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Some men at ICANN meetings really are assholes

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2018, Domain Policy

Several men have been accused of sexual harassment at ICANN meetings.

A group of women have written to ICANN with five stories of how they were groped, intimidated, objectified or otherwise harassed in violation of not only common decency but also ICANN’s year-old anti-harassment policy.

They’ve not named the alleged harassers, but hinted that they may do so in future.

If we assume the stories are all the unembellished truth — and we kinda have to nowadays — then the behavior described is unambiguously out of order.

Fortunately, none of the allegations rise to the level of the obviously seriously criminal. In these cases we appear to be talking more Hoffman than Weinstein.

But we’re not talking about bizarro Cheesesandwichgate-level interactions either. The stories allege groping, simulated sexual activity, and physical restraint, among other things.

In one allegation, a woman claims a drunk man touched her rear during a social interaction.

In another, a man is alleged to have attempted to let himself into a woman’s hotel room, prompting her to block the door from the inside with a chair, after his earlier advances were rebuffed.

Another woman claims a man she had never met chose, as his opening conversational gambit, to compliment her appearance and inquire after her marital status — during a daytime coffee break for crying out loud — and then grabbed her waist and wrists to prevent her from leaving.

“If you want to start a conversation, ask what I do, what do I work with and why am I here,” the woman is quoted as saying. “Do not acknowledge physical attributes and reduce me to this.”

“If you want to talk to women in a professional setting, do not tighten her wrists, do not grab her waist. Do not ask whether she is married or not,” she said. “Regardless, you should respect her integrity, not her marital status.”

Another man is accused of simulating a sex position with a woman during a cocktail event.

A fifth is accused of “body-blocking” a woman as she attempted to leave a room.

The letter states:

These actions which are definitely categorized as harassment and even assault, would not only affect the woman who went through the incident but it would also lead to several probable repercussions such as (1) Her withdrawal from the community and physical presence. We all know how important being present in meetings is on different levels of engagement in and outside meetings (2) When no solid response from the community is done towards the harasser, there can definitely be an increase in aggressive characters of harassers as there would be no accountability to stop them (3) With the increase in harassment there surely will be a decrease in the representation of young women’s voices in any proceeding which defies the core concept of diversity.

The letter (pdf) is unsigned, and ICANN broke with its usual practice of listing the sender on the correspondence page of its web site.

The letter also does not name any of the accused men, but it and a related comment from a group of women at the public forum at ICANN 61 last week, said the women “refrain from using names for now, in order to keep the focus on the topic and not the person”.

It’s been DI practice to not name either party concerned in such allegations, even when we know who they are.

While the anti-harassment policy exists to deal precisely with the kinds of behaviors outlined in the letter, we reported in November that the ICANN Ombudsman had received no complaints whatsoever invoking the policy, even after the post-Weinstein sea change in workplace sexual politics.

But the letter-writers say this is because the current Ombudsman, Herb Weye, is a man, and women are sometimes reluctant to report such incidents to a man. The letter states:

There should be a woman ombudsperson for harassment reporting. It has been proven by several studies that given the sensitivity of the issue, harassment reports are more prone to be tackled and come forth with, when the ombudsperson is (a) a woman (b) an expert in gender-related issues and mitigating harassment risks

They’re also not confident that the policy, which has yet to be tested, will cause more good than harm.

They also want all ICANN meeting delegates to read the harassment policy as a condition for attendance, and for signage at the meetings to warn against inappropriate behavior.

In response to the public forum comments, ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain promised that the board will respond to the women’s letter, adding that the Ombudsman is taking a look at how the harassment policy has been implemented.

“It’s very important that ICANN is a safe place for everyone,” chair Cherine Chalaby told the women. “The more we raise awareness, the more it is safe.”

The message to certain blokes at ICANN meetings seems pretty clear: stop being assholes.

Like most places of work, the ICANN community is resplendent with examples of people forming lasting romantic relationships — or even just getting laid — but none of them began with a man grabbing a woman’s backside without her consent.

Ombudsman steps in after harassment claims in Whois group

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Herb Waye has started monitoring an ICANN mailing list after multiple complaints of disrespectful behavior.

Waye this week told participants in the Registration Data Services working group that he is to trawl through their list archives and proactively monitor the group following “multiple complaints regarding behavior that contravenes the ICANN Expected Standards of Behavior and possibly the Community Anti-Harassment Policy”.

The RDS working group is exploring the possibility of replacing the current Whois system, in which all data is completely open, with something “gated”, restricting access to authenticated individuals based on their role.

Law enforcement agencies, for example, may be able to get a greater level of access to personal contact information than schmucks like me and you.

Privacy advocates are in favor of giving registrants more control over their data, while anti-abuse researchers hate anything that will limit their ability to stop spam, phishing and the like.

It’s controversial stuff, and arguments on the RDS WG list have been been very heated recently, sometimes spilling over into ad hominem attacks.

The Expected Standards of Behavior requires all ICANN community members to treat each other with civility.

