Just because you like someone doesn't mean they won't do bad things. It's a cliche to hear "but he's a nice guy" when someone is accused of harassment, and we tend to side with our friends. That's part of what friendship means, in practice if not in everyone's ideals. (For me, if it's a matter of whose needs to prefer, who to help first, I will tend to help my friends. But there's a difference between helping someone with the rent and driving a getaway car or faking an alibi.)

I recently got a reminder that my judgment of people isn't perfect, that I can enjoy someone's company and call them a friend, and that proves little or nothing about what they're capable of when I'm not around.

Genevieve Valentine was repeatedly harassed at Readercon. She posted about it, and there was some discussion of ways in which the harasser's behavior was inappropriate, and why you don't get to insist on someone's attention to your apology after she has repeatedly told you to go away. The conversation in the comments was pretty good (despite one or two people effectively defending the harasser, by trying to create impossible and shifting standards of proof).

At that point, Genevieve had filed a complaint but was waiting for a decision from the Readercon committee. The harasser had not been identified. A few days later, on July 26, [personal profile] badgerbag asked if someone could tell her who was being talked about. They did, and she posted the information: The harasser was René Walling.

Until this, I've thought of René as a friend. A few weeks ago, I was playing board games with him while visiting [livejournal.com profile] papersky, and it's been the sort of friendship where we hug hello and goodbye, which I've been comfortable with.

The fact that I have felt safe around Rene proves nothing, or nothing relevant. (Few harassers or sexual predators try to grope every woman they meet, after all.) Maybe he's just not attracted to me. Maybe he leaves me alone because he knows I'm partnered and therefore I look less vulnerable. The reasons don't matter, because I don't think they're likely to change: whether I want to keep spending time with Rene will be about whether I am comfortable knowing that he harassed other women, not about my own safety.

Yesterday, Readercon told Genevieve that they were suspending the harasser for two years and would be making no announcement about this, just telling her (and presumably him) privately. Bear in mind that until now, Readercon's official policy was that anyone who harassed another con member would be suspended permanently.* After a few hours of people pointing out that they were violating their own policy, that Genevieve did not feel safe, and that they seemed to be prioritizing either the con's reputation, or Rene's, above Genevieve or any woman's safety, Readercon issued a statement which basically said that they were going easy on Rene because he had admitted his deeds but told them he was sorry. Oh, and if they get "substantiated reports" of him harassing anyone elsewhere, they may ban him permanently.

There's a lot wrong with that, discussed in the Readercon LJ community and elsewhere.

At the moment, I'm expecting to see René next weekend (in the company of dozens of other people). I'm not at all sure how I feel about this. Yes, he's a friend and normally I would ask him what he had to say about this. But having read and thought about most of the story before I knew it was about him, I can't think of much he could say that would make a difference. He has admitted to harassing Genevieve. The Readercon committee, while asking for his side of things, didn't follow up on the other complaints about him—but they are significant, and mean that my friend, this guy I enjoy hanging out with, is a repeated sexual harasser. One instance may not imply two; two implies more.

Do I want to try looking past that, and if so, why? Do I believe that he is going to try to rehabilitate himself, and if so, would my saying something like "I think the Readercon ban should be permanent*, but I think we can still hang out together" be helpful in that? (If I conclude that his contrition is an act, and he's just going to be sneakier from now on, my decision is easy: someone who intends to keep harassing women is no friend of mine.) My social circle is large enough that I am statistically confident it includes other sexual harassers. I can only hope that the harassment is entirely in the past. If René stops, is that good enough for me to keep socializing with him? Trust, no: but I don't need trust on that level to play boardgames or proofread something for him. (There are different kinds of trust: I don't think he'd be likely to cheat at cards, but that doesn't matter if I decide I don't want to sit at the same table with him.)

* I pointed out in comments to someone that while the phrasing in the not-actually-followed Readercon policy is "zero tolerance," enforcing that wouldn't mean throwing Rene in jail, or confiscating his car or other property, or banning him from all conventions. Just Readercon.
liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)

From: [personal profile] liv


Thank you for making this post. It's an incredibly distressing situation, but I really admire this thoughtful, reasoned response to learning this kind of thing about about someone you considered a friend.
aedifica: Me looking down at laptop (off screen).  Short hair. (Default)

From: [personal profile] aedifica


I have been thinking about this same issue (particularly with next weekend coming up). I liked Rene, and now I'm trying to figure out how I want to behave toward him when I see him again.

From: [identity profile] orangemike.livejournal.com


Out here in flyover country, I never heard of the guy until this stuff came up; but that makes me respect what you're saying here all the more.
bcholmes: (eclipse)

From: [personal profile] bcholmes


This sounds like an awkward position to be in; I'm sorry. At the same time, I think this is a really good post.
erik: A headshot of me! (Default)

From: [personal profile] erik


I don't know him from Adam. But I think if it were me, I would be shunning him, and telling him kindly why.

