Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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Guest post: How To Report Sexual Harassment.

My friend Elise Matthesen asked me to post this; the words below are hers. I agreed because this is important information for every member of our community to be aware of.

Because this is a guest post, I will be watching the comments carefully for signs of incivility, but will not be responding to all comments.

Thank you for reading.

ETA: The contact list mentioned below is at


How To Report Sexual Harassment, by Elise Matthesen.

We're geeks. We learn things and share, right? Well, this year at WisCon I learned firsthand how to report sexual harassment. In case you ever need or want to know, here's what I learned and how it went.

Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to check on me. I was lucky: my host was alert and aware. On hearing what had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company the harasser was representing at the convention.

The mandated reporter was respectful and professional. Even though I knew them, reporting this stuff is scary, especially about someone who's been with a company for a long time, so I was really glad to be listened to. Since the incident happened during Memorial Day weekend, I was told Human Resources would follow up with me on Tuesday.

There was most of a convention between then and Tuesday, and I didn't like the thought of more of this nonsense (there's a polite word for it!) happening, so I went and found a convention Safety staffer. He asked me right away whether I was okay and whether I wanted someone with me while we talked or would rather speak privately. A friend was nearby, a previous Guest of Honor at the convention, and I asked her to stay for the conversation. The Safety person asked whether I'd like to make a formal report. I told him, "I'd just like to tell you what happened informally, I guess, while I figure out what I want to do."

It may seem odd to hesitate to make a formal report to a convention when one has just called somebody's employer and begun the process of formally reporting there, but that's how it was. I think I was a little bit in shock. (I kept shaking my head and thinking, "Dude, seriously??") So the Safety person closed his notebook and listened attentively. Partway through my account, I said, "Okay, open your notebook, because yeah, this should be official." Thus began the formal report to the convention. We listed what had happened, when and where, the names of other people who were there when it happened, and so forth. The Safety person told me he would be taking the report up to the next level, checked again to see whether I was okay, and then went.

I had been nervous about doing it, even though the Safety person and the friend sitting with us were people I have known for years. Sitting there, I tried to imagine how nervous I would have been if I were twenty-some years old and at my first convention. What if I were just starting out and had been hoping to show a manuscript to that editor? Would I have thought this kind of behavior was business as usual? What if I were afraid that person would blacklist me if I didn't make nice and go along with it? If I had been less experienced, less surrounded by people I could call on for strength and encouragement, would I have been able to report it at all?

Well, I actually know the answer to that one: I wouldn't have. I know this because I did not report it when it happened to me in my twenties. I didn't report it when it happened to me in my forties either. There are lots of reasons people might not report things, and I'm not going to tell someone they're wrong for choosing not to report. What I intend to do by writing this is to give some kind of road map to someone who is considering reporting. We're geeks, right? Learning something and sharing is what we do.

So I reported it to the convention. Somewhere in there they asked, "Shall we use your name?" I thought for a millisecond and said, "Oh, hell yes."

This is an important thing. A formal report has a name attached. More about this later.

The Safety team kept checking in with me. The coordinators of the convention were promptly involved. Someone told me that since it was the first report, the editor would not be asked to leave the convention. I was surprised it was the first report, but hey, if it was and if that's the process, follow the process. They told me they had instructed him to keep away from me for the rest of the convention. I thanked them.

Starting on Tuesday, the HR department of his company got in touch with me. They too were respectful and took the incident very seriously. Again I described what, where and when, and who had been present for the incident and aftermath. They asked me if I was making a formal report and wanted my name used. Again I said, "Hell, yes."

Both HR and Legal were in touch with me over the following weeks. HR called and emailed enough times that my husband started calling them "your good friends at HR." They also followed through on checking with the other people, and did so with a promptness that was good to see.

Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.

Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by the written word. "Records, or it didn't happen" is how it works, at least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time -- because for formal purposes, it was.

I asked whether people who had originally made confidential reports could go ahead and file formal ones now. There was a bit of confusion around an erroneous answer by someone in another department, but then the person at Legal clearly said that "the past is past" is not an accurate summation of company policy, and that she (and all the other people listed in the company's publically-available code of conduct) would definitely accept formal reports regardless of whether the behavior took place last week or last year.

