Why You Should Support the Jeff Mach Events Harassment Policy

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There was a lot of hullabloo over the new Harassment Policy at Jeff Mach Events, so they took suggestions and rewrote it.

Go check out the most up to date version here.

Now this policy isn’t really that different than it has been in previous years, but it is continually updated to reflect real problems at events like GKE and Steampunk Worlds Fair. Namely, the incidences of sexual harassment, rape, consent violations, and other non-consensual asshattery are way too high at conventions. Additionally, the people who often cause these problems almost always make a huge stink about how the victims are lying or causing drama, about how the convention organizers have wronged them, and about how it’s totally not as big a deal as everyone is making it.

This policy changes very little about how Jeff Mach Events will be dealing with those individuals. It simply attempts to codify how they are already dealing with those individuals so that people will know better what to expect. It’s a tougher policy. It’s trying to be more specific about the kind of behavior that is unacceptable. It also explicitly empowers event staff to handle those individuals who are found to actually be problems at their discretion, up to and including removing them from an event. (New edits even make false accusations a matter of harassment, for those of you who are so terribly afraid of being falsely accused.)

I love Jeff Mach Events because I know that if I bring something to the staff that makes me feel unsafe at their events, they will take it very seriously. They will not throw up their hands and say “Well there’s not much we can do unless you involve the authorities!” or “There’s no way to know the whole truth so we can’t really take action!” like staff does at many of the events we all attend.

The staff of Jeff Mach Events understands that it is not their place to be a court of law. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a legal distinction, not a community standard, nor should it be. As private events, the staff of JME reserves the right to talk to, re-educate, evict, or ban anyone they reasonably see as a problem after researching a complaint. 100% proof is not and should not be necessary because adhering to this impossible standard makes it impossible to take action on any community safety complaint. Keeping people safe is more important to them than your “right” to exist in the space they have created. This seems to make some people feel afraid they will be accused, and others relieved that someone is finally taking these issues seriously. Personally, I obviously fall into the latter category.

If people are concerned about being accused, maybe it’s because the harassment policy at JME is very modern and consent based. It does not rely on any generally accepted idea of social behavior because too many of our generally accepted ideas about social behavior are completely busted. We can’t just do things the way we were taught as children. We have to learn a new way. A lot of people find this very threatening and are afraid of accidentally making mistakes while they are trying to learn the new way. Make no mistake, JME are asking you to change your behavior to something unusual and difficult: This is what a fledgling consent culture looks like. No, you cannot assume anything about anybody and actually have to ask. No, you cannot force anybody to do anything physically OR via social manipulation or implicit intimidation tactics. Consent culture requires us all to get rid of some of the bad and bullying behaviors we’ve learned to use to get our way and accept that we cannot control other people and sometimes they are not going to do what we want because personal autonomy and consent is more important.  The thing about these behaviors is that we’ve all been taught they aren’t really a big deal. Not only aren’t they a big deal, but they are sometimes necessary to get shit done(tm). People who can coerce, cajole, and intimidate others into action are often rewarded, especially in professional settings. I’m not innocent of this either. I can be very intimidating and have often used my command of rhetoric and strength of charisma to steamroll people for the sake of expedience and ease. I’ve never used them to violate consent, but I have used them to silence and ignore people who were in my way, and that is basically the same thing.

We live in a culture where power comes from many sources. Money. Position. Class. Race. Gender. Physical Strength. I could list things all day. When we find a source of power like that, like mine I described above, we cling to it because power gives us agency, the ability to shape our own lives, and everybody else is trying to take that away.

Consent Culture turns that on it’s head and says “No, agency is not about who has power. Everybody gets agency by default.” It’s like Oprah: You get agency, you get agency, you all get agency! But this message, this turning upside down of everything we’ve learned about how to navigate socially in life, it requires buy-in from us, the community. It requires us to let go of all the power tactics we have come to depend on and let everyone have their own agency even if it means we don’t get what we want, or some social things take longer or are harder to work out or more complicated because you just. have. to. talk. to. so. many. people. to. get. real. consent.

