Rape culture in action at Winnipeg’s Keycon scifi and fantasy convention

Keycon is a scifi and fantasy convention in my home town of Winnipeg. The events include a “Board game blitz” and “bedoiun-steampunk belly-dance”, all of which sounds pretty awesome.

But there’s a sinister side to Keycon, which isn’t advertised on the website: a culture of frequent sexual harassement and sexual assault. This was documented by succubus_esq on the Backup project community, it’s pretty horrifying. The organisers have so far responded by refusing to talk about the problem, and a planned meeting on womens’ safety at Keycon was recently cancelled. Succubus_esq has received anonymous rape and death threats.

I’ve sent an email to the Keycon organisers asking for a better response to the situation. Feel free to do the same: the relevant email addresses are along the right-hand side of the Keycon website.

There is also a Twitter hashtag #rapecon, if you’re on Twitter please take a moment to send a message demanding safety for all convention participants.

I’m pasting below my email to the Keycon organisers. If I get any response I’ll post that as well.

Dear [names],

I’m writing to express my shock and concern upon hearing that numerous incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault occurred at last year’s Keycon. It appears that certain predatory individuals consider Keycon to be an environment in which they can carry out harassment and assault with impunity. I am sure that you are as horrified by this situation as I am, and therefore I was surprised that there is no mention of an anti-harassment policy on your website. I ask that you immediately add a prominent message to your website and to all other publicity materials, stating that harassment and assault are completely unacceptable at Keycon and that any person committing harassment or assault will be banned. While such a policy would not guarantee that harassment and assault can never occur, it would send a clear message that these crimes will not be tolerated, and thus would likely lower the rate of harassment and assault at Keycon.

It is important for you to create and publicize an anti-harassment policy ASAP, since a policy that was created at the last minute likely would not be well-publicized, and volunteers and organizers would not have time to familiarize themselves with it. If you are having trouble drafting an anti-harassment policy, you might find the Con Anti-Harassment project helpful.

Please reply to let me know the status of your anti-harassment policy, and what other steps you are taking to ensure the safety of Keycon attendees.

Finally, I was very disturbed to hear that a woman who was raped shortly after a previous Keycon, and who has been in contact with you regarding safety issues, has received death and rape threats from an anonymous email account. It is reprehensible that someone should attempt to silence this brave young woman with threats of violence, and unfortunately it seems very likely that the person responsible is in some way involved in Keycon. I trust that you’ll join me in condemning this cowardly and illegal act.

Sincerely,
XXX

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20 Comments on “Rape culture in action at Winnipeg’s Keycon scifi and fantasy convention”

  1. Brian Mitchell says:

    As a past Keycon Co-Chair, this disturbs me greatly. succubus_esq’s have been discussed at great length not only within the current Keycon Committee, but with an oversight committee called WinSFA (Winnipeg Science Fiction Association). A board which I currently sit on.

    We have gone beyond our own internal board, and done due diligence regarding this matter with the information we have been presented.

    Please note that what she posts on the Backup project community is a very manicured version of her correspondence with Keycon.

    Of all the correspondence she has received from anyone involved with Keycon, she only chose to publish one paragraph of the many responses we have provided to her inquiry.

    We have asked for facts and information regarding victims, incidents, etc. so we can take action. She refuses to provide us with specifics. We know of only allegations and insinuations as they are posted on Backup project community. Please note, we have been provided with no more information regarding any incidents other than what is available on the Backup Project.

    Because we are not provided with information, but rather allegations, we have no recourse but to recommend that the victims talk to the co-chairs, or to the police. This is alarming and frustrating to us because without information we cannot act.

    succubus_esq’s partner and approached me personally about the “cancellation” of the “womens’ safety”. I explained to him that we have more programming requests than we have space for. We understand that this issue is very important to succubus_esq.

    *Personally* I would request that if succubus_esq is going to continue to maintain her backup, she do so completely unedited. That rather then publishing selected correspondence filtered to meet her needs, she publish both sides of the interactions fully intact chronologically.

