Faith Hunter Assaulted Me

This is not one of those “wants-to-be-clever” titles, or even click-bait. This is the truth. Saturday, April 23, 2022, at JordanCon, I and several other members of the convention were assaulted by Faith Hunter, who was at the time the Guest of Honor.

I am not writing this letter expecting Faith’s sales to hurt, nor that her publishers will cancel contracts. I do not write this to hurt her, because I don’t write this for her. Likewise, I do not write this in a vacuum, but as someone very aware of events in recent years around the misconduct of convention members both high and low profile, particularly with WorldCon, ConCarolinas, the Nebulas, and Balticon. I write this as a published author, convention guest, and a runner of a convention.

I am writing this in search of the that ephemeral concept of justice, what it should look like not just for myself, but for anyone in my position.

I thought she was safe

I have known Faith for many years, moderated her on panels and advocated for her to be a guest at JordanCon when I was still the director of the Writing Track. I had several long discussions with her about the divide in the world that had resulted in my public resignation from DragonCon as the Assistant Director of the Fantasy Literature Track. I had encouraged her to come to Multiverse, the new convention of which I am the Vice-Chair and that is dedicated to providing a safe place for marginalized and vulnerable fans.

On Saturday evening of JordanCon 2022, I saw Faith at a table with several of our mutual friends, and I opted to go up and join the conversation. As I sat down next to her, I could tell she was inebriated. It wasn’t just the multiple empty martini glasses in front of her, but that her general demeanor was one of lowered inhibition. Even then, in retrospect, there was something off about her behavior from the person I’ve known. At the time, I think I was rationalizing that this was her first public appearance since 2020.

She immediately grabbed my hand and leaned in, starting a conversation with me. The conversation touched on the growing divisions in convention fandoms, and at one point, I had mentioned I wouldn’t be welcome nor even belonged in certain spaces.

She then reached out and touched my hat, hair, beard, and coat and said, “Yes you do. And I didn’t touch anywhere that was wrong, so nobody can’t say anything.”

Those words made me feel uneasy in the moment. I didn’t address it, though, and looking back, I’m not even sure what I could have or would have done. As I sat at the table, Faith had several other off-putting moments with people whose story it is not mine to publicly share. After she left, I then learned of even more she had done, and the next few hours were spent processing and comforting those she had hurt.

I also came to look at her interaction with me in a very new light, of one where she felt entitled to touch me regardless of my consent and had decided she needed to make that clear, especially since I was not the only person that evening where she had ignored explicit pleas for her to not touch them.

I am, obviously, being vague to protect the identity of the other victims.

Sunday morning, with the permission of the other victims I knew of at the time, I reported directly as a witness and victim to the Convention Chair, Jennifer Liang. Her empathy and disgust at what happened was comforting, and during my report, she received communication from Jenna Sellers, the Operations Officer at JordanCon, that another witness, who was also a long-time member of JordanCon staff, had likewise reported the incident.

I was informed on May 16th that in addition to other reports from witnesses, Faith had self-reported and voluntarily would never return to JordanCon. Additionally, she had pulled out as the Guest of Honor from ConGregate and as a guest at DragonCon. The Convention further informed me that she was permanently banned from JordanCon.

There is a larger problem in fandom

I am very happy that JordanCon took the reports seriously and has moved to make their space safer by banning a perpetrator. But I feel this is not enough. The banning is secret, and Faith is, like a perpetrator, controlling the narrative and making herself out as a victim. And I’m not saying she isn’t a victim, but if she is, she is a victim of herself.

These kinds of incidents are not new. Conventions have been dealing with them for as long as conventions have been happening. But, until about a decade ago, there were not even widespread codes of conduct. Even with these, though, the most protection against perpetrators did not come from the institutions of the convention, but by the informal whisper network. Those who were regulars would, in hushed whispers, warn newer members against being “too comfortable” around certain individuals.

Through the lens of modern day and the MeToo movement, I think we can all agree that this, which at its heart was about protecting the perpetrator’s careers just as much if not more so than the vulnerable, was a less than ideal solution.

The whisper network also only protects those that it catches and those that know how to listen. The most vulnerable, the youngest and newest members of our community, are still completely unprotected from perpetrators. And when a convention is made aware of these bad behaviors, the shroud of secrecy, ostensibly meant to shield the victim, also protects the perpetrator. Secret bans may remove a single perpetrator from a single space, but it doesn’t protect any other space, nor does it send any message to other perpetrators that there are, in fact, consequences for their heinous actions.

And that is why I write this letter

In conversations I’ve had since JordanCon, I’ve been assured by others that Faith Hunter will likely be retiring from public appearances. She won’t be in a position to hurt others anymore, and that naming her publicly isn’t going to protect anyone and will only hurt her.

I’ve been warned she has already threatened lawsuits against anyone telling this story as “spreading nasty rumors”. I’ve been told she is deeply regretful of what has happened, and that I should accept her self-imposed exile as “punishment enough”. I’ve been told she is having health issues, and to drag this into the public forum is just cruel and vindictive. I’ve been told what happened isn’t anyone’s business.

I say again: I am not writing this for her. I am writing this for the vulnerable. I am writing this for convention runners. I’m writing this for other perpetrators.

Conventions have been working hard to be safer and more inclusive spaces. I applaud that. But there is still more we can do. And I think the next step is to move away from a corporate HR style “sweep everything under the rug” mentality, and to a more wholistic community mindset when dealing with reports of misconduct.

If someone has multiple credible reports of misconduct that is harmful, harassing, or worse, and due diligence has been performed to verify this, then public statements to that effect need made.

“The convention received multiple code of conduct reports against Faith Hunter. After an investigation that included taking a statement from Ms. Hunter, the convention has decided to ban Ms. Hunter from further participation.”

It protects the victims, expresses due process, and says nothing untrue. It tells other vulnerable people that we see you, we hear you, and the institution is doing what it can to be safe. It is telling other perpetrators that there will be consequences for your actions. And it also tells us that conventions are not going to just knee-jerk at every single complaint or action but will allow for the presumption of innocence while also taking actions to treat reports seriously.

I would also recommend, as a point of discussion, the post on June 5th, 2022, by Chris M Barkley: “So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #66”.

To echo and add to Barkley’s call for action: This is going to take more than just changing policy on paper. Training for all levels of volunteers needs to emphasize the proper way of providing immediate safety to someone reporting, and for taking a good initial statement. Conventions also need to have members of higher-level staff whose purpose at the con is to be on call and ready to respond and take over the providing of that safety and the immediate starting of the investigation. These people will be the ones to also take a statement from the accused, how to judge the best way to do that, and if the severity of the report warrants quiet or public removal of the accused from further programming while allegations are being investigated.

This is the great work

This won’t be easy. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to be attacked. None of that is reason to not do the work. Fandom Conventions started as a way for those of us who didn’t have communities where we felt safe and welcome could, for a short time, find one. That has been the unifying goal from the very beginning, and we owe it to every single person looking for that safety and sense of belonging to provide it as best we can.

We can do better. We must do better. We will do better.

–Richard Fife

Author, Convention Runner, Thinking and Feeling Person