Consent Culture is a work in progress, and it isn’t perfect yet. Jeff Mach Events should be lauded for trying, for being at the forefront of this movement, not derided because their policy isn’t perfect yet. They appreciate all the people who are helping them make their policies more clear, but they will not change their basic goal of creating a real Culture of Consent in this community. Please please be supportive of this goal, and kind to them as they work toward it. Educate yourself about Consent Culture and re-evaluate your own behaviors. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is okay. Just because you’ve always been taught that something isn’t a big deal doesn’t mean that thing can’t rob a person of agency whether you mean to or not. For instance, I have come to learn that non-consensual hugs can make people feel trapped and afraid and physically intimidated. I was always taught that hugging is a nice thing to do! But my intentions aren’t actually what matters. I had to learn to open my mouth and ask. It’s an extra step. You see a crying person, and instead of immediately sitting down next to them and putting an arm around them, you have to say “Can I sit here? Would you like a hug?” It’s not actually that hard to develop the habit, and if you really try you will find that using your words helps build stronger bonds between strangers anyway. You’re just going to have to trust me on that part until you experience it though.

Now let me address the remaining two things from the Harassment Policy that people are up in arms about:

Once again, Jeff Mach Events are not a court of law. You do not have the right to confront your accuser. You may argue that this is only what is fair, but your idea about what is fair must be weighed against the safety of those who bring problems to the attention of JME. Threats and retribution against victims are so common that most corporations and public schools have a similar policy to avoid victims being harassed even further. You want to hear about a witch hunt? Try filing a sexual harassment complaint in a corporate office. You become a pariah as soon as anyone knows it was you, and you will be threatened, and you will be punished. In this case, the safety of the person reporting a problem is more important than your sense of what is fair. Fair is not always as simple as that. People need to feel safe reporting problems to Jeff Mach Events becaue if people do not report problems then JME cannot address them and cannot continue building the Consent Culture that is so important to them. Many people do not report things because they know the pushback and threats from both the accused and the community will be so harsh it’s just not worth it. Reporting a consent violation should not automatically put you on a public stage for judgement, and yet that is what happens in this community when those who report are publicly known. Everybody has their .02 on the matter, and many of them are not kind. It’s not fair either that the simple act of reporting a consent violation can be the very thing that makes a person feel unsafe. Consent Culture is about making people feel safe. Safe to exist. Safe to interact. Safe to speak up. And that safety is paramount to making Consent Culture work, and must take priority over the things we’ve been taught are “fair.”

But okay, what about the accused? They get named, right? JME staff has to ask people questions about them to get to the bottom of what actually happened. Everyone is going to know they’re being investigated. In this community, reputation is everything. A false accusation is a really big deal. Well, JME has that covered too: false accusations are now included in their definition of harassment.

Unfortunately, what happens far more often than false accusations are people reporting consent violations that the accused doesn’t think are a big deal. Or the accused thinks the accuser is blowing things out of proportion to what actually happened. So let’s stop there and all agree that SOMETHING HAPPENED. We also need to recognize that whatever that something was made someone feel unsafe. JME cares about this very much, and will do their very best to find out what happened and address the issue. And yes, sometimes that involves some re-education about consent culture that seems condescending and unnecessary to the accused. You know what? Suffer through it. JME is trying to prevent things like rape and assault. You can sit and listen for a few minutes.

I’ve never heard of JME evicting someone from an event for a misunderstanding or an honest mistake like a non-consensual hug. Every instance I’ve known of them evicting someone from one of their events has involved multiple complaints of consent violations against the same person. In most cases the accused also reacted to questions about the events with threats and profanity. Some of these people have gone on to insist it was all a conspiracy, and maybe in one or two cases, it was. I don’t believe it, but anything is possible I suppose. I’d wager that JME make fewer mistakes than our own legal system in that regard.

I am frankly so so tired of seeing the false accusations argument used anytime someone tries to take a strong stand against consent violations in our community. False accusations are their own kind of consent violation, and they are wrong. The possibility of false accusations is not, however, a good reason for inaction.

So please, rally behind what Jeff Mach Events are trying to do. It’s a revolution in the fine print.

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