disparagement, we do not consider those matters “private” but an issue that requires the structural force of the convention to protect its members. The very nature of such abuses is that they isolate the target from anyone who can help them. We will do all we can to stop you from being isolated and hurt, that’s a promise.

In cases where it’s difficult to tell the difference between interpersonal issues and abuse, keeping things private makes it easier for us to maximize everyone’s safety without disrespecting anyone’s autonomy. Rest assured, “privacy” is not carte blanche to hurt people at WisCon.

What if I have a complaint about an AAT member?

The member in question will be asked to recuse themselves from all discussion of the matter and will be dealt with like any other con member. If the offence is severe enough, they may be asked to step down from AAT, in addition to being subject to other sanctions.

What if I have a complaint about a ConCom member?

The same rules apply, of course. Part of why AAT exists is that we have some measure of independence from the rest of the ConCom. In short, no one is above the rules of WisCon and we’re all responsible for treating everyone else fairly and justly.

What if I disagree with AAT’s decision? Is there an appeals process?

We try to keep our processes as open as possible. If you disagree with a decision or think that we have misunderstood something, or if you’re worried that our system is being misused, you can share your evidence with us by email and we will take it into account.

If you’re directly affected by an AAT decision and want to challenge it, you can also choose to appoint a member advocate who will help you to make your case. A member advocate is someone in the WisCon community who both AAT and the member in question have agreed can represent that person.

Why did it take so long to respond to my complaint / why am I only being contacted now about something that happened months ago?

AAT is (and has to be) a small group of volunteers, fitting in this work between the rest of our paid and unpaid labor. We believe that coming to the right evaluation is more important than coming to a decision quickly. When we get a complaint, we weigh it carefully, think through our options for responding, compare our responses to previous incidents, and discuss the implications of different responses. Sometimes this is a slow process. We appreciate our community’s patience as we work through our deliberations.

How do I join AAT?

If you’re interested in joining, you are very welcome to let us know, but because the work is very confidential and sensitive, we have a policy that at least one person on the team must vouch for each new member. If you’re interested in this work and don’t know anyone on the team yet, volunteering for Safety, taking on another concom role, or participating in panels on the subject are great ways to become connected to the WisCon community. We also work to maintain a team with diverse identities and perspectives, so our invitations to new members are always shaped by who is already on the team.

Who are the current AAT members?

If you have a concern you don’t want to share with the whole team, you can write to any of the members individually. We are Alexis Lothian (team lead: alexislothian at gmail); Moondancer Drake (Safety liaison; moondancerdrake at gmail); Marianne Kirby (Personnel liaison; onceupon at gmail) Chesya Burke (chesyaburke at gmail); Katherine Cross (chancellor862 at gmail); S. Qiouyi Lu (s at qiouyi.lu); and Sage Sharp (sage at thesharps.us).