Have Harassment Policies Worked?

There’s been a debate online for a couple of years now concerning harassment policies at various conferences.

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know what I’m talking about here. For years, it seems, most conferences that were skeptic , humanist, or atheist did not have formal harassment policies.

Sure, all of these events had people that anyone could seek out if they believed in some way they were being harassed by another person, but how often did that actually happen? Unfortunately, there’s really not any statistics I am able to uncover.

These people that have claimed harassment in the past never seemed to have reported the incidents. If they did, then the organizers either never did anything about the alleged harassment or acted upon the incident, then quietly covered it up.

What good would either of those do the conference? None. Word of mouth can destroy some of these events. Remember when there was a concerted effort to let women know that TAM was unsafe?

But in the intervening years, many organizations have formalized harassment policies. Has it done any good? I mean, if these conference organizers had no reports before for instance, do they think that the reason they have no reports now is due to their new written policy?

Or have there been incidents of harassment at certain conferences? To my knowledge, there haven’t been any and we all know that it would be shouted from the rafters from a certain quarter if there was even the slightest hint.

So then, no incidents since policies were instituted. None that we know of anyway. Does this prove the policies are working or it never was the problem that it was made out to be in the first place?

Your guess is as good as mine.

4 thoughts on “Have Harassment Policies Worked?

  1. While the acrimonious debate that preceded the adoption of these policies probably did some harm, the policies themselves have done no harm. Or is anyone claiming that they have? Are you questioning even having these policies? Is this commentary an argument that the policies should be rescinded? Is anyone claiming that the policies have or have not impacted the frequency of harassment incidents at conferences?

    How intense is the debate now compared to several years ago? Is it even worth opening old wounds like this? Why?


    • there was no “debate”. There were demands made and subtle threats made to various organizers of conferences to come out in favor. This was purely orchatrated based on…nothing. I never said the polices were bad, all I asked is if they had provided anymore than when there were few to no actual written policies. As far as I can tell, that answer is “no”. If you have stats, as I mentioned in the piece, please provide. They don’t seem to be publically available.


  2. I think it’s pretty clear this post isn’t making any claim or questioning having those policies. It’s merely asking the question, Have anti-harassment policies at cons had the desired effect? After all, the entire reason people fight so hard for any policy is to produce real-world changes, right? So looking back, can we conclude that these policies produced the real-world changes that their proponents were saying they would? That’s a reasonable question to ask of any new policy.

    Unfortunately, it looks like we don’t have any data that can answer that question for us right now.


  3. Assuming there aren’t the sort of data that would let one compare incidents before and after the policies took effect, one would probably have to rely on attendees assessment of the policies. One could survey attendees and ask them what they thought about the policies. This might be better than nothing but probably not by much, as it still wouldn’t answer the question of whether the policies worked.


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