The Problem with my False Accusation

Photo of a hand holding a microphone

 few years ago, I was falsely accused of harassing a stranger at a convention in another community, and it’s time I spoke about it publicly. If you don’t care to read about such things, I honestly couldn’t blame you, but if you’re interested in my side of it, I appreciate being heard.


Content warning: discrimination, injustice, extreme hypocrisy.


Since most public accusations of harassment are true, and since the allegation came out of the blue as far as we were concerned, it took a bit of time for my family, my allies, and me to unpack everything and get to the heart of the matter. Two independent investigations and one mountain of legal fees, polygraph test results, interviews, document requests, footage reviews, emails, phone calls, and various meetings later, the full picture came into focus for us.

The substance of the matter is that a stranger accused me of groping their leg at the hotel bar one night during a convention called Stokercon. Whatever one may have heard about my situation, that is the worst of what anyone ever alleged against me. That is the sum total of the allegation’s substance, and that substance is completely baseless — fabricated, against all sense, prior history, plausibility, and even direct eyewitness corroboration, out of whole cloth.

The context of the matter is that after spending about thirty minutes in the same room with me, surrounded by witnesses, a stranger went to the Vice President of the HWA (Horror Writers Association, the group that invited me to their convention) and expressed some form of discontent regarding me. There was no mention of any groping at the time, and no one from the HWA came to me about another attendee speaking ill of me. I remained a badged attendee and invited panelist through the end of their convention, and then I went home. Six months later, someone filed a complaint about me with the convention organizers; in this case, the HWA.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to be either a guest or an attending professional at over 140 conventions, spanning seven different countries. In all that time, across all those events, not a single complaint about me had ever been filed with any convention or venue. Not one. This particular convention, serving the HWA’s community, generated the first.

And how did the HWA respond? Did they do as they’d done when established figures in their community were accused of misconduct, both before and after my situation, and extend to me the minimal due process everyone deserves? The minimum that they (or you) would demand if it were them (or you) accused? No. Instead, they refused to give me so much as a hearing. I found out the HWA’s Board of Trustees (the association’s governing body, to which its President, Vice President, and other functionaries answer) had rendered judgment in absentia the same day everyone else found out, when the HWA informed the world they were banning me for life from registering for their events. If I’d been wearing a body camera on the night in question, the footage of which would have indisputably disproved the allegation, the HWA’s Board would never have known because they didn’t bother to ask. Yes, their process was that openly flawed.

Every comparable organization, including SFWA (the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers Association), requires that a complainant try to resolve their complaint through arbitrated discourse first, specifically to preclude misuse of process by accusers with bad intent. Only the HWA is lacking such a policy.

After the HWA issued and publicized their wrongful judgment, I offered to sit for a polygraph test through their choice of provider, at my own expense. The HWA’s Board refused my offer, but as my publishers can confirm, I sat for and passed an exhaustive polygraph test, anyway, because that is what honest people do when their integrity is impugned. In contrast, my accuser has declined, then and now, to sit for a polygraph test at all.

Not a single one of the several eyewitnesses from the bar — people who sat right next to my accuser the entire time — has ever corroborated the allegation. The HWA’s then-Vice President was among those eyewitnesses to my innocence. He sat right next to me, across from my false accuser, for the duration of my time in the bar, and he observed everything that happened. After he declined to corroborate my innocence for the record, he further refused to cooperate with the independent investigations that followed. In exchange for his integrity, which he sacrificed to protect the HWA from taking a potentially impolitic public position in my defense, the HWA promoted him to President of the HWA (after the outgoing President wisely ran for the hills). For those who might have been wondering, this is the inflation-adjusted value of 30 pieces of silver.

While false accusations of harassment are uncommon, they do happen. Recent legal findings have shown that I was not the only person falsely accused during the height of the #MeToo movement. As a society of laws, we rely on due process to distinguish between the everyman and the true monster in our midst. Process is not perfect, but it is the only just way. And it is due. As the accused, I welcomed the chance to defend my innocence. Instead of any semblance of actual due process, this is what I received:

