The issue of harassment at cons isn’t going to go away, and seems to get highlighted more each day as women, men, organizers, cosplayers and interne bystanders deal with the growing injection of actual hormonal humans into abstract fan scenarios. When I went to shows as a youngster, I thought of cons as a “safe space” believe it or not. Compared to the rock scene I was involved with, the relatively few women in comics were in a mostly hands off zone, mostly because most congoers were afraid of them, and should anything amiss happen there was a huge crew of friends to back you up. Notice that I just said “COMPARED TO THE ROCK SCENE”; it was far from a paradise of equality, but I felt safer at a comic con than I did at most places.

All that has changed. I don’t think that cons rate as horrible dangerous places like [jeez any place I name here will get me in trouble so lets just say Westeros] but incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior that would be actionable anywhere are sadly growing. Clearly stated and defined harassment policies are one step in creating boundaries and reinforcing the idea that dressing up as your favorite character, no matter how scantily clad, does not make you a whore or mean you want to be touched or groped. And of course it isn’t just a cosplay issue but extends to women in all kinds of situations.

There’s been increasing scrutiny of which cons do and con’t have clearly stated harassment policies, and one of the shows that hasn’t been found to have what is considered an up to date harassment policy—as in clearly stated on the website and posted at the show—is the San Diego Comic-Con. In an effort to change this, a petition from Geeks for CONsent went up asking them to expand their stated policies to be more specific. The campaign is called “Stop sexual harassment at San Diego Comic Con, create a formal anti-harassment policy”:

We’re asking Comic Con San Diego to include the following in a formal anti-harassment policy:

–A harassment reporting mechanism and visible, easy to find on-site support for people who report harassment;

–Signs throughout the convention publicizing the harassment policy and zero-tolerance enforcement mechanisms;

–Information for attendees on how to report harassment; and

–A one hour training for volunteers on how to respond to harassment reports.

SDCC does have general language posted on its website:

Code of Conduct
Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy. Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner.

Now before we get into this kerfuffle any more, it should be noted that despite its massive Hollywoodization, Comic-Con was started by and run by FANS. Early pioneer fans who dealt with all kinds of things and came up with all kinds of policies to keep the show running smoothly. They sort of invented this thing. While I occasionally have criticisms of the Big Show, in every single interaction with the staff that I have had for the last 20 years or so, there has never been ANY area where I felt their primary concern wasn’t the safety os attendees. In fact all the policies they have regarding safety can be annoying and time consuming what with all the lining up, standing here, not sitting there and so on. These efforts have not been specifically aimed at the kind of harassment we’re talking about, but it is safe to say that Comic-Con and its organizers take safety very, very seriously, and there are many many things that they do behind the scenes to make the magical madhouse of con work smoothly.

Of course there are still random jerks, random weirdoes, pen-stabbers, upskirters and so on. In a population of 130,000 there will be deviants and criminals and Corey Feldman. And bad behavior needs to be labeled bad behavior and not tolerated by the community. But it does seem, at least in my cursory investigation, that people are concerned because SDCC doesn’t have a clearly stated harassment policy, not because there is a horrible culture of harassment at the show. I see many people have referred to “rampant” sexual harassment at SDCC. While any incident is one too many, you can definitely find some examples of bad situations, including this volunteer who was hit on by a creep and his buddies. David Brothers has a still unresolved issue with security. I don’t doubt that some guys go to Comic-Con to look at hot chicks and make them feel uncomfortable, but it’s so hard to get in there would seem to be easier places to go to do that. I don’t want to sound like an apologist for harassment, but I’m not sure that it is part of the DNA of the show, the way it is with some other events *cough PAX cough*. But, you know, I’m old and my goal at Con is to find a hot meal and some talk about George Carlson, not to be thrust into the maelstrom of excitement.

Anyway, back to the kerfuffle. In an interview with CBR about the petition and more, con marketing vp David Glanzer said this:

I will tell you, though, that because we’re really an international show, and have 3,000 members of the media, I think the story would be harassment is such an issue at Comic-Con that they needed to post these signs around there. Now, people within the industry, and fans, know that isn’t the case, but the general public out there, and I think the news media, might look at this as, “Why would you, if this wasn’t such a bad issue, why do you feel the need to single out this one issue and put signs up about it?” I think that’s a concern. I was reading somewhere about anti-harassment policy, and they say, the most important thing is to have an anti-harassment policy, and expectations of behavior. We certainly have that.