    Please note that I am posting this exclusively as a Past Keycon co-chair, who cares deeply about the convention and its membership. This is not being posted as an official representative of the convention, just someone who is as frustrated over this situation as you are.

    Brian Mitchell
    Keycon Co-Chair from 2006 & 2009.

  2. […] The first email I sent them is here. I haven’t posted their reply, but it’s pretty much summarized in the paragraph of my reply-to-their-reply, which I’m pasting below. […]

  3. verschwindet says:

    Brian,

    I found what you wrote incredibly depressing. You say that succubus_esq has not offered “proof” that sexual assault happened. I would really like to know exactly what sort of “proof” you expect a victim of sexual assault to provide, given that sexual assault is usually not carried out in full view of a video camera.

    If a Keycon attendee said that their bag had been stolen, would you assume that they were lying and refuse to offer any help until they provided “proof”, I wonder?

    It depresses me even more that you seem to interpret succubus_esq’s actions as some sort of an attack. It is clear to me that succubus_esq cares very much about Keycon and the community of people who take part in it. She sees a serious problem and she is trying really hard to make it better. Do you think speaking out about sexual assault is easy? It’s not, it’s one of the hardest subjects to talk about, and when your own friends and community are involved it’s even harder. Succubus_esq has put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to make your community better and safer, you should be thrilled to have someone who cares so much about making Keycon safer, you should be welcoming her and thanking her for all her hard work and courage.

    But no, instead you’re treating her like the Enemy. Which is pretty much what always happens when a woman has the temerity to speak out against rape and sexual assault. I feel sick.

  4. verschwindet says:

    Also, Brian, do want to know what else really gets me? The fact that you think succubus_esq was really, really mean to you, because she selectively published only parts of the emails you sent her.

    OK, sure, maybe she shouldn’t have done that. Maybe it was a little bit hard on you to have your emails selectively published like that. Maybe it didn’t give a clear accurate view of what was really in those emails. I can see how you might feel like you and Keycon are the victims here.

    Except, NO WAIT A MINUTE I TOTALLY CAN’T, because succubus_esq was sexually assaulted. The fact that you think it is you who are the victim here is a TOTAL, TOTAL, TOTAL FAILURE TO SHOW THE MOST BASIC LEVEL OF EMPATHY THAT ANY HUMAN BEING SHOULD SHOW TO ANY OTHER HUMAN BEING WHO HAS SURVIVED A SERIOUS ASSAULT. You are not the victim here. Even if it was the case (and I don’t at all think it is) that succubus_esq had seriously misrepresented what the Keycon organisers had said to her, succubus_esq would still be the party most deserving of sympathy in this, because being sexual assaulted is worse than having your emails selectively quoted.

    If you really think you were mis-represented, you can at any time publish your own version of what happened. There is a whole Internet out there. I recommend wordpress.com, it’s free. I’ll even publish a link to whatever you write on my blog if you want. (I don’t promise not to mock it in the comments though.)

    But please don’t start whining about how the big mean survivor of sexual assault is oppressing you with her bullying campaign to try to prevent more sexual assaults from happening in the future.

    The mind boggles.

  5. Brian Mitchell says:

    To clarify:
    None of her emails that I read had stated that she was the victim of sexual assault.
    The emails spoke in vague terms that assaults had happened. The emails sent from the current Keycon co-chairs asked if she could inform them who some of the victims that she had spoken to were so they could investigate, and take appropriate action.
    Was it one member responsible? What were the circumstances, did it happen at the convention, did it happen in someone’s home after the convention? Did it happen in public space, or someone’s private hotel room?

    Reading her backup project was the first that we learned that she was the victim.

    In the personal interactions that I had with her partner, this was never explained as the issue. Prior seeing the backup project, what was brought forward was that she was upset that her programming item was not provided.

    I understand that it takes courage to deal with this issue. I have supported too many friends & partners who have been victims. Having witnessed their pain, and having found out the root of the issue (That Succubus_esq was a victim herself) is where my frustrations lay. I personally wish we could have had clear communication up front.

