Training modules/Keeping events safe/Final draft

Drafts: Keeping events safe (FirstSecondFinal) • Dealing with online harassment (FirstSecondFinal)

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Purpose of this module


The Wikimedia Movement has had in-person events as part of its core since its early days. Meeting others in the movement can be fun, rewarding, and important.

Real-life meetups and conferences can be very productive ways to bring contributors together. However, they can also provide opportunities for conflict, unwanted contact, privacy violations, or other forms of harassment.

This module:

  • is intended to help prepare event organizers to handle challenges around allegations of harassment and abusive behavior at events they host, organize, or attend.
  • can also be useful for event participants, as it contains basic advice on how to deal with harassment should they experience it during in-person events.
  • will help prepare contributors to host successful events by introducing best practices for preventing and handling problematic situations.
  • promotes full adherence to several behavioral standards and policies, such as the Friendly Space policies, the Code of Conduct, and the Event ban policy.

Basics: What do we mean by safety?


When we talk about safety for event participants, it is important to remember that safety is both psychological and physical. While we want to ensure that users are physically safe at an event, it is equally important to ensure that the environment allows people to feel supported enough to participate and engage fully. When attendees are harassed, insulted or abused, the effects can be serious. Not only could you lose them as event attendees, you may lose them entirely as contributors to the Wikimedia projects based on one of these incidents.

Basics: Who is involved in keeping an event safe?


It is important to remember that everybody is in a position to contribute to their own and others' actual or perceived safety during in-person events. This is not a responsibility that falls exclusively on a single person or team.

  • The event organizing team will often run a risk assessment and review potential safety-related scenarios while planning the event. They will then ensure that there are protocols in place that can be implemented should a situation warrant it.
  • The hosting/paying organizing team may not be involved in general operations as much as the event organizing team may be. They should, however, be involved at least on a meta level. For example, they can ensure there are policies in place to clarify what is expected of participants' behavior during the event.
  • Venue staff and security have a general responsibility for the safety of people using their space. They will often be involved in the event's organization and will work closely with the event organizing team to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to help assure participant's safety while on their premises.
  • Event attendees can also take proactive steps that can help safeguard their own safety, as well as the safety of others.

Situations you might encounter


Even though all efforts should be made to ensure that events are safe spaces for contributors to meet, congregate, and collaborate, there may be instances where you may experience or observe situations that may make you or others feel uncomfortable. Such situations may include but are not limited to:

  • Unclear safe spaces violations. These consist of commentary or actions that are not inappropriate or abusive unless considered within a specific, existing context. They may also be things that, while unnoticed by some, can be quite alienating for others.
  • Minor to moderate safe spaces violations. These are usually inappropriate comments, on-wiki arguments becoming a hostile or heated in-person debate, or inappropriate content that may be displayed in a presentation. These violations may or may not always be intentionally designed to upset others.
  • Major safe spaces violations. These are situations where someone experiences a great deal of stress or feels threatened because of abusive conduct such as targeted harassment, explicit verbal personal attacks, implicit physical or sexual threats, or repeated unwanted actions after an explicit request to stop.
  • Locally or globally banned users. Some potential attendees are not permitted to attend events at all. This could be because of a local ban (for example people who have caused problems at chapter events), an event ban, or a global ban issued by the Wikimedia Foundation. If you become aware of such a banned individual being present at an event, this is a friendly space violation and should be reported to the event organizing team. This is true even if you personally don't feel immediately threatened by the individual.
  • Critical safety violations. Those can include physical or sexual assault.
  • Medical emergencies. Even though a medical emergency may not necessarily be the result of altercations with another person at the event, it should be treated as a matter of priority by the event organizing team.

Before the event


All parties involved in an event can take proactive actions in preparation for handling an issue that may arise: from staff and volunteers working together to ensure all necessary and proactive preparations are made, to participants attending the event. Some ideas on proactive actions are inspired by the actions listed under the procedures prescribed under the event ban policy.