If he really is contrite and wants to change his ways, telling him kindly that you don't find the behaviour acceptable will reaffirm to him that you care about him but that this needs to change. If his contrition is a sham, this will indicate that "this whole thing" is not going to "blow over", and he may want to consider actually changing his ways.

Of course, I don't know your(collective) dynamic, so I can only speculate and make vague suggestions.
nickys: (Default)

From: [personal profile] nickys


> Bear in mind that until now, Readercon's official policy was that anyone who harassed another con member would be suspended permanently.

Well, they're letting everybody down by going back on that.
Especially by going back on it because the guilty party is somebody with power in the community. We really don't need the leading lights of any community to think that they can use their power to get away with hurting others. :-(


As to how you interact with him, I had a friend who did a terrible thing (lied, cheated, forced his wife and kids out of the family home at pretty much no notice, etc, etc).
He complained at me for refusing to say that what he did was okay. It's not just people's friends who try to wriggle situations round to find a way in which their behaviour was somehow justified... the guilty parties do it too, of course.
What I said to him was that he had done a terrible thing. There was no escaping that he was utterly in the wrong on all points. However, I said that he had a chance to behave decently from then on - pay his child support, allow the divorce to go through uncontested, not pester his ex-wife, etc, and that if he did that he might expect people to think better of him for that at least.

From: [identity profile] elisem.livejournal.com


Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. I was just bending Patrick's ear about the whole thing at Fairway, and, well. Yeah. This is a really good post. It helps me sort out things. THANK YOU.

From: [identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com


That is very hard. You have my sympathy and support in whatever you decide to do. Rene is an acquaintance of mine but not a friend, and I am going to be going with the cut direct. I am still going to Farthing Party and to other places he is liable to be, but I am avoiding any direct interaction.

I repeat: sympathy and support in whatever you decide to do, in any direction that turns out to go.

From: [identity profile] jayblanc.livejournal.com


I recently lost a friend who did not react at all well to my failure to instantly and unquestioningly take their side when I was concerned over how they had treated someone. I tried to mediate things, which they refused and they considered it betrayal. It's tough, but I have to accept that it was my former friend who failed me, not the other way around.

From: [identity profile] browngirl.livejournal.com


This is an essay of excellence and wisdom.

From: [identity profile] elynne.livejournal.com


Thank you. This is relevant to a somewhat-parallel incident happening in my own life currently; your post has helped me self-articulate some of the feelings I have been having about the situation in my life.

From: [identity profile] pameladean.livejournal.com


Oh, I am so sorry you are in this position. But you see to have it well in hand.

P.

From: [identity profile] athenais.livejournal.com


What a difficult situation to sort through. I don't envy you. But you're very smart about what your choices are.

From: [identity profile] seattle-janice.livejournal.com


I remember something like that happening here. Everybody just naturally acted so much more aloof than before that he just stopped going to parties.

I've never met the man but my instincts say don't bring it up. He's been trying to justify himself for days now. If he's strung up too tightly mentioning it might just be that One Last Straw. Not that I think he'd get violent, but he sounds like the kind of man who can throw a tantrum. I may be way off base here, but I've worked on Norwescons back in the '80s.
lcohen: (southpark)

From: [personal profile] lcohen


this is a hard set of questions to have to ask oneself. i honestly don't know what i'd do--i guess i'd have to see how they were behaving--if they were being defiant or defensive, i'd be less inclined towards wanting to be anywhere near them. ugh.

From: [identity profile] minnehaha.livejournal.com


Zero-tolerance policies are bad (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/11/zero-tolerance.html). Of course, it's too late for that advice now.

B
ashbet: (Held)

From: [personal profile] ashbet


I'm sorry that you're being put in this position :(

I don't agree with the idea that just because someone has committed a crime/done something society considers "unforgivable," their friends should be judged by whether or not they choose to continue to remain friends. By staying friends, you are not endorsing the behavior.

On the other hand, I'd have a very hard time staying friends with someone who I knew behaved that way, even if they hadn't done it *to me*, or in my sight. I don't think, under these circumstances, that I'd be able to stay friends with Rene at this point.

But these choices are your own, and you have my support and friendship as you're struggling with them (and as ever.)

**hugs**

-- A <3

From: [identity profile] fuzzygabby.livejournal.com


So how did seeing Rene at the party go? I'll be seeing Rene at a party this weekend, myself. I don't know him well, but we've had some nice chats. So I've got the same sort of mixed feelings as you.
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