Category Archives: Editorial

Editorials and opinion pieces

How I made a tidepool: Implementing the Friendly Space Policy for Wikimedia Foundation technical events

smiling woman

Sumana Harihareswara
CC-BY Guillaume Paumier

This is a guest post by Sumana Harihareswara, a writer, programmer, Wikipedian, editor, community manager, fan, and member of the Ada Initiative board of directors.

Back when I worked at the Wikimedia Foundation, I used the Ada Initiative’s anti-harassment policy as a template and turned it into the Friendly Space Policy covering tech events run by WMF. I offer you this case study because I think reading about the social and logistical work involved might be inspiring and edifying, and to ask you to please donate to the Ada Initiative today.

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Wikimedia hackathon in Berlin, 2012, by Guillaume Paumier (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons I was working for Wikimedia Foundation for ~8 months before I broached the topic of a conference anti-harassment policy with the higher-ups – my boss & my boss’s boss, both of whom liked the idea and backed me 100%. (I did not actually ask HR, although in retrospect I could have.) My bosses both knew that Not So Great things happen at conferences and they saw why I wanted this. They said they’d have my back if I got any flak.

So I borrowed the Ada Initiative’s policy and modified it a little for our needs, and placed my draft on a subpage of my user page on our wiki. Then I briefly announced it to the mailing list where my open source community, MediaWiki, talks. I specifically framed this as not a big deal and something that lots of conferences were doing, and said I wanted to get it in place in time for the hackathon later that month. Approximately everyone in our dev community said “sure” or “could this be even broader?” or “this is a great idea”, as you can see in that thread and in the wiki page’s history and the talk page.

Sumana with two other women running Wikimedia hackathon in Berlin, 2012, by Yves Tennevin [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons I usually telecommuted to WMF, but I happened to be in San Francisco in preparation for the hackathon, and was able to speak to colleagues in person. My colleague Dana Isokawa pointed out that the phrasing “Anti-harassment policy” was offputting. I agreed with her that I’d prefer something more positive, and I asked some colleagues for suggestions on renaming it. My colleague Heather Walls suggested “Friendly Space Policy”. In a pre-hackathon prep meeting, I mentioned the new policy and asked whether people liked the name “Friendly Space Policy,” and everyone liked it.

Sumana teaching a Git workshop at Wikimedia hackathon in Amsterdam, 2013, by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Utrecht, The Netherlands (Wikimedia Hackathon 2013, Amsterdam) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons So I made it an official Policy; I announced it to our developer community and I put it on wikimediafoundation.org.

This might have been the end of it. But a day later, I saw a question from one community member on the more general community-wide mailing list that includes other Wikimedia contributors (editors/uploaders/etc.). That person, who had seen but not commented on the discussion on the wiki or on the developers’ list, wanted to slow down adoption and proposed some red tape: a requirement that this policy be passed by a resolution of the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board of Trustees (so, basically, the ultimate authority on the topic).

Wikimedia hackathon in Amsterdam in 2013, by User:Multichill (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
But approximately everyone on the community-wide list also thought the policy was fine — both volunteers and paid WMF staffers. For instance, one colleague said:

“If a policy makes good sense, we clearly need it, and feedback about the text is mostly positive, then we should adopt it. Rejecting a good idea because of process wonkery is stupid.

Sumana is not declaring that she gets to force arbitrary rules on everyone whenever she wants. She is solving a problem for us.”

My boss’s boss also defended the policy, as did a member of the Board of Trustees.

“Perhaps you misread the width of this policy. Staff can and generally do set policies affecting WMF-run processes and events.”

I didn’t even have to respond on-list since all these other guys (yes, nearly all or all guys) did my work for me.

Sumana and other Wikimedians enjoying a canal ride during the Amsterdam 2013 hackathon, by Andy Mabbett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons I was so happy to receive deep and wide support, and to help strengthen the legitimacy of this particular kind of governance decision: consensus, including volunteers, led by a particular WMF staffer. And, even though I had only proposed it for a particularly limited set of events (Wikimedia-sponsored face-to-face technical events), the idea spread to other affiliated organizations (such as Wikimedia UK) and offline events (Wikimania, our flagship conference — thank you, Sarah Stierch, for your work on that!). And the next year, a volunteer led a session at Wikimania to discuss a potential online Friendly Space Policy:

“Explore what elements are essential for you in such a policy and what we can do collectively to adopt such a policy for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia websites.”

Lydia Pintscher and Lila Tretikov at the Wikimedia hackathon in Zurich, 2014, by Ludovic P (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons So perhaps someday, all Wikipedia editors and other Wikimedia contributors will enjoy a safer environment, online as well as offline! I feel warm and joyous that the discussion I launched had, and is having, ripple effects. I felt like I took a gamble, and I looked back to see why it worked. A few reasons:

  • The Ada Initiative’s template. I cannot imagine writing something that good from scratch. Having that template to customize for our needs made this gamble possible at all.
  • I started the discussion in January 2012; I had joined Wikimedia Foundation (part-time) in March 2011. So I had already built up a bunch of community cred and social capital.
  • In early 2012, open source citizens saw more and more reports of hostile behavior at conferences; people saw the need for a policy.
  • I added “or preferred Creative Commons license” to the big list of attributes (gender, disability, etc.), which gave the document a touch of Wikimedia-specific wit right at the start of the policy.
  • Sumana teaching a workshop participant at the Wikimedia hackathon in Amsterdam, 2013, by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Utrecht, The Netherlands (Wikimedia Hackathon 2013) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons I balanced decisiveness and leadership with openness to others’ ideas.
  • Honestly, I narrowly focused the policy to an area where my opinion carried weight and I held some legitimate authority (both earned and given), phrased my announcement nonchalantly and confidently, and ran the consensus process pretty transparently. I believe it was hard to disagree without looking like a jerk. ;-)

(If you can privately talk with decisionmakers who have have top-down authority to implement a code of conduct, then you can use another unfortunate tool: point to past incidents that feel close, because they happened to your org or to ones like it.)

