Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Literature Industry

Anne Ursu’s recent article on sexual harassment in children’s literature has generated a much-needed conversation which I wanted to address briefly. The collection of victims’ experiences she has compiled is a difficult read. I had to stop several times and take deep breaths before I managed to get all the way through. I’m not surprised these things happen in the children’s publishing industry, but hearing what the victims of harassment have had to deal with in the world of kidlit makes me angry and disgusted. It also leaves me soul-searching, wondering how and when I could have done more, in my position of power and privilege, to make sure I was part of the solution and not the problem.

My wife Becky and I take these issues very personally. Becky has been the recipient of sexual harassment both in the workplace and in our personal lives, by those who should have been mentors, protectors and role models, but instead used positions of power and trust to be predators. I did not always support her as I should have, and thus was complicit in rationalizing and protecting abuse. We have spent decades together working through this and dealing with the impact of those experiences. We have seen firsthand the lengths to which people will go to deny and deflect, to gaslight a victim rather than believe and support her. Harassment undermines a person’s self-worth. It leaves lasting scars. It’s a corrosive agent that should never be minimized or rationalized. It definitely has no place in the world of children’s literature.

After sitting with these thoughts all weekend and talking with Becky, I decided I wanted to speak out on the subject, if only briefly, to say to the victims of harassment: I believe you. I hear you. I pledge to be part of the solution and not the problem. I never again want to fail in my duty to support victims of harassment. Going forward, I will endeavor to be more mindful of my own behavior and comments, to make sure I am self-monitoring at all times, and do all I can to make sure I don’t make those around me uncomfortable. I will endeavor to be more mindful of what others are doing around me, as well, to speak out and act promptly as necessary. Those who know me well know that I am an introvert who prefers to avoid social situations. I tend to be quiet and reserved, but I pledge not to be quiet or reserved on this issue.

Further, I wholeheartedly agree with the initiative created by Gwenda Bond, drawing on John Scalzi’s harassment policy pledge, to make sure any events I attend have a clear and vigorous anti-harassment plan in place. These things are only a beginning, I realize, but it’s important that we address this problem as a community, as an industry. My pledge: I won’t be that person. I won’t tolerate that person. I won’t hire, work with, empower or enable that person.

Rick Riordan