On “Not Harassment Per Se” Part 2- Is There Common Ground On What Constitutes Harassment?

Posted on May 3, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Personal, Social Justice |

So I have been having a somewhat civil conversation with John C. Welch and Pitchguest about my last post “On ‘Not Harassment Per Se'” and the subject came up that part of my problem is that we diverge on what constitutes harassment at Women in Secularism 2 should Justin Vacula attend.

I suggested that perhaps it might be helpful if I made a list of ten or more things that I would consider “harassment”, and ten or more things that I would not consider “harassment”.  So this post will hopefully assist in at least drawing my line in the sand regarding what I would consider appropriate and inappropriate contact with someone who has made it clear that they don’t wish to engage with a certain  attendee.

I’ll start with what I deem “normal, casual contact”

  1. Being in the same room as another guest if it is a common area
  2. Being incidentally within a few feet of another guest for a short period of time
  3. Being in a room where another guest is giving a presentation, assuming no efforts are made to be disruptive or undermine their wishes.
  4. Happening to be in a bar or restaurant that another guest happens to be at, assuming that it is coincidental
  5. Speaking to guests who have not made it known that they desire “no contact”, assuming they are not presently conversing with guests who desire no contact.
  6. Passing another guest in the common area-assuming that you don’t attempt to communicate with them.
  7. Staying at the same hotel as other guests of the convention.
  8. Attending the same presentation as another guest
  9. Asking conference staff to deal with legitimate harassment by other guests
  10. Infrequent and unintended non-verbal communication

If Justin was accused of doing any of the things noted above without sufficient grounds to question ulterior motives, I’m willing to concede that this constitutes incidental casual contact.

Now a list of what I believe constitutes harassment, even under the guise of “following the rules”

  1. A sustained effort to be in proximity to a guest who wishes no contact
  2. Intentionally joining into conversations that other guests are having with someone who desires “no contact”
  3. Attending presentations by another guest with  the express intention of being visible and/or asking questions of someone who desires no contact.
  4. Purposely trying to be visible to a guest who desires no contact, or following them if they chose to remove themselves
  5. Purposely trying to goad someone into speaking with you or putting them in a position where they need to reiterate an established desire for no contact.
  6. Purposely putting yourself in the path of a guest who does not desire contact or frequently putting yourself in proximity
  7. Switching rooms to be close to another guest or taking routes that guarantee contact
  8. Sitting beside, behind, in front of or otherwise near a “no contact” guest if it is unnecessary
  9. Purposely checking other guests behaviour in an effort to find something to complain to conference staff about
  10. Frequently trying to communicate non-verbally by making unwelcome gestures, whether seemingly polite or not.

So we are clear, yes, I absolutely hold every guest to this standard.  I would consider it blameworthy if conference guests went searching for ways that Justin is breaking policy, as opposed to waiting for him to do so.  I also do not think this is an exhaustive list of the ways in which a guest might try to abuse the spirit of a non-harassment policy by following the letter of it.

I understand that Justin is going to go to the conference.  I don’t think he should be disallowed from going.  I also know that other than some “if I happen to” and “if I’m close to” comments on his own blog, Justin has not outright said he intends to try and be a problem for the people who don’t want contact from him.  He also hasn’t said that he intends to go out of his way to respect those wishes.

To reiterate- I have not convicted Justin of a crime before the day he is accused of committing it.  I have done to this point what any person should do given the facts at hand.  Justin has written about his feeling regarding how enforceable a “no contact” request is.  When he had the opportunity to comment on it, he has used lawyering to explain why he thinks he cannot be stopped from at least some communication.  Those are not the words of someone who is committed to taking the ethical high ground.  I will also note that John C. Welch came onto my blog guns-a-blazing about all the reasons Justin will be totally justified when he gets “harassy” with these people and then simultaneously said I was accusatory for thinking Justin might act that way.  You know, that very way JCW thinks is totally justified given Justin’s predicament.

Since Justin doesn’t believe harassment policies are useful (though he would really, really love some groups to enforce them), perhaps he intends to go to the conference and show how absolutely workable self-policing is in reducing harassment.  Perhaps that is his angle.  Perhaps he wants to show everyone how superfluous harassment policies are by going to WiS2, staying a good distance from Ophelia and PZ and whoever else asks him to keep his distance, being on his “better than best” behaviour, and just reporting on how he fundamentally disagrees with just about everything said at the conference.  Then he could come home from the conference and report about how harassment policies are unnecessary because people with fundamental differences can go to the same conference and genuinely coexist without the specter of Orwellian harassment policies dangling over them the whole time.  He would be wrong in arguing that (and he and I have had that argument before), but at least his actions would bolster his case.