Indic Wikimedians gathering at Wikimania, 9 August 2013 in Hong Kong, by Subhashish Panigrahi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons By implementing our Friendly Space Policy, I created what I think of as a tidepool:

“…places where certain people can sort of rest and vent and collaborate, and ask the questions they feel afraid of asking in public, so they can gain the strength and confidence to go further out, into the invite-only spaces or the very public spaces….spaces where everybody coming in agrees to follow the same rules so it’s a place where you feel safer — these are like tidepools, places where certain kinds of people and certain kinds of behavior can be nurtured and grown so that it’s ready to go out into the wider ocean.”

With the help of the Ada Initiative’s policy adoption resources, you can make a place like that too — and if you feel that you don’t have top-down authority, perhaps that no one in your community does, then take heart from my story. If you have a few allies, you don’t have to change the ocean. You can make a tidepool, and that’s a start.

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Great design as activism: Real talk from "Not afraid to say the F-word: Feminism" sticker designer Amelia Greenhall

The evolution of the f-word sticker design

The evolution of the f-word sticker design (get yours here)

Once you see it, you won’t forget it: the dynamic and attention-getting Not afraid to say the F-word: FEMINISM sticker by Amelia Greenhall. This sticker is the Ada Initiative’s thank-you gift for its 2014 fundraising drive (only available till October 8, 2014, so donate now!).

Smiling woman

Amelia Greenhall

Amelia works at the intersection of design, user experience, and data visualization. She’s the Executive Director and co-founder of Double Union, a non-profit feminist community workshop, and co-founded the publication Model View Culture. She spends her time reading, writing, biking, climbing, and working on interesting things. We asked Amelia to tell us more about her amazing sticker design.

How did you come up with the idea for the sticker?

Feminism as a “dirty word” is a concept that’s funny because it strikes at the truth of the matter: a lot of people and organizations ARE afraid to say it. The Ada Initiative was one of the first woman-focused tech organizations to actually say the word “feminism.” Their work has profoundly changed tech culture, and part of it comes from opening up the ability to identify publicly as a feminist in tech. They’ve brought many of us who aren’t afraid to say “the F-word” together – and given us a way to do something about the problem, by funding the Ada Initiative’s work.

The sticker sure is eye-catching! It feels like it has many levels to it, despite being all black and white. How did you achieve that?

From the beginning, I knew I would work with hand lettering for this design because I wanted to create an organic form that stands out against the mass of vectorized, illustrator’d shapes on a laptop. I wanted the fundraiser sticker to be a refreshing visual break from tech culture’s dominant (current) forms, to echo how TAI represents changing tech culture to me.

Ink bottles and brushes

Amelia’s workspace, with ink and brush

I started by drawing potential layouts in my sketchbook until I found a rough shape that took advantage of the die cut. Then I used brushes and india ink to letter the phrases “Not afraid to” “F-word” in many different ways, and scanned those in at a super high DPI to capture all the little details in the brushstrokes.

Many different handwritten versions of the words "F-word: Feminism" and similar words

Intermediate sketches of the f-word sticker design

Using Photoshop and my Wacom tablet, I moved parts of the scans around until I found a combination of lettering that was playful and eye catching, and easy to read at the size I wanted to print the sticker.

Photoshop screenshot showing level adjustment

The sticker does have many levels! Working from scans of hand lettering let me use Photoshop tools like “Invert” and “Levels” to bring out the natural variations in the ink painted on paper. I wanted to hit a charcoal tint in the background and bring out the rich variations of ink in the letters.

How important are design and memorable images to feminist activism?

So incredibly crucial! One of the things we’re doing with our feminist activism is building our own community and design and memorable images are a huge part in building a movement. We need a visual language to talk about it with, to identify with and gather round. Imagery of high heels and business suits alone won’t cut it. To represent all of us working to improve tech culture – we need things that speak our own language, have tech snark, incorporate our memes. We need propaganda! Especially physical objects like stickers, buttons, totes, and posters – to act as signposts. Things that say “this is us, this is what we stand for!”

Will you be putting this sticker on something you own?

Yes! I’m primarily a printmaker, which means I design so many things that get printed in multiples that I couldn’t possibly keep everything around or my apartment would fill up! But this is a sticker that easily makes the cut.

Here’s how it looks on my laptop!

Silver laptop with f-word sticker on it

What I appreciate about stickers like this one is that they’re so great for signaling affinity. I know that if I see another “F-word” sticker across the room at a coffeeshop or conference, that person is someone who’s also trying to make tech better – someone I may want to go talk to! I also like that this sticker starts conversations – it’s definitely something that catches the eye.

I am a huge fan of the Ada Initiative’s work changing tech culture, so I love when people ask about the sticker – I get a chance to introduce someone to conference anti-harassment policies or ally skills workshops!

Do you say the f-word? F-F-FEMINISM! Donate $128 or more (or $10 a month) to the Ada Initiative before October 8 and receive the F-word sticker as a thank you gift for supporting our work for women in open technology and culture!

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Conference anti-harassment work in skeptic communities, 2014 edition: more victims speak out as the world takes notice

[Trigger warning for sexual harassment and assault]

It’s been another difficult year for opponents of sexual harassment and assault in the skeptic community and related communities such as atheism and science, as prominent figures accused of harassment and assault continued to be celebrated and defended by some of the community. However, signs of change continue, with others speaking up publicly about their own and their colleagues’ experiences of harassment and assault.

Keep reading for our updated history of conference anti-harassment work in the skeptic community (with some related events from the science blogging community), adding the events from October 2013 to September 2014. Part of anti-harassment work is giving credit where credit is due, so we hope you take a minute to read through and honor the many different voices that have worked hard to make skepticism more welcoming, sometimes without recognition or fanfare for years. This entire post is licensed CC BY-SA the Ada Initiative – please feel free to reuse and remix according to the terms of the license!

Remember: Conference anti-harassment campaigns do work – they “just” take several years of dedicated effort to succeed.

