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Harassment Policies: New Allegations Show More Work To Be Done

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The specter of sexual harassment has once again risen up in tabletop gaming circles. Conventions are supposed to be places where gamers and geeks can be themselves and embrace their loves. Conventions need clear and well formulated harassment policies, and they need to enforce them. In this instance the allegations from multiple women have taken place at gaming conventions and gathering in different locations around the country. In one case, the harassment was took place over the course of years and spilled over into electronic formats.


The alleged harasser in these cases was Sean Patrick Fannon, President of Evil Beagle Games, Brand Manager for Savage Rifts at Pinnacle Entertainment Group, as well as being a game designer and developer with a long history in the tabletop role-playing industry.

There is a long and untenable policy of harassment at conventions that stretches back to science fiction and fantasy fandom in the 1960s. Atlanta's Dragon*Con has been a lightning rod in the discussions about safety at geeky conventions after one of the convention's founders was arrested and pled guilty to three charges of molestation. We have also covered reports of harassment at conventions such as Paizo Con, and inappropriate or harassing behavior by notable industry figures. It is clear that clear harassment policies and firm enforcement of them is needed in spaces where members of our community gather, in order that attendees feel safe to go about their hobby. Some companies, such as Pelgrane Press, now refuse to attend conventions where a clear harassment policy is not available.

Several women have approached me to tell me about encounters with Fannon. Some of them asked not to be named, or to use their reports for background verification only. We also reached out to Sean Patrick Fannon for his comments, and he was willing to address the allegations.

The women that I spoke with had encounters with Fannon that went back to 2013 and 2014 but also happened as recently as the summer of 2017. Each of the locations were in different parts of the country, but all of them occurred when Fannon was a guest of the event.

The worse of the two incidents related to me happened at a convention in the Eastern part of the United States. In going back over texts and messages stretching back years the woman said that it "is frustrating [now] to read these things" because of the cajoling and almost bullying approach that Fannon would use in the messages. She said that Fannon approached her at the con suite of the convention, and after speaking with her for a bit and playing a game with a group in the suite he showed her explicit photos on his cellphone of him engaged in sex acts with a woman.

Fannon's ongoing harassment of this woman would occur both electronically and in person, when they would both be at the same event, and over the course of years he would continue to suggest that she should engage in sexual acts, either with him alone, or with another woman.

Fannon denies the nature of the event, saying "I will assert with confidence that at no time would such a sharing have occurred without my understanding explicit consent on the part of all parties. It may be that, somehow, a miscommunication or misunderstanding occurred; the chaos of a party or social gathering may have created a circumstance of all parties not understanding the same thing within such a discourse. Regardless, I would not have opened such a file and shared it without believing, sincerely, it was a welcome part of the discussion (and in pursuit of further, mutually-expressed intimate interest)."

The second woman, at a different gaming-related event in another part of the country, told of how Fannon, over the course of a day at the event, asked her on four different occasions for hugs, or physical contact with her. Each time she clearly said no to him. The first time she qualified her answer with a "I don't even know you," which prompted Fannon after he saw her for a second time to say "Well, you know me now." She said that because of the multiple attempts in a short period of time that Fannon's behavior felt predatory to her. Afterwards he also attempted to connect with her via Facebook.

Afterwards, this second woman contacted the group that organized the event to share what happened and they reached out to Fannon with their concerns towards his behavior. According to sources within the organization at the time, Fannon - as with the first example - described it to the organizers as a misunderstanding on the woman's part. When asked, he later clarified to us that the misunderstanding was on his own side, saying "Honestly, I should have gotten over myself right at the start, simply owned that I misunderstood, and apologized. In the end, that's what happened, and I walked away from that with a pretty profound sense of how to go forward with my thinking about the personal space of those I don't know or know only in passing."

Both women faced ongoing pressure from Fannon, with one woman the experiences going on for a number of years after the initial convention meeting. In both cases he attempted to continue contact via electronic means with varying degrees of success. A number of screen shots from electronic conversations with Fannon were shared with me by both women.

