The Ada Initiative are not enforcers of individual conferences’ policies: this is the responsibility of conference staff, and conferences do not usually inform us of reports, nor do we expect them to. Harassment within a community is that community’s responsibility. However, in some cases when Ada Initiative staff have attended a conference, we have been asked to advise conference staff on responses. We’ve learned several useful techniques for making sure that the conference follows through quickly on its commitment to anti-harassment. We’ve drawn our experiences together into a wiki page: Responding to harassment reports.
Our first tip is, of course, to have a policy. Harassment incidents at geek conferences — including open technology and culture conferences — are widespread. If harassment is reported at your conference and you do not have a policy, it is difficult to reach consensus among conference staff that harassment is not welcome, let alone that you should respond to it, or about how you should respond. The result is that people who are worried about harassment, or who have experienced it at your event or other events, will not feel or be safe at your event. Your policy should be in place before your conference. The Ada Initiative and Geek Feminism volunteers have prepared substantial resources on how to put a policy in place.
You should also pre-prepare some emergency contacts, for incidents that you can’t handle. Conference volunteers and staff are rarely able to solely respond to and properly help with physical safety threats, illness or people in crisis. We suggest preparing a handout with contacts for emergency services, venue security, local medical and mental health facilities and crisis hotlines for mental illness, sexual assault, and physical violence. Make this info available in your conference materials so that attendees do not have to come to you, but have copies to hand in case they do.
Having a staff member whose key responsibility is to assist attendees in difficulty (rather than routine conference chores) can assist in a fast response, see the Duty officer wiki page.
Unfortunately, having a policy does not mean harassment won’t occur at your event. Once an incident is reported, you need to respond rapidly to reports. As the wiki page discusses in more detail you should:
- get a written report where possible, or have the staff member who received it write down what they were told
- have a staff member collate these reports in case of multiple incidents of harassment by one person, so that you can respond to the pattern rather than one instance
- have a staff member discuss the incident with the alleged harasser
- convene a meeting as soon as reasonably practical to decide on a response
- decide on a response and communicate it to the complainant and the harasser as soon as possible
- provide the harasser with an avenue of appeal if one is available but insist that they abide by any sanctions in the meantime
- communicate the incident and response briefly to the community, either attending the conference or reading your blog etc, to allow them to see that the policy is enforced
- remind the attendees and community where the policy is found and invite them to review it
We welcome additional improvements to our detailed guide on how to respond to harassment reports. If you would like to discuss the suggestions, please do so on the wiki’s talk page.
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