    As it is, there are a number of steps being taken. Since I am not a co-chair, it is not my place to announce what steps Keycon will be taking regarding this, but hopefully the actions that the convention is taking will meet yours and others satisfaction.

  6. verschwindet says:

    OK thanks for your response, and thank you for saying you take the issue seriously.

    From what succubus_esq wrote in the Backup Project I think it’s pretty clear that she isn’t asking for her own assault or other assaults that have happened in the past to be investigated, rather she is asking for measures to be put in place to prevent future assaults from happening. She gathered information about assaults had happened at past Keycons not because she wanted those past assaults to be investigated, but because she wanted to show that assault is a problem at Keycon which should be addressed at future events. I haven’t spoken to her directly about this but I think this is pretty clear based on what she wrote.

    It sounds like the Keycon organisers are only willing to take action if individual cases of assault are reported to them. By definition this means they are only taking action on cases of assault that have already taken place, rather than proactively preventing future assaults from happening, and they are only taking action in cases where the victim feels confident enough to come to event organisers and talk to them about it, which is obviously not always going to be the case. I feel that this purely case-by-case approach places too much responsibility on victims, since if they are not willing or able to talk about what happened then no action will be taken. I would much rather see everyone involved in the event try to share the responsibility for creating a safer space.

    A more proactive approach would be to reduce the likelihood of sexual assault by making it clear that assault and harassment are not tolerated. If this was made clear to all conference attendees from the start then potential harassers would think twice, and any victims would be more likely to come forward to ask for help from event organisers, with the expectation of being supported and treated with respect. I also think a clearly-stated anti-harassment policy could give other conference attendees more confidence to behave in positive ways, such as telling harassers “Hey, that’s not OK!” or offering support to people who have been harassed or assaulted.

  7. Liana K says:

    Keycon is a great con. I’ve been a guest there three years running. I’ve always felt safe there, and able to speak my mind.

    I have brought complaints to them, including complaints surrounding this alleged incident, and I felt like I was heard, respected, and the convention was sincerely interested in enacting positive change. I think they should be rewarded for taking these proactive steps, not crucified for the acts of people acting in contravention of both the law and convention rules.

    Rape is, at its core, an act that is counter to Western culture. We do not live in a society that tolerates “corrective rape”, or condones “defensive” mutilation of the female body such as female circumcision or breast ironing. If someone, male or female, does not realize it is wrong, that is an indication of a psychological problem. Blaming an entire organization for the deviant acts of a single individual reduces the accountability of that individual. These are deviant behaviors, not norms.

    Rape is, indeed, glamorized and romanticized in modern media to an alarming degree, but I know that Keycon is not encouraging this messaging. I’ve been toastmistress two years out of the three I’ve attended, so I can say this with certainty because I’m the one delivering the message. My very involvement is an indication that Keycon welcomes a female perspective. And I know I have stood on their stage and delivered a “We’re all going to behave and appreciate each other, RIGHT?!” message. I’ve personally given the “don’t be an idiot” lectures during opening ceremonies. I have run female self-esteem panels at the convention that have gone quite deep, and dealt with harrassment women have suffered elsewhere in their lives.

    Furthermore, I have complained about a particular event at Keycon, because it made me uncomfortable. Brian Mitchell, the man commenting in this thread, was the chair at the time, and he immediately took action and cancelled the event moving forward. This is proof positive that Keycon cares, and takes action. My experiences with subsequent chairs has not waivered from this. One cannot expect perfection from any organization, but I have been impressed by the general level of responsiveness from them.

    I strongly disagree that any organization should be able to read minds regarding inappropriate behavior taking place at an event. I have submitted my recommendations to Keycon about how to beef up awareness of the things discussed above, and they have accepted this gratefully. To hold them responsible for crimes that go unreported, however, goes too far.

    Expecting them to stop these problems before they start has the unintended consequences of unfairly targeting men as all being potential abusers. If you could hear the discussions I have had with members of Keycon ConCom, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe the reason that the reactions from many involved in this mess have been so defensive is that the people involved, including many men, are actually pained at the idea that these terrible acts could possibly happen anywhere near them. I know that if anything happened in front of many of the men at Keycon, they’d personally throw out any bastard that hurt a woman. If anything happened in front of me, you bet that I would do the same thing.

