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    Posted October 23, 2013 by
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Impact Your World

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    Cosplay =/= CONsent: Costumes aren’t an invitation for Harassment.


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     HollabackPHL is 'a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world.' They shot this video at two fan conventions recently in Baltimore and Boston. 'we were touring our anti-street harassment comic book at local conventions and noticed a real need for a concerted harassment effort within conventions. The more stories we received, the more we realized that we needed to do something about it. Since the base and power of our movement the past few years has been to harness the power of story sharing, we decided to collect stories from cosplayers to provide powerful testimony to the need for our effort as we approached conventions and offered to help them with their anti-harassment efforts, and to train their volunteers. It has taken off from there!'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    The above video is part of HollabackPHILLY’s effort to work with national comic conventions on improving the scope and efficacy of their anti harassment policies and procedures. Sexual harassment at comic conventions has been documented online for the better part of a decade, but most mainstream convention circuits still do not have formal and thorough anti-harassment policies. In the above video, you can see cosplayers’ visceral reactions to our question about how they would feel about conventions adopting formal harassment policies: some loosening the tension in their shoulders, even smiling, at the thought of a convention setting that was set up to be an inclusive and safe space for all fans.


    It seems simple enough: adopt an anti-harassment policy, and spend an hour training your volunteers to respond appropriately if harassment is reported. Unfortunately, most conventions do not have formal, publicized anti-harassment policies, they don’t have internal procedures for recording and responding to reports of harassment, and they hardly have enough volunteers for crowd control, let alone those trained to adequately handle incidents of harassment. In response, fans have been speaking up all over the country, asking their conventions to recognize that harassment limits people’s ability to fully enjoy their local conventions, and to do something about it. HollabackPHILLY has developed training for convention volunteers and staff, and has been collecting testimony from people about their experiences with harassment at conventions.




    Harassment at conventions has a lot of similarities to street harassment, which is gender-based harassment in public by strangers. At conventions, cosplayer harassment can include inappropriate/sexual comments, inappropriate touching and groping, up-skirt photos, stalking and any other behavior that makes cosplayers feel uncomfortable. While the conventions are indoors and most of the harassment happens within the confines of the convention hall, it also happens outside the convention, in lines, and as people take breaks from celebrating their favorite artists and characters.


    What is unique about the convention setting, as opposed to the streets, is that it is a controlled environment; the event organizers can, and should, be regulating the harassment that occurs at their events. That option, to have formal policies and internal procedures is an option that is unavailable for the unbounded nature of everyday street harassment on our local sidewalks. So, comic conventions provide a unique opportunity for us to make an immediate, and significant, impact for a large number of people. This would send a message to harassers that their behavior will have consequences, and it would let populations traditionally marginalized in the comic con setting know that their presence and safety matters.


    Last weekend at Geek Girl Con, HollabackPHILLY’s panel started with a viewing of the above video to over 60 audience members. They watched with rapt attention; some getting emotional as their fellow cosplayers described their experiences and fears about cosplaying in public. As a group, we then discussed our experiences with harassment and what we can do to reassert our rights to enjoy our fandoms, regardless of our gender, race, sexual orientation, body type, abilities, and any other visible differences. We talked about fat-shaming and body policing as a reason some people don’t feel safe enough to cosplay, and how that angle of harassment is designed to draw clear lines of what is and is not acceptable, while attempting to turn us against each other. Some people talked about how they crossplay (dress as characters of genders different from their own) to avoid harassment, but others talked about how they are harassed even more when they crossplay. Others discussed how each convention’s approach and attitude towards harassment impacts which costumes people are willing to wear, and, as mentioned in the video above, if they’re willing to cosplay at all. No community is immune to harassment, and unfortunately the geek community is not an exception to that rule. It does, however, have the potential to set the example for the world - that when we unite around our similar interests and treat each other with human decency, we allow each other to exist more comfortably in public space.




    As part of an international network of activists dedicated to ending gender-based harassment in public, HollabackPHILLY is currently undertaking a year-long effort leading up to San Diego Comic Con 2014 to raise awareness about cosplayer harassment, and to request that conventions implement and improve approaches to making their events safer, more inclusive experiences.


    As experts in dealing with harassment, training women and LGBT folks in coping and responding to harassment, and training people how not to harass we are approaching the issue from a place of collaboration and support, by offering to assist conventions in developing their policies and procedures. Our effort started with the creation of an anti-street harassment comic book, which we have used to draw parallels to gender-based harassment and groping at conventions. Throughout the rest of 2013 and early 2014, we will be at various conventions, on panels and in Artist Alleys, with roving harassment teams spreading the word about CONsent and auditing convention harassment policies, whether those policies are enforced, and whether volunteers are equipped to deal with reports of harassment. Our end goal is not to criticize, but to work together to come up with a comprehensive plan to ensure that conventions are safe spaces.


    Despite the growing dissent against conventions who passively permit harassment, convention staff and organizers of some of the largest conventions continue to resist requests for the enforcement of formal policies and procedures. When confronted by the popular geek blog The Mary Sue, San Diego Comic Con said that they deal with harassment on a “case by case basis”, with no elaboration. We’ve reached out to the directors of Wizard World, which hosts multiple large conventions each year, with no direct response. Silence, however, speaks volumes, and fans and exhibitors alike have had enough. As a recent example, the lack of concerted effort from large conventions caused artist John Scalzi to formally refuse to attend any conventions that don’t have formal anti-harassment policies. He created a pledge that was cosigned by over a thousand other artists, helping bring increased public attention to this issue.


    When more conventions start taking this matter seriously, others will feel pressure to follow suit. Every voice has the power to help transform a culture that is permissive of harassment into a culture that equally values and respects all con-goers. Please share your stories, and thank the conventions who are already doing a great job as well as those who are working to improve. If there is a convention in your area that is not yet on our tour, but you think it should be, please let us know!




    If you would like to contribute to our video testimony project, please send your video (up to 2 minutes) to philly@ihollaback.org. If you are more comfortable contributing written testimony describing your experiences and how they’ve made you feel, please feel free to email that to us as well!


    Have convention you think we should be working with? Email us and let us know philly@ihollaback.org!


    If you run a convention and would like assistance improving your anti harassment policy, internal procedures, and volunteer trainings, please reach out to us and we will gladly help you make that happen! philly@ihollaback.org


    --Rochelle Keyhan


    *16 Bit Sirens started the Cosplay =/= Consent project, around the same time we created our comic book. Rather than duplicating efforts, we chose to contribute to their awesome branding and crowdsourced efforts and using their “cosplay =/= consent” signs (with their permission).

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