Before the event: Event organizing team

  • Designate responsible parties who will handle an issue, should it arise. Who is the designated first responder? Who accepts reports? Who adjudicates them? Who handles the in-person situations like removing someone from the event? Are there enough team members available who are able to address a wide range of issues? This is one of the key tasks in preparation for an event, and preparation in advance can make a big difference to the way a situation is ultimately handled.
    • Set up an emergency response team that will be responsible for handling safety incidents and concerns in advance of the event. Ideally, these team members should be tasked solely with emergency-related responsibilities.
    • Ensure the emergency response team is staffed sufficiently. This helps to avoid conflicts of interest (for example, if a team member is reported themselves).
    • If possible, assign the emergency response team in groups of at least two team members: one person to handle the incident, and one person to assume the key responsibilities of the main handler towards the event and the attendees.
    • Ensure diversity on the emergency response team. In small scale events, where there are too few organizers to form teams, the emergency response team should consist of at least two individuals from different backgrounds (whether cultural, ethnic, or simply different schools of thought). This will help ensure there are sufficiently diverse report-takers if a concerned party feels uncomfortable contacting one with their concern.
    • Assign tasks/responsibilities to designated parties. Whether in the form of an emergency response team or not, each person should know what they are supposed to do if an issue arises.
    • Establish a chain of command. Ensure everyone is clear on what to do, under what circumstances, and who they should notify.
    • Decide on an escalation protocol. Think about a quick reporting method for outreach to more members of the event organizing team or venue security. Consider using mobiles phones with hands-free headsets, and code words for communication in public areas to ensure privacy and prevent panic among participants.
  • Advertise the emergency response team to the rest of the event organizing team. There should be a well-publicized way to contact them in case of a safety threat. Awareness of the reporting structure is essential in successful handling of issues.
  • Ensure visibility of the emergency response team and event organizing team members. This can make handling of an issue faster and save affected individuals from added frustration. Options for this include different-colored t-shirts (than other attendees), special badges indicating team assignment, different prints on a unified color t-shirt, or different hats. If different color coding is used, ensure that colors are friendly to visually impaired participants.
  • Get adequate training. Being ready to react quickly and appropriately is crucial. The event organizing team should ensure that the designated emergency response team members receive sufficient training in advance so that they are better prepared. It may be a good idea to hold a refresher session on the day of the event, and with brief reminders of processes and key information. Though focused on online interactions, the Training Module for handling online harassment has good materials on working with harassment victims and handling reports that apply to in-person issues as well. Psychological First Aid is also a good online course to consider.
  • Assess venue security needs. Prior to booking the venue:
    • If the venue does not have designated security, it may useful for the event organizing team to perform a risk assessment to determine if additional security service should be considered and outsourced for the duration of the event.
    • If the venue already offers security, discuss with the event coordinator on the venue's side to ensure that the space and policies match the needs of the event.
  • Prepare important information so it is readily available to organizers and to attendees during the event. This can be a variety of information, such as details on the venue's security, escape routes, police contacts, and hotlines. The Wikimedia Foundation friendly space policy may contain more information on what specifically to share.
  • Plan event/room use layout (for instance, a quiet room or washroom assignment to ensure gender inclusion). Make sure there a safe space with reasonable sound insulation that can be used for the harassment target to regain composure. There, they can calm down, and feel comfortable sharing important details of the incident they experienced.
  • Review sign up list for prospective participants who are not permitted to attend the event. Keeping an eye on the registration list can lead to early action, and avoid difficulties arising at a later stage. More details can be found under the event ban policy and relevant processes.
  • Request agreement to behavior standards and policies (Friendly Space policies, Code of Conduct or equivalent policies in local projects) during the registration process. This can act as a reminder of the standards that participants are expected to adhere to.
    • It may also be helpful to have printed safety material that includes a copy of the Friendly Space policies applicable to the event. This can be handed out to the attendees as they receive their event information pack or badge.
  • Notify in writing, and with at least two people CC'd, any prospective attendee who is refused registration and participation to the event.

