World Fantasy’s Harassment Policy

Abstract image for the website of Cat Rambo, speculative writer and editor.This morning the question was raised for me as to whether or not SFWA will hold a business meeting at World Fantasy if they do not produce a policy for handling harassment that matches up with the SFWA guidelines. (I myself am not attending WFC this year for reasons that have no connection to any of this; Susan Forest, the current SFWA Secretary, will be running the meeting if it is held.)

There’s been a lot of controversy about the current WFC policy and my understanding is that they are looking at amending it right now. So my answer depends very much on how it’s amended, actually. If the policy doesn’t match up with ours sufficiently to keep SFWA members and their families able to enjoy the convention and participate freely, we may not have the business meeting. That remains to be seen.

The SFWA guidelines, which have been around since 2011, are here. I’m not part of the group that produced them, but I’d like to go through and explain why I find ours adequate in a way the existing WFC policy is not.


SFWA sponsors or hosts discussion forums, publications, the SFWA website, the Nebula Awards Weekend, the SFWA suite and other programs and activities (the “Venues”). SFWA is dedicated to assuring that the use of and access to the Venues by SFWA members is free of all forms of harassment, intimidation and discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, gender, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, disability, medical condition, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, marital/domestic partnership status, or citizenship.

SFWA’s concern here is SFWA space at the convention. We hope to lead by example, not to try to police conventions (a pretty futile task, imo), in order to make sure our spaces are open and free of harassment or intimidation for all parties — not just members, but potential members, member friends and family, etc.

This Policy is applicable to members of the SFWA Community that participate in the Venues. The SFWA Community is comprised of SFWA staff, employees, officers, members, and non-member guests. This Policy helps to promote the realization of SFWA’s mission to inform, support, promote, defend and advocate for our members. This Policy is procedurally separate and distinct from SFWA’s employment-related policies.

Basically if you’re in SFWA space, physical or virtual, these guidelines apply to you.


Sexual harassment proscribed by this Policy includes (1) unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other physical, verbal or written conduct of a sexual nature, and (2) creating an intimidating, hostile, or sexually offensive environment by severe or pervasive conduct. Written conduct includes postings or similar conduct in online or electronic venues. Sexual harassment may occur in hierarchical relationships or between peers, and between persons of the same sex or opposite sex.

The standard counterargument to erect (hee) here is that some cultures/people find sexual advances common, and how do you know advances are welcome OMG you are killing flirtation all hail the jackbooted thugs of sexless oppression. But since if you look a little later in the doc, the first thing to do in response is to tell the advancer that what they’re doing isn’t welcome, you would have to be attaching “even when presented with a firm no” to the “how can I tell that my advances aren’t welcome” question, that all seems moot.

A hostile environment can be created by, among other things, unwanted jokes, gestures, and unwelcome comments and repartee; touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching, rubbing, or patting a person’s back, backside, or chest, grabbing another person around the waist, or deliberately interfering with a person’s ability to move, or written conduct referring to same; repeated requests for dates or sex that are turned down, or other unwanted flirting, and transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature.

See usual straw crowd, who are huffed and puffed away by the strong wind of “severe or pervasive conduct,” at least in my opinion. But I also believe common sense is a basic human trait, despite being proven wrong on a daily basis.

With regard to access to or use of the Venues, discrimination or harassment that is based on race, age, sex, gender, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, disability, medical condition, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, marital/domestic partnership status, or citizenship, is also prohibited by this Policy.

This Policy is implicated when the harassment, intimidation or discrimination is sufficiently severe or pervasive to deny or limit a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from SFWA’s Venues. It is not necessary that the harassment, intimidation or discrimination have been directed specifically at any complaining party.

Still seems reasonable to me. But it’s also a policy that depends on people letting us know when their ability to participate or benefit is being infringed on, which is one reason I’m grateful to the SFWA member whose letter about this I received this morning.

Free Speech and Artistic Freedom

As participants in creative industry, most members of the SFWA Community are particularly cognizant of the free speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section I of the California Constitution. Moreover, SFWA itself is organized around the principles of free inquiry and the collective search for knowledge, and views creative freedom as a special area of protected speech. However, freedom of speech and artistic and creative freedom are not limitless and do not protect speech or expressive conduct that violates federal, state law, or SFWA’s properly adopted policies.

The purpose of this Policy is intended to discourage harassment, intimidation and discrimination in SFWA Venues, in a manner that is consistent with SFWA’s organizational principles. Therefore, this Policy shall be implemented in a manner that recognizes the importance of the freedom of speech and expression: no provision of this Policy shall be interpreted to prohibit conduct that is legitimately related to fiction, teaching methods, or public commentary of an individual member or the educational, political, artistic, or literary expression of members in fiction and public Venues.

Again reasonable. SFWA has no interest in taking care of things that are outside its proper bounds. We are concerned with SFWA venues and hope that other organizations will see fit to follow our example. We’ve tried to make that as easy as possible by making them easily available on our website.