Table of contents

  1. About the authors
  2. Summary of the skeptic anti-harassment campaign
  3. Detailed timeline (skip to the updates)
  4. What’s changed in 2014
  5. How you can help
  6. Sources and resources

About the authors

Mary and Valerie laughing

Mary and Valerie
(CC BY-SA Adam Novak)

As a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture, the Ada Initiative cares deeply about ending harassment in geek communities. Our co-founders, Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora, co-authored the most widely used example anti-harassment policy, hosted on the Geek Feminism Wiki. The Ada Initiative’s first project was advocating full-time for the adoption of policies in the open source community, often working directly with conference organizers and community leaders as advisors and coaches.

If you find our work inspiring, we hope you will join skeptics in supporting the Ada Initiative’s anti-harassment work. We can only do this work with the support of people like you!

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Summary of the skepticism and atheism campaign

The big picture: In 2010, few or no conferences have policies. Serial sexual assaulters and outright rapists are common enough that women speakers have an informal network to warn each other about them. Victims are too afraid to name or report their attackers. In 2014, most conventions have anti-harassment policies, many leaders vocally oppose harassment, and at least three high-profile serial harassers and assaulters have been publicly identified. Some harassers and assaulters have lost their jobs and positions of power. However many victims and advocates are still stalked, harassed, and threatened, and need continuing support from the community. Several accused harassers and assaulters have threatened or begun legal action against those reporting them.


Detailed timeline:

A woman red hair on a black background

Rebecca Watson

June 2011: Rebecca Watson video blogs about being sexually harassed at the World Atheist Convention and suggests: “Guys, don’t do that.” In response, she is viciously harassed by members of the skeptic/atheist community for at least 2 years (the harassment is still on-going as of September 2014).

A smiling woman holding a paper printed with the word atheist

Jen McCreight

May 2012: Jen McCreight says on stage at the Women in Secularism conference that women speakers share the names of speakers who are likely to harass or assault them with other women speakers. Stephanie Zvan blogs about Jen’s comment and about harassment at skeptic/atheist conferences and suggests adopting anti-harassment policies at atheist/skeptic cons, linking to the policy on Geek Feminism Wiki as a good example.

Sarah Moglia and David Silverman commit to (and follow through on) adopting an anti-harassment policy for the Secular Students Association and AACON respectively. Many more conferences follow, led by Jen McCreight, Chris Calvey, Stephanie Zvan, and many more.

Ashley Miller publicly reports her experiences with harassment at TAM 9, countering earlier claims that no harassment was reported at TAM 9. In a positive turn of events, Elyse reports favorably on SkeptiCamp Ohio’s handling of harassment complaints according to their anti-harassment policy. Sasha Pixlee of More than Men begins maintaining a list of skeptic/atheist conferences with anti-harassment policies and advocates for more policies.

June 2012: Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight announce they will not attend TAM due to DJ Grothe’s recent statements. Among many other things, DJ blamed Watson and many others for discouraging women from attending TAM by telling the truth about their experiences of harassment in the community. (Ironically, Watson raised money for travel scholarships for women to attend TAM for several years.)

Dr. Pamela Gay gives a talk, Make the World Better, at TAM calling for skeptics to fight harassment in their community, and describing harassment she had personally experienced, although without naming the perpetrator.

PZ Myers explains why he’s in favor of conference anti-harassment policies in response to a claim that they are unnecessary because hotel security exists.

WylloNyx explains why anti-harassment policies are not sex-negative and would not prevent consensual sexual activity at conferences. “A lack of statement about non-harmful sexual expression is neutral on the sex positivity scale. That harassment policies make it clear that they offer protection against non-consensual sexual expression makes the harassment policies sex positive. It means that not only the ‘yay, sex is awesome’ part isn’t shamed but also the ‘sex isn’t always awesome’ aspect is addressed to the protection of attendees and speakers. To address both aspects of sex positivity clearly without shame makes sexual harassment policies sex positive.”

Greta Christina points out that the OpenSF 2012 conference for people in open, polyamorous, or ethically nonmonogamous relationships has a detailed code of conduct, including things like: “We know this is California and everyone hugs, but please do that awkward ‘wanna hug?’ gesture before actually hugging.”

Ashley Paramore reports being repeatedly groped in front of several people at TAM in 2012, without naming her attacker. The conference anti-harassment team banned the assaulter from future TAMs. Several other people back up her story. Paramore was harassed and threatened for months for publicly reporting her attack.

August 2013: Ian Murphy, Dr. Karen Stollznow, Carry Poppy, PZ MyersJason Thibeault, and many more begin naming names of specific serial sexual assaulters and harassers in the atheist/skeptic community. Jason Thibeault (@lousycanuck) creates a timeline of the sexual harassment accusations. Several of the named abusers threaten legal action, causing accusers to switch to using obvious pseudonyms instead.

An Indiegogo campaign is launched to raise a legal defense fund for one of the accused rapists, Michael Shermer. Ashley F. Miller points out that a quote from the campaign page makes it clear that the goal is to silence victims: “A show of support will send the message that we as a community will no longer tolerate illogical attacks on people who do not condone nor support sexual harassment, sexual predation, or rape any more than we support defamation of our community members from anonymous allegations.”

A skeptic comedian mocks the rape allegations by claiming that it is the victims’ responsibility to turn down alcoholic drinks if they don’t want to get raped and comparing the reports to religious texts. Jason Thibeault provides a transcript of the video with these remarks and explains what is wrong with the idea that getting drunk should be punished with rape or comparing the reports made directly to PZ Myers and others with religious gospels.

Smiling woman with glasses

Dr. Danielle Lee

October 2013: In the related science-blogging community, biologist Dr. Danielle Lee (@dnlee5) describes being called an “urban whore” in a blog post hosted on Scientific American. Scientific American removes the blog post and eventually reinstated it.

Following discussion about the Scientific American blog takedown, Monica Byrne then names a science editor she had described in 2012 as approaching her for sex inappropriately: Bora Zivkovic, then-Blogs Editor for Scientific American. Zivkovic apologises for his behavior to Byrne, but other women describe similar experiences. Zivkovic then resigns from Scientific American and Science Online, and Science Online states he will not attend their events in 2014. The #RipplesOfDoubt discussion arises from this incident.

November 2013: In response to #RipplesOfDoubt, Dr. Pamela Gay publicly describes the fallout from her TAM 2012 talk, including threats to her career.

