Formatting note: Commentary by committee members will be indicated with differently colored text and set off by the initials of the author. Commentary generally applies to the section immediately preceding it, except where noted otherwise.
[MVH]: Mike VanHelder
[MAH]: Martha Harbison
[MAS]: Marguerite Smith
Code of Conduct
Valley Forge 2017 is dedicated to providing a positive conference experience, free of harassment, for everyone. This policy applies equally to all members present at the convention, including (but not limited to) con staff, vendors, exhibitors, and guests.
[MVH] This seems fairly self-explanatory to me. The first sentence is lifted directly from the Geek Feminism Wiki (GFW), and I’m not sure if the second was a copy/paste from somewhere or something we came up with whole cloth, but I don’t think that it matters.
The next three paragraphs are original. In my experience the most common things that bad actors do is attempt to retroactively justify their behavior by making the same tired, facile arguments over and over again, and this verbiage was an effort to head those arguments off at the pass. They also set a tone (firm but reasonable) for the rest of the doc.
[MAS] The main source for this document is the Geek Feminism Wiki. However, we also drew inspiration from the following sources, among others.
*Rocky Horror Picture Show 40, the probable inspiration for that second sentence: http://www.rhps40.com/code-of-conduct
We expect everybody to observe all the laws and regulations of this jurisdiction and venue while participating in this convention. That said, “I’m not doing anything illegal” is not a defense against any accusation of conduct contrary to this policy. Just because something is legal does not mean that we will tolerate it.
We are aware that there has never been a system that someone hasn’t tried to hack, be it jurisprudence, firewall security or Dungeons and Dragons. Any attempts to circumvent the intention or spirit of this code of conduct will be considered a violation of this code of conduct.
[MVH] AKA the “Well, the rules don’t say a dog can’t play basketball” clause.
We do not anticipate that anyone will intentionally violate these guidelines, but we are also prepared to handle whatever situation may arise. We promise to evaluate situations covered by this code to the best of our judgement and resources. Keep in mind that this evaluation is not a jurisprudential procedure. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” does not apply here.
We expect participants to follow these rules at all convention venues and convention-related social activities.
[MVH] I think I lifted this sentence from somewhere but I don’t remember where. There’s some grey area in what is or is not a “convention-related social activity”, but room parties and (for example) convention-organized tours definitely apply.
There’s a common misconception that we can’t regulate people’s behavior during “off-campus” activities. The fact is that as a private, membership-based organization, we can regulate pretty much whatever we want. Imagine that we were a strict vegan group; if we caught some of our members eating meat while they were on vacation somewhere, we would be totally justified in expelling them.
[MVH] I believe that Marguerite did the initial work on this section, so she can tell us where the initial verbiage came from. Subsequently it was heavily edited by several of us.
[MAS] I think the original inspiration for this came out of a discussion that Mike had with our lawyer, and which he summarised for us later. One of the main points I wanted to reinforce is that consent should be sought, not assumed, and ought to be explicit. Also, as in the first paragraph, that consent covers more than just sex.
Oh, also also, one of the common refrains I have heard in discussions about this is that certain fans might have different mores, or might read social situations differently. In order to forestall this, I wanted to give a “rule”: Ask. Don’t do something and then make someone tell you after that this made them uncomfortable.
Also^3, the source for that first paragraph is Continuum (AU): http://continuum.org.au/c10/code-of-
We believe in creating a space where consent is proactively sought, where everyone feels comfortable asking about others’ boundaries and expressing their own. Consent is not only about potential sexual situations, but also includes other social interactions, such as “Can I sit with you?” or “Do you mind if I take your photo?”
Silence is not consent. Cosplay is not consent. In order to give consent, a person should be a legal adult and not of impaired judgement. Judgement may be impaired by many things, such as intoxication or other physical states.
Agreement does not need to be verbal; it can also be written or given by a gesture such as a clear nod. Except for on-going consent established between parties beforehand, such as between spouses and close friends, we expect our members to establish clear and explicit consent before involving another party in other social interactions.
[MVH] This was a contentious paragraph. On the one hand, whether or not a husband and wife can hold hands or kiss each other without doing the explicit consent dance should be a matter of common sense, but if you’re going to have a document with high specificity then you have to make sure that even common-sense scenarios are covered. The way that I had initially worded it made some committee members think that I might be leaving a loophole for marital rape. This was obviously not the intention but see my above statement about common sense, and so we reworded it.
Consent can be revoked at any time. “Stop!” is a complete sentence.
If someone does not want their likeness to be recorded (still pictures or video), do not start or continue any such recording. We are aware that it is legal to record anyone in a public place regardless of consent. We may not be able to legally compel you to stop recording somebody who does not want to be recorded, but we can absolutely bar you from our event for that reason.
[MVH] Photography clauses are often controversial, though internally we were mostly in agreement. As a photographer myself, I’m very acquainted with the laws and rules surrounding taking pictures. On the one hand, I definitely believe that there is value to documenting visual culture, and there are journalism issues to consider. On the other hand, as Chair, I have an obligation to consider the privacy and comfort of the convention members. In the end, asking “can I take your picture” seemed like a very low bar.
In practical application I think we’re going to have to make a distinction between pictures of a person and, say, a wide-angle crowd-shot panorama. In terms of enforcement, context will be critical here.
[MAS] I admit that I was not thinking of wide-angle shots when I originally drafted this part. I was mostly concerned with individual shots, and shots outside of any scheduled time for cosplayers to be publicly admired. In addition, people might have their own reasons for not being recorded (in costume or not), and I wanted to touch on that.
[MVH] Yes, we may have to think about revising this a little to account for that kind of filming.
Be polite and ask permission before moving forward with any personal interaction. No matter what type of interaction you are trying to pursue, stop if the other person or people involved say no, or otherwise withdraws their consent.
[MVH] This is a heavily edited version of the heart of the Philcon code of conduct, which is an elegantly-stated way to basically summarize this entire section.
[MVH] A lot of this section came verbatim from GFW, and was only lightly edited and reworded.
Anyone that we ask to stop any behavior in violation of this code is expected to comply immediately.
We may take action to redress anything designed to, or with the clear impact of, disrupting the event or making the environment hostile for any participants.
In the process of assessing any complaint and deciding how best to address it, we will take into consideration all pertinent factors, including the first-hand account and wishes of the person issuing the complaint.
[MVH] We added this to make clear that we would consider the wishes of the complainant, but not be bound by them.
We have the right to sanction participants violating these rules, at our discretion, up to and including expelling offenders from our convention and any future conventions we may organize. In the case of expulsion, no membership refund should be expected.
[MAH] We weren’t sure exactly what legal rights we as organizers had with regard to those breaking the Code of Conduct, so we asked our lawyer to review. And yes, it turns out we do have a legal right to revoke memberships under Pennsylvania law.
If we decide the circumstances warrant it, we will request the involvement of venue staff and/or local law enforcement.