The Smoke Trail: Something To Consider About Consent Violations And Running Cons

So here’s something most people don’t think about when it comes to consent violations: the smoke trail.
But if you’ve run a convention for long enough? Oh, you’ve thought about it because you’ve tried not to ignite it.
Because here’s a not-uncommon scenario for kink conventions: someone well known in the community – let’s call ‘em “Famous Dave” – sexually assaults someone at your convention.
The victim is traumatized enough, and has requested not to be named – so your goal is to not cause a gossip shitstorm that shoves this person into the spotlight as everyone starts debating what Famous Dave did and whether he really meant to do it and besides, wasn’t the victim out to get him anyway?  Keeping their details obscured is good because if someone’s been sexually assaulted, the last thing they need is all of Famous Dave’s fans dragging their name through the mud and making them relive this stuff.
Your goal: to take some sort of action without revealing the victim.
Well, you’ve got options, and none of them are good if the victim doesn’t want to come forward:
1) Ban Famous Dave And Tell Him What He Did Wrong.
Unfortunately, if you give him details, there’s a really good chance Famous Dave can figure out who reported this violation – because there’s only so many people he’s played with at that con.  It’s not too hard for him to flip back through his playlist and home in on his accuser.
And that risks serious backlash.  Famous Dave might write an essay naming his accuser, often in the guise of begging forgiveness, but all that really does is make the victim look shitty if they don’t charge forward into social media to tell their side of the story.  Famous Dave might pester his victim repeatedly, pressuring them into forgiveness at a time when the victim may not even be ready to talk about it.  Or Famous Dave might rally his buddies to get a smear campaign, proactively (and sometimes unconsciously) raising the troops to go after some victim’s reputation before Dave’s gets torpedoed.
You can expose the victim to further harassment and shame merely by the act of banning a famous predator.  Because all of those things have happened.
That’s the smoke trail; you think you’ve solved the problem, but you’ve created a backlash that hurts the victim.
2)  Ban Famous Dave And Don’t Tell Him What He Did Wrong.
Well, as noted, it’s often not too hard for Famous Dave to figure out what he did wrong if that wrong was done at the convention.  So you risk igniting the smoke trail again.
But what if Famous Dave legitimately doesn’t know what he did?  Because that, too, has happened, particularly to famous kink rock stars – sure, they did this sexy thing to nine other women without checking and it went down like gangbusters, but that tenth woman was distinctly not into it.  If he takes to social media to claim he did nothing wrong, then to certain people your con looks like you’re tetchy dictators who ban for no good reason and hey why are you being so mean to Famous Dave what about his constitutional rights what about due process?
Which is good for the victim, but negative PR for your con.  Because while there are people who very much support black-box bannings, in the absence of facts a lot of people assume the con is just power-mad because hey, I met Dave and he was awesome.
And in either case, if you don’t say what went wrong, then the gossip train goes nuts.  People hear that Famous Dave got banned, and all sorts of crazy rumors fly because anyone who’s played with him (or her) is now a potential target, because man, communities can be fierce when it comes to wanting to know what’s happening.
Sometimes people who never accused Famous Dave of anything get marked as the accuser, and have to defend themselves from some onslaught, particularly if Famous Dave decides they did it.  Shitty?  Absolutely.  But it’s also happened.
(Though sometimes a flurry of gossip turns up additional victims who are willing to come forward, which is one of your best-case scenarios – though obviously you have no way of guaranteeing that.  Though I should note that another weird “best-case” scenario where you get to have both the victim remain concealed and avoid swamping the con in drama is when you black-box-ban Dave, and he knows precisely what he did, and he doesn’t want the PR happening either so he goes quiet.  But then you have the unwanted side effect of a predator being quiet so he can go about abuse at other cons, which, you know, not that ideal from a “global effects” perspective.)
3)  Don’t Ban Famous Dave Because The Victim Doesn’t Want To Be A Target For Famous Abuse.
Well… you protect that victim from further trauma.  But not further victims from Famous Dave.
And the problem is that, yes, the victim doesn’t feel like going toe-to-toe with someone who has fifty rabid fans who’ll defend his every move because “Famous Dave did CPR on my sick puppy once and therefore Famous Dave would never do anything wrong.”  But that’s a real concern, if you’re trying to help someone heal.  It can get super-stressful if you’re trying to return to normality and everyone’s clutching your shoulder like you’re made of fine crystal and going, “Oh my God, are you all right?”
And sometimes you see conventions not revealing details, and the victim gets furious because they’re not perceiving the convention as being on their side, because if the con was on their side they’d have been more forward with the horrible thing that happened.  Why are they being so slow to respond?
And the answer is often that it’s not the con’s place to decide what level of exposure a victim of a consent violation should have.  They’re slow to react because, frankly, they’ve seen other scenarios where some idiot at a con gave one too many details that allowed an abuser – or a community – to put a name to the victim when they really did not want to have their name put up for debate, which made it infinitely worse for them.
And sometimes it’s not even someone famous.  Sometimes Dave is just someone well-liked in the community.  He isn’t dragging fifty fans, but he has got friends who are gonna start poking around because we like Dave, why did these organizers do this mean thing to him?   And then you’ll have asshole victim-blamers who demand that every victim step forward to be a punching bag for any organization that needs them, because we all know that the crime of “being sexually assaulted” should carry a mandatory sentence of “being forced to perform psychologically-damaging community service.”
The smoke trail is real.  Violations that happen at conventions are complex.  There are other, narrower, reactions that can be taken, of course, but not all of them might apply to this particular incident.
And if you’re in charge when the victim wants privacy, shielding them and being open about your process and managing good PR for your con often becomes a balancing act even the best can’t manage.
It’s not fair.  It’s not good.  It’s not right.
But sometimes there are no good solutions, and all you can do is choose the particular flavor of shit sandwich you’re going to choke down that day.
And that’s all.

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