For a while, I didn’t want to mention some of the bad parts of my recent trip to World Fantasy Con in Brighton. It was my very first writing convention. I met a lot of amazing writers, both strangers and old friends, went to some really fascinating panels and had some great days. I had fun.
I didn’t want my con experience to be overshadowed by one bad night, y’know? But then the last World Fantasy Con progress report dropped into my inbox.
“Regrettably, we learned of one small harassment incident that occurred on the Saturday night when an extremely drunken fan made a nuisance of himself in the hotel Lobby. Unfortunately, he was not reported to either of the professional Security guards who were on duty at the time or any member of the con committee. As a result, by the time we had found out about the incident and ascertained the details, the individual concerned (who was not attending the Awards Banquet) had apparently already left the convention.”
Now, let’s not mince words: that’s taking the piss.
Myself and a friend were harassed on the Saturday night. We immediately put in a formal report with one of the red coats (the volunteer con staff), in line with their FAQ steps below, and were told the issue would be raised with the Board at 8am Sunday.
“World Fantasy Convention 2013 will not tolerate any form of verbal or racial abuse, sexual harassment, aggression, violence or lewd behaviour towards any attendees or members of staff. If reported to our professional Security and Stewards or to a staff member—and substantiated by the event organisers—then any person deemed to have committed such an act will be immediately ejected from the convention without refund and may even be reported to the police under the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act (1997).”
Though I’ll note that the FAQ answer is a fairly recent update to their original “policy”. I’m not sure how recently they changed the FAQ answer, but the original one was saved thanks to Laura Lam’s blog and Chocolate and Vodka:
“World Fantasy Convention 2013, as with any other predominantly adult gathering, will have a number of rules and regulations for the safety of attendees. These will be clearly stated in our Programme Guide, which will be given to each attendee when they register. In the meantime, we refer you to the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act 1997”
Since the report, I’ve had no form of formal communication from WFC. This report, insulting anyone who reported harassment, is the closest I’ve received to a formal acknowledgement of my report outside of a tweet on Sunday morning saying WFC were “investigating”. That tweet was slightly soured by the electronic noticeboards at the convention hotel, which on the same day boasted: “It’s Sunday. No one has lost their badge and no one has been harassed.” (source)
I have, however, had a lot of support from fellow writers and staff from unconnected conventions. Thank you all. ♥
We were not the only people harassed that night, as mentioned in Cheryl Morgan’s and Laura Lam’s excellent con report. There are people reading this update (that got sent to at least 1,400 WFC members) and wondering if this “small harassment incident” is referring to them. What did they do to deserve being publicly bitched at for not following an unwritten process? That’s an unforgivable thing to do to victims of harassment.
I loved meeting other writers at World Fantasy Con 2013. I loved the panels, the parties, and the hard-working red coat volunteers.
But their behaviour from the Board is inexcusable. I will not be attending any other cons run by Steve Jones and the rest of the committee.
[Further Reading: Laura’s WFC Update, Alex’s WFC2013 and Harassment.]
Farah Mendlesohn (@effjayem) says
Just to clarify: WFC2103 is not the Board. I got one thing fixed (not my thing so can’t elaborate) by writing directly to David Hartwell, one of the chairs.
Hi Farah, thanks for commenting. I’ll admit I get confused by the separation between con staff and “the Board”, but my understanding was that the Board were informed when I raised the formal report with con staff. That’s what I was told would happen at the time.
Do you know if the Progress Reports are put out (or reviewed by) the Board?
Laura Lam says
I think the progress reports are put out by the board. I think it’s that a future WFC in a different country/city will probably have a different board.
No, they come from the committee.
Cheryl Morgan says
There were effectively three levels of staff at the convention. The World Fantasy Board, which this year took a largely hand-off approach; the convention’s senior management (Mr. Jones and his pals); and the volunteers (Redcoats). I believe that Jones is also a member of the Board, which confuses matters.
The Board is the overseer of World Fantasy Conventions. It awards individual conventions to their own committees, which run the individual conventions. The Board has little to no power over conventions (for instance, it specifies a membership limit of 850).
Thanks Seth. I’m still a little puzzled because the red coat specifically said they would speak to the Board about the issue the next morning.
So would they have actually meant the committee? If so I’ll update the main blog post to clarify.
Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) says
I suspect the Redcoat misspoke and meant the Brighton WFC committee.
