Monday, July 1, 2013

On not naming names

One of the reactions I've seen to the recent discussions of sexual harassment at SFF cons is the question of why don't people report - why don't the people who are harassed or the people who witness it name names? After all, so the conversation goes, it seems like the harassers have histories - they've been doing this for years, if you know about it enough to tell your friends and make rescue plans, why not say the names in public, and protect future victims?

It's a conversation whose heart is, I firmly believe, in the right place, and a conversation that makes me deeply uncomfortable. It is shifting the responsibility away from where it belongs - on the creeps, on the harassers - and putting it on the victims. They didn't speak up, they didn't report, so they share responsibility for every victim after them.

No. Wrong.

When someone has been sexually harassed, their responsibility is to themself. They may choose to report, either to con staff or to the harasser's employer, or both. They may choose to report to the police. They may choose to get far away from the harasser, and surround themself with friends for the remainder of the con. They may choose to leave the con. They may do a combination of those things, or none of them. But we do not get to decide how they act, and we do not get to judge their choices.

And if you witness an act of sexual harassment, the proper response is not to pressure the victim into reporting, but to support the victim, in whatever response they choose. Third party reporting (where you were not the victim, but a witness) may be possible, but do not name the victim's name if they do not want it to be revealed. Even if you are acting with the best of intentions  - protection of potential future victims - you are not helping the current victim by taking away their choice again.

Because let's not kid ourselves: there are consequences for naming names. Last year, at ReaderCon, Genevieve Valentine was sexually harassed. She reported her harasser, and she named him publicly. Genevieve is an established, award-winning writer. She is someone with power in the field. Yet, in this post, "Dealing With It" she talks about the consequences for reporting. Not only did she have to deal with the usual kind of bullshit - the discussion of her appearance, her clothing, her behavior, all of them being evaluated so that the crowd could decide whether she was "really" harassed (even though her harasser admitted the actions) - she received death threats. 

Death threats.

Really, the wonder isn't that more people don't name names. It's that anyone is brave enough to at all.

Again, I am closing the comments.