All the above can be considered for larger scale events. If you are holding a smaller event, some of the above steps may be neither applicable nor possible. Make a reasonable effort to have practical processes in place should a harassment incident occur; you can only do what you have the capacity for.

What would you do?: Repeat offenders


This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal is to encourage you to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome, rather than to look for an objectively "correct" single answer.

While you are reviewing the event registration list as a member of the event organization team, you notice a username you recognize. You soon realize that not long ago this contributor was brought to the English Wikipedia's "administrators' noticeboard" (where community members discuss user conduct) for alleged off-wiki harassment, with details of a particular incident they appear to have been involved in.

(Tip: Try to think what actions you can take, considering the fact that you are reviewing the registration list when you become aware of this.)

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

Before the event: Participants

  • Keep an open mind. Look up the culture you are about to enter and consider cultural differences. Something that is normal at home may not be standard practice where you are going. Since you are a guest, a level of respect should be shown towards the local culture, even if you don’t personally agree with it.
  • Read the behavioral guidelines applicable to the event you are attending. These may vary from one event to another, and it can help to be aware what standards are expected of you in advance.
  • Be ready to report an issue. In some cultures, reporting harassment or abuse issues is not always received well, and reporting is discouraged. There is zero tolerance for abuse at Wikimedia events, and you don’t have to put with abusive behavior towards you. There is no shame in being a witness or being subjected to harassment and your report will be handled confidentially where possible.
  • Be an ally. Be willing to speak up and stand up when you see something happening that may not necessarily require reporting but is testing boundaries of what is appropriate.
  • Identify the event organizing team and response team members, so you can easily spot them if you need them.

During the event: Who may report?


Even though harassment is defined as a certain type of activity, the extent to which the person on the receiving end is affected may vary from one individual to another. Some people may not consider harassment worth reporting. Other types of harassment are less obvious, and only someone who has sustained long-term harassment may identify them as part of an unacceptable behavioral pattern.

Both targets and witnesses of harassment may report a violation of the friendly space policy. Witnesses will generally not be kept updated for confidentiality reasons.

During the event: Ways to accept reports


Reports of harassment should be taken seriously, regardless of the medium used to communicate them.

Having an official written record of the incident that can be referred to, followed up on and reviewed later, is very important. However, an immediate typed or written report will often not be possible or practical.

A verbal report can be made to any emergency response team member at the event, who should be easily visible. If none is around at the time an incident is taking place, someone should alert any member of the event organizing team. They should also be easily identified. The event organizing team member can then find an available emergency response team member to take over, and handle or escalate as appropriate.

While the emergency response team has the most responsibility for responding to incidents, a member of the event organizing team should be prepared to accept an urgent report to provide some level of immediate relief to the person making the report. They can then involve the emergency response team as soon as possible.

A written record should be made by the emergency response team as soon as the issue has concluded, ensuring they accurately capture the details and the person making the report agrees with any intended actions. The event resource kit has some example checklists you can use to fill out for a report.

During the event: Dealing with people reporting incidents


Determining whether a report is valid can be a tricky task as it may not always be evident immediately that the harassment report is valid. This may become clear later, as more details are made available.

  • Be fair and objective. It is important that all incoming reports are treated fairly, objectively, and with respect, kindness, and understanding.
  • Don't handle a report alone. You will ideally be in teams of two so that you can support each other in this process.
  • Make yourself available. Making time to sit down with the person right away helps establish initial rapport and allows some of their stress to be alleviated.
  • Find a private or quiet space where the person making the report can feel comfortable and safe enough to share details; this can help you gather all important information on the incident before you can determine validity or next steps.
  • Give the person an option as to who they want to report to. Establish if they feel comfortable speaking to you. If they don't, give them the option to speak to another member of the emergency response team.
  • Be present. Ensure that you are not only physically present but also mentally. This helps establish communication, sharing, understanding and then helping.
  • Listen. Really, listen. Avoid arguments, value what the person making the report has to say. Allow them time to say it.
  • Understand. Once they have expressed a full thought or emotion, let them know you understand it. You can rephrase what the reporter has told you, in your own words, allowing them the opportunity to make sure your understanding of the issue is accurate.
  • Show empathy. Try to identify how they feel. This can lead to better understanding, which helps establish trust.

