As a follow up to the earlier post I had on harassment issues at PASS Summit – writing this to clarify more on the same. The community seems divided on if or not issues should be reported, if or not those who do not report are guilty, if or not those who say ‘I will report’ are wrong, on and on. There are no easy answers to any of this, and a healthy debate is a good thing, for sure. But what happens in most cases is that people with strong stances either way tend to back off, thinking they are ‘wrong’ or ‘don’t belong’ and it leads to a sort of a stalemate, allowing such things to go on as is. Below are some of my experiences and humble opinions on all of this.
1 Should all issues be reported?
The answer is umm..no. There are lot of issues with making a blanket statement like that.Any of us who has been a victim – not necessarily at PASS but anywhere knows the issues around making a shaming incident public.You are already suffering shame, and need privacy. And then you have people expressing how they feel about it, you have people taking stances that it did not exactly happen like you said, you have gossip, cliques, on and on. It is not a pleasant experience and the victim has a right to opt out of it if he/she chooses to. In this case it can also be that victim really does not trust the body of people the issue is being reported to. In a close community that kind of opinion is not uncommon.
2 Is it then necessary even to have a structure to report issues?
Yes, it absolutely is. And again, that is the problem with polarized stances. If you don’t report an issue, chances are pretty high that person is going to try it again – on someone else, at someplace else. All criminals get to be that way because they got away with something,somewhere. And again, you may be from a country or a culture where such incidents are really rare. Where if someone engages in butt pinching the woman in question will just turn around and put him in place before he could bat an eyelid. I have known women like that from Germany and Sweden, and even from my own home country, India. There are women who will turn around and make a sarcastic joke, or pinch him back. The problem is that not all people are that way, nor do all of us have presence of mind to act in that way. Some of us feel incredibly violated, shamed. And not all incidents have to be as mild as butt pinching. It can be a lot worse. A lot of us come from cultures where people will stand by and watch abuse happen, even enjoy it and egg the perpetrator on. A lot of us have been saved by many a unknown hero who saw it was wrong.
A structure to report the incident to, to ban the person from conferences, report him to police or similar can and absolutely should exist. Men or women who want to be guardians or make themselves available as guardians are AWESOME PEOPLE, they should not be shamed or let down for what they offer to do.
3 What if I see something that looks like harassment and want to report it?
Check with the victim as much as possible. And if that is not possible I hate to say it but I would probably report it. But asking the victim helps – and understand what he/she would prefer to do.
4 What if someone confides in me and asks me not to report it?
I would not report it. Respecting someone’s need for privacy is important. I would definitely ask if he/she did anything to let the perpetrator know he was behaving badly. And if it is ok to report it anonymously. I would not in any condition disclose the victim’s name to anyone else or shame him/her for not reporting.
Let us keep the awareness that taking unfair advantage of anyone is wrong, no matter how your own culture chooses to call it. The fine print on that stops if I say I have been taken unfair advantage of. It is wrong to say things like ‘in my culture that would have been a non issue’, or ‘you are too sensitive’, or that ‘You should have reported it’, or ‘You should not have reported it’. All of those thing are opinions , and opinions are necessary to make our process better. But we do have to accept that abuse happens, and work towards bettering trust and related issues – not telling victims how to feel and how to act all the time.
We have to keep the quorum that abuse is wrong, and the victim gets the last word on what that is. We only get to define how to fix things and make it better.