Diane Bulkeley was willing to come forward and speak on the record of her incidents with Fannon. Fannon made seemingly innocent, and yet inappropriate comments about her body and what he wanted to do with her. She is part of a charity organization that had Fannon as a guest. What happened to her was witnessed by another woman with whom I spoke about that weekend. As Bulkeley heard some things, and her witness others, their experiences are interwoven to describe what happened. Bulkeley described this first encounter at the hotel's elevators: "We were on the floor where our rooms were to go downstairs to the convention floor. I was wearing a tank top and shirt over it that showed my cleavage. He was staring at my chest and said how much he loved my shirt and that I should wear it more often as it makes him hot. For the record I can't help my cleavage is there." Bulkeley went on to describe her mental state towards this "Paying a lady a compliment is one thing, but when you make a direct comment about their chest we have a problem."

Later on in the same day, while unloading some boxes for the convention there was another incident with Fannon. Bulkeley described this: "Well, [the witness and her husband] had to move their stuff from a friends airplane hangar (we all use as storage for cars and stuff) to a storage until next to their house. Apparently Sean, while at the hanger, made grunt noises about my tank top (it was 80 outside) while Tammy was in the truck. I did not see it. But she told me about it. Then as we were unloading the truck at the new facility Sean kept looking down my shirt and saying I have a great view etc. Her husband said to him to knock it off. I rolled my eyes, gave him a glare and continued to work. I did go and put on my event day jacket (light weight jacket) to cover up a little."

The witness, who was in the truck with Fannon, said that he "kept leering down at Diane, glancing down her shirt and making suggestive sounds." The witness said that Fannon commented "'I'm liking the view from up here.'"

Bulkeley talked about how Fannon continued his behavior later on in a restaurant, having dinner with some of the guests of the event. Fannon made inappropriate comments about her body and embarrassed her in front of the other, making her feel uncomfortable throughout the dinner.

Bulkeley said that Fannon also at one point touched her hair without asking, and smelled it as well. "[Fannon] even would smell my long hair. He begged me to not cut it off at a charity function that was part of the weekend's event." She said that he also pressed his pelvis tightly against her body while hugging her. These incidents occurred at a convention during the summer of 2017.

Fannon denies these events. "The comments and actions attributed to me simply did not happen; I categorically and absolutely deny them in their entirety."

When asked for comment, and being informed that this story was being compiled Fannon commented "I do not recall any such circumstance in which the aftermath included a discourse whereby I was informed of distress, anger, or discomfort." He went on to say "The only time I recall having ever been counseled or otherwise spoken to about my behavior in such matters is the Gamers Giving/Total Escape Games situation discussed above. The leader of the organization at that time spoke to me specifically, asked me to be aware that it had been an issue, and requested I be aware of it in the future. It was then formally dropped, and that was the end of it until this time."

There were further reports; however, we have respected the wishes of those women who asked to remain anonymous for fear of online harassment. In researching this article, I talked to multiple women and other witnesses.

About future actions against the alleged behaviors he also said "It is easy, after all, to directly attack and excise obviously predatory and harassing behavior. It is much more difficult to point out and correct behavior that falls within more subtle presentations, and it's more difficult to get folks to see their actions as harmful when they had no intention to cause harm, based on their assumptions of what is and isn't appropriate. It's good for us to look at the core assumptions that lead to those behaviors and continue to challenge them. That's how real and lasting change within society is achieved."

Fannon's weekly column will no longer be running on E.N. World.

Have you suffered harassment at the hands of someone, industry insider or otherwise, at a gaming convention? If you would like to tell your story, you can reach out to me via social media about any alleged incidents. We can speak confidentially, but I will have to know the identity of anyone that I speak with.

This does open up the question of: At what point do conventions become responsible for the actions of their guest, when they are not more closely scrutinizing the backgrounds of those guests? One woman, who is a convention organizer, with whom I spoke for the background of this story told me that word gets around, in the world of comic conventions, when guests and creators cause problems. Apparently this is not yet the case in the world of tabletop role-playing game conventions, because there are a growing number of publishers and designers who have been outed for various types of harassing behavior, but are still being invited to be guest, and in some cases even guests of honor, at gaming conventions around the country. The message that this sends to women who game is pretty clear.

