Elise Matthesen Guest Post: What Happened After I Reported

ETA: Comments are open.

[This post is written by Elise Matthesen, in regard to her experience reporting Jim Frenkel for sexual harassment last year. It is being simul-hosted by a number of other sites.

I'm going to be afk for much of the afternoon, so comments will be disabled until I have time to moderate them.

The "I" in the following post is Elise, not me. I am hosting it here on her behalf.]


What Happened After I Reported

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment. One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite — WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18. Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee. To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension. People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one. Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation: (1) act promptly, (2) gather all existing written information and reports, (3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct, (4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation; (5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and (6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way. WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate. In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

“Is it you?”

You’re going to fail no matter what. Make your damn choice.

So, this ate my morning:

Storify my conversation on Twitter.

Tl;dr, Having a harassment policy is a basic first step. IMPLEMENTING it is going to be harder.

Conventions are fan-run, volunteer things. We have the problems of a conference AND the problems of a family. We are not trained detectives, or judges, or victim advocates, or forensic investigators. (Most of us.)

Do banning policies work? What is the goal? Life-bans inhibit reporting, we KNOW this. No bans leave harassers free to continue. Partial bans force conventions to be parole boards.

Here’s the takeaway, and I truly want you all to take this into your hearts:

Every convention EVER from here on out will piss people off with their harassment policies and enforcement.


We have to decide which way we want to fail.

Do we want to allow probable harassers in our conventions, and defend everyone’s right to presumed innocence and evidentiary rules?

Do we want to blacklist and ban people on hearsay and rumor, and protect abused victims at all costs?

Do we want to strike a middle ground of calm reasonableness, and offend everyone on every side through milquetoast half-measures?

Take your pick.

No, I mean it. Choose how you are going to proceed and fucking proceed.

Someone will rake you across the coals no matter WHAT you do. So pick a damn position.


We have got to be better than this

Executive function, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is that part of the mental and cognitive load that handles high-order decisions. Executive function includes the ability to categorize things, to recognize similar features, to establish hierarchies, and to make decisions. Executive function is the thing that runs out when, at the end of a long day, you find yourself unable to decide between pizza or Chinese delivery for dinner.

Executive function is what lets us make the hard decisions.

Now, I always liked to think of my executive function as somehow separate from my feelings. (Of course, personally speaking, I like to think of EVERYTHING as separate from my feelings. But that’s a different topic.) I liked to think that I could make decisions based on facts and values, and that my feelings in the matter would not make a difference in the outcome.

This is silly. I was wrong.

When Elise Matthesen reported Jim Frenkel to Wiscon staff for harassment, I had lots of feelings. Elise is a friend. Frenkel had made many of my friends uncomfortable over many years. I knew where I stood. What I felt like doing and what I believed to be the right thing to do were in alignment. All my decisions were easy ones. There was no strain on my executive function.

When it came clear that Wiscon as an institution had not handled the harassment in ways I supported, I felt more conflict. I am friends with the people who run Wiscon. I wanted to believe better of them. I … didn’t want to call them out. I wanted them to take better actions without me having to say anything negative. Knowing what I wanted to do was in conflict with how I felt, and it made the decisions harder.

I said recently that I know my generation has come into power because we are the ones screwing up.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet we have to be better than this.

The fact that it is hard does not mean we can avoid doing it.

The fact that implementing sexual harassment policies is difficult, the fact that it involves our friends, neighbors, coworkers, or loved ones, does not remove from us the burden of making the effort.

We must change our culture. We must stop supporting harassers and abusers. When we find them out, how do we prevent them from causing further harm? When they have apologized, made reparations, expressed contrition, and effected personal change, how do we let them back in? We must let our communities know that we will investigate harassment reports responsibly. That there will be appropriate consequences.

We all have to do this together, whether or not we are on concoms and boards. We all have to educate ourselves on appropriate actions, on reporting, on supportive things to say to victims of assault and harassment. We can be a part of the process. We all have to decide to be better than we are now.

I know it’s hard. It strains the executive function, trying to figure out what to do. But we can be better than this.

Think of the last convention you were at.

A sexual assault occurs on average every two minutes.

How many people were at this convention? How many minutes did it encompass?

How many people were sexually assaulted at the last convention you attended?

Groped. Verbally harassed. Grabbed. Touched. Intimidated. Threatened. Forced. Raped.

Every two minutes, remember.

Tick, tick.

We have got to be better than this.


Wiscon Panel Proposals!

1. Wiscon 38 is May 23-36th this year, in Madison, WI.

2. Programming at Wiscon is created by the convention attendees.

3. Register for the convention. Then go to My Account. There will be a section, “Program Suggestions Submit an idea for WisCon 38 & SFRA.” This is where YOU, Wiscon Attendee, can suggest the sorts of panels YOU want to see.

4. Panels are collated and then voted on by the community. All attendees get to say which panels they 1) want to be ON, 2) want to moderate, or 3) want to ATTEND. Panels get selected based on interest. (With some exceptions for events that just get grandmothered in.)

5. I pitched a number of panels so far. There is no guarantee whatsoever that any of these will be selected, of course. But I am excited!


