Responding to CoC Violations

As a PyLadies organizer, you may get reports of harassment or other Code of Conduct Policy violations. It can be confusing and stressful to deal with. But have no fear! Adapted from Geek Feminism, we have some guidelines.

Preparation

You and any co-organizers should be prepared in case someone wants to report harassment that they’ve face. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for the process if a report ever happens, however feel free to adapt them as you wish.

List of emergency resources

This is good for both you/organizers in case a incident is beyond your capability to appropriately deal with, and for the reporter of harassment to use if they wish. Suggested resources include:

  • Local emergency services (police, ambulance, etc). It’s good to have both emergency phone numbers and non-emergency phone numbers.
  • Local mental health services
  • Sexual assault hotlines

Record Keeping

You have the ability to use Google Drive with your pyladies.com account (please don’t polute your personal Google drive!). Just log into drive.google.com with your PyLadies email login information. With that,

  • Create a form (e.g. with Google Forms) that allows someone to report the incident online. See Receiving a Complaint for what details to collect. An example form can be found here.
  • Publish the form within your location’s page (e.g. local Meetup page, website, Facebook) as well as emailed out when it initially is published.
  • Publish contact information (e.g. your location’s email) in case they wish to not fill out the form or want talk to someone directly.
  • Set up email notifications for any form response so you don’t miss anything
  • Create documents for any notes that you/the organizers take, write down any actions took and the resolve, any email conversations. Anything that is done in relation to the incident should be documented.
  • It may be a good setup to create folders per incident. Then you can just upload PDF printouts of email conversations, or quickly write notes about conversations.

The purpose of maintaining a “paper trail” is:

  • If you step down as an organizer, or another organizer receives a complaint regarding a previous offender, it can be dealt with in a more appropriate manner, and
  • Maintain a record in case local authorities ever get involved.

Informing PyLadies Global

If an incident happens in your local PyLadies community, you must report it to the global organization via our CoC reporting form. The purpose is very similar to Record Keeping - for the global organization to be aware of what’s going on in case of any legal or PR action is needed/taken, as well as look for a pattern of behavior (e.g. a repeat harasser moves locations, if a community is particularly unwelcoming and may need more help).

You are of course welcome and invited to request help from the global PyLadies organization. We are here for resources, advice, or just to talk to.

The global organization is also responsible for complaints of local organizers. If you received or witnessed unwanted behavior in any way that breaks our Code of Conduct Policy by another organizer, please do not hesitate to contact us. You may report any violations via our global report form, or contact us at coc@pyladies.com.

The following people maintain any Code of Conduct Policy reports:

If you do not feel comfortable with anyone above when sending a report (e.g. the report is against someone above), please reach out to someone else on the above list.

Receiving a Complaint

Ask the reporter to write down what happened to the best of their ability. If the report was given verbally or does not want to, then please write down the complaint yourself (see Record Keeping).

We suggest the following:

  • Identifying information of the participant doing the harassing
  • The behavior that was in violation
  • The approximate time of the behavior (if different than the time of the report was made)
  • Any circumstances surrounding the incident
  • Other people involved in the incident
  • If they wish to remain anonymous in any way
  • How you can contact them for follow up

We suggest to have a designated person (not the whole group of organizers) to handle the conversation between the involved parties and the local group. This is to avoid the “group against one” environment, as well as “interviewing” or otherwise “evidence gathering”.

Make it known to the parties involved about who is a part of the group that addresses these complaints (if it’s just you, or other organizers will be brought in to discuss how to handle the complaint), and that you will be documenting the report and the response

Responding to a Complaint

There are various levels of responses depending on the incident. Please follow accordingly:

Threats to Physical Wellbeing

Most harassment complaints aren’t of this nature, but if someone reports that an attendee has committed or is threatening violence towards another attendee, or other safety issues:

  • If there is any general threat to attendees or the safety of anyone including conference staff is in doubt, summon security or police.
  • Offer the victim a private place to sit
  • Ask “is there a friend or trusted person who you would like to be with you?” (if so, arrange for someone to fetch this person)
  • Ask them “how can I help?”
  • Provide them with your List of emergency resources if they need help later

Law Enforcement

If everyone is presently physically safe, involve law enforcement or security only at a victim’s request.

In many cases, reporting harassment to law enforcement is very unpleasant and may result in further harassment. Forcing victims to go to law enforcement will reduce reports of harassment (but not actual harassment). For more information, see Why Didn’t You Report It?

An organizer can provide the List of emergency resources and say something like “if you want any help reporting this incident, please let us know” and leave it at that.

