[Linux-aus] Some Anti-Harassment Policies considered harmful

elliott-brennan elliottbrennan at gmail.com
Mon Feb 21 10:24:51 EST 2011

On 21/02/11 08:41, Donna Benjamin wrote:
> Thanks Patrick - This is a great post.
Ta :)

> The tricky thing with policies is always in the implementation.
> A policy itself is just a signpost. It's not until it's implemented and
> acted upon that it really starts to mean something.

True. Once it's put in place and acted on, you 
start to see the gaps and problems. Review, 
review, review :))

I'd be curious to know what has happened at 
previous LCAs in relation to complaints, such as 
how many there have been, the nature of them, the 
outcome etc. It would provide a very useful 
collection of examples to draw on in reviewing the 
current policies.

> If we can learn from others how to phrase and implement the policy so
> that it does not become smothered in legalese, ineffective or draconian,
> then I reckon we'll be on the right path.

True. Policies should always be in 'Plain 
English'. I used to hate the term until I attended 
a training course with one of my, then, managers. 
I realised that the clarity we'd always been 
aiming for was merely Plain English by another 
name - as opposed to my conception of it as being 
'dumbed down English'.

Though 'Natural Justice' is a term I've always 
cringed at (I've always had academic concerns over 
the use of the term 'natural' :)), both that and 
the concept of 'a reasonable person' are terms 
which can be usefully employed when writing policies.

Obviously one cannot please everyone (I've years 
of stories I could tell you about THAT!) but a 
good understanding of the terms as commonly used 
can help.

Additionally, my personal and professional view 
has been that one needs to be conscious of the 
dominant cultural  values which have resulted in 
regular and ongoing discrimination against various 
groups in the community such as generic, low level 
sexual harassment of women, discrimination against 
gays, lesbians, transsexual etc, racial 
discrimination. This needs to be combined with 
allowing for individual responsibility and, as you 
say, not implementing some doctrinaire, 
excessively restrictive collection of rules. Too 
heavy a hand upsets more than you please and 
because many may feel it panders to a particular 
group and acts as 'reverse discrimination' (gotta 
love that mind set) merely entrenches bias and 
negative feelings in some groups.

One way of addressing this can be through 
discussing the purpose of the policies (as is 
happening here) and ensuring they are clearly 
disclosed to people attending. I understand a copy 
if given to LCA attendees, no?

Posters highlighting the existence of the policies 
can also be placed around the venue (if they 
aren't already).

> I particularly like the right of appeal.

I've seen too many instances where "Justice 
delayed is justice denied" and many cases where a 
quick response to a complaint of unfair treatment 
has lowered tensions and produced a much more 
favourable outcome for all parties.

Again, you can't please everyone, but each person 
who feels they've been unfairly criticised or 
unjustly accused of something should have the 
right to appeal and for this to be dealt with 
quickly and calmly.

One things to avoid is the too frequently common 
practice of 'managing' a complainant as against 
addressing their complaint. This occurs frequently 
in private industry and too often in government. 
You call the phone company and they're 'nice' and 
'friendly' but they don't address the specifics of 
your complaint or give you blatantly rehearsed 
replies which brush over the facts. This bugs the 
crap out of me and usually merely escalates the 
persons frustration and annoyance.

The other thing that causes trouble is telling the 
person they shouldn't act in an angry fashion ("I 
find your behaviour threatening") when any 
reasonable person WOULD be angry and would act in 
an angry fashion. I've seen a quite a few 
instances where this behaviour has caused a 
situation to escalate towards violence.

Anyway, this is becoming a long post and I'm 
hungry :))

I wonder if the assembled
> ghosts of conferences past might be a suitable forum at an LCA?

'Twould be a very interesting forum :)



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> - Donna
> On Sun, 2011-02-20 at 21:18 +1100, elliott-brennan wrote:
>> I'd like to add a few comments in relation to the
>> discussion going on here, though firstly will
>> admit I wasn't at LCA, didn't see the presentation
>> and have heard about it only from some of those
>> who did attend and that which has been written here.
>> Additionally, not that this makes me an expert :)
>> I've had quite a few years professional experience
>> in the area (including training people in State
>> government in the implementation of policies
>> relating to racism and discrimination, training of
>> State employees and community groups in the
>> handling and identifying of sexual abuse and in
>> complaints investigation for a State agency).
>> 1. All policies are interpreted by those who apply
>> them. It is not possibly to create policies (or
>> Acts of law) which cover every eventually
>> specifically. Thus the variations are expected to
>> be understood by a reasonable, average person.
>> The 'reasonable person' application is quite
>> common, provokes dispute amongst some and
>> frequently requires review.
>> That the current policy doesn't explicitly
>> identify all possible  examples and eventualities
>> is to be expected - to think otherwise is to have
>> an expectation which cannot be met.  Thus,
>> harassment policies will be general in areas and
>> specific in others. Referring to existing laws is
>> always a good idea, as appears to have been the case.
>> 2. Each person adversely affected by a policy
>> should be entitled to appeal the adverse effect
>> within a reasonable period of time. e.g.. if
>> someone was kicked out of a conference, they
>> should be entitled to speak to someone, other than
>> the person who took the action, who has the
>> authority to reverse the decision or recommend
>> such to persons independent of those making the
>> original decision.
>> If this doesn't exist, I would suggest it should.
>> It ensures that all reasonable steps are taken and
>> ensures a quick resolution (this does not mean
>> 'happiness making', merely that a decision is
>> taken and accepted by those with the final
>> authority in the location in question).
>> 3. If there isn't one already, has there been any
>> thought given to having designated persons (e.g..
>> at an information booth) to whom someone can take
>> a complaint if they believe they are being
>> harassed? This can then be pointed out in the
>> conference handouts etc.
>> These nominated/assigned persons can then deal
>> with the issue at that point and determine if any
>> other action is required - this would minimise
>> double handling, confusion of interpretation and
>> allow other conference personnel to carry on with
>> their duties while the matter is being dealt with.
>> It allows a clear point of contact and a person
>> with responsibility for recording the details of
>> the incident and action taken. It also allows for
>> a clear line of responsibility and accountability.
>> I raise this only because I've not been to LCA
>> (not through a lack of interest) and thus have no
>> knowledge of the mechanics of complaints handling
>> at the conferences.
>> I hope my comments are of some assistance.
>> Regards,
>> Patrick
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