    This situation has spread too far, without proper balance. I say this as someone who watched it unfold, because I was on one of the panels with succubus_esq that got cancelled due to insufficent literary focus. I agree with the decision: the original idea of the panel, and what it was turning into as it developed, did not match. This may seem like a strange, nitpicky detail, but the reason that Keycon, which is relatively small, continues to receive honors like being the frequent host of Canada’s national Prix Aurora Awards is that it stays rigidly true to its mandate of being a convention about literary science fiction and fantasy.

    It was not that they cancelled a panel because it was about women’s issues. They cancelled a panel because it was not appropriately suited to the conference. I have been working with Keycon to find other ways to convey the same message in a way that fits their mandate.

    I’m not saying this to start a fight. I’m saying this because I think there has been a severe misunderstanding here, and this internet war is helping no one in the grand scheme of things. As a feminist, I end up facing down the specter of rape a lot. It’s a horrible stain on our culture and our collective soul. What I’m observing through this whole online Keycon “rapefail” debacle, however, is not healing, support, and community. It’s revenge directed at the wrong people. Clearly, at some point in this whole situation, something terrible happened, and there is real pain. But I’m watching an entire group suffer for… what? What is being accomplished here, since Keycon is already taking steps to be better?

    The shame of rape can go on for months, years, even decades. It turns good people against each other, and hides in the dark corners of the victim’s mind in terrible ways. This is why there is no statute of limitations on rape, and why, I believe, good people like Brian are saying “report this son of a bitch so he can go to jail. We want to help.”

    Lets try to make something good out of this, okay? There’s nothing gained by spreading the pain around. There are a lot of wonderful, caring people at Keycon, and I fear that their collective reputation is being smeared by the way this issue is being handled. These are the people we need on our side in the fight for female equity. These are people who care.

    Let’s start the healing. Please?

  8. Jeff Jonson says:

    Rape is a awful terrible thing. I think the fact that succubus_esq trying to get together this program is a fantastic idea. In fact if i’m correct she’s gotten some changes done to the structure of the convention.

    My issues with the way she is doing it is one of the reasons i’m writing here right now.

    [NOTE FROM BLOG ADMIN: Some of this comment was deleted because it was off-topic and very personal.]

    The death threats are a damn serious thing. Everyone has a right to speak her mind. And it’s something that I’ve always respected about succubus_esq. How did she find out about those library IPs? I can almost say with 100% certainty that’s it’s the previous mentioned offender that she keeps around. He works with the city’s internet company. She won’t give out the ip’s though. If she did it’s something that could certainly get taken care of. Find out where they came from and see who was on said computers at the time. But she won’t divulge that information.

    And before anyone tries to call me on this. No. Not my real name. Not my real e-mail. succubus_esq has in the past muscled people who’ve opposed something that’s she’s done. I’m trying my best to say my opinion without having to deal with the backlash that comes with it.

    Please respond. I would be happy to follow up on anything that I’ve written here.

    • Chris T says:

      I hope that Liana K gets back to read your response, “Jeff”. People like you are the reason why this has spiraled out of control.

      I started with a loud and angry reply to your post. I had a pithy statement about the irony of you refusing to use your real identity in a post for fear of retribution, when the entire post is a baseless personal attack on a person who has been brave enough to speak out. I was going to point out that you have no proof of any of your claims (due to the fact that they are all false). I was going to wonder aloud what kind of person takes the side of rapists who prefer not to be told what they are doing is not tolerated. But I am just so sick of this internet mud slinging contest that I’m re-writing it.

      I just have to ask, why? Why would you even post this? I just finished drafting a thank you letter to the Keycon execs for the detail and effort they put into the new code of conduct, which has been posted on http://www.keycon.org. That was the entire thrust of the campaign that Succubus.esq started. It is very comprehensive, well written, and it just shows that the people running the con do care as much as they say they do. We won. It was never about panels; in fact, the only people who even mentioned them were people trying to assign a malign ulterior motive to campaigning for a safer con.