Reporting Procedures

The first step of a person who believes that there has been a violation of this Policy should be to communicate calmly with the individual engaging in the offensive behavior and tell him or her that you find his or her behavior to be inappropriate and request that it cease.

If such behavior does not immediately cease, or if direct communication is insufficient or uncomfortable, the behavior may be reported to the SFWA Ombudsman, the SFWA President or SFWA Event Organizer. Such report should include the substance of the complaint, date(s), a list of witnesses and/or, when appropriate, reference URLs. In addition to notifying the individuals identified above, a complainant may also request assistance from any SFWA officer, employee or volunteer.

I do know that sometimes it’s uncomfortable to tell someone to back off. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s also necessary as part of human to human interaction, and if a fellow human reacts inappropriately to being told to back off, any of us will step in and have your back.


This Policy prohibits retaliation against a member of the SFWA Community for reporting harassment, intimidation or discrimination and for participating in an investigation relating to same. The sanctions for Retaliation are the same sanctions available to address any other violation of this Policy.

It’s important to let people have a mechanism for reporting harassment that they feel they can use.

False Allegations

It is a violation of this Policy for a member of the SFWA Community to knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth make false claim of harassment, intimidation or discrimination. Failure to prove a claim of unlawful harassment is not, by itself, equivalent to a false claim.

Using harassment claims to harass or intimidate someone is serious stuff.

Sanctions for Violation Of Policy

Harassment, intimidation and discrimination in violation of this Policy is materially and seriously prejudicial to the purposes and interests of SFWA. When it has been determined that a violation of this Policy has occurred, the SFWA Board Of Directors will determine, in its sole discretion, the appropriate sanction.

Decisions are up to the overall SFWA board, not a specific person.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the SFWA President may take or direct to be taken any temporary action appropriate to protect the purposes and interests of SFWA, including warning or alerting the offending party as to the nature of the offense, removal of either the complainant and/or the accused harasser from the SFWA Discussion Boards where the harassment or discriminatory conduct occurred, or otherwise diffusing the situation to protect both the participants and others in SFWA space from further harm or unpleasantness. Should such action be taken, a detailed report of the incident should be submitted to the rest of the Board so it can consider taking further action in the matter.

I’ve got some personal responsibility here, which I take pretty seriously.

Should conduct believed to be in violation of this Policy occur at a physical venue (the Nebula Weekend, SFWA suite, meeting, or other event) the SFWA Board member, employee, or volunteer in charge of the event at the time of the conduct may take reasonable action to stop the apparent harassment and ensure the safety of persons at the event. Reasonable action may include, but not be limited to, verbal notification to the individual that the behavior believed to be in violation of this Policy should be discontinued immediately, and/or removal of the individual from the immediate area. If action is taken, the person taking the action shall deliver a written report on the event incident (including a detailed narrative of the incident and the names of all persons involved and of any witnesses) to the Ombudsman and/or the SFWA President, who shall submit the report to the Board so it can consider taking further action in the matter.

No matter what happens, there must be a written report made to the Board.

The SFWA Board of Directors is responsible for the implementation of this Policy and the administration of the associated procedures. Upon receiving a report of a violation of this Policy, the SFWA Ombudsman or the SFWA President, as the case may be, shall provide formal notice (the “Notice”) of such conduct to the Board. As supplements or alternatives to the sanctions of suspension or expulsion, the Board may also take one or more of the following non-exclusive actions:

  • Warning one or more parties involved that specified behavior is inappropriate
  • Requiring a formal apology on behalf of the complainant(s)
  • Removing access to SFWA spaces or Venues on a temporary or permanent basis
  • Barring a non-member from future membership
  • Removal of a director from the board of directors (As per Article V, Section 5, Subsection c of SFWA Bylaws: Removal of a Director by the Board)

If the Board concludes that the behavior is sufficiently egregious to warrant suspension or expulsion, the procedures relative to the Notice and the Board’s action thereon shall be those procedures set out in SFWA’s Operating Policies and Procedures Manual (“OPPM”), “Procedures For Suspension and Expulsion Of Members”. The Board may pursue an investigation in cases when the complainant is reluctant to proceed.

What the Board can do. I note that challenging the offending party to a duel seems to have been left off the list. The Procedures for Suspension and Expulsion are long and rigorous, and my hope is to never see them invoked on these grounds.


The SFWA Board of Directors will make every reasonable effort to conduct all investigations into allegations of harassment, intimidation or discrimination in a manner that will protect the confidentiality of all parties. Notwithstanding the above, confidentiality is not absolute, and those with a legitimate business reason to know and to be informed of the allegations will be so informed. Parties to the complaint should treat the matter under investigation with discretion and respect for the reputation of all parties involved.

This seems unobjectionable, except for the lack of an Oxford comma.

Conclusions? Harassment policies are definitely something SFWA should pay attention to, both in making sure our own is workable and useful as well as encouraging other institutions to do the same. We need to make sure that SFWA events fall under our own guidelines and that we communicate those guidelines clearly to participants. It’s my hope that WFC will feel free to draw upon the SFWA guidelines in creating ones that make the convention accessible to all participants.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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