Conduct and harassment policies: what they are and how to enforce them
There's a common line of recent social failure states in furry fandom, and in fandom in general. Not having a conduct policy, having a poorly-phrased or contradictory conduct policy, having an unenforceable conduct policy, or failing to evenly or consistently enforce the policy.
Good, enforceable, clearly understandable, and well-published conduct and harassment policies should be everywhere in furry fandom. But what is the best practice that the furry fandom needs to adopt in the face of not only common every-day jerks, but organised groups such as the Furry Raiders and Alt-Furries?
Step One : Have a conduct and harassment policy.
When do you need a conduct and harassment policy? Are you organising an event or social group that allows people from the general public you don't know to come into the event or group? Then you need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a convention? You need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a board gaming meet? You need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a public or semi-public telegram channel? You need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a website's comment section? You need a conduct and harassment policy.
If you think it's obvious that you shouldn't harass people, then you are not the person the policy is written for. If you have never suffered or seen harassment yourself, then you are not the person the policy is written for. If you have never felt worried about attending somewhere because of who you are, then you are not the person the policy is written for.
Simply having a conduct and harassment policy is in itself is a clear statement that you want your community to be better.
Step Two: Don't overthink your policy.
One common complaint about having or enforcing a conduct and harassment policy is "We can't really define harassment in strict terms and it's too complicated to cover all forms of harassment." This is getting tunnel vision on the process, instead of the intent. And there's a simple end-run around this problem that's really obvious after you realise it.
Define what you want your community to be, and define antagonism to this as bad conduct.
For instance, your gaming group can have a declaration of intent that "All members and guests have the expectation of participating without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or disability, and to be free from harassment and intimidation. All members and guests will not engage in behaviour that will undermine or attack this goal." You can adjust that wording to cover a variety of events and groups.
Generally, the complexity of any conduct and harassment policy is not so much in its wording, but instead is found in how you then go on to handle breaches of the policy. Which leads us to the next step.
Step Three: Enforce the policy in a clear, consistently repeatable, and competent manner.
Work out how you're actually going to enforce the policy. Make this a part of the policy. Make it clear how someone gets reported for breaching the policy, to whom, and what can be expected to happen.
This is going to have the most potential for complexity, depending on your organisation's size and structure. There will be no one-size-fits-all text for this, but there are some good common practices that you should try to include.
Step Three (A) : Have a paper trail.
Record any and all complaints. Even the frivolous-sounding ones. Keep this documentation for a reasonable amount of time; be sure to pay attention to local laws about holding records on people as well prior to doing this.
You want to do this for several reasons. First is that a conduct and harassment policy will just collapse if there's no confidence in it, if people think that their reports will be ignored. Second, is that it allows you to see potential patterns of behaviour, which can allow for much clearer decision-making. Third is that you do not want to play a game of telephone down a long verbal reporting chain, with each step rephrasing the complaint in a different way.
Step Three (B): Have at least one nominated person who is in charge of it.
Yes, it should be the responsibility of everyone. However, to keep things organized, it would be beneficial to have these cases be the responsibility of a named person who can specialize in these situations. This can help reinforce the policy to have a person dedicated to ensure it is working.
Step Three (C): Don't invite debate and rules lawyering.
Do not try to hold yourself up to the standards of a criminal court. You will find this to be counter-productive to the idea of actually enforcing the standards of a conduct and harassment policy. This is because the principles of criminal courts are that of allowing someone a huge amount of "reasonable doubt". Someone who is antagonistic to the idea of a conduct and harassment policy, such as the Furry Raiders and Alt-Furries, will do everything they can to subvert enforcement of it. They will take any potential loopholes available to them. Instead, make decisions on the balance of evidence, the impact towards your community, and someone's history.
As an example of potential rules lawyering and loophole abuse, consider how to handle someone who harasses other members when they are entering, leaving, or nearby the premises of your event. Avoid tying your hands by ignoring this conduct because it didn't take place on the premises.
The one exception I do recommend is that responsible persons should always disqualify themselves from any situation involving spouses, close friends and relatives, or business partners.
Step Four: Make sure you make the policy very well-known.
Don't just bury it on your website, merely having a conduct policy is not good enough in itself. Make sure it's utterly implausible that someone could claim not to know you have a conduct and harassment policy. Put it in your publications, have signs, remind people about it at the opening event.
Step Five: Actually mean it.
The most important part of a conduct and harassment policy is you actually have to mean it. My feeling toward anyone who thinks you don't need a conduct or harassment policy at your fandom event, is that the fandom probably doesn't need your event.
Editor Addendum: Lessons of other conduct fights in other fandoms (by Dronon)
In considering how the furry fandom deals with these problems it is important to note that the furry fandom is not alone in hashing out rules to have more welcoming communities free from these issues. Over the last ten years, science-fiction, gaming, and cosplay fandoms have all been trying to improve their convention rules and policies. This has become more challenging due to toxic backlash movements such as Gamergate, the Sad Puppies, and denouncers of "SJWs". Some conventions have made bold statements. Others, like WisCon and ReaderCon, are thought to have failed in how they initially handled incidents. On the positive side, there are many conventions outside our fandom to which we can look for examples to help shape our own policies.