Convention Harassment and What We Can All Do To Help

July 5th, 2013

If you have read any comics industry news in the last year or so, you’ve probably run into reports of a person having been harassed at a convention. For many of you reading this, you may have been the victim of harassment for one reason or another.

As we’re in full convention season swing (and I am moving at the rate of molasses through my piles of books to review,) I thought it might be nice to note that the issue is getting some very excellent commentary these days – that is to say, it’s not just the loud obnoxious few who are being heard.

In particular, I want to draw your attention to John Scalzi, who is the Hero of Nerds everywhere. A few weeks ago, he wrote a post about a female friend who had been harassed at a convention, and he gave his well-read blog over to her article Reporting Harassment at a Convention: A First-Person How To. If you, for any reason, have been harassed – gay guy by overzealous BL fans, black cosplayer for daring to cosplay a 2-dimensional fictitious character that has a different complexion, female by guy, booth babes by creepy attendees – whatever the reason, please read this post.

Some folks thought the article was putting the responsibility on the victim to make something happen. On Twitter, Matthesen pointed out that that was not her meaning, but that if a report is going to be made, there was a more effective way to do it, and a less effective way.

A lot of people were talking about the post, and a conclusion of sorts was reached that there are three responsible parties in any harassment situation – the lion’s share of the responsibility is with the harasser. But the convention must also take some responsibility. Events should have publicly posted anti-harassment policies that are consistent, with staff that knows how to implement them. And, should someone flout the policy, it’s good idea to keep Matthesen’s rules for “How To Report” an issue in mind.

This week Scalzi put into place the first thing WE can do. When he gets an invitation from an event to be a guest, he is now going to check and confirm the event has a publicly posted anti-harassment policy.

And it dawned on me that we can all do something like that. We’re not all famous, but as con-runners, staff, volunteers, vendors, guests, industry and yes, attendees, each one of us can do *something* to make events safer and more welcoming for everyone.

Con-runners/Organizers – Sit down with Senior Staff and discuss your con’s anti-harassment policy. You and I know that attendees may be literal-minded and if your policy is not specific they will argue with you that it “wasn’t against the policy.” Be specific. Otakon, for instance has a very non-specific policy in 2013: We also have a general policy that we do not tolerate disruptive behavior of any sort, and we can and will take action when we see something we feel is dangerous or disruptive. That is, IMHO, a terrible policy, because flawed human nature makes it really easy to see the crying victim as the “disruptive” party.

2018 Note: Otakon’s policy this year is even worse. It has detailed discussion of everything…except harassment, which is mentioned once: “The sorts of things that may trigger such action include but are not limited to: fighting (fake or real), heckling, impeding traffic flow, offensive behavior, harassment, failure to observe basic hygiene, public inebriation/intoxication, or any other failure to follow the rules and directions of staff members. ” 

That’s not a policy. 

A much better policy would specify that “any speech or behavior that is prejudicial, harassing, demeaning or discriminatory on the grounds of color, race, religion, dis/ability, sexuality, gender or gender presentation will be considered disruptive” would be much less open to interpretation.

Every con should have a policy. Period. It’s the first step every event can and should make to ensure the event is safe for everyone. Which leads me to:

Con Staff – If you’re working with a con in a position of any rank, check right now to see if your con has a specific, enforceable policy against harassment. If not, make it your business to get one added to the con site and program book.  To see if the con you volunteer with has a clear policy, check out the Geek Feminism’s Conference Anti-harassment Policy page – or if you know your con does have a policy, make sure it’s public, visible, and known! Know *who* on staff is responsible for what. Who gets notified – what will happen? Make it your job to tell the folks working with you and for you, so everyone is on the same page.

Every single staff member and volunteer should know the 1-2-3 Steps for handling harassment issues presented to them.

  1. Make sure the person is OK. (If not, get help *immediately* Even if that means you’re not watching that door anymore.)
  2. Know who to contact to handle the situation. (Junior staff and volunteers should not be taking reports like this. Have a person or persons on staff whose job it it to immediately address these situations.)
  3. Do NOT try to Fix the situation. If it can’t be fixed with duct tape, it cannot be fixed by you. Find the person who is trained to handle it – as quickly as possible –  then hand the person off with encouragement and comfort.

Volunteers – When you get your training and/or assignment, make it your business to learn what the policy is, what you can and can’t do, who to contact, etc. If no one tells you, ask! Ask what the policy is, who you should contact and where they might be found.

Industry and Vendors – At the very least make sure all your representatives know the event policies (and your policies) and ensure that they do not find themselves on the wrong end of them. If one of your reps is involved, please be prepared to take responsibility. Report harassment when you see it – so, know who you need to contact. Vendors, especially, if you can be counted on to be a safe haven when a problem arises, that would be nice. I know you’re busy, but someone might really need an act of kindness just then.

Guests – I’m not asking you to follow Scalzi’s lead,but…yes, I am asking you all to follow Scalzi’s lead. You are a Guest and you have some pull. Require the events that host you to step up to the plate and have a clear, public policy.

Attendees – Look for the con’s policies online, in the program book, or on a sign. If you do not see one, ask if there is one and how can people learn about it? Read the policy. Ask yourself – if someone was vile to you or someone you love, would that policy protect you? Go to the con after-session, write the con chair and ask for a public, specific policy if there is none. Make it your business to make your con a safer place for everyone. Don’t go vigilante on the con – work with them. Ask politely *who* is responsible for taking reports. Ask them if they can make the policy clearer, or assign a senior staff member to take reports. Don’t confront, don’t harass, just offer to help. And, if something happens to you, don’t be afraid to report it. You didn’t do anything wrong.

We’re at the tipping point. Fandom is for all fans and so it makes sense for all fans to take a hand in making fandom a safe, welcoming space for everyone. ^_^

Send to Kindle

9 Responses

  1. Fiddles says:

    And there is harassment that flies under the radar, I remember myself and others being followed or won’t stop trying to find ways to talk to you/get personal information.

    It’s not always an outright insult or overtly sexual, but you have a hard time getting the behavior to stop. Even worse, you worry that you will anger this stranger or be blamed for complaining (both of which I’ve had occur). This can be a problem even if you’re past 18.

    It’s not someone starting a legit conversation, nor is it innocent or just awkward, or even appropriate flirting that you’d be able to CHOSE to decline. It’s just stalkerish, unwanted, confusing sexual tension from someone whose basically a stranger. They may also try to touch you under the guise of being friendly. It is a constant hurdle for women in fandom and particularly if you travel alone (though I appreciate we’ve opened the dialog to other issues of harassment as well). You’ll note that I did not specify a gender, as such harassment can happen from anyone these days.

    So frustrating, because I would WELCOME true conversation at conventions, and instead find that huge crowds only lend themselves to those with personal agendas. The behavior seems to creep up and is unexpected, because your defenses may be down as you showed up to have a good time.

    I also think that it helps to define for THOSE HARASSED, exactly what harassment is…I think we can often be uncertain until it may feel too late. Like, “Is this just annoying or something worse? Should I be more careful or alert someone? Who should I tell?”

    I just really enjoyed the linked post and got to thinking.

  2. Ann Schubert says:


    The guests are there to have fun as well as you. Don’t spoil it!!

    • Everyone is there to have fun. No one has the right to shit on anyone. This applies to guests (and in some cases guests should be reminded of this as well. It’s especially upsetting when an Industry guest starts to harass their audience.)

  3. Person with disability says:

    You might want to add disability to the list of “…race, religion, sexuality, gender,…” .

Leave a Reply