WisCon’s new Anti-Abuse Policy: Reflections on the first year

Anti-Abuse Team and Safety

This year was the first convention where we had a formal procedure in place for what to do when individuals attending WisCon violate the code of conduct described in our anti-harassment policy. The policy is intended to be flexible to allow for different situations, but its basic idea is that if somebody reports a harassing behavior to Safety, the person responsible can be issued a warning and asked to do something differently (such as staying away from a place or person). If warnings aren’t attended to or harassing behavior escalates, the policy describes a few more options, including –– in the worst case scenario, which we hope to avoid –– that Safety and Chairs in consultation with available Anti-Abuse Team members can make a collective at-con decision to ban someone from WisCon.

Now that the convention is over, Safety has handed off their at-con reports to the full Anti-Abuse Team, which is reviewing reports that are still open post-con and evaluating how well the policy performed on- site. Here’s how things looked in our first year:

  • 11 issues relating to the anti-harassment policy were reported to Safety.
  • 4 attendees were issued warnings for harassing behaviors.
  • 1 disruptive non-member was escorted off the premises by hotel staff.
  • 1 person was banned, after several warnings, in response to reports both from multiple departments and from the hotel –– some relating to patterns of behavior going back several years.

What have we learned from the first year of the harassment policy?

Many members have stated that WisCon felt safer this year because they knew that the concom was explicitly trying to make WisCon a place where members could be free of microaggressions and harassment, even if that’s a goal we can’t ever expect to 100% reach. This is what we have been hoping for in our work on the policy and we are very pleased to hear it.

Other members have stated that they fear not being welcome because of the new policy; we have heard terms like “feminist thought police” thrown around. To this we can only say that we do not intend to be a disciplinary committee, and our intention is not to police but rather to be part of a community that holds its members accountable to the principles that we have organized ourselves around. But we also understand that the line between accountability and policing can be a hard one to walk, and we will continue to listen to your feedback on how well we are managing to walk it.

A member who received a warning stated that they would like further information about recourse: what is there for someone to do once they have been given a warning? We agree that this is a gap in the current policy, and we will revise the policy to fix this before WisCon 40. In addition to providing a process for members to appeal decisions with which they disagree, we want to be able to support members who receive warnings that they recognize as justified, so that they can reflect on their behavior, make amends if necessary, and work to be a part of change for the better in future. After all, the structures of white supremacy, patriarchy, cissexism, ableism, colonialism, and capitalism live within all of us as we live within them. Our aim is to make WisCon a place and time in which everyone can be liberated from these oppressions as much as is possible, not to punish those who misstep.

3 thoughts on “WisCon’s new Anti-Abuse Policy: Reflections on the first year”

  1. WisCon’s Anti-Abuse Policy here includes a list that includes “capitalism”, about which the policy goes on to say, “Our aim is to make WisCon a place and time in which everyone can be liberated from these oppressions as much as is possible….”

    Given Merriam-Websters’ definition of capitalism as “a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government,” it’s a strange stance that private ownership is an “oppression”.

    A safe comfortable gaming space is a very laudable goal, however, we have to be cautious that zeal does not become zealotry.

    I am an unabashed defender & devotee of private property rights, which I believe is one cornerstone of a free society. It would be incredibly strange if this meant I should steer clear of WisCon.

    1. Hi, Sean. First, apologies we’ve been so slow in replying to this — the long U.S. holiday weekend has delayed communications a trifle.

      Second, thanks for this question. It’s a good one, and an opportunity for us to clarify what we mean when we talk about capitalism as an oppressive system. I’ve dropped a note to the teams who collaborated on this blog post, and we should have a fuller reply for you in a day or two. Thanks for your patience!

    2. Hi, Sean. I’m posting this response on behalf of Alexis:

      Hi Sean – this is a member of the anti-abuse team who did a lot of the writing for the post above.

      Unsurprisingly, capitalism is a term that is impossible to talk about without getting into heated political questions. However, the definition you linked is a very simplified one which I actually find so incomplete as to be misleading. Without getting too heavily into social and economic theory, there is another element that defines capitalism in addition to private property, and that is the pursuit of PROFIT. It’s not just private ownership by people and companies; it’s that people and companies are motivated by the desire to make more money, to increase their profit. Companies are expected to place the bottom line above other concerns. And the focus on profit, on individual gain, and the assumption that people who have more are to be admired and lauded, is something that’s a part of our culture beyond the literal economic system itself.

      At WisCon, opposition to private property as such is not especially common; there are lots of opportunities to buy things. But for the con as a whole and within the community that forms while it is taking place, profit is not the motivation. Many of us are trying to get away from the idea of valuing people for what they have, for the money they can make and so forth, and to focus on making a space that is about people (and ideas, and fiction, and art, and lots of other things) and not about property or profit. The ways that our capitalist system shapes our attitudes to others can get in the way of that sometimes, in my experience, and that’s why I explicitly included it in the list I made.

      That’s the short answer I can give for now, and it leaves out a lot about how capitalism is entangled with other systems of oppression. But I hope you find it helpful.

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