Reports of Harassment that were Widely Witnessed

These include things like harassing content in talks, or harassment that took place in a crowded space.

Simply say “Thanks, this sounds like a breach of our Code of Conduct Policy. I am going to convene a meeting of a small group of people and figure out what our response will be.”

Reports of more private harassment

Offer the reporter/victim a chance to decide if any further action is taken: “OK, this sounds like a breach of our Code of Conduct Policy policy. If you’re OK with it I am going to convene a meeting of a small group of people and figure out what our response will be.” Pause, and see if they say they do not want this. Otherwise, go ahead.

Things not to do

  • Do not overtly invite them to withdraw the complaint or mention that withdrawal is OK: this suggests that you want them to do so, and is therefore coercive. “If you’re OK with it [pursuing the complaint]” suggests that you are by default pursuing it and is not coercive.
  • Do not ask for their advice on how to deal with the complaint: this is the staff’s responsibility
  • Do not offer them input into penalties: this is the staff’s responsibility
  • Do not share details of the people involved or incident without specific permission from the victim. This includes sharing with other organizers (unless they are a part of your group to respond to incidents.

Forming a Response

You should aim to take action as soon as reasonably possible. During the event, a response within the next half-day is usually an appropriate timeframe. After the event you may need more time to gather sufficient decision makers, but ideally responding within the same week or sooner is good.

Meeting

Available co-organizers should meet as soon as possible after a report to discuss:

  • What happened?
  • Are we doing anything about it?
  • Who is doing those things?
  • When are they doing them?

Neither the complainant nor the alleged harasser should attend. (If the event was very widely witnessed, such as a harassing talk, this may be an exception to this guideline.) People with a conflict of interest should exclude themselves or if necessary be excluded by others.

Communicate with the alleged harasser about the complaint

As soon as possible, either before or during the above meeting, let the alleged harasser know that there is a complaint about them, let them tell someone their side of the story and that person takes it into the meeting.

Communicate with the harasser about the response

As soon as possible after that meeting, let the harasser know what action is being taken. Give them a place to appeal to if there is one, but in the meantime the action stands. “If you’d like to discuss this further, please contact XYZ, but in the meantime, you must <something something>”

Possible sanctions

Your guiding principle should be the safety of your community members from harassment and you should evaluate sanctions in light of whether they provide the safety needed. You and your event are the only people who can judge appropriate sanctions in your community based on the nature of the incident and the responses of the people involved, but some possibilities are:

  • Warning the harasser to cease their behaviour and that any further reports will result in sanctions
  • Requiring that the harasser avoid any interaction with, and physical proximity to, their victim for the remainder of the event
  • Ending a talk that violates the policy early
  • Not publishing the video or slides of a talk that violated the policy
  • Not allowing a speaker who violated the policy to give (further) talks at the event
  • Immediately ending any event volunteer responsibilities and privileges the harasser holds
  • Requiring that the harasser not volunteer for future events your organization runs (either indefinitely or for a certain time period)
  • Requiring that the harasser refund any travel grants and similar they received (this would need to be a condition of the grant at the time of being awarded)
  • Requiring that the harasser immediately leave the event and not return
  • Banning the harasser from future events (either indefinitely or for a certain time period)
  • Removing a harasser from membership of relevant organizations
  • Publishing an account of the harassment and calling for the resignation of the harasser from their responsibilities (usually pursued by people without formal authority: may be called for if the harasser is the event leader, or refuses to stand aside from the conflict of interest, or similar, typically event staff have sufficient governing rights over their space that this isn’t as useful)

Employer reports

If someone harassed someone else while in an official employee capacity, such as while working as paid event staff, while giving a talk about their employer’s product, while staffing a sponsor booth, while wearing their employer’s branded merchandise, while attempting to recruit someone for a job, or while claiming to represent their employer’s views, it may be appropriate to provide a short report of their conduct to their employer.

Don’t require or encourage apologies

We do not suggest asking for an apology to the victim. You have no responsibility to enforce friendship, reconciliation, or anything beyond lack of harassment between any two given attendees, and in fact doing so can contribute to someone’s lack of safety at your event.

Forcing a victim of harassment to acknowledge an apology from their harasser forces further contact with their harasser. It also creates a social expectation that they will accept the apology, forgive their harasser, and return their social connection to its previous status. A person who has been harassed will often prefer to ignore or avoid their harasser entirely. Bringing them together with a third party mediator and other attempts to “repair” the situation which require further interaction between them should likewise be avoided.