A couple things on my return

1. I am returned from Geek Girl Con!

My convention report is, erm, abbreviated, because I did something godawful to my back on Friday and by Saturday afternoon I was spending most of the convention in my hotel room, in a hot bath, with my girlfriend fetching me ibuprofen and tea.

However! A few observations.

I have no insider knowledge of how Geek Girl Con is run. I don’t know any of the organizers. But, damn, y’all, that operates like a finely-run fan convention. It was like a professional media or comic-con, except run by cheerful, enthusiastic, friendly volunteers who all cared enormously about what they were doing.

The thing I will remember most about Geek Girl Con is how HAPPY everyone was to be there, how HAPPY everyone was to see everyone else and to all be doing this awesome thing, together, at the same time.

2. Pretty Deadly #1, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles, comes out tomorrow. I’d be ever-so-pleased if you could pick up a copy. And perhaps give the title a pre-order. It’s a good story, gorgeously told. I highly recommend it.


Things, in a list

1. I liked this post on Nerd Fitness about how to look like a celebrity in a big action movie. I don’t know about you, but I need these sorts of reminders from time to time.

2. I will be at Geek Girl Con in Seattle, October 19-20! I hope to see many of you there!

3. I also liked this ranting post from Stumptuous about things a person might want to consider by age 40. Yes. A person might want to consider those things.

4. I like this Melody Pond fanvid:

I Tremble | Melody Pond, by catminolte. Music “Help I’m Alive (Dubstep Remix)” by Metric.


Virtual Micropolis

As some of you may know, the adults I live with, Tern and Cavorter, are very into Lego. Specifically, they build and display micropolis standard cityscapes. (Other things, too. But micropolis is the subject of this post.)

The purpose of the micropolis standard is to allow builders across the country or world to work on an urban landscape project together, sight unseen. The modules meet certain standards of conformity. When micropolis builders come together at Lego shows or events, they buildings fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, revealing a hither-to-unsuspected city.

Here in the Twin Cities, Cavorter and Tern are being asked more and more frequently to bring their micropolis modules for display at various events. This afternoon and evening, Micropolis will participate in the re-opening of the Saint Anthony Park Public Library. As more people see Micropolis, they have questions, and want to know more. To meet this desire for further information Cavorter and Tern have put together Virtual Micropolis.

Virtual Micropolis is still a work in progress. The entire collection of micropolis standard modules existing in our house has not yet been cataloged. But if you have found yourself wondering what the heck micropolis is, the module list is a fun place to start.

And if you’re in the Twin Cities, might I recommend you stop by the Saint Anthony Park Library today, between 6 and 8 pm? Come on over, and see Micropolis for yourself!


KudosCon KickStarter

May I draw your attention to the KudosCon KickStarter?

Backed by the Geek Partnership Society — the people who help bring you CONvergence and Anime Detour — KudosCon will be a convention celebrating fanworks.

From the KickStarter page:

“Fanworks matter. They connect us our fannish communities and help us explore our own imaginations. We want to make a convention for people who get that. And we want you to join us.

Spend a weekend talking plot with fanfic authors, sketching with fan artists, comparing mics with podfic readers, trading costuming tips with cosplayers, talking meta over drinks at the bar, and of course, sharing squee with fellow fans.

What does a fanworks convention look like?

January 3rd-5th 2014, we’ll overrun the airport Hilton in Bloomington, Minnesota with fans. You’ll attend panels on fanworks and fan life ranging from squee to discussions of craft to academic presentations. You can buy and sell art in the artist alley, read your fic aloud at an open mic fanfic reading, show off your favorite costume at the cosplay contest, and hang out in the consuite with other creators. The schedule will have time built in for fandom meet-ups, meals out with friends, and Tumblr time. The convention is set up to be 18+ because a lot of fanworks involve porn, and we don’t want anybody getting in trouble.

We’re aiming to cover a wide variety of fanworks subjects, so expect to see programming on fan fiction, fan art, podfic, cosplay, meta, and vidding – and tell us if you want to see something we haven’t thought of! This convention is all about the things YOU love doing and making in fandom.”

Go on over to the KickStarter. Read up on the project for yourself. See if you can throw five bucks towards making this convention happen, hm?


James Frenkel leaves Tor

From Locus Online:

Longtime Tor Books editor James Frenkel has left the company. Tor senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden wrote in a series of posts to his twitter account:

James Frenkel is no longer associated with Tor Books. We wish him the best.

We’ll be contacting the authors and agents Mr. Frenkel worked with to discuss which editor here they’ll be working with going forward.

This process will take some days or even weeks, so please be patient if you don’t hear from us instantly.

Finally, if you had something on submission to Tor via Mr. Frenkel, you’ll need to resubmit it via some other Tor editor.

If you don’t have a particular editor in mind, you can re-submit it via Diana Pho (diana.pho@tor.com) who will route it appropriately.

Additionally, Kenneth White of Popehat has made the following statement of support:

Elise Matthesen is a writer, artist, and activist. Sigrid Ellis is a writer, editor, blogger, and air traffic controller. Both are active in what I’ll refer to as the fantasy and science fiction community.