More conventions are rolling out harassment policies for guests and attendees of their conventions. Not only does this help to protect attendees from bad behavior, but it can also help to protect conventions from bad actors within the various communities that gather at our conventions. As incidents of physical and sexual harassment are becoming more visible, it becomes more and more clear that something needs to be done.

additional editorial contributions by Morrus
 

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Riley37

Villager
I will say, that at the beginning, when "they came for the communists" it was not a particularly life or death situation (yes their was violence that resulted in death, but that was more, imo, about standards of the time). It is never is 'serious' at the beginning.
Whoah. Have you studied 1930s Germany, at ALL? When the Third Reich came for the communists, there was little to no reasonable doubt that death was on the line. Yes, there was a build-up, in which it was easy for many Germans, such as Niemoller, to look the other way. There was no honest basis for ignorance, though. Some people were clinging to hope, some were in denial, some responded to his writings and his speeches with "well, he didn't really mean THAT". (Contemporary parallels are obvious.) He published Mein Kampf in 1925, and from then on, there was no reasonable doubt that he intended genocide. "Mein Kampf" even specified the method of poison gas for killing Jews by the thousands. Come on, man. That is a passage of history which is WAY too important, for you to re-write, so that you can justify your argument about where Kobold Boots and Caliburne101 draw the line about reacting on the fly to incidents at a con.

If your only exposure to the history of the rise of the Third Reich is some cursory summary in a high school history course, then that's fine, EN World welcomes gamers of all education levels. But please, please don't speak as if you had expertise, on this topic of all topics, *unless you actually have it*. Or unless you can acquire it; start with Wikipedia, follow links to sources, and in a few hours, you'll know things such as when Mein Kampf was published, and how specifically it detailed the plan which unfolded across the following twenty years.

Also, besides whether it's OK to distort the historical context of Niemoller's poem, it's dishonest to disregard the part where Kobold Boots said "1. I agree that in a life or death situation where what is seen is really clear, that one should act to protect people regardless of the outcomes." Yeah, he then raises the issue of balancing that against family obligations. You're not improving the conversation by taking that as an *absolute* declaration that he'd let thousands or millions die, rather than abandon his wife... because *at a con*, those aren't the stakes at hand, and he wrote *a post in a thread about harassment at cons*.

If you must bring in a poem, to establish moral high ground, how about instead, a poem by someone who survived sexual harassment? Heck, how about the court statement from the woman whom Brock Turner assaulted, and what it meant to her, that two random guys, passing by on bicycles, stopped to investigate and then to intervene? It would be just as powerful, if not more, and it would be at least vaguely on topic.

"I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget." - Emily Doe, Palo Alto, 2016
 
If the drow race was designed with no real world race in mind, but rather with day/night, good/evil concept in mind, then no racial baggage exists inherent in drow. Someone can come up, look at the race, and believe that there is some racial connection, but that doesn't reflect any baggage in drow. It reflects the beliefs and perceptions of the person looking at the drow race.
This seems like little more than pettifogging obfuscation.

Stuff can have "baggage" whether or not someone intends it. Stuff has "baggage" because of the responses it evokes, the attitudes it confirms or leads to, the actual situation in which it happens to turn up. Sometimes that catches an author by surprise - well, that can happen! Life is full of surprises, and social interactions not the least.
 

Sadras

Explorer
Okay, but that isn’t really an argument against doing it, because there are active reasons to do. More is needed than “I’d rather not”.
You replied to my post where I mentioned that to me it would be draconian to just ban alcohol at cons.
You decided to evaluate my fun of alcohol at cons i.e. That I was having BadWrongFun. I explained to you my issue was with a liberty being lost.

If you would like to shift the conversation to we need to ban alcohol to curb harassment be brave enough to make that case do not hide behind questions such as:
Why do you need alcohol at cons can you not have a good time without alcohol? You think people will not go to dry cons? etc.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It's time to put this one to sleep. I got back to work to find people calling each other names, arguing with moderators, Godwinning the place, and reporting each others' posts left right and centre. I certainly don't have the metal fortitude right now to read all this. Say goodnight, everybody!
 
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