If you choose to report, I hope this writing is useful to you. If you're new to the genre, please be assured that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable business-as-usual. I have had numerous editors tell me that reporting harassment will NOT get you blacklisted, that they WANT the bad apples reported and dealt with, and that this is very important to them, because this kind of thing is bad for everyone and is not okay. The thing is, though, that I'm fifty-two years old, familiar with the field and the world of conventions, moderately well known to many professionals in the field, and relatively well-liked. I've got a lot of social credit. And yet even I was nervous and a little in shock when faced with deciding whether or not to report what happened. Even I was thinking, "Oh, God, do I have to? What if this gets really ugly?"

But every time I got that scared feeling in my guts and the sensation of having a target between my shoulder blades, I thought, "How much worse would this be if I were inexperienced, if I were new to the field, if I were a lot younger?" A thousand times worse. So I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders and said, "Hell, yes, use my name." And while it's scary to write this now, and while various people are worried that parts of the Internet may fall on my head, I'm going to share the knowledge -- because I'm a geek, and that's what we do.

So if you need to report this stuff, the following things may make it easier to do so. Not easy, because I don't think it's gotten anywhere near easy, but they'll probably help.

NOTES: As soon as you can, make notes on the following:

- what happened
- when it happened and where
- who else was present (if anyone)
- any other possibly useful information

And take notes as you go through the process of reporting: write down who you talk with in the organization to which you are reporting, and when.

ALLIES: Line up your support team. When you report an incident of sexual harassment to a convention, it is fine to take a friend with you. A friend can keep you company while you make a report to a company by phone or in email. Some allies can help by hanging out with you at convention programming or parties or events, ready to be a buffer in case of unfortunate events -- or by just reminding you to eat, if you're too stressed to remember. If you're in shock, please try to tell your allies this, and ask for help if you can.

NAVIGATION: If there are procedures in place, what are they? Where do you start to make a report and how? (Finding out might be a job to outsource to allies.) Some companies have current codes of conduct posted on line with contact information for people to report harassment to. Jim Hines posted a list of contacts at various companies a while ago. Conventions should have a safety team listed in the program book. Know the difference between formal reports and informal reports. Ask what happens next with your report, and whether there will be a formal record of it, or whether it will result in a supervisor telling the person "Don't do that," but will be confidential and will not be counted formally.

REPORTING FORMALLY: This is a particularly important point. Serial harassers can get any number of little talking-to's and still have a clear record, which means HR and Legal can't make any disciplinary action stick when formal reports do finally get made. This is the sort of thing that can get companies really bad reputations, and the ongoing behavior hurts everybody in the field. It is particularly poisonous if the inappropriate behavior is consistently directed toward people over whom the harasser has some kind of real or perceived power: an aspiring writer may hesitate to report an editor, for instance, due to fear of economic harm or reprisal.

STAY SAFE: You get to choose what to do, because you're the only one who knows your situation and what risks you will and won't take. If not reporting is what you need to do, that's what you get to do, and if anybody gives you trouble about making that choice to stay safe, you can sic me on them. Me, I've had a bunch of conversations with my husband, and I've had a bunch of conversations with other people, and I hate the fact that I'm scared that there might be legal wrangling (from the person I'd name, not the convention or his employer) if I name names. But after all those conversations, I'm not going to. Instead, I'm writing the most important part, about how to report this, and make it work, which is so much bigger than one person's distasteful experience.
Tags: be excellent to one another, contemplation, stay safe
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Thank you for this excellent post. I will be sure to keep these tips in mind if I ever need to report sexual harrassment or anything at a con or anywhere else.