January 2014: Bora Zivkovic publishes a (since deleted) New Year blog post asking how he can prove himself trustworthy. Science Online co-founder and board member Anton Zuiker publishes a long article calling for the online community to forgive Zivkovic, including a discussion of an unrelated false rape accusation. Two days later, the board of Science Online states that Zuiker has been asked to not comment further on Zivkovic.

February 2014: Ben Radford files suit against Karen Stollznow, and posts about false accusations on the Centre For Inquiry’s blog.

March 2014: Radford posts a statement to his Facebook wall, an apparent retraction of Stollznow’s allegations of harassment. allegedly co-signed by her. Stollznow categorically denies agreeing to it or signing it; Stollznow’s husband Michael Baxter states that he had worked on a joint statement draft with Radford or his representatives but that it had not been finalized nor had she agreed to it. Stollznow raises $60,000 on Indiegogo for her defense fund. Jason Thibeault creates a timeline of the statements released by different parties.

Woman's portrait

Janet Stemwedel

Back in the science-blogging community, Dr. Janet Stemwedel (@docfreeride) publishes a report-out from an impromptu gathering of people at the ScienceOnline Together conference concerned about the ScienceOnline board’s handling of violations of its anti-harassment policies.

May 2014: Dr. Pamela Gay describes the assault she experienced in 2008 and alluded to in her TAM 2012 talk and her November 2013 blog post and subsequent communication from her assailant.

September 2014: Mark Oppenheimer’s Buzzfeed piece Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement? is published, documenting harassment and assault of several women in the skeptic and athiest communities, including several not-previously described accusations, particularly about Michael Shermer. Jason Thibeault releases an updated timeline of harassment and sexual assault allegations in the skeptic community, including several women who allege Shermer harassed or assaulted them.

Adam Lee (@DaylightAtheism) publishes a post in which Dr. Pamela Gay goes on record as saying that D. J. Grothe is the person who originally intervened when she was sexually harassed but later pressured her into silence.

What’s changed in 2014

The rumbles and cracks that grew around sexual harassment and assault in 2013 continued to grow in 2014, with a growing part of the community no longer willing to be silent about their own experiences and those that their colleagues and friends reveal. The unhealthy parts of the culture of the skeptic community have begun to attract mainstream attention. But powerful people within the community are accustomed to its norms and keen to defend them through silencing their victims with professional and legal consequences. Much more support is needed for those speaking up, from individual support through to institutional reform that protects them from reprisals.

How you can help

Two women smiling

Sarah Sharp and Sumana Harihareswara, CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

Whether you are the leading novelist in your field, or a lurker on a mailing list, you can take action to stop conference harassment. You can use your words, your influence, your money, and your participation to change the culture in your community.

  • Only attend conferences with (enforced) anti-harassment policies
  • If a conference doesn’t have a policy, ask them if they plan to have one
  • Start a pledge to not attend cons without policies
  • Start new conferences if existing ones won’t adopt policies
  • If you sponsor events, only sponsor events with policies
  • Publicly support victims of harassment, especially if you are exceptionally influential
  • Publicly support anti-harassment campaigns, especially if you are exceptionally influential
  • Exclude well-known harassers from your events and let them know why
  • Educate yourself on responding to harassment, especially if you are a con organizer
  • Learn more about bystander intervention
  • Don’t promote the work of people who harass or support harassment

You can also donate to support the Ada Initiative, which has been working full-time on ending harassment in open technology and culture communities since January 2011. Our 2014 fundraising campaign ends October 8th. Learn more about our progress so far and our plans for future work in 2014 and 2015.

Donate now


Sources and resources

List of geek conferences that have adopted anti-harassment policies
The Geek Feminism Wiki Timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities
Ada Initiative anti-harassment policy page

Kronda Adair talks about radical inclusion, AdaCamp, and women starting their own businesses

Smiling woman

Kronda Adair, web consultant

Kronda Adair is not afraid to say the F word: Feminism! In fact, she’s shouting it from the rooftops while also running her own business as a freelance web developer, speaking out on feminist issues at tech conferences and on her blog, and encouraging other women to strike out on their own and start their own businesses. Join her in supporting the Ada Initiative and donate today!

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“I heard that AdaCamp was being held in Portland and all my friends raved about it, so I applied,” Kronda Adair told us. AdaCamp is the Ada Initiative’s open-application, invitation-only unconference for women in open technology and culture. “It seemed like the best possible world – one in which participants are deliberately chosen and where the assholes are screened out before you even arrive.” The actual experience exceeded her hopes. “I loved AdaCamp so much. Once you’ve experienced radical inclusion at a conference, it’s hard to go back.

Adair knows too well the feeling of exclusion, one reason she started her own web consulting business, Karvel Digital.

“I came fairly late to the tech industry,” Adair says. “I went back to school at 34 and studied web development. Right out of school, I started working at a development agency. I had some good mentors but it was very male-dominated. There was only one other woman developer who left pretty quickly. I began to notice that I was getting a lot of flack about things that the male developers were not getting flack about,” she says, “and eventually was fired. They said it wasn’t a ‘culture fit.'”

Two women standing back to back smiling

CC-BY-SA Adam Novak

This moment proved to be a major turning point for Adair, as she struck out on her own to create the kind of work environment she wanted. “Within hours of being fired from my job, my biggest feeling was one of relief and happiness that I didn’t have to go back to a place where I wasn’t supported and experienced microaggressions on a daily basis,” she remembers.

It also gave her the ability to speak honestly about the marginalization of women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks in tech and become both a voice for change in the industry and an inspiration for other women looking to strike out on their own.

“I hang out in a chat room full of lady developers, so when the Call For Presentations for Open Source Bridge opened, the title ‘Stop Crying in the Bathroom and Start Your Own Business’ came to me and I asked my chat buddies what they thought.” They were overwhelmingly supportive. Adair’s talk was quickly accepted.