There are other security and safety issues that people need to abide by — costume weapon policies, things of that nature. By highlighting one, does that diminish the others? I just don’t know. I would be afraid to have several different signs for different things that are equally as important.

Obviously, in todays culture of addressing issues, saying “if we come out against harassment, people will think there’s harassment” probably wasn’t the best answer. Two prominent sites have already torn it to shreds, Jill Pantozzi at The Mary Sue with San Diego Comic-Con Responds To Fan Petition Asking For A Formal Harassment Policy, and Chris Sims at Comics Alliance with San Diego Comic-Con Doesn’t Want To Address Its Harassment Problem Because People Might Think It Has A Harassment Problem. Both of these article point to Emerald City Comic Con and it’s clearly posted anti harassment posters as the best way to deal with this, and argue that SDCC will adopt a similar policy.

While I applaud this as part of the social awareness campaign that has to happen, according to cosplayer Nicole Jacobs it didn’t work. A smirking idiot touched her against her will and then:

He smiled and laughed and despite being confronted by the convention staff, thought his actions hilarious. This is notok. This is not how we are to treat our daughters and sisters and mothers and wives. This is not how we are to treat ANYONE. While the man’s badge was removed and he was escorted from the building, never once was I given the option to press charges against him. I don’t know his name, and now I can’t do anything to potentially prevent this from ever happening again to some other girl who doesn’t realize she has the right to fight for herself. Suddenly the convention’s anti-harassment posters meant nothing. If security is unresponsive and entirely fails to do their job, who are they really securing? While I don’t fault the con for the actions of others, I do fault our society and how we handle these matters, and I think so much more could be and could have been done.

Obviously this is one incident too many, but as much as we’d like posted signs to stop abuse, they don’t. They DISCOURAGE IT, but do not stop it. I think ECCC has become the model of how a modern convention deals with the ongoing pressures and conflicts of modern fandom. As befits their place as industry leaders, I would love to see SDCC organizers really lead the charge on anti-harassment measures and zero tolerance, but that isn’t really their style. I’m sure the current kerfuffle will have some ripples but I can’t even guess where it will go. I do know that they will continue to make safety—as defined in a wider context than just harassment—as a major objective.

Harassment policies are a major tool for good in the ongoing battle to make bad behavior at cons and elsewhere in life less acceptable. SDCC adding its voice to the list of cons with specific harassment policies would be a powerful symbol, for sure. But we all need a massive, ongoing education campaign—backed up by everyone in the community, male and female—as to what is appropriate behavior. And if my twitter feed is any indication, there’s a lot of confusion about all that outside the con floor that’s being dragged inside the convention hall.

This isn’t my first post about all these issues, and it won’t be the last. Its only the one I put up this Tuesday.

Finally, there are several organizations that are working to stop harassment at conventions and create more awareness of the problems. There’s the aforementioned Geeks for CONsent that has various tools and information about combating inappropriate behavior. I also recommend Hollaback, an organization trying to end street harassment with various forms of outreach, including a comic book. These organizations and other like them have a lot of valuable information and tools for change, and more of us should avail themselves of them.


  1. Hi! Thanks for this excellent post! GeeksForCONsent and HollabackPHILLY are actually affiliated organizations with a lot of the same team members. The Creative Director of GeeksForCONsent is the person who created HollabackPHILLY’s anti street harassment comic book! Also thank you for keeping the pressure up – Glanzer was interviewed again last night for NBC San Diego, and has not budged on his position that SDCC’s efforts are sufficient.

  2. “actual hormonal humans into abstract fan scenarios” … “mostly because most con-goers were afraid of them” …

    Okay, you’re dangling the bait, so I’ll bite. Back in the old days, male comic fans were evil because they DIDN’T harass women? Really?

    Comic books are NOT mainstream, no matter what anyone says, and never will since we still pander to the SNL-Shatner skit of 1984. Get a life, indeed!

  3. Why put up signs?
    Because it’s a major issue this year in fandom, and one that needs to be addressed more than the weapons policy. (God… I just know some “open carry” idiot is going to march into a con somewhere soon…)

    Why make it a concern?
    Because Comic-Con International is the biggest convention in the country, the example everyone pictures when talking about comic book conventions. By being at the forefront, they are changing the culture, albeit slowly.