I haven’t seen anything especially egregious, but apparently the disrespect on display has been sufficiently upsetting that the Ombudsman has had to step in.

It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that the ICANN Ombudsman has proactively monitored a list rather than simply responding to complaints.

Waye said that he plans to deliver his verdict before ICANN 59, which kicks off in a little over a week.

In rare public session, ICANN approves sexual harassment policy

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors this afternoon approved an anti-harassment policy designed to protect community members from unwanted sexual attention.

It’s the policy inspired by the now infamous Cheesesandwichgate incident at the Marrakech meeting a year ago.

But general counsel John Jeffrey noted that there have been multiple similar complaints to the Ombudsman over the last year or so, possibly as a result of increased awareness that such complaints are possible.

While the text of the resolution has not yet been published, I believe it’s approving a lightly modified version of the policy draft outlined here.

That draft sought to ban activities such as “sexually suggestive touching” and “lewd jokes” at ICANN meetings. A laundry list of characteristics (such as race, gender, disability) were also given special protection.

What’s possibly more interesting than the new policy itself is the manner in which the policy was approved.

It was the first time in goodness knows how many years — definitely over 10, and I’m tempted to say over 15, but nobody seems to know for sure — that the ICANN board has deliberated on a resolution in public.

By “in public” I mean the 30-minute session was live-streamed via Adobe Connect from an undisclosed location somewhere at ICANN 58, here in Copenhagen. An in-person live audience was not possible for logistical reasons, I’m told.

Apart from the first few years of ICANN’s existence, its public board meetings have usually been rubber-stamping sessions at the end of the week-long meeting, based on discussions that had gone on behind closed doors days earlier.

So today’s session was a significant attempt to increase transparency that is likely to be welcomed by many.

Unfortunately, its existence could have been communicated better.

For the first 15 minutes, there were no more than 19 people in the Adobe room, and I believe I may have been the only one who was not ICANN staff or board.

After I tweeted about it, another 10 or so people showed up to listen.

Given that increased board transparency is something many sections of the community have been clamoring for for years, one might have expected a bigger turnout.

While the meeting had been prominently announced, it was not listed on the official ICANN 58 schedule, so had failed to make it onto the to-do lists of any of the iCal slaves pottering around the venue.

The session itself came across to me as a genuine discussion — not stage-managed or rehearsed as some had feared.

Directors raised issues such as the possible increased workload on the Ombudsman, the fact that the current Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson, as some directors referred to him) is male, and the availability of female staff members to receive “sensitive” complaints.

Today’s open session is part of a “pilot” and is due to be followed up on Sunday with another, which will discuss ICANN’s fiscal 2018 operating plan and budget.

Again, turning up to watch in person will not be possible, but the 90-minute session will be streamed live at 0745 UTC here.

The first in the pilot program, which even I missed, was in Brussels in September.

New policy would ban President Trump from ICANN meetings (probably)

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2016, Domain Policy

Those who sexually harass fellow community members could be banned from ICANN meetings under a policy proposed this week.

ICANN capThe proposal greatly expands upon an earlier version, published for comment in May, which would have banned “unwelcome hostile or intimidating behavior”.

It presents a long list of activities considered harassment, including:

  • Sexually suggestive touching
  • Grabbing, groping, kissing, fondling, hugging, stroking someone’s hair, or brushing against another’s body
  • Touching that the actor may not have intended to be sexually suggestive but which constitutes uninvited touching, such as rubbing or massaging someone’s neck or shoulders
  • Violating someone’s “personal space” after being told you are doing so
  • Leering, stalking, or suggestive whistling
  • Gesturing in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Circulating or posting written or graphic materials that show hostility or disrespect toward or that demean individuals because of Specified Characteristics as set forth above
  • Lewd or graphic comments or jokes of a sexual nature

We’re unlikely to see new President-Elect Trump keynoting at an ICANN meeting any time soon, in other words.

It’s possible that even referring to his “pussy-grabbing” antics could fall foul of the policy.

Protected “Special Characteristics” would include:

age, ancestry, color, physical or mental disability, genetic information, medical condition (cancer and genetic characteristics), marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex (which includes pregnancy, childbirth, medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, gender, gender identity and gender expression), sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status

Under the proposal (pdf), the ICANN Ombudsman (referred to here, unusually, as the “Ombudsperson”) would have powers to punish those who he determines have been harassing others.

The powers would include:

excusing any individual responsible for inappropriate behavior from further participation in the ICANN process for a specified period of time, limiting the individual’s participation in some manner, and/or requiring satisfaction of prerequisites such as a written apology as a condition of future participation

This would all be in the discretion of the Ombudsman. There would be no requirement for the accuser to provide any corroboration or evidence.

The policy was created following a controversy earlier this year, in which a female ICANN participant accused a male participant of making comments about sandwiches in a way she found “lecherous”.

No wrongdoing was found by the Ombudsman in that case.

The new proposed policy is now open for public comment until January 27.

Photo credit: Michele Neylon