Whose job is it to protect people at events? Everyone’s.
Understand that I’m not bringing this up because I believe that I’m perfect at this, personally or professionally, or that I have all the answers – not at all. I’m writing because we seem to be in another one of those cycles wherein some people say, “If you get hurt, you probably weren’t taking care of yourself, or you expected others to take care of you when it’s not their job to do so.” And I can’t see that going around without speaking up.
I have rather a lot of experience with how difficult it is to try to help create safe spaces for people. I have altogether too much experience with how challenging and imperfect it is to attempt to do so in situations where you frequently have little assistance (or worse, harm) from legal or societal structures.
Should people take responsibility for themselves? Of course.
Does that mean it’s on individuals alone to make sure they’re safe? Absolutely not. Fandom is clearly trying to figure out how to create safer places for all involved. We clearly don’t really know how to do this yet – by “we”, I don’t mean “me”, I mean “the whole damn industry”. Many of the problems are not just difficult, but controversial; not just hard to pin down, but hard to agree on in general. Many of the situations we face involve having much less information, and sometimes much more complex or subjective “proof” in any given direction, than would be useful in a court of law.
But seriously, if your response to the challenges of harassment and inappropriate behavior is “I can’t help you; you need to take care of yourself” – I’m unlikely to believe that you’re really an advocate of self-determination. I’m pretty likely to believe that you’re skirting the issue altogether.
Because that’s certainly an option we have; we can say, “This is not my job,” and turn away. But every time you do that, you’re making a statement. You’re empowering those who harass, and creating a space that’s less safe than it could be. And that makes your event a worse place for everyone.
Sure, I’m not saying that we always know how to deal with harassment well, or how to define it. I’ve seen literally years of arguments which bring up excellent points about civil rights, assisting the socially awkward, and when people can and cannot reasonably expect intervention. It’s not easy to try to do.
But it is important to try to do. Because I guarantee that if you don’t try, the problems don’t disappear. They just get bigger and bigger. And someday, you won’t be able to ignore them.
Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks). He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.