    Why be proactive?
    Because CCI:SD is Central Park.
    Why does Central Park have it’s own police precinct? Because the NYPD knows that any crime which happens in Central Park will hit the news cycle immediately. There are serial rapists in other parts of Manhattan who don’t even make the local news zeitgeist, but if just one attack happens in Central Park, every reporter will dust off the tropes and boilerplate about how dangerous a place NYC is.

    How many reporters cover CCI? How many different sites posted the news about the pen stabbing in 2010? (I count 2300 results in Google News.) Now suppose a cosplay incident escalates… most bloggers and reporters will quote Comic-Con’s policy. Then they’ll start asking what procedures were in place, and which weren’t, what was and wasn’t done, and why.
    (“Why” is the most difficult question to answer. Generally, it gets answered in a courtroom.)

    Then people outside of fandom will ask: “Are comic cons a safe place to take my children, or to let my teenager attend with her friends?”
    “I knew there were weirdos at those shows… I just never thought they were perverts.”

  4. Last year on the The Beat’s year-end round up, this is *exactly* what I thought would be the story of this year; harassment and overall conduct at conventions.

    I agree with Heidi that posted signs will not stop such things from happening, but it still raises a red flag to those that it is NOT okay. It’s a step in the right direction and it’s a visual policy when so many in the industry are asking for transparency. I applaud ECCC for their stance and pro-active display. Those signs should be mandatory at all conventions, and just buying a badge / ticket should have a legal line at the bottom that states an agreement of conduct and liability. It should be noted in the program guides. There should be clearly marked staff looking for such problems (not just general security who are used for crowd control).

    I know SDCC isn’t turning their back on people, I’m sure they do care. I just wish they would take precautionary actions to do MORE, instead of waiting for a serious incident to happen before making a stronger and a publicly visual policy.

  5. [quote]Compared to the rock scene I was involved with, the relatively few women in comics were in a mostly hands off zone, mostly because most congoers were afraid of them…[/quote]

    Because those basement dwelling nerds had obviously never encountered a real live girl before, right?

    Apparently there will never, ever be a time when one gender can refrain from stereotyping the other, no matter the context.

    Also, regarding “scantily clad” cosplayers: they shouldn’t be allowed through the doors. Conventions should be a place where kids–remember them?–can have fun too.

  6. Excellent piece. Really well done.

    I thought it was worth pointing out that just because you don’t believe a flier is going to stop harassment doesn’t mean you are pro-harassment. You handled that very eloquently.

    FWIW, SDCC is by far the most “welcoming” Con I’ve ever been to. True there are mishaps but my worst experiences came from locals and Con security. Organizers/staff and really 99.999% of attendees have been wonderful.

  7. Rich and Mark, thanks for trying to rewrite my autobiography for me. There is plenty of contemporaneous writing from the 80s and 90s convention culture to show that it was VERY VERY different from now. It was the vast gulf between the music culture and the comics culture in terms of sexualization that I noted at the time and I wasn’t alone.

  8. Thank you, Torsten, for inflaming my “open carry” nightmare. :(

    Here in Medina, some of those morons have taken to marching around our public square with shotguns and assault weapons. Sometime while pushing baby strollers or carrying their babies. Public square borders the library and an elementary school. They have also paraded around the police station. Morons, but dangerous.

  9. I think Glanzer’s point about the posters is sound. It’s similar to how people feel uncomfortable shopping at places that have bars on the windows versus ones that don’t. The bars are there for very good reasons such as protection and safety, but that doesn’t really factor in to the customer’s feeling like there’s going to be a hold-up any second. It’s not that people are unaware that there’s an anti-harassment policy, so publicizing it every 5 feet won’t have the positive effect you’re looking for and it could actually make things worse. EVERYWHERE and EVERYTHING has anti-harassment policies because nobody likes getting sued. It’s the ability to get away with violating it in relation to the penalty for getting caught that determines the outcome for those who think doing so is a good idea.

    Which brings us to the reality of the situation when the policy has been violated. It because you vs. them, and anyone with any power to handle the situation on behalf of the convention is walking in blind. Both the accuser and the offender are on equal footing and deserve equal consideration. For the victim of any act, this seems unfair, but that’s just the fact of the matter at hand. There’s a whole process to finding out what happened and going through the proper procedure to take care of the situation. That’s assuming the person who harassed you is still hanging around or can be found among the thousands of attendees when the folks in charge are brought into it.

    To boil it down… it’s complicated. It’s a lot more than pointing a finger at the culprit and then seeing them fly through the doors and land on the pavement outside. This is likely why a lot of harassment goes unreported. It’s just too much of a hassle, and that’s unfortunate. Plastering the walls with the policy or detailing the crap out of it won’t change these facts.