There’s not a lot of narrative in the tech industry about being able to directly use your skills to benefit people without the overhead of trying to get biased hiring managers to give you a job, or dealing with sexism, racism, homophobia or transphobia on a daily basis. I wanted to model that and show people that it’s possible because it’s the way that I see myself being able to stay in the industry long term without sacrificing my emotional health.”

80 women cheering and wearing many different colors

AdaCamp Portland
CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

Adair’s strong sense of community and solidarity is one of the reasons that AdaCamp resonated with her so powerfully. “This year has been one of a lot of stress and transitions and so it happened that when I actually attended AdaCamp, my energy was pretty much as low as it’s ever been. I didn’t really even feel fit for interacting with people, but the great thing about AdaCamp was that I felt completely safe showing up in that state and being open about it, and people just met me where I was.”

Many AdaCamp attendees have expressed their gratitude and relief at the support, camaraderie and inspiration they find at AdaCamp, as well as a deep frustration that this environment is currently so rare. “I heard from many attendees that it was the first time they’ve been able to enjoy a technical conference while also feeling safe,” Adair says. “That’s a terrible reflection on the ‘normal’ conference experience. So I think it’s vitally important to put pressure on the industry to do better and The Ada Initiative does that very effectively.”

We can’t thank Kronda enough for her support of our work and of women in technology! We hope many people follow her lead in encouraging women to found their own businesses as one important way to create a better working environment for women in tech.


Two women smiling

CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

Thanks to donations from people like you, in 2014 we were able to offer 3 AdaCamps – the most we have ever offered in a single year, and one in each of three continents: Asia, Europe, and North America. Holding multiple small AdaCamps all over the world lets us reach more women who need AdaCamp, instead of the lucky few who live in the top few technology centers. We also offer free registration, travel scholarships, and free child care to AdaCamp attendees who would be unable to attend otherwise. Making AdaCamp more accessible to the women who need it most also means that we lose money on each event. It’s only thanks to donations from people like you that we can continue to make AdaCamp serve the needs of women in open technology and culture first!

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"Diversity isn't a cynical PR move, it's a shrewd business strategy" – Why one venture capitalist supports the Ada Initiative

Smiling woman

Rachel Chalmers, venture capitalist

This is a guest post from Rachel Chalmers, Principal at venture capital firm Ignition Partners and a member of the Ada Initiative board of directors. Keep reading to find out why Rachel donated $2,000 of her own money to the Ada Initiative, and is calling on other venture capitalists and investors to join her in supporting the Ada Initiative.

As an industry analyst, I covered 1,054 startup companies over 13 years. Of these, the single most dramatic success was VMware, worth $40 billion as I write this. VMware was remarkable in another respect: one of its founders was a woman.

Two women smiling, CC BY-SA Adam NovakCorrelation doesn’t imply causality, but Diane Greene’s achievement is emblematic of a deeper trend that I and others have observed over the years: companies that recruit and promote women and people of color outperform companies that don’t. Diversity isn’t a cynical PR move. It’s a shrewd business strategy. It’s meritocracy practiced as a commitment to change, rather than as a lazy justification for maintaining the status quo.

This is a big part of why I support the Ada Initiative. The Ada Initiative’s anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct have been adopted across the software industry, from technical conferences to startup incubators. They’re creating safe spaces for women and other under-represented people to contribute their talents and perspectives to the world. These changes eliminate wasted potential and improve outcomes. Not implementing them is fiscally irresponsible.

Two women reclining and hugging

Rachel and Jean Chalmers

All that said, my support for TAI goes far beyond calculating profit and loss. I’ve written here before about the awesome education I was lucky enough to get. My mother, who died in February, was more than a match for me intellectually – crosswords were effortless to her, and she wiped the floor with me in Scrabble.

But she came of age in 1953, when the options for clever working-class women from the north of England were dire. She was the first in her family to attend college, but like so many in that position, she lacked the support she needed to graduate. It’s the world’s loss as much as hers. Who knows what she might have achieved? Mum did a brilliant job playing the hand she was dealt, but the game was rigged. I work with TAI to get everyone a fairer deal.

I encourage you to do the same.

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Conference anti-harassment work in SF&F, 2014 edition: N. K. Jemisin's speech, Hugo battles, Frenkel saga & more

[Trigger warning for sexual harassment and assault]

Smiling woman

N. K. Jemisin, award-winning author and leader in the SF&F anti-harassment movement

It has been an eventful year for the SF&F community, to say the least! In the Ada Initiative’s 2013 history of anti-harassment campaigns we wrote: “Sometimes fighting harassment and assault at conferences feels like a losing battle. For every step forward, it seems like there’s another step back.

2014 was no exception to that rule: a powerful editor and long-time serial harasser returned to the conference most people thought he was banned from, award-winning author N. K. Jemisin gave another game-changing Guest of Honor speech, and the Hugo awards became a battleground for the future of SF&F, to name just a few events.

Keep reading for our updated history of conference anti-harassment work in the SF&F community, adding the events from August 2013 to August 2014. Part of anti-harassment work is giving credit where credit is due, so we hope you take a minute to read through and honor the many different voices that have worked hard to make SF&F more welcoming, sometimes without recognition or fanfare for years. This entire post is licensed CC BY-SA the Ada Initiative – please feel free to reuse and remix according to the terms of the license!

Remember: Conference anti-harassment campaigns do work – they “just” take several years of dedicated effort to succeed.

Table of contents

  1. About the authors
  2. Summary of the SF&F anti-harassment campaign
  3. Detailed timeline (skip to the updates)
  4. What’s changed in 2014
  5. How you can help
  6. Sources and resources

About the authors

Mary and Valerie laughing

Mary and Valerie
(CC BY-SA Adam Novak)

As a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture, the Ada Initiative cares deeply about ending harassment in geek communities. Our co-founders, Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora, co-authored the most widely used example anti-harassment policy, hosted on the Geek Feminism Wiki. The Ada Initiative’s first project was advocating full-time for the adoption of policies in the open source community, often working directly with conference organizers and community leaders as advisors and coaches.

If you find our work inspiring, we hope you will join SF&F authors and fans in supporting the Ada Initiative’s anti-harassment work. We can only do this work with the support of people like you!