      Who are you fighting for? What possible outcome does posting something like this have, other than making someone feel miserable? What could possibly motivate you to make such a petty, vicious post?

      This is my real name. This is my real email address. I am stepping forward to call you out about this, and I have the fortitude to do so face-to-face.

      • Robert Van Gogh says:

        Fake name because it seems to be the trendy thing to do.

        Anyone can go to whois.arin.net and find out who owns a given IP address. You don’t need to work for an internet company to do it. You just need an internet connection, and about five minutes to look at e-mail headers.

      • Jeff Jonson says:

        Thanks Chris T for the response. I want to first say that “people like me” are not the reason that this whole situation has gone out of control. What’s made this take a turn for the worse was that succubus_esq’s request to do some panels were denied and that she did not like how the code of conduct was done. She did not get a response to her liking right away and cross posted to a well known pro-feminism blog to speed up the process and put some fire under the Con Com’s feet.

        Don’t get me wrong though. Changes were made and it’s a fantastic thing. People should be able to enjoy a convention and have fun. That’s what it’s there for. Common interests and a weekend of good times.

        As to why i posted what i did. Simple. This was a absolutely great idea that promotes safety and comfort for a convention that was dragged through the mud first.

        I’d also like to point out that saying i’m on the side of rapists is a pretty low thing for you to do. As sick of this mud slinging fight as you say to be, you sure don’t mind throwing out the idea of me being a ally to rapists. Classy.

        In closing i would like to say that while you may have the fortitude and put your first name and a e-mail address that can’t be seen on this website I have the smarts to know better. Unless you’re a different Chris that just so happens to know what’s going on with this situation, I’m not about to tell the person (who I mentioned in my previous post) who threatened someone with violence because they did not have see eye to eye with succubus_esq.

      • Mouse says:

        The only person who told off anyone was Succubus’ boyfriend, who told the man who raped her that if he even THOUGHT about touching another unwilling woman again, he would make sure he answered for it.

        If you have a problem with that, you are pretty explicitly on the side of a rapist.

        Also, feminism = human rights. Pro-feminism = pro-human rights. You’re REALLY not making the best case for yourself.

  9. Jeff Jonson says:

    And in quick response to R V G. I’ll say it again. If she got the ip’s and felt threatened about it, why didn’t she do something? Report it to the police! If someone is threatening your life and threatening to RAPE you. REPORT IT. If it’s library Ip’s than they sure as hell can find out who did it. That’s why they have camera’s pointed at them. To stop shit like that from happening.

    And Fake Names aren’t trendy sadly. A dying art if anything.

    • Mouse says:

      The police don’t take internet threats seriously. Anyone with a basic grounding in the real world knows that. The standard response is, “When something happens, we’ll deal with it then.” THAT is why it is so important to promote an atmosphere of safety at Keycon. The fact that people think this is a legitimate form of protest is disgusting.

      • Liana K says:

        Let’s try this:

        How has everything that’s been written here since I made my first post moved things toward a resolution?

    • Robert Van Gogh says:

      My posts have been an attempt at defending the FUD that this guy has been spouting. It looks like Mouse’s motives have been the same, Chris T seems to be doing the same…

      I’m really not sure what Jeff Jonson’s motives are, or what he’s looking for. He started out praising the end result (yay!), coming down on the methods (no matter your opinion on the subject, what’s done is done) and… then accusing Succubus_esq of using this gentleman who may or may not have fondled women, and who may or may not have threatened someone. He either is outright lying or doesn’t know enough about the facts – clearly he seems to either know Succubus_esq or know OF her, and of the people she keeps company with.

      In short, Jeff Jonson seems to be trying to continue a fight. People who are sending threats via e-mail are trying to continue a fight. A fight that should be over.

  10. Robert G says:

    I heard about this through a third party and was shocked to hear about it. I had heard of this before and thoght it was all BULL**** . Then the oddest thing occurred to me . Did this verschwindet actually attend Keycon? According to my source, the answer is no. So if this is true why the heck is she (I assume) even writing this and what year did this occur? Just curious.


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