During the event: Dealing with valid incident reports


Reporting a legitimate harassment incident may require a lot of courage. Don't forget that the person coming to you is likely experiencing negative feelings—they may feel hurt, embarrassed, upset, threatened, unsafe, discriminated against, or angry. On top of the advice listed in the previous section:

  • Take notes. You don’t need to take notes the very moment someone approaches you (as you may need to act immediately), but making a record of the report and relevant details while the memory is still fresh is important. It also helps reassure them that their report is taken seriously.
  • Stay calm, think rationally. The person making the report may be overtaken by emotions, but the person expected to deal with the issue should not.
  • Be ready to react. In some cases, a quick intervention may be necessary. It may be that you need to call emergency services or inform venue security.
  • In a medical situation, ensure those affected receive medical care. If the report comes from the person immediately affected, you may need to ensure they receive appropriate medical attention. If they’ve been physically hurt, you may need to accompany them to the nearest hospital.
  • Help the target consider actions. Depending on the severity of the incident, it may be appropriate to help them think about their immediate and long-term options that may help them recover or bring criminal charges.

During the event: Dealing with invalid or malicious reports


Sometimes people may make a report to get attention or may report something that turns out to be a non-issue. Other times, reports may be intended to intimidate another attendee. Here are some tips that may help you recognize invalid reports:

  • Stay informed. You are not expected to know the background behind every interaction between participants, but awareness of long-standing conflicts may provide additional context.
  • Separate the fact from the emotion. While emotion should be acknowledged, focus on the facts presented.
  • Use common sense. Are the statements making sense? Are you aware of information that proves the report invalid?

If you realize that a report is invalid:

  • Be patient. You may have to spend some time explaining errors or misunderstandings to the person making the report, but you must deal with them compassionately.

During the event: Dealing with the subjects of reports


Whether a report is valid or not, the person being reported may still experience frustration or anger. It is, therefore, important that you:

  • Stay calm. Remaining level-headed will help the subject of the report calm down.
  • Make sure you are not alone. Dealing with a person reported for valid reasons may be a tense process. It’s good to have another person with you to help. Having witnesses can also protect you against future claims on inappropriate handling.

Valid reports

  • Consider removing the person involved from the premises. You may not always be required to take such drastic action, but be prepared to do so should the situation require it.
  • Make sure you are always polite to the accused person, even if what they did was unacceptable. There is no justification for treating anyone badly.
  • Ask for help if the accused person refuses to comply with your request. This can be from venue security, venue management or even local law enforcement.
  • Report out. Let the event organizing team know that the issue has been handled as per applicable policies and protocols. Keeping the team updated allows them to address further concerns that may be brought to them.

Invalid reports

  • Be fair and understanding. Nobody enjoys being accused unfairly. The accused individual may be upset and need your help calming and reassuring them. Depending on the nature of the invalid report, it may be necessary to open disciplinary action against the person who made the report.

What would you do?: Dealing with the public


This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal is to encourage you to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome, rather than to look for an objectively "correct" single answer.

Your relatively small-scale event is taking place in a conference venue with multiple spaces, that can be made available to different conferences at any given time. While your event is ongoing, another Wikimedia event is hosted in one of the venue’s spaces, adjacent to yours. During breaks participants of both events are able to wander through communal spaces of the venue.

You are notified by one of your event participants (person A) that they met another person attending the other event (person B) when they spent time in the communal spaces with other participants of your conference. Since then, person A has been receiving unwanted invitations to hang out by person B, despite politely declining them and explicitly stating they are not interested. Those invitations never happen when other participants of your event are present; only when person A is at a relative distance from others.

