What I mean when I say ‘safe space’

I started going to conventions in 1986 when I attended Swancon XI. The people at Swancon XII welcomed me and, for the most part, made me feel that I was in a safe space; somewhere I could express myself, be involved, and not feel like I was likely to be judged or harmed.

I attended every Swancon for the next twenty years, and then became an occasional attendee as work and family life demanded more of my time. However, despite that I’ve usually wanted to attend each year and have enjoyed the times when I’ve been able to.

I was greatly disturbed, therefore, to hear increasing reports that Swancon was not a safe place: not safe for women, not safe for children, and often not even a place where people could express their thoughts without fear of censure or judgement.   It seemed to me, as I discussed this with a friend, that here was a problem that people like me needed to own, to do something about.  And the way to do something is not to point to other people, to name convention committees as people who should do things, or whatever (though those things may have a place).  It’s for people like me (and you, if you attend conventions) to stand up and speak out against unacceptable behaviours, to be present and to make convention environments as safe a space as they reasonably can be.

I mention this now because I was appalled to read a little while ago about the case reported on Crankynick’s blog about a woman who had been raped at a Swancon by someone she’d met at a Swancon. Apparently the perpetrator has admitted that he has done this and is unrepentant.  I don’t know enough of the details to know what happened, and in this instance, I’m not sure I need to know more than I do.  An attendee at a convention has been grievously treated and the person who did this has admitted it.  That, it seems to me, is completely unacceptable in modern society (or damned well should be).

Crankynick suggests on  this blog that we need to say this in public and private:

This man is not welcome at SwanCon.  If he attends he’s going to have a shit time. We will shun and ignore him for the most part, and humiliate him in public if that’s what it takes. If he attends alone he will stay that way, and if he attends with friends they too will be shunned and ignored while they continue to publicly support a man who has sexually assaulted a member of our community. The victim of this assault is not to blame, shouldn’t have to deal with this on her own, and shouldn’t even have to goddam ask for our support.

I join Nick in this.  This story is appalling (details are here). The man who has done this is not welcome.  The behaviour he has engaged in must not be tolerated. To the extent that I am involved in conventions I agree: this man is not ‘one of my people’, he is not someone I want near me, my family or anyone else. I reject him and call on you to do this same.

I would also apologise to Logansrogue, who I don’t think I’ve ever met, for how badly we have failed her and others like her.  If Swancons — if any science fiction conventions — are to continue it must be on the basis that it is understood that this will NOT be tolerated.

As to what I mean when I say say ‘safe space’ – I mean somewhere any person can go and not feel like they will be physically or emotionally harmed.  Plainly Swancon has not been that kind of place.

ETA: It was pointed out to me that the events related did not occur at a Swancon, though the people in question did meet at a Swancon. While it’s important to be factually correct, this does not change the point at all.

8 thoughts on “What I mean when I say ‘safe space’”

  1. Is this person being brought up on charges? If not, why? I would think the Swancon folks would want to help the victim in any way to put this horrible human being behind bars. And if he’s admitted to doing it, there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t be charged and found guilty…

  2. This makes me angry.

    Why are we talking about the culprit, and the problem of his possibly attending Swancon?

    Surely he is unable to attend, because he is in prison?

  3. Here via a friend and very glad to see this. Thank you so much for doing the right thing.

    To answer the commenters questioning why the rapist isn’t in jail: I think you underestimate just how devastating a rape trial can be for the victim. She is the only person who can press charges, and probably the only material witness. A trial would involve her recounting the circumstances and details of the rape, and being intensively and intrusively questioned as to her character and reliability. A rapist’s best legal defense is to undermine the victim’s credibility or claim that they invited sexual attention and then later decided to pretend it wasn’t welcome, and given logansrogue’s prior acquaintance with the rapist, she would undoubtedly be painted as “leading him on”, which is to say that people who are supposed to be on the side of right and law would be telling her that she is to blame for getting herself assaulted. If she doesn’t want to put herself through that, I don’t blame her one bit.

    I have nothing but admiration for her post, and for the people in the community who are standing up and saying that rapists and abusers are not welcome in our spaces.

  4. No, Rose, I don’t underestimate the trauma associated with being a rape victim, and with the subsequent legal processes. I speak as the presiding officer of a court in which a number of rape offenders have been imprisoned.

    In my country (South Africa), recent legislation has been passed (Act 32 of 2007)as a comprehensive attempt to address the cancer of rape in our society.

    Section 2 reads, inter alia, that “The objects of this Act are to afford complainants of sexual offences the maximum
    and least traumatising protection that the law can provide …” and there follow, of course, a great many specific provisions.

    It is the duty of the court dealing with such a matter to ensure that the victim is treated with dignity and protected from inappropriate questioning.

    Without concrete knowledge of your system, it seems highly probable to me that assistance is available to victims in your country as well. But in all events a court should deal with a rapist. For a rapist to go unpunished because of a fear that the process will work against the victim, is unacceptable.

  5. “It is the duty of the court dealing with such a matter to ensure that the victim is treated with dignity and protected from inappropriate questioning.”

    You are absolutely right there, Peter. I agree with you 100%. But does it happen? Does it bollocks. It’s not the case here, it’s not the case in America, and I’m willing to bet that no matter what you think it’s not really the case in South Africa, either.

    Especially considering that rape is a huge, /enormous/ problem in South Africa. There are, I believe, *three times* as many reported rapes in SA as there are here in the UK. Given statistics of that proportion, if courts ever have /time/ to trial anything other than rape cases, not all rape cases are going to trial.

    Yes, rapists should be brought to justice. But you know what’s even more important than that? Looking after woman who have been raped and making sure they are as little traumatised as possible, that’s what.

  6. Absolutely true, PH – rape is endemic in South Africa. That’s why the law has been changed drastically to ease the plight of rape victims who do reach court. For one example, you are no longer allowed to make an issue of the fact that a victim delayed reporting the matter. My point is simply that the tide is turning against rape offenders, and that the attitudes of the past are no longer acceptable.

    Nobody can judge a rape victim for not reporting the matter. I understand that, and the reasons why a woman may not report rape have been eloquently stated elsewhere.

    I simply find it tragic and infuriating that we should be reduced to speaking of giving the guy a shit time at Swancon, when the consequences of his conduct should be orders of magnitude worse than that.

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