It’s up to you

A code of conduct is only as good as its enforcement. By including this policy, you’re agreeing to be responsible for creating a safer space for all participants. When you don’t respond to problems, people will stop reporting them, and you could end up in a worse situation than if you’d done nothing to begin with. Don’t let it go this way: people will find out.

It’s important work

Creating safer spaces has so much value, but can be difficult in many ways. It’s emotionally involving for the community responders. Handling more subtle problems like microaggressions will take ongoing education on your part. Problems like bullying can be hard to spot if you’re not the one being targeted. And sometimes you can’t fix the problem: because it involves things outside your scope of control, or because you have multiple partipants with conflicting needs.

What your community wants and what it needs

In highly visible incidents, the responsible organizers are often asked for complete transparency. This is a bad idea for multiple reasons:

Centering the needs of the victim(s) is your best starting point for any response. It’s especially important to keep in mind if there’s possible legal action — you should not be pressuring anyone to report an incident to the police. You put their safety and comfort first. However — if what the victim wants can cause further harm to your community, like in the case of an abuser they don’t want to kick out of an event, you have to consider the total impact.

A better approach to radical transparency is to use a consistent and documented process. If you do need to make public announcements of the details, make sure you’re doing it in the way that’s most appropriate to the scope of the incident. You may need to consult a lawyer. Give information to the people who are affected and able to use it.

After an event, or as part of regular community communication, you may want to share something about incidents that happened and your response. Try not to make it a leaderboard or stats sheet. Give a general outline and resist pressure to name people without their consent:

“We recently had to ask people to leave our IRC channel because of inappropriate behavior. As a reminder, here’s our community guidelines.”

“We ended a talk early yesterday due to content that was in violation of our code of conduct. We’re very sorry that this happened and the speaker will not be returning.”

“We’re currently responding to a situation where someone was assaulted at last month’s event. Please come talk to us if you have questions or concerns, or need any assistance.”

When you need to ban people or there’s permanent consequences

Bans and permanent responses are sometimes the only right way to handle a person’s inappropriate and harmful actions. It can be hard for a community and its leaders to come to this decision. If there’s disagreement among those responsible for deciding, consider making the penalty open-ended: you can ask someone to leave or stop participating until further notice. You can also create a process for how you’ll decide when someone can return.

It’s hard to know if someone who caused such significant harm can safely rejoin your community. Consider what evidence you have of their recent behavior, and what the impact will be even if they cause no further direct harm. The answer might remain “not yet”.

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