  10. I recall an article about SDCC security when it came to cosplay. Some guy brought an actual assault rifle to go with his costume, but had the firing pin removed so it couldn’t shoot. Con security wouldn’t allow it in though (which was the right thing to do, I’m sure there would be a call to them and/or 911 every like 10 minutes as they walked the floor and people recognized the gun as being real).
    For those interested, the article is here:

    So with that in mind I’m 99.9% they wouldn’t allow any open carry nonsense at the con.

  11. @Jamie
    Where’s the policy? }]
    What does the Convention Center say about it?
    Hmmm… nothing specific.

    The State of California does have a law against “open carry”.

    Of course, you can buy a gun in just about any color…

    As for signage, then why are there so many PSA billboards along the highways? So many signs about buckling up, driving the speed limit, using child seats…? Perhaps to remind people of a persistent public safety problem?

  12. I agree that it is an issue that needs to be addressed. I was at ECCC and saw those fliers posted at entrances and hang-out areas and thought it was a good thing.

    In order for this issue to be taken more seriously by con organizers, though, I think we need to start seeing some lawsuits. I know that’s a tough row to hoe but corporate culture treats such policies as last resorts. They won’t allocate resources to combat an issue until they see that there’s some sting to their bottom line behind it. Sexual harassment and discrimination policies didn’t start appearing in company handbooks until companies were being taken to court repeatedly and successfully.

    Capitalism unfortunately is not very good about prevention!

  13. @Christian – I’ll take that one step further – that believing this can’t be stopped, or that it can only be stopped by the cosplayers changing what they are doing, is not “pro-harassment”. It’s simply an assessment of the situation that sees an unfortunate reality.

  14. No, I’m saying that in order to socialize those men, you’d have to sit down with them in a therapy-type situation and get to the heart of the problem. I’m saying that the average con (or in the case of San Diego, even the above-average con) probably can’t do anything that would completely eliminate stuff like this.

  15. Glenn, that’s a rote endorsement to the “boys will be boys” excuse for behavior which humiliates and belittle others. I refuse to believe that the human race is one big frat house, as much as many people would like to keep it there. Has no one watched Star Trek The Next Generation?

  16. I disagree. “Boys will be boys” insinuates that ALL boys tend to do things. My point is that within any large population of boys, there are going to be a *few* a-holes to deal with. Somebody is always going to speed, somebody is always going to litter, somebody is always going to gossip. You can’t stop these things, only try to keep them under control. Even in Star Trek, you have the Klingons… :)

  17. And that’s a noble goal that I support. I don’t think you’ll succeed, but I support the fact that you’re trying. I hope I’m wrong.

    From my end, if, while having my head buried in some poorly-organized “quarter” longboxes looking for those issues of “Spider-Man 2099” I’m missing, I hear a female cosplayer tell some dude “hey, stop touching me!”, I’ll be sure to give him a stern “Hey – stop that!” Of course, I’d like to think I’d have done that anyway…

  18. “No, I’m saying that in order to socialize those men, you’d have to sit down with them in a therapy-type situation and get to the heart of the problem. I’m saying that the average con (or in the case of San Diego, even the above-average con) probably can’t do anything that would completely eliminate stuff like this.”

    That’s ridiculous.

    It stops when you have the will to make it stop, when you pull people aside when the fingers are pointed and ask them about what happened, and when you escort people out of the con whenever a witness confirms that yes, something happened. It stops when you stop tolerating it.

    I work at a large university. Thirty years ago it was a large game of grab-ass. Now it’s a sobered-up collection of hallways with open doors, because the faculty are so nervous about the merest allegation of harassment that they want everything open to all. They know that getting caught molesting or harassing a student likely means the end of an expensively-built and irreplaceable career. Yes, we have drinks parties, still. And the fellows keep their hands to themselves now.

    If you want to make a change in the culture, do it. But don’t sit there chewing on your hand about how oh, impossible, want to, but ohhh, never could, eep, sorry.

  19. I talked to a woman wearing a costume and she is from Las Vegas and her attack stalked her online and raped her he did get caught he might gave her a date rap pill and its true noy all men are gentleman and people like Donald Trump should know about things abused needs to be stopped its a vicious cycle by men who do have a problem with women and they need the help to stop.what they’re cause of their actions do hurt people,

Comments are closed.