Donate now

History of the science fiction and fantasy campaign

The big picture: In 2010, Sexual harassment, stalking, and groping were common. Serial sexual harassers operated with impunity. The feminist science fiction convention, WisCon, was one of the only SF&F cons with an anti-harassment policy.

In 2014, over 1000 people have pledged to attend only SF&F cons with anti-harassment policies, many cons have policies, and several serial harassers have been publicly identified, banned from conferences, and/or fired from their SF&F jobs. However, some people charged with the protection of attendees have not educated themselves about existing anti-harassment work, and voices for diversity and justice in SF&F are subject to terrible attacks. In terms of our terminology for stages of anti-harassment campaigns, SF&F is somewhere around Stage 5–6: Most conferences have strong, enforced anti-harassment policies and powerful harassers are being publicly named, with attendant backlash.

Detailed timeline:

Smiling woman wearing glasses

Connie Willis CC BY-SA Ellen Levy Finch

August 2006: At the WorldCon science fiction and fantasy convention, Harlan Ellison gropes Connie Willis’ breast on stage during the Hugo awards ceremony (both are Hugo-award winning authors), kicking off extensive online discussion about sexual harassment in the SF&F community.

April 2008: At Penguicon, a hybrid science fiction and Linux convention, attendees create The Open Source Boob Project, in which some attendees wore buttons to signal whether they are open to requests to touch them sexually. The creator later had a change of heart and publicly stated that he thought the project did more harm than good by causing women to feel unsafe.

Vito Excalibur suggests the idea that becomes the Open Source Back Each Other Up Project, focusing on anime and comic conventions. This is a pledge by individuals to intervene if they see harassment occurring.

Geek Feminism LogoMay 2008: The Geek Feminism Wiki is founded by Alex “Skud” Bayley (formerly Kirrily Robert), becoming a go-to resource for feminists in a variety of geeky areas, including science fiction, computing, fandom, anime, computer gaming, cosplay, and more. Mary Gardiner becomes a major contributor to the Geek Feminism Wiki.

July 2008: Genevieve Valentine reports on harassment of several women at ReaderCon. The offender was quickly ejected from the conference.

August 2008: Girl-Wonder.org launches the Con Anti-harassment Project, focusing on comic, anime, and fandom conventions. Girl-Wonder.org members include Karen Healey and Hannah Dame, who were listed on the press release for the CAHP launch. Several conventions adopt a policy shortly thereafter.

January 2009: Racefail, an SF&F-wide discussion of race in SF&F works and criticism, and of fans of color and their experiences in fandom, begins. Several hundred posts (as listed by Seeking Avalon and rydra-wong) are contributed by many writers.

May 2009: WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention, adopts a clear and specific anti-harassment policy after having a more generic one for many years earlier, in response to an incident of harassing photography.

The Geek Feminism Wiki page “Timeline of Incidents” is started. This page records the sexist incidents in geek communities and currently goes back as far as 1973. The Timeline of Incidents, along with the rest of the Geek Feminism Wiki, eventually become vital resources in the fight for anti-harassment policies.

A woman with raised eyebrows wearing glasses

K. Tempest Bradford
(CC BY K. Tempest Bradford)

August 2009: The Geek Feminism Blog is founded by Alex “Skud” Bayley and many others, with frequent contributions from Mary Gardiner, Liz Henry, Terri Oda, K. Tempest Bradford, and many others. With a firm moderation policy, this blog becomes a safe space to discuss geeky and/or feminist topics, including fandom, technology, and activism.

The Backup Ribbon Project is created by thatwordgrrl. The idea is to wear a ribbon indicating that you are willing to help victims of harassment, either by intervening or by assisting them after the fact.

[ENORMOUS GAP HERE PLEASE HELP US FILL IT: Email contact@adainitiative.org or leave a comment.]

A black and white photo of Jim C. Hines, smiling with his arms crossed

Jim C. Hines

November 2010: Jim C. Hines creates a set of resources for reporting sexual harassment in SF&F, updated yearly. The 2013 version is here.

July 2012: Genevieve Valentine reports harassment at ReaderCon from René Walling, a well-known fan. ReaderCon bans him from the con for 2 years, in contravention to their stated policy of a lifetime ban. Hundreds of blog posts and petitions protesting this decision followed, as well as more reports of harassment by René Walling as well as other Readercon attendees, from Kate Kligman, Veronica Schanoes, and others.

August 2012: The ReaderCon board issues an apology, bans René Walling for life, and resigns en masse. Led by Rose Fox and Crystal Huff, the Readercon convention committee commits to many improvements on its anti-harassment policy and its enforcement.

Dragon*Con bans Backup Ribbons from the Backup Ribbon Project, citing concerns that harassers might wear them.

September 2012: Scott Henry writes an article for Atlanta Magazine documenting that Dragon*Con co-founder Ed Kramer has evaded trial for child molestation for years. Kramer continues to receive part of the Dragon*Con profits each year.

Smiling woman

Award-winning author N. K. Jemisin

November 2012: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) issue a a statement defining their sexual harassment policy and specifying that it applies to all SFWA events.

June 2013: N. K. Jemisin gives her Guest of Honour speech at Continuum 9.

So I propose a solution — which I would like to appropriate, if you will allow, from Australia’s history and present. It is time for a Reconciliation within SFF.

It is time that we all recognized the real history of this genre, and acknowledged the breadth and diversity of its contributors. It’s time we acknowledged the debt we owe to those who got us here — all of them. It’s time we made note of what ground we’ve trodden upon, and the wrongs we’ve done to those who trod it first. And it’s time we took steps — some symbolic, some substantive — to try and correct those errors. I do not mean a simple removal of the barriers that currently exist within the genre and its fandom, though doing that’s certainly the first step. I mean we must now make an active, conscious effort to establish a literature of the imagination which truly belongs to everyone.

Within days, SF&F writer and community member Theodore Beale denounces Jemisin in deeply racist and sexist terms on his blog, which he then syndicated to the Science Fiction Writers of America Twitter account (@SFWAuthors). SFWA apologises and bans Beale from syndicating blog posts to their account. <a href=”Jim C. Hines and Amal El-Mohtar, among others, call for his expulsion from the SFWA.