If the harasser offers to apologize to the victim (especially in person), we suggest strongly discouraging it. If a staff member relays an apology to the victim, it should be brief and not require a response. (“X apologizes and agrees to have no further contact with you” is brief. “X is very sorry that their attempts to woo you were not received in the manner that was intended and will try to do better next time, they’re really really sorry and hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive them” is emphatically not.)

If the harasser attempts to press an apology on someone who would clearly prefer to avoid them, or attempts to recruit others to relay messages on their behalf, this may constitute continued harassment.

Data retention

Build a data retention policy for various information related to harassment policies. In particular, an anti-harassment policy that states that sufficiently bad offenses can earn a lifetime ban from the event should have a data retention plan that includes how to store and communicate offenses from past events to the staff of future events, for the lifetime of the organization.

Things to think about:

  • What gets stored?

  • How is it stored? (Paper is less searchable than electronic records.)

  • Who has access to it?

    • Who is allowed to have access?
    • How is that access controlled?
  • How is it communicated to future staff?

  • How long are the stored records kept?

    • Is there a difference in how long different types of records need to be kept?
  • At what point in the registration process does someone check against records of banned attendees?

Communicating with your community

Principles

Your community may need to see the policy enforced because:

  • you want to be transparent to your community and not have secret policies and sanctions that you aren’t accountable for
  • the actions of the harasser, or reports of multiple harassment, show that your policy may not be well understood
  • you wish to reassure people that you are serious about anti-harassment

Level of detail

When discussing the incident with others, it is good to keep the individuals anonymous, generally. (An exception may be if the harasser is very central to the community, such as a core conference staffer.) However, it is useful to:

  • offer some idea of the nature of the incident eg “a sexual slide was shown in a talk” or “an attendee physically threatened another attendee” or “an attendee repeatedly harassed another attendee despite multiple requests to cease” or whatever.
  • briefly mention the sanction
  • (briefly! neutrally!) convey any apologies from the harasser, especially if they were backed by actions, for example “the [attendee/speaker/staffer] has agreed that their actions were inappropriate and has voluntarily left the conference”

This helps your community understand the reality of the policy: how and when it gets enforced.

Informing attendees

If the event has been dealt with at the conference, it may be appropriate for the conference to make a short announcement at the next plenary, something like:

“<thing> happened. This was a violation of our policy. We apologise for this. We have taken <action>. This is a good time for all attendees to review our policy at <location>. If anyone would like to discuss this further they can <contact us somehow>.”

And then move on with the program.

Dealing with upset attendees

People may be upset and wish to express their concerns to conference staff. Conference staff should be in “making the person feel heard” mode, it’s important not to cross into education mode. Hear them out, take notes as approriate, thank them for their thoughts.

Conference staff should not share additional details of the incident with uninvolved parties.

If an attendee are upset and a staff member agrees that a wrong was done to them, it helps a lot to just say simply “I’m so sorry.” (Rather than “but we tried really hard” or “no one told us” or etc, even if that was true. “I’m so sorry” goes a long way to defusing many people’s anger.)

Whether or not a staffer agree that a wrong was done to them them, they should be armed with an authority they can appeal to if talking wasn’t enough. “Please email our conference director.” “Please email our committee.” etc.

Public response

Some incidents of harassment will need a public response after the conference in order to protect the reputation of your awesome, friendly, professional conference. Be prepared and willing to distance your conference from actions of participants that reflect badly on your conference, and to defend your action or inaction in response. Nobody likes being the bad guy, but even fewer people like going to a conference when the organizers seem to condone bad behavior, whether the reputation is for punishing the people reporting it, ignoring it, or enforcing an existing policy unevenly (someone with no connections getting the harshest possible penalty, someone with intimate connections to the organizers getting off lighter than the stated policy).

Timing is important. Try to respond quickly to harassment incidents. A late response looks a lot like no response at all and can harm your conference’s reputation and future attendance. A simple and relatively uncontroversial response with few legal concerns is to issue a general statement about the kind of behavior involved:

“PyLadies does not condone $BEHAVIOR. $BEHAVIOR violates the anti-harassment policy of PyLadies, which specifies that participants engaging in $BEHAVIOR will be expelled from the conference. We take harassment seriously and respond to reports of it quickly and firmly.”

Evaluation

After you have had a chance to observe how the anti-harassment policy works in the real situations presented by your conference, you may wish to change the policy to better address them. Did anything unforseen happen that there should be a rule about? Sometimes an unacceptable behavior does not warrant a whole new rule, but should be listed as a specific example of unacceptable behavior under an existing rule.

For consistency, it is wise to deal with situations that came up at this year’s conference under this year’s rules, and only apply any changes going forward to the next conference.

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