  1. The HWA’s Board issued its judgment without ever informing me that my fate was even being adjudicated. These strangers decided I was guilty entirely behind closed doors, and while they did not publicly declare me guilty per se, a public lifetime ban on a first accusation of offense amounts to a de facto pronouncement of guilt in cases like this.
  2. The HWA’s Board refused to grant me the simple hearing that is the human and civil right of any person accused of misconduct.
  3. The HWA’s Board refused to identify my accuser, even though my accuser was an adult. The fundamental right to face one’s accuser is a long-standing pillar of due process.
  4. When the HWA publicized their wrongful judgment, they misled the public into thinking it was a pattern of alleged behavior at their events, when the only complaints about me ever lodged with them all stemmed from a single convention — the only one I attended.
  5. When I appealed the Board’s judgment, as per the HWA’s express invitation, they altered their established procedural policies mid-inquiry. Changing the rules by which a body will judge a case that’s already come before it compromises that judgment.
  6. When I tried to present evidence that would have exonerated me, the HWA’s Board refused to accept, review, or consider that evidence. Literally refused to even look at it.
  7. When I asked them to interview witnesses to my accuser’s established history of making very similar accusations later determined to be false, several of whom were quite eager to share the facts of their own experiences, the HWA’s Board refused to hear them, too. Over the course of their process, the HWA did not interview a single witness for the accused, nor a single witness associated with my accuser’s prior false accusations.
  8. Throughout this process, certain HWA Trustees victim-blamed, insulted, and mocked me in public, while HWA officers actively prompted my supporters in their community to abandon me — to literally recant their support of me, as an “out”. Those HWA Trustees and officers did all this in the middle of what was supposed to be an impartial and responsible navigation of sensitive matters involving their own professional colleagues.
  9. At the end of this openly flawed excuse for a process, the HWA tried to punish me for filing the very appeal they requested (by trying to kick me from the association entirely.) Yes, the HWA tried to punish me for filing an appeal.

In short, the HWA made a very bad call, and rather than acknowledge their error on a politically volatile subject, they chose to exploit the fact that I’m an independent creator with a modest income that depends largely on the reputation that it has taken an entire life to build. They knew that the longer they kept shredding it, the fewer resources I would have to dispute their mistake. 

And they almost got away with it, too.

My father walked away from life in Palestine to come to the United States specifically because of his faith in the American system, and in due process, and in equality for all under the law. He earned a doctorate and worked his entire adult life in America, building a business and writing regularly about his experience and his perspective as an American Arab. He knew how I felt, trying to earn my place as an outsider in the HWA’s predominantly white community, and he shared my indignation at the discrimination and hypocrisy they showed me. From his deathbed, he watched in disgust as the HWA violated every moral, procedural, and ethical precept in their way, as they circled the wagons around their increasingly debunked and implausible judgment.

Am I the first person to have to rebuild their reputation after refuting a false accusation? No. Could things have been worse? Absolutely. No criminal charges were ever filed, my true friends never deserted me, and plenty of people who doubted me at first have come back into my life. For these disillusioning mercies, I am genuinely thankful.

That said, the HWA has never treated one of their own this way, and especially not on a first accusation. The color of their discrimination and hypocrisy is on display in their every decision. Even if the allegation had merit, the undisputed facts of the HWA’s handling of it clearly reveal an organization devoid of integrity, or any moral northstar beyond rank, emetic self-preservation. Even if the allegation had merit, the HWA would still be obviously and appallingly in the wrong. 


And in this case, it’s a thousand times worse because the allegation was categorically false.

I am not a harasser, and I am not guilty of breaking any rules, be they legal or moral, at the HWA’s convention. These are facts, and they are not subject to the conjecture of strangers, nor to the brute force of corporate lawyers, and certainly not to the revisionism of bigots. Legal action stemming from the HWA’s mishandling of the matter has produced a formal record that makes it effectively impossible to dispute any of it, and yet, some fraction of their community, high on discrimination, still refuses to acknowledge the reality: That I was falsely accused.

Beyond the fact that it happened at all, the real problem with my false accusation is the circle of unfit and unauthorized strangers who took it upon themselves to adjudicate it, when they are not a court, care nothing for truth or due process, and were driven by naked self-interest.

Without accountability, it all becomes normal, and it will recur. And what happened to me should never recur.

This was not the easiest tale I’ve ever put to words, but I think it’s one of the most impactful, and I thank you for taking the time to hear me out on it. I would also like to thank two families: first, the one I was born into, and second, the one I’ve spent a lifetime building in my community; those who stood by me when others found my name too risky to associate with. I will always be grateful to those who sought out my side of this story, defied the Friendslist Police to defend me, or otherwise refused to accept the narrative that I was just another creator who let them down.

To those who were deceived into helping an immoral organization hurt my name and career just to protect its own reputation: You deserve to know that you were used. Those people used you. While I would have truly appreciated your support back then, I still appreciate your fair audience now. I remember the climate at the time, and I know how it generally is online, and I’m ready to call it water under the bridge. If we were friends back then, I’m sure we can be friends again. And if we weren’t friends then, but you’re here in good faith, you’ll find yourself just as welcome.

Thanks to all of you for making it possible for a second-generation American to earn a home in the most vibrant community of creators in the world.

For a brief discussion of the broader issues, impacts, and implications involved in my situation, see here.