Safety Policy

July 19th, 2016
contra, dance, safety
Prompted by the Standing up for Safer Spaces pictures and other conversations in the dance community, I've been thinking about codes of conduct. I read through a lot of them (helpful list) and tried to synthesize my thoughts into a a document. Here's an idea:

At [event] we want everyone to be able to have a good time together at our dances, but sometimes people act in ways that make others feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe. So, first, don't do that! Unwanted touching, harassment, threats, unsafe dancing, and other harmful behavior are not acceptable at [event]. If someone tells you no, listen to them and stop.

On the other hand, if someone is bothering you by doing the things above or anything else, the organizers want to support you. Here's how we can help:

  • If something needs dealing with right away at a dance, talk to the event manager. They have the authority to ask dancers to leave immediately if they're acting obviously out of line. To find out who's managing, ask the person taking money at the door.

  • We have a safety team, listed at [url] with contact information. They can work with you to help resolve less immediate issues. They will keep your report confidential, checking with you about how it's ok to share and use the information you give them.

Here are some examples of situations where our safety team might be able to help:

  • You notice someone keeps staring at you in a way that feels creepy and predatory.

  • Someone has abused you, physically, verbally, or emotionally, and you're worried they might be dangerous to you or other dancers.

  • Another dancer keeps holding your wrist too hard and pushing you into flourishes you don't want.

  • You feel creeped out by someone and you've told them to stop asking you to dance, but they keep asking you anyway.

  • Someone dips their partner, whose feet come dangerously close to your head.

In any of these situations it would be reasonable to either bring it up with the dancer yourself or come talk to us. People may not be aware that what they're doing is harmful, and getting feedback from other dancers can help, but if you don't feel ok talking to them, or you've tried and they haven't listened, that's what we're here for.

Here are some hypothetical scenarios, along with how they might be resolved:

  • A dancer has a pattern of pushing others around forcefully, and people let the safety team know that they've been hurt. The team talks, and decides to talk to the offender, ask them to be more gentle, and let them know we're considering banning them if they don't shape up. Despite the warnings, they continue injuring the people around them. The safety team proposes to the board that we ban the dancer, and the board agrees.

  • A dancer contacts the safety team to let them know they their ex was abusive toward them, and they would like to avoid being at the same dances. They propose that they attend the 1st Saturday dances and their ex attend the 3rd Saturday dances. A member of the team talks to the ex to discuss the request. The ex denies being abusive, but agrees to not attend the 1st Saturday dances.

  • The safety team gets a report by a dancer saying that another dancer has been harassing them at dances. The safety team talks with the reporter, and the reporter isn't willing to share any more details, have their name disclosed, or let the team talk to the offender to get their view. The team decides to keep an eye on the offender, watching for negative interactions. They don't see any, but they keep a note in case future issues come up.

  • A dancer reports a problem to the safety team where someone keeps touching them in unwanted ways: holding them too close in swings, "missing" their hand on courtesy turns, and trying to hug them after dances. The safety team meets with the offender, describes the reported behavior, and makes it clear that this is not acceptable behavior. At the next dance the hall manager sees them pushing a hug on someone who clearly doesn't want it. The hall manager checks with person who just got hugged, they confirm that they were trying to pull out of the hug, and the hall manager asks the offender to leave immediately. Before the next dance the board meets and agrees to ban them.

  • Someone keeps hitting on people at awkward times, like asking people out while passing them in line, making lots of people uncomfortable. Some of them let the safety team know, and they have a talk with the offender. It turns out this dancer was just very awkward, and after getting a better understanding of how the things they'd been doing had been making other dancers feel and what they should be doing instead, their new behavior is fine.

While we hope situations like the ones above don't come up at our dances, we want you to know that we're here for you if they do.

(If you're interested in commenting on specific parts of this, here's a google doc version with commenting enabled.)

I had a few goals writing this:

  • Mostly focusing on describing how the team and process would work, and giving examples. While it would be great to get problem dancers to read a document and apply it to themselves, I expect nearly all these people wouldn't read it, and the ones that would wouldn't recognize that it was addressed at them. So this ends up mostly being aimed at the people who might come to us. (Which is part of why I'm not keen on the term "code of conduct".)

  • Distinguishing between what's appropriate in resolve-this-now situations and ones where there's more time to talk and get some background.

  • Give examples of many different kinds of resolutions, including ones other than banning. While I do think there are many situations where that's what's needed, there are also others where it's too heavy handed.

  • Avoid language like "don't make assumptions", that doesn't actually capture the behavior we're trying to discourage. Lots of codes of conduct have prohibitions on very common behaviors in a way that seems likely to lead to them being ignored.

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