My concerns, though, have nothing to do with harassment policies.  Harassment policies are next to useless in mediating existing grudges and feuds.  A policy is great for outlining how it expects people to behave when they are interacting with other attendees and how it plans to mediate issues where someone has crossed an obvious line.  Policies do not do well when people have existing history, and what might seem an “undue burden” to place on all guests regarding communication becomes a serious issue between two feuding guests.  I want to reiterate to Justin- since he and I have had this discussion in relation to the post I linked to above- that this is not a reason to discount the usefulness of harassment policies.  In point of fact- I think that it underlines the need for them.  The only reason to believe that a Code of Conduct or harassment policy is useless or superfluous is if you assume that guests at conferences are good at self-policing their own behaviour.  The inability to respect other people’s wishes regarding “no contact” requests is a clear cut case of an inability to police your own behavior-  and underlines the need to make expectations and consequences as clear as possible to attendees.  The fact that a harassment policy is of little use in this particular case- and that common courtesy and common sense is expected from both sides- does not take away from a need for policies.

Essentially what I expect from Justin- as well as from Ophelia and PZ and Stephanie and Rebecca- is that people will try to be cognizant of the wishes of others.  That if someone has asked you to keep your distance, you do your level best to respect that.  That if someone moves away from you at a conference, that you don’t find other ways to make them unduly uncomfortable.  In return, I expect that Ophelia and PZ et al. will not talk about Justin directly without giving him a chance to respond.  I expect that people won’t try to purposefully exclude and isolate him in ways that are meant to bully him.  This conference will be less fun for everyone as a result of things that have been done to this point- and I hope that everyone makes the best of a bad situation.

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15 Responses to “On “Not Harassment Per Se” Part 2- Is There Common Ground On What Constitutes Harassment?”

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depending on the history of the relationship

saying good morning can be harassment

because what it is means is

I force you to acknowledge me

3. Attending presentations by another guest with the express intention of being visible and/or asking questions of someone who desires no contact.

Are you serious there? I thought Q&As were all about challenging the presenter. Well, maybe not “all about”, but a big part of it. Where are we going with these type of views? Echochambers and whatnot, I think…

Phil, I’m not saying that someone should be at that conference and not allowed to ask questions of any presenters at the conference. I’m saying that when people want to subvert a request for no contact, the easiest way for them to do it is to put the other person in a position where they don’t have a choice but to communicate with them. Like pacing at the back of a room, or being mildly disruptive, or asking questions when they are well aware that the person they are questioning does not want to speak with them.
Can you ask a question of a presenter without communicating with them? No.
You might be surprised to hear that “contact” includes “communication”.

If you have questions, address them to people who have not asked you to not contact them. It seems relatively simple.

Sorry George, but we will have to agree to disagree. If these people claim to be sceptics, there should be no limitations to questioning them. What if Ken Ham or Ted Hovin suddenly proclaimed they don’t want atheists/skeptics to contact them? (they may have done so, not sure). I’m not saying they don’t have the right to do so, I’m just trying to point out that it’s silly, counterproductive, and at the opposite of what scepticism should be.

The fundamental difference here is that Ophelia and others feel as though Justin has been harassing and stalking them online.

We can agree to disagree on whether Justin has been obsessively targeting them, and to what degree public figures should expect common human decency- but we can’t agree to disagree that your analogy is just plain wrong and misleading.
If Ken Ham was being targeted by an atheist online who was acting in the way Justin has in the past- I would begrudgingly accept his argument for no contact.

Well, you will have to define “the way justin has [acted] in the past”. I’ve only been familiar with Justin since last year, when he joined the Slymepit. I haven’t seen him engage in any behaviour that could be construed as harrassment (even the Surly Amy address episode. A bit stupid? Sure, but harrassment? Don’t think so). Anyway, I’m not worried about the con, and I think (and hope) it will go smoothly for all involved.

It is perhaps the aftermath of the “Surly Amy address episode” that demonstrates Justin’s penchant for “not harassment per se.” He will push the line even after a situation is over and the other person hasn’t said anything to or about him in months.

Even though he himself has admitted not to handling the 2012 situation in the best of ways, Justin made a January 4 video entitled “Saint Surly Amy and Double Standards” in response to a Michael Nugent blogpost about Thunderf00t’s “Feminism is poisoning atheism, part 1” vid. Thunderf00t dealt briefly with Amy and TAM; Justin took a 13:55 minute opportunity to rehash the DMCA/dox episode from months before. Opportunity knocked; Justin answered.

The concept of “staying away from someone who’s not bothering you anymore” didn’t stop him from using a Surly Amy pic of a “This is what feminism looks like” pendant on his Jan 19 video “Send Justin Vacula to Women in Securalism 2!” and his fundraiser page, After the original, horrible outrage, he must have done so with notification and/or attribution. No. He did not. He admitted that he could have done things differently yet did exactly the same thing AGAIN? He learned so much about copyright and fair use and DMCA that he didn’t see the words “non-commercial” and “with attribution” on the page wherein Amy had released 200+ pics to CC? In the video, the pic appears as he describes the goodie “conference swag signed by Justin Vacula” for a $35-$49 donation.

