I've been pretty quiet on the subject of harassment, in spite of now being all too familiar with unfortunate violations at this year's PASS Summit.
While PASS has an explicit Anti-Harassment Policy, I don't really think such a policy should be necessary (nor a reminder that such a policy exists). This comes down to respect and basic human decency; when I heard about the incidents this year (and then learned about multiple incidents at many prior events as well), I was downright disgusted.
Like Kevin explained in his recent post, I have daughters, and it sickens me to realize that someday they might go off to conferences where, if not enough is being done about this kind of behavior, they can have no expectations of avoiding it.
It has to stop.
And stopping it can't all lie on the victims. We need to stand by them, help them, and report the things we witness. The victim may not realize they're actually a victim, they may be afraid to come forward, and there may be many other reasons for them to not report anything. That doesn't mean they're okay with it, and that doesn't mean the perpetrator should get away with it either.
If you see something, say something
Yes, it's cliché, but it really has meaning in this case. I've seen this sentiment:
"If I see what looks like harassment, I may report it; it depends."
I don't get this. At all. If you could identify it as harassment, so could anybody else who saw it (or received it), especially if their tolerance level is different from yours. If the behavior is unwanted by the victim (find out!), is it okay to allow that behavior to continue and implicitly be condoned? Is it okay to imply to other witnesses that it is actually okay? Maybe the person receiving the attention now doesn't have a problem with it (and how are you even sure of that?), but the next person who gets that attention may not take it so lightly. There is also the possibility that you didn't see everything that happened, and maybe the violation was a lot worse than what you saw. And, of course, the potential for that behavior to escalate – you let Johnny cut the head off his Star Wars action figure, and before you know it, he's cutting the head off the neighbor's cat. That sounds extreme, yes; but it is what I fear the most about harassment that starts off at the innocent end of the spectrum, if such a thing exists.
As I commented on twitter nearly a month ago:
I'm quite happy to have learned that that very tweet sparked an investigation and led to consequences. And while that didn't help any of this year's victims, it may help next year.
So I really do implore you to report any incidents you see, and please do try to be sure that it is indeed harassment, and get the okay to use the victim's name in the report (as I said above, they may have reasons for wanting to remain anonymous). Otherwise, just describe what you saw, without naming them.
But why is this PASS' problem?
I've overheard conversations and seen tweets with statements like this:
"How can PASS be responsible for what people do at a bar or restaurant?"
Well, just like Thomas LaRock stated in his blog post…
"…whether that is inside a session room, the conference hallway, a PASS sponsored event, or even at a local coffee shop."
…I think that while they can't be expected to police the entire city of Seattle, they do have a responsibility to act on harassment between PASS members, no matter where it happened.
In my opinion, as a human being, you agree to abide by a code of conduct all year long, wherever you are; not just within the physical enclosure of the Washington State Convention Center between the hours of 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Do you really think it's okay for a Summit attendee to pinch another attendee's butt out on the sidewalk, just because PASS can really only control what they do inside the building? I don't. I think that every Summit attendee deserves to have a harassment-free conference experience, in all venues, 24/7. No exceptions.