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Re: contact address for anti-harassment policies

2010/12/13 Stefano Zacchiroli <leader@debian.org>
On Sun, Dec 12, 2010 at 08:36:22PM +0100, Rayna wrote:
> I have been thinking about a global "anti-harassment committee". That
> is, a group of people involved not only in one community, but coming
> from various ones who could be contacted via a mail in case of any
> mistreatment.

Frankly speaking, I don't think that a truly global (in the sense of
inter-community) "committee" would work. First of all there is a matter
of confidentiality: I *guess* it would be easier to escalate, as a first
step, any harassment episode to members of your community than to
members of other communities you don't know anything about. Don't get me
wrong, there is nothing community-specific in harassment episodes, they
do are a global problem, but I fear that overly generalizing the scope
of a committee can create barriers to contacting it.

I see your point. Where I disagree is that it is one of the possibilities. I've seen many people preferring to talk to people they don't know that well: when you are ashamed or fearful of what the folks you are doing sutff with on an every-day basis will think about what happened to you, you could prefer to talk to people you are not that close to.

My point here is that you do have many different possibilities which are all more or less equally possible since we do not know how every individual will react in a freaky situation of sexual assault, for instance.

Then, as a second reason, I doubt about the effectiveness of something
which is too broad. You need to know a community to understand who
better contact to address the issue, once it has been reported. Hence,
the only way I can see a global committee working efficiently, is to
"delegate" inside itself competencies about episode occurring in
specific communities to representative of those communities. But if we
arrive there, what would then be the difference with having
per-community committees?

I totally agree that "implementation" and "scope" are tightly linked and thus interdependant. I am not saying that we have to do it now, I am just saying that every community reacts in a different fashion which is not always the best one for the person. An example: one woman comes and asks for help because she has been morally and sexually harassed for quite some time. What people decide is to prohibit her from further participation and treat her badly because they do not really know how to react. Furthermore, since FLOSS communities can be highly inbred, how do you insure that this person, banned from one community, will not end up banned from a close one only because the same people having prohibited her from participation have said so? This is real case, and a recent one. And I am not sure it is the only one, unfortunately.

So, how are we supposed, each community on its own side, to insure that there are no other flaws? How are we supposed to insure that one person is not treated in an unfair way in another community only because she is recognazied of having been involved in a conflictual situation? And, ultimately, why not trying to have the same diversity and gender equality standards/baselines throughout all the communities contributing to the same aim: free software for all?

Those are questions I ask. They may seem too idealistic, too naive, or so, but those appear to me essential. I agree that this is not easy to solve. But I also believe that if a great community such as Debian promotes this in a much more visible manner, other will join as well and we have a chance to make something really valuable happen. Of course, details must be very clearly defined and I do not pretend to have all the answers, this is the reason I was bringing this to discussion here :)

Last but not least, implementing a Debian-specific contact point is
something that we can do here and now, improving the awareness of the
issue within the Debian community. If we want to go for something more
global, we can't do that in isolation, and I've no idea about how the
corresponding timeline will look like.

A first (and temporary) step is a per-community contact, indeed. I realize I didn't make myself clear enough in the previous message: the "global committee" stuff could be made possible in the near future. It is obviously an error not to do what can be done immediately (e.g., a per-community contact) but, to me, it seems essential not to stop at this step. That is, developping contacts with other people from other communities and discuss the implementation of a global structure.

Of course, no-one says that per-community committees should not talk to
each other :-)

Yup. The question is: how many of the communities would agree to bother with very serious issues like this one? :) You should not forget that this is something most people just avoid and act as nothing happened.

In fact, advertising clearly one such contact point for
Debian on our contact page will surely travel a long way in letting
other know Debian has it, and encouraging contacts across communities.

Indeed. In case it is not clear from what I've been writing: I find this proposition an awesome idea. It is just that we can go further :)


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