It didn’t stop him from applying for a SurlyGrant to WiS2 a day or so later.

It didn’t stop him from retweeting a dispute between Amy and a third party a couple of days after that.

It didn’t stop him from rehashing (without mentioning his interaction with her about the Jan 19 use of her work) the 2012 DMCA/dox episode referencing her actions as “the lowest of the low” while the unmentioned Jan. 19 interaction followed (as if scripted) exactly what he said he would have expected in the first place. And where did that rehash take place? On A-News, in an interview about the “peace process” with Lee Moore. Gee…if you’re actively advocating peace, why would you leave out the textbook peaceful interaction you’ve since had with the other party in your biggest internet brouhaha?

It didn’t stop him from commenting spitefully on the Novella thread about Amy and Harriet Hall reconciling. He later therein mentioned the Jan 19 interaction in passing ~20 minutes after a comment on his blog chastised him for ignoring it although he’d been asked about it three times since his “peace process” interview. But, he used “a point” for Amy as a springboard to disparage Rebecca Watson.

Shouldn’t one consider that there’s history that Justin doesn’t bother to post at the Slymepit?

[…] issues hashed out between myself, John C. Welch, Pitchguest, and others.  See my new post “On ‘Not Harassment Per Se’ Part 2” to join the discussion […]

I do think Justin is making a point, but you are right, I wish he would just say that he agrees to not approach them. I think he has been unfairly publicized, though, and I don’t know what this harassment is that they talk about. I asked someone but they never responded.
Both ‘sides’ are being insolent, and it is a shame. Yes, Justin should take the high road, but in a way, he shouldn’t have to put up with character assassination and harassment charges, or people making a far bigger deal that it is, or ever was.
Your guidelines look pretty fair to me, and a good solution to a strange and uncomfortable situation.
Thanks for the post!

This whole thing is absurd. JV has acted like a petulant, ill- behaved, ill-mannered, ego-driven, attention-seeking, narcissistic child and is how seemingly perplexed when people treat him just as (or slightly better than) he deserves.

No one is obligated to give their attention to him. Everyone has the right to define what is (and is not) appropriate in their personal space. Those who don’t think that…need a fast lesson in the real world of the grown ups.

Also, WiS isn’t necessarily a skeptics conference. I’m not sure who ,if any, of the speakers identifies as a skeptic. I wish people would STOP assuming that all atheists are skeptics. We are not. Rational, critical thinkers; YES. But, please do not put me in the same category as skeptics. Their hyperskepticsm is repellent and ludicrous.

” Their hyperskepticsm is repellent and ludicrous”
My. Who brought up skepticism? Are you saying that there is only hyperskepticism, not skepticism? I’m a skeptic. Can you explain what is repellent and ludicrous about questioning and not taking things for granted? Your propensity for hyperbole is discouraging. That’s not rationality.

It isn’t hyperbole…it is, in fact, my viewpoint. What you see as hyperbole, I see as talking straight. Positing that it isn’t rational doesn’t make it true.

I think what RF is saying is that
1. People defending Justin keep talking as though skepticism is the main thrust of WiS2, when it is only a small intersectional part and
2. That people claim that we ought to be skeptical about EVERYTHING, even if that skepticism requires being wilfully ignorant of reality. That is hyperskepticism, not merely giving arguments their due.

Though I find it hard to disagree, I have to remind everyone here that I don’t want this blog to be a place where we attack people’s character or drag irrelevant past arguments into new conversations. I’m trying to argue that Justin and others can be shown to be plainly wrong by arguing against their positions- that we don’t need to reciprocate the kind of vile, immature insults that have dominated this infighting from day one.
Other than specific parts of the first paragraph of your comment though RF, I thought you were spot-on.

Oh no pitchguest or john? John seemed to think this post was a good idea… Probably discussing it with Justin in their safe space at the pit.

Interesting to read your comment about Justin not letting go of his Surly Amy issues. Him using an image for commercial gain with no attribution is appalling given he clearly knows the law there, now at least.

I really don’t get that attitude, like the bloke who didn’t get what he thought was a civil answer to a Q from Ophelia. I tried discussing it with him on Twitter, he could easily look it up himself, if Dawkins ignored him then would he be bothered etc. Next thing there is a 50min video attacking her and lots of tweeting and blogging, just weird.

One wrong, little bit of incivility, and sometimes they go off for years blogging and tweeting about their target. Presumably waiting on that apology they felt was deserved and never came.


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