Reporting Convention Harassment Protects Everyone

Over on John Scalzi's Whatever blog, where popular and/or controversial and/or multiply-commented posts are published with some regularity, the latest is Reporting Harassment at a Convention: A First-Person How To, a guest post by Elise Matthesen regarding a recent encounter with a sexual harasser at a convention and the procedures she followed in filing a formal complaint and report to the convention's committee and the harasser's employer, with suggestions and advice for others who wish to report similar incidents.  Recommended reading for everyone, not just convention committees.

I posted the following as one of the 250+ comments there, but I'm going to publish it on its own here as well:

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I’d like to tell a story. It’s a true story, but it’s an ugly story. It’s a story that still mystifies me in a lot of ways. But think it shows the importance of reporting harassment.

In the late 70′s, at a fairly small convention, two young female Star Trek fans reported to the con committte that they’d been molested by one of the attendees. I don’t know what the details were, but “molested” was the word used.

The committee acted promptly, to their credit, and confronted the suspect.

Here’s the problem: The young women had reported that their molester was “a guy named Bruce, from Arizona.”

I was the only guy named Bruce from Arizona at that convention. So it was me the concom came to.

I was completely mystified, and said so. I was taken to the young women for a visual confirmation.

I was NOT the guy they’d been molested by. They had never spoken with me, and I had never spoken with them. I was in the clear.

The molester was never identified, to the best of my knowledge. But if those young women had NOT reported the incident to the concom, if they instead had just passed the story around the gossipvine that they’d been molested by “Bruce from Arizona”, I might have been privately labeled as a creepy molester. (Since the two Trek fans looked about 14 or 15, possibly as a child molester.) And in that instance, I might never have found out about those allegations for months or possibly years.

This begs the question, of course, of why the guy chose to identify himself as “Bruce from Arizona”. And if he was deliberately falsifying his name, doesn’t that say his intent was to molest those young women? Was it just a name picked from the air? Or was he somebody who knew me, and for unknown reasons wanted any possible blowback to come back on me? Why would someone do that to me? This still mystifies me, nearly forty years later.

So, goddamn, ladies, REPORT, REPORT, REPORT! Because not only does it make it possible to have real consequences for harassers and to deter other harassers, it allows someone who’s been misidentified or falsely accused to try and clear their name.

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(slightly edited for several typos in the original and a math error; this actually happened a bit less than forty years ago, not "over forty years" as I originally wrote.)

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