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

After the event: Following up


It is good to follow up with those who were immediately affected by a harassment incident. You are not expected to provide care or counseling, but there may be important developments since the event that you should record, report, or consider for future events. This includes further instances of harassment on the projects.

You can also follow up with those who were not the target as a matter of courtesy, though there is no obligation or expectation to do so. If you chose to follow up with them, you should make sure not to disclose private details regarding the incident or the people involved.

After the event: Conduct a post-incident review


Review. Once the event has concluded, it is important for the emergency response team to conduct a post-incident review.

  • Were you able to handle the reported situation effectively?
  • Could you have done anything better?
  • Which actions or steps worked?
  • What did you learn that you could share with the community in some way?
  • Is there a need to follow up with any of the people involved in the incident such as the person who made the report, the person who was reported, the target of the harassment, other volunteers, participants or attendees?

Answers to these questions can help you assess your performance individually or as a team, identify possible areas for improvement, and action any outstanding items. It is up to the emergency response team how they conduct their review: it can be an in-person meeting, a phone conference, or notes in a shared document.

Document. Once your review is completed, you should produce a report that should:

  • identify the issues or bottlenecks that you faced
  • describe how those issues were handled (if at all)
  • share lessons learned in the process
  • make suggestions for improving or mitigating those issues moving forward

If the report needs to be made public, it should be anonymized. The full version should be kept to a small group, and reported as appropriate for future actions.

Disseminate. This is an opportunity to communicate issues you experienced, help create new processes where needed, help improve existing processes, and share new knowledge gained. As your report will be shared with the event organizing team, it should be anonymized to ensure confidentiality. The event organizing team should then publish the report through appropriate channels, either as part of their own event report or separately.

After the event: Get self-care


Handling an incident of harassment can feel overwhelming, and can cause secondary trauma. Whether through professional counseling or through an informal discussion session where members of the event organizing team can talk about their experience, sharing the emotional burden associated with handling high-stress situations can be beneficial.

After the event: Reporting incidents


If there was a harassment incident that took place during your event, especially one where things escalated, this should be reported to the Foundation's Support & Safety team at

For technical events (such as hackathons), incidents should be reported to the Code of Conduct Committee at

Either team may follow up with further actions, or simply consider the reported incident in the future should they receive other reports about the same person.

Things to think about: Affiliates & long term groups


When a harassment incident involves an affiliate member the issue should also be communicated to the Foundation as well as the respective affiliate. Although the Foundation may review the situation, responsibility for taking further actions may fall on the affiliate, subject to the nature of the incident and relevant details.

If all people involved in the incident are affiliate members, the incident should be communicated to the Affiliations Committee (AffCom) as well as the Foundation, on top of following standard protocols for handling it on site.

What would you do?: User group members


This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal is to encourage you to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome, rather than to look for an objectively "correct" single answer.

On the first day of your event, you receive an in-person report from User A about a heated debate between themselves and User B. It took place while both users were on the same train, traveling to your event. The two users happen to also be booked in the same shared accommodation for the event. User A is very upset and insists that B harassed them. Both users are members of different user groups within the same language project.

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

What would you do?: Board member behavior


This module will periodically present you with "what would you do?" scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal is to encourage you to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome, rather than to look for an objectively "correct" single answer.

Some time after the end of an event, User A reports having received repeated unwanted attention from User B, who breached the boundaries of A's personal space and made them feel uncomfortable. User A is a community member who has frequently reported being harassed by other contributors. User B is a board member of a user group and does not have a history of misbehavior at events.

If you were in this situation... what would you do? Leave your thoughts here.

Things to think about: Limits of your ability


Remember that you may not always be able to resolve a situation to everybody’s satisfaction. Sometimes the information you have may not support any actions other than filing the report or informing other parties, as per protocol. Even then, you may still have to let the person who made the report know about the outcome.