Smiling woman

Mary Robinette Kowal © 2012 Rod Searcey

June 2013: In what appeared to be a watershed moment, Science fiction editor James Frenkel leaves Tor shortly after being reported for sexual harassment at WisCon 2013 by Elise Matthesen. Elise announced what she had done, without naming the editor in question, in simultaneous posts on the blogs of Mary Robinette Kowal, Seanan McGuire, Chuck Wendig, Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi, and Jim Hines. Shortly thereafter, Sigrid Ellis names Frenkel in a comment on John Scalzi’s blog post. Mary Robinette Kowal names Frenkel and details all the reasons why someone might be afraid to name him in “Why I am I afraid to name the editor?K. Tempest Bradford reminds everyone that “high level people at Tor have been aware of Frenkel’s behavior for years.More revelations about sexual harassment in SF&F, both by Frenkel and others, follow.

July 2013: Science fiction author John Scalzi pledges not to attend conferences without strong, specific anti-harassment policies and asks others to co-sign. N. K. Jemisin makes an important clarification that harassment is not limited to sexual harassment. Over 1000 people co-sign the pledge.

Mary Robinette Kowal posts an open letter to the “Twelve rabid weasels of SFWA” in which she reveals that she “spent four years in office [at the SFWA] and the first year I almost quit because I got so tired of getting hate mail.” The post included gems such as “I know, I know. Asking you not to be racist/sexist/elitist, or just for impulse control is tantamount to fascism and catering to the liberal mob. All the other members manage to do it. Why can’t you?” and “Please quit. And by ‘quit’ I mean, please quit SFWA in a huff. Please quit noisily and complaining about how SFWA is censoring you for asking you to stop using hate speech. Please quit and complain about the ‘thoughtcrime’ of asking people not to sexually harass someone.”

PC Monster card for N. K. Jemisin

The PC Monsters of SFWA Twitter list is created, to mock members of the SFWA, described as “screeching feminists.” Instead, people use it as a “Who to follow” list (DL Thurston made a copy here), and at least some members of the list suddenly gain dozens of new followers. Jim C. Hines creates collectable playing cards to commemorate the honor. The list includes Laura Resnick (@LaResnick), William Alexander (@williealex), Jess Haines (@Jess_Haines), Myke Cole (@MykeCole), Michael Swirsky (@mbswirsky), Josh Vogt (@JRVogt), Jim C. Hines (@jimchines), Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai), Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed), Sean Wallace (@oldcharliebrown), Alex D MacFarlane (@foxvertebrae), N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin), Steven Gould (@StevenGould), Jason Sanford (@jasonsanford), and John Scalzi (@scalzi).

Dragon*Con finally gets rid of child molester and cofounder Ed Kramer by buying out his share of Dragon*Con.

August 2013: Theodore Beale is expelled from the SFWA for using it to promote hate speech, including racism.

January 2014: Amal El-Mohtar argues strongly against on-going “hand-wringing” over self-promotion of an author’s eligible works for awards because it harms marginalized people the most, especially women and people of color.

February 2014: Dave Truesdale circulates a petition calling for the end of “political correctness” in the SF&F community (by which he means a return to cover art of sexualized women and women conforming to 1950’s era gender roles). Science fiction luminaries Gregory Benford, Robert Silverberg, Barry N. Malzberg, and Mike Resnick sign the original petition. A significantly rewritten petition calling mainly for a set of rules around editorial decisions at the SFWA is signed by many more award-winning authors, including David Brin, Jerry Pournelle, Nancy Kress, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, C. J. Cherryh, and Larry Niven. Natalie Luhrs posts a detailed critique of the original petition.

Sean Fodera criticizes author Mary Robinette Kowal for fighting sexism while simultaneously publishing photos of herself wearing a romantic dress. He later apologizes.

The “Women Destroy Science Fiction” Kickstarter to fund an all-women issue of LIGHTSPEED Magazine raises over $50,000 – more than 10 times the original goal. It is expanded to create all-women issues of fantasy and horror as well.

April 2014: Larry Correia and Theodore Beale recommend a “Sad Puppy” slate of works to voters in the 2014 Hugo awards, comprising largely politically conservative or “golden age”-style science fiction works. John Scalzi recommends assessing all the works on their own merits; his position is criticised by Shweta Narayan and Arachne Jericho among others for exposing marginalised Hugo voters to hurtful and dangerous sentiments.

May 2014: N. K. Jemisin gives her Guest of Honor speech at WisCon 38, directly addressing Beale’s attacks on her, saying that:

… I was premature in calling for a reconciliation. Reconciliations are for after the violence has ended. In South Africa the Truth & Reconciliation Commission came after apartheid’s end; in Rwanda it started after the genocide stopped; in Australia reconciliation began after its indigenous people stopped being classified as “fauna” by its government. Reconciliation is a part of the healing process, but how can there be healing when the wounds are still being inflicted? How can we begin to talk about healing when all the perpetrators have to do is toss out dogwhistles and disclaimers of evil intent to pretend they’ve done no harm?

Despite last year’s harassment complaints, WisCon allows Jim Frenkel both to attend and to volunteer in the consuite. After the end of the conference, WisCon pledges a response to complaints about Frenkel’s presence.

A women wearing a face shield and holding jewelry wire and tools

Elise Matthesen making jewelry, by Sarah Ahiers

June 2014: Both Lauren Jankowski and Elise Matthesen announce publicly that WisCon has told them their 2013 harassment reports concerning Jim Frenkel had been lost by the con committee. Jankowski also reports that she had falsely been led to believe Matthesen had asked for Frenkel not to be banned.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen criticises a piece that Leah Schnelbach has written for Tor.com valorising Marion Zimmer Bradley (MZB) on the basis that MZB had been complicit in her husband Walter Breen’s sexual abuse of children within the SF&F fandom community. In June and July, MZB’s adult children Moira and Mark Greyland give survivor accounts of MZB’s own abuse of them.