On a side note, thank you for reporting <3 It is a hard thing to do at times, and I am so glad you were there to take a stand for his other victims as well.
The contacts list she mentioned for reporting is at

Thank you, Jim.
Thank you, Elise Matthesen, for your courage to do what needed to be done, and for putting this guide forward. Thank you Seanan for posting this on Elise's behalf. There is now yet another reason why I consider you to be one of my favorite writers. :-)
Thanks so much for posting this. Harassment happens, and it's not okay. I'm a romance author in my 20's, fairly outgoing and heavily tattooed. People perceive me based on my appearance alone and judge it as being acceptable to be less than respectful to me. With my history, I know how important it is to stand up for myself and squash those moments, be it by telling the person it's not okay, or going to officials. Too often people accept what happens to them as just a misunderstanding, a bad pass or something else. And it's not okay. There isn't one single second of it that's okay. I get pretty ticked these days when it happens, but that's because I know the tools at my disposal to fight back. I hope more people read this and realize they can stand up and should.
Can I copy and post elsewhere? With credit, obv. May have been written for cons and from a professional standpoint, but most if not all points will stand for reporting at college as well.
I just checked in with Elise, and you have full permission to re-post.
Thank you.
"You can't stop the signal" so long as the signal is sent in the first place. And that is exactly what reporting instances of harassment and other unacceptable behavior does.

Thank you, Elise, for your willingness and bravery in sharing this information. And thank you, Seanan, for posting this on your blog.

When faced with a shocking and scary situation, the very human reaction often is "I don't know what to do!?!?" This post offers very real and understandable guidance on what to do. Not to mention the knowledge that if someone else can do it, so can I.

And I actually think that not naming a name in this post is a wise choice - not for fear of reprisal or legal concerns - but because it means that this post and any resulting discussion can be about sharing the information and discussing the issue, not about any particular person or specific incident. Not just "this is a thing that happened" but "this is what you can do if such a thing ever happens." And that is important.


June 29 2013, 01:43:46 UTC 4 years ago Edited:  June 29 2013, 01:46:39 UTC

The name has been named, by someone else, publicly and with Elise's permission. (The name has been added to the post at Jim Hines'. ETA: And Sigrid Ellis already gave the name further down in the thread than I'd gotten.)

Me, I'm a believer in naming names, if the person who was harassed feels safe with that.

Jim Frenkel, editor at Tor and Forge Books, harassed Elise, and apparently a lot of other people.

Because all too often, even after the report is made, the signal DOES get stopped. The reporter is convinced to back down, or the report mysteriously vanishes, or somehow it wasn't "formal," and the reporter doesn't know it, or the whisper chain got broken, or whatever. So I think it's important, now that this signal is out there in the world, to keep boosting it. Jim Frenkel is a sexual harasser.
I would suggest that companies that wish to weed out these sorts of bad actors should make it a policy for HR staff to explain the difference between formal and informal reports and to encourage the victim to make a formal report if they're comfortable doing so. Really, anyone in a position to receive such a report.
Yes, this. I wonder whether or not some of those previous people who made confidential reports fully knew the difference, and/or knew that their report would have no consequences if they didn't specify they wanted to make a formal report.


4 years ago

Barb Taub

4 years ago


4 years ago


4 years ago

Sadly, this is serving as a reminder that ConFusionMI (whose Board I sit on) needs to get moving on getting their sexual harassment policies in writing before our next convention. There's a group working on it but I haven't heard an update in a while.
Would it help if I wrote to say I'd considered attending, and I won't till a policy exists?


4 years ago

Thank you (both) for sharing this. Even though I don't attend conventions I've been hearing about incidents in the past and it's good for everyone to be informed of these procedures and how to get support while going through them if you choose to.

I'm so sorry you had to go through that, Elise. I'm glad you have a good support system and that you are being taken as seriously as you deserve to be.
My name is Sigrid Ellis. I was one of the co-hosts of the party Elise mentions. The person Elise reported for harassment is James Frenkel.
Thank you, Elise, for writing this, and thank you, Seanan, for sharing this.
User tapati referenced to your post from How To Report Sexual Harassment saying: [...] may experience and the need for a support system. [...]
User pony referenced to your post from How to Report Sexual Harassment, by Elise Matthesen saying: [...] & at Guest post: How To Report Sexual Harassment. [...]
Elise, thank you so much for this. I'm certain there are many people who need this information and reassurance from someone who knows.
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