Ms. Ellis gave a party at Wiscon; Ms. Matthesen attended. Ms. Matthesen experienced conduct she believed was harassment, and reported it. She later wrote a post — carried by several prominent figures in the science fiction community — about the process of reporting harassment at conventions. Ms. Ellis identified the person Ms. Matthesen reported.

Though I discuss harassment in the science fiction, fantasy, and gaming community on this blog, the purpose of this post is not to discuss that incident, or the nature of the conduct that led to the report.

Rather, I write to state my support.

As far as I know, Ms. Ellis and Ms. Matthesen have not received specific legal threats.

However, in the event that Ms. Ellis or Ms. Matthesen do receive legal threats or are subjected to litigation, I have agreed to give them my assistance in securing an effective and vigorous defense. That assistance will include the Popehat Signal. Thanks to the generosity of readers and the devotion of the community of First Amendment attorneys (including the First Amendment Lawyers Association, of which I am a member), the Popehat Signal has often been successful at pairing defendants with pro bono lawyers who have produced excellent results. I have also offered, to the extent appropriate and (depending on the jurisdiction) available, my personal assistance, which has also led to some success. Finally, I will do my part to encourage the Streisand Effect.

Does it sound like I boast? Maybe it does. Take it this way: I am utterly, unreservedly, mercilessly serious.

Conduct yourself accordingly.

Enjoy your weekend, folks!


CONvergence, Safe Space, Safe People

As many of you know, my home-town con is this coming week. CONvergence is a cross-media, cross-genre convention, over 5000 people strong. It has a place for nearly everyone. And thus, nearly everyone attends.

There’s a growing tide of awareness in fandom. In all the fandoms I am in or near, to be honest. There’s a growing awareness of sexual harassment, of harassment in general. Last year CONvergence ran a popular anti-harassment poster campaign, Costumes Are Not Consent. CONvergence also has a clear policy on harassment, which I copy in its entirety:


CONvergence is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable convention experience for everyone. Harassment of any kind, including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions, will not be tolerated. If people tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done.

Leave them alone. Do not follow them or attempt to disrupt their convention experience in any way. If you continue to attempt to have contact with those people, you may be removed from the premises.

CONvergence is not responsible for solving any interpersonal problems that may arise between individual members. In general, we can take no action to prevent a person from attending the convention unless that person has made a specific and credible threat toward the convention itself. If you feel that a threat exists against your person, we advise you to seek a restraining order against the individual in question and to involve the host hotel itself (security staff specifically) and the municipal police department in advance of the convention; otherwise, we recommend simply avoiding that individual.

If that individual stalks, harasses, or attempts to assault you at the convention itself, you may report that individual to a member of Operations (they will report it to the hotel’s security staff who will get the police involved if necessary) or you may report it to hotel security directly, and the appropriate action will be taken. Conversely, any attempt to have an innocent person removed from the convention by falsely accusing him or her of threats will be itself treated as an act of harassment and will be dealt with appropriately. The responsibility for settling interpersonal disputes lies solely with the individuals involved, and CONvergence will not tolerate being used as a leveraging point in such disputes.”

That’s the con policy.I know at lot of the Ops people at CONvergence. They are trained and briefed, and they take their duties very seriously.


There’s a thing, called the Backup Project, or the Backup Ribbon Project. It’s a way of signalling to strangers that the person wearing the pin, or the ribbon, or the t-shirt, is willing to get involved in a potential harassment situation if the person feeling harassed needs backup. There are a number of concerns with this project. Most obviously, a harassing creeper could wear said ribbon in order to gain access to targets. Secondarily, an overly-enthusiastic Backup could escalate a situation far beyond what anyone wanted.

There are problems, yes. But there’s something there, too. The idea that, too often, witnesses to problems walk on by, unwilling to intervene. That a label could make it easier to ask a stranger for a hand.


There are campaigns, publicized on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, of people planning to attend conventions with the stated goal of harassing other attendees. I have little ability to judge how serious these public campaigns are. On an important level, it doesn’t really matter if it’s mere online trolling or a serious threat to sexually assault others — people feel threatened. More than that, people are responding as though they feel targeted. Targeted at conventions, where they hope to be among their friends and family, where they hope to be among their tribe.


I am just as capable as the next person of seeing a slightly tense situation developing across the hall and walking away. I know, because I’ve done it. I’m not proud of this, and some of those instances stick in my memory, full of ‘what happened to her, later, I wonder?’

I am just as capable of brushing off or excusing an unwanted sexual remark or touch, particularly at a convention. I know, because I have done it. These days, I’m wondering — how many of those people who kissed my hand without asking, or sniffed my hair without permission, how many of them went on to find someone else with whom to escalate their practice?


This is what I look like, more or less:




I’m not in the business of interfering. I’m just not. But if you need a hand? If you want out of a conversation, or you want someone to help you flag down a Wandering Host? You have a too-friendly fan of your costume who keeps following you into the restroom? Whatever. If you want a buddy for five minutes, let me know. I’d be happy to help.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,223 other followers