The full text of the zine The Great Breen Boondoggle, with explicit contemporary accounts of Breen’s abuse of children in the early 1960s together with the Berkeley fandom community’s discussion over whether to expel him, is made available on Wikia, causing fans to reflect on how many of the fallacies the Berkeley community fell into, particularly the fallacy that ostracism is evil — “We’re all kooks. Walter is just a little kookier than the rest of us. Where will it all end if we start rejecting people because they’re kooky?”, “…if we do such a horrible thing as expelling him, I’ll quit fandom.” — are still widespread and causing harm in fandom fifty years later.

July 2014: WisCon’s subcommittee reviewing Jim Frenkel’s continued attendance at WisCon announces a four year ban for Frenkel with apparent “parole” for good behaviour. Their decision is roundly criticised and a personal post by the subcommittee chair and resulting discussion reveals several key failings, including interviewing Frenkel but not the complainants, and an attempt to apply a judicial model to him. Widespread negative commentary on the decision has been linked by Natalie Luhrs. Stephanie Zvan publishes a detailed on guide on how to decide when or if an accused harasser can return to “scene of the crime.”

A woman in a long red dress standing on stage

Ann Leckie CC BY-SA Henry Harel

August 2014: In a joint decision, the convention committees of WisCon 37 and 38 revise the decision on Jim Frenkel’s future attendance, and announce that he is permanently banned.

The Correia/Beale “Sad Puppy” slate performs poorly at the Hugo awards in London. Ann Leckie’s debut novel Ancillary Justice, widely praised for its handling of gender, wins Best Novel, and receives a standing ovation.

What’s changed in 2014

Unfortunately, 2014 revealed that some of the progress that appeared to have been made in 2013 was spotty at best, with WisCon, a self-identified feminist convention, unable to respond decisively to protect its community from well-documented harassment that had already cost the harasser his job. The subcommittee responsible for the Frenkel decision was unaware of existing best practices, including those arising Readercon debacle of 2012. Likewise, SF&F continued to grapple with its long history of privileging abusers’ place in the community over everyone else’s safety.

But anti-harassment bridges continue to be built, with activists and fans involved in safety committees and anti-harassment work reaching out to each other to share best practices. Authors like N. K. Jemisin, Sofia Samatar, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Update 2015-01-07: Sriduangaew has since been outed as a harasser under other pseudonyms) who work outside the traditional fascination of SF&F and other literature and media with the experiences and ambitions of white Western men continue to find venues for their their work, though not as many as are justified by the quality of their work. The work that precedes reconciliation with the SF&F community continues.

How you can help

Two women smiling

Sarah Sharp and Sumana Harihareswara, CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

Whether you are the leading novelist in your field, or a lurker on a mailing list, you can take action to stop conference harassment. You can use your words, your influence, your money, and your participation to change the culture in your community.

  • Only attend cons with (enforced) anti-harassment policies
  • If a con doesn’t have a policy, ask them if they plan to have one
  • Start a pledge to not attend cons without policies
  • Start new confs if existing ones won’t adopt policies
  • If you sponsor events, only sponsor events with policies
  • Publicly support victims of harassment, especially if you are exceptionally influential
  • Publicly support anti-harassment campaigns, especially if you are exceptionally influential
  • Educate yourself on responding to harassment, especially if you are a con organizer
  • Learn more about bystander intervention
  • Buy books from the PC Monsters of Genre
  • Don’t buy the works of people who harass or support harassment

You can also donate to support the Ada Initiative, which has been working full-time on ending harassment in open technology and culture communities since January 2011. Our 2014 fundraising campaign ends October 8th. Learn more about our progress so far and our plans for future work in 2014 and 2015.

Donate now


Sources and resources

List of geek conferences that have adopted anti-harassment policies
Resources for reporting sexual harassment in science fiction and fantasy
The Geek Feminism Wiki Timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities
Ada Initiative anti-harassment policy page

Handling harassment incidents swiftly and safely

As anti-harassment policies become more widespread at open technology and culture events, different ways of handling harassment incidents are emerging. We advocate a swift process in which final decisions are made by a small group of empowered decision makers, whose focus is on the safety of the people attending the event.

Open technology and culture communities, which often make decisions in a very public way, can be tempted to also have a very public and very legalistic harassment handling process, a judicial model, but we advocate against this. It prioritises other values, such as transparency and due process, over that of safety. Alternatively, because many members of such communities find ostracism very hurtful and frightening, sometimes they develop a caretaker model, where they give harassers lots of second chances and lots of social coaching, and focus on the potential for a harasser to redeem themselves and re-join the community.

But neither of these models prioritise safety from harassment.

Consider an alternative model: harassment in the workplace. In a well-organised workplace that ensured your freedom from harassment — a situation which we know is also all too rare, but which we can aspire to, especially since our events are workplaces for many of us — an empowered decision maker such as your manager or an HR representative would make a decision based on your report that harassment had occurred and other relevant information as judged by them, and act as required order to keep your workplace safe for you.

A well-organised workplace would not appoint itself your harasser’s anti-harassment coach, have harassment reports heard by a jury of your peers, publish the details of your report widely, have an appeals process several levels deep, or offer fired staff members the opportunity to have their firing reviewed by management after some time has passed.

Like in a well-organised workplace, we advocate a management model of handling harassment complaints to make events safer: reasonably quick and final decisions made by a small group of empowered decision makers, together with communication not aimed at transparency for its own sake, but at giving people the information they need to keep themselves safe.

The management model of harassment handling is that:

  1. you have a public harassment policy that clearly states that harassment is unacceptable, and gives examples of unacceptable behaviour
  2. you have a clear reporting avenue publicised with the policy
  3. you have an empowered decision maker, or a small group of decision makers, who will act on reports
  4. reports of harassment are conveyed to those decision makers when reported
  5. they consider those reports, gather any additional information they need to make a decision — which could include conduct in other venues and other information that a very legalistic model might not allow — and they decide what action would make the event safer
  6. they communicate with people who need to know the outcome (eg, with the harasser if they need to change their behaviour, avoid any people or places, or leave the event; volunteers or security if they need to enforce any boundaries)
  7. they provide enough information to the victim of the harassment, and when needed to other attendees, to let them make well-informed decisions about their own safety

Further reading