However — that doesn’t change anything else about what happened to you. I’m so sorry.
In particular, I don’t think the WFC Board should be off the hook. (Sorry, Ellen, and all the other folks on there.) They chose to let Steve Jones run this. I think it would be good form, at the least, to make a public statement not only about how harassment was handled at this con, but how it should be handled in the future.
Thank you Mary.
Cheryl Morgan says
The Board can and does interfere greatly with the running of the convention. When SFSFC ran the event they tried to micromanage everything we did. In this particular case they chose to let Steve Jones run things his way.
Thanks for commenting, Cheryl. For a con newbie the separate groups involved in the con are quite difficult to keep track of.
Cheryl Morgan says
I know. That’s what I’m here for.
Madame Hardy says
Thank you for not letting this pass.
And thank you for the support, Madame Hardy.
Gary Couzens says
Sorry you had to experience this, Emma.
Thanks. I’m hopeful speaking out will help the others who experienced similar things but have chosen to stay anonymous or who weren’t comfortable reporting it.
I’m off to bed so there will be a delay before I’m able to approve any further comments.
EDIT: I’m back! Comments are now being approved.
LionessElise (@LionessElise) says
Thank you for reporting it, and for talking about it now. Speaking out does make a difference… and there’s still a lot of difference that needs to be made, apparently.
Ellen Datlow says
Just been informed of this whole thing. Emma. I’m so sorry to hear you and others had this happen to you.
I’m attend all World Fantasy Board meetings. We were not informed of this, so I have to assume that the reference was to the Brighton convention’s board.
Thanks for commenting, Ellen. So the World Fantasy Convention Board is separate from the Brighton Convention Board? A comment a few up from yours was saying that it was the Committee, not the Board, that (usually) manages these decisions. Are the Committee and the Brighton Board the same thing or different?
Everyone seems to have different terms for things. No offence intended to yourself, but it’s beginning to feel like people are bringing up all these sub-sections of the convention to try and dodge responsibility.
Dave Nee says
As Cheryl has mentioned above, there are several separate entities involved.
One is the World Fantasy Convention Board, which administers site (and hence committee) selection of the annual convention and sets guidelines for running the convention. More about the Board can be found here:
[note also the link at the bottom of the page to “Board Requirements” which sets out the guidelines]
The mid-level group is the Committee selected by the above board. This committee (local to the convention site) is responsible for administering the running of the convention. More about this year’s committee can be found here:
And then there are the volunteers who do the gruntwork. Level of training and awareness of convention protocols by volunteers will vary widely.
Hope this helps clarify the convention’s organizational structure, and the difference between Board/Committee.
Howard Tayler says
A quick search of the committee page shows no-one designated as owning “security.” I’m sure SOMEONE was in charge of that, but that page suggests that the someone in question was one level further down, and may not have known that they were the voice of authority in the matter.
Regardless, it’s disgraceful that this happened. I think that in addition to harassment policies (which are new, and which I welcome) there should be documented procedures in place. It’s one thing to say “we won’t tolerate this behavior,” it’s another thing entirely to be able to say how incidents should be reported AND how they will be addressed.
Thanks Howard. The security situation at the con was quite confusing. It was past ‘on-duty’ time for the redcoats, and while there were third-party security staff there, neither part of the hotel or part of WFC, they were few and far between. We went to the red coats because they were the familiar ‘helper’ figures (and they were brilliant — they helped out even though they were off-duty and were pulled away from their friends at the bar).
(It feels like an odd time to fangirl, but I wanted to say that it’s a pleasure to have two Writing Excuses stars stop by. I just wish it was in happier circumstances.)
Howard Tayler says
The Writing Excuses podcast is an effort to pay it forward to aspiring professional writers. Your report of harassment at WFC reveals problems that need to be addressed for the good of aspirants and professionals alike, problems that we’ve spoken out about in the past.
Expect to find us here, and and in places like this. Also note: I have a daughter who will soon be entering this field as an illustrator, and if it’s within my power to remove potential threats to her, I’ll cheerfully work for EVERYBODY’s good.
I hope you and I do meet again in happier circumstances, and that we’ll have long since stepped out from under the shadow of this event.
I hope so too.
Crystal Collier says
How do I not hear about these things (conventions) until it’s too late? Oh yeah, I’m ignoring the world while I write. ;)
I’m glad you were able to have a good time, despite the apparent crazy going on.