Many SF fans are very disappointed that a serial harasser was allowed to attend WisCon 38 despite reports against him laid during WisCon 37, and that the official response to much criticism during and since the convention has been to provisionally ban him for a few years rather than ban him in perpetuity.
Readers who are already part of SF fandom have probably seen a lot of this WisCon 38 fallout already, and there is a great deal of related/background reading that might seem daunting to those anyone who hasn’t heard about this at all (I certainly haven’t read everything myself), but this situation is worth people outside SFF reading about because one of the major revelations that has come to light about how/why this was mishandled so badly was that decision-makers were not made aware of nor did they factcheck all relevant information before reaching their decision: precedents regarding a similar situation at a different convention in recent years that was mishandled in a way that should have made WisCon more alert to avoidable mistakes, past accusations/confessions against/from the accused, details of reports from accusers in this situation not conveyed, the accused was given further followup and input into the final decision but the accusers were not, and claims about legal obligations made by the accused have since been revealed to be false.
Since this sort of institutional memory-holing of relevant history regarding serial harassers and non-transparency of procedures to the accusers is precisely the sort of social convention that serial harassers rely upon in order to keep getting away with what they do, alongside the fallacy that harassers are obvious deviants who could never be part of my well-ordered community (when in fact they are commonly those with the well-liked/respected status to be given the benefit of the doubt when/if reports are made against them), it’s worth reading about the mistakes of communities with which one isn’t familiar so that one can learn about patterns to watch out for and procedural standards which need to be known and practised by decision-makers.
I’d fully intended to have a glowing, gushing and rather fangirlish entry about my WisCon experiences up within a week of returning from the con, but that cold bug decided to fight eviction for nearly a month, things at work got busy and life generally got in the way.
And then the first rumbles of “All was not right in the state of WisCon” started showing up on my radar.
If there’s one advantage to how technology has changed the way we communicate, it’s that news no longer stays buried until long after the initial furor has died down. In response to public demands for accountability and an explanation of what in the hell the Subcommittee was thinking, the news that’s been coming in a steady and quickening pace from within the ConCom and Subcommittee about how the Frenkel decision was made has been more than a little disturbing. Not only were some of the committee members unaware of the particulars of the ReaderCon/Valentine/Walling situation and how that provided a roadmap to avoid repeating their mistakes (one of the results being the entire board resigning because they had messed things up so badly that nothing they did would be trusted by the community), they were unaware of the sum total of Frenkel’s behavior and history because that information had been cherry-picked by the person who was appointed as the Member Advocate and ostensibly supposed to be advocating for Frenkel’s victims. Further, Jankowski and Matthesen were not followed up with during the process, nor was their input solicited regarding the Subcommittee’s decision before the decision was announced – but guess whose input was solicited instead.
Frenkel asserted during his interview(s) with the Subcommittee that due to a NDA with his previous employer he was not allowed to speak publicly about anything related to his departure from their employment, and that this precluded him from addressing or even apologising for his actions. This factor was apparently crucial in the Subcommittee’s decision to make the ban only provisional and subject to reconsideration upon expiry of this purported NDA, but the Subcommittee reportedly never checked with the employer whether Frenkel’s assertion was true before making their ruling. Surprise – it wasn’t true.
A known harasser, someone who has been an industry missing stair for decades, whose questionable work history has led to many who worked with him as their editor to ask each other, “Have you been Frenkeled yet?”, who claimed contrition for similar actions in 2010 but apparently didn’t actually learn anything, who had the arrogance to show up at WisCon 38 to “prove he did nothing wrong,” lied to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.
I am Jane’s total lack of surprise.
Elise Mattheson has just had a guest post published at several blogs about her perspective on the procedural failures at WisCon since she first submitted her report on Frenkel’s harassment. Unsurprisingly she has lost a lot of trust in the competency of WisCon to responsibly and transparently deal with harassers so that con-goers are adequately safeguarded.
The Geek Feminism Wiki: Jim Frenkel at WisCon 38 has a comprehensive outline of the situation with links to many responses/analyses. Those who wish to learn more about relevant patterns/precedents/procedures regarding other harassment events in a variety of communities can check the GF Wiki’s Incidents page for frequently updated information.