Each year, dozens of comic conventions events take place around the world, giving pop culture fans a chance to live out their wildest comic book and entertainment dreams. The events are filled with fans dressed up as their favorite characters, often sporting the risque outfits we see so often in books and on screen. As fun as these events are, they can create a setting for those participating in cosplay to be taken advantage of. Amid concerns brought about by the #MeToo movement, comic con organizers are cracking down on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault at their events.
Sexual Assault at Comic Cons
There are many conventions in major cities around the world, the largest one taking place in San Diego and the second largest in New York. Cosplay-related events at larger comic cons tends to be extremely elaborate, where people wait in lines to take photos with the characters. However, even the smaller events are filled with regular attendees dressed in their homemade costumes, happy to take photos with fans.
Cosplay is an integral part of comic cons, as it allows visitors to interact with characters who look like they stepped right out of the movie screen or comic book panel. Some attendees see the revealing and attention-drawing outfits as an invitation to pursue the cosplayers — especially because they may see them as characters instead of people. As fun as these are for participants, regulations to ensure they feel safe are extremely important.
Let’s take a look at how event organizers at two of the biggest comic cons are helping to create a safe environment for cosplayers:
San Diego Comic-Con
The San Diego Comic-Con does not have a specific list of requirements for their anti-harassment policy. They simply have a code of conduct on their site, which states, “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.”
The staff encourages attendees to report any of these behaviors. If reported, or if convention staff witnesses any of this type of conduct, they have the right to take whatever actions they deem necessary, including kicking people out of the convention without a refund.
NYCC Anti-Harassment Policies
In an attempt to eliminate this type of behavior from the conventions, the New York Comic Con (NYCC) began a movement called, Cosplay Is Not Consent. Signs with this statement are now plastered around conventions across the U.S., with the aim of drawing attention to Comic Con’s anti harassment policies. The policies vary slightly from city to city, as they all have different organizers, but they generally show their zero-tolerance stance for any type of harassment.
The NYCC explicitly considers harassment as any of the following:
- Offensive verbal comments
- Physical assault and/or battery
- Harassing or non-consensual photography
- Sustained disruption of panels, signings, and other events
- Bathroom policing
- Inappropriate physical contact
- Unwelcome physical attention
- Hate symbols
Right to Privacy
Although many of these policies are pretty standard, they emphasize the level of privacy and autonomy that attendees, including cosplayers, have the right to. This includes the right to not be photographed without their consent, no matter how cool their costume is.
Some people are professional cosplayers who are paid to attend the conventions dressed up and to take pictures with fans, but many cosplayers simply dress up for themselves and don’t want to be photographed at all. Even if all of their costume details are just right, they have a right to privacy; it’s important to ask before taking a photo. They want to remain in control of their bodies, and it can be a very uncomfortable experience to feel like people are sneaking pictures of them for inappropriate reasons or are taking advantage of their costume.
The potential privacy violations don’t end once the convention does. Cosplayers have also had to contend with online stalkers — sexual aggressors asking for lewd images and threatening to dox those who fail to comply. While individuals can take efforts to protect themselves from online stalking, it’s clear that broader measures need to be taken.
Cracking Down on Sexual Assault
Consent is defined as a communicated agreement between parties to participate in any action together. This includes taking photos together and anything that occurs while that photo is being taken. However, because so much attention is drawn to the cosplayer, those interacting with them might feel that their behavior is acceptable or not likely to be seen as threatening. Still, many cosplayers, both men and women, frequently have their privacy and personal space infringed upon as they show off their fun costumes that they worked diligently on.
There are many ways to make people feel uncomfortable, even if an individual is not being explicitly aggressive or physical. This can include stalking, pursuing, or even sending sexual messages. When numbers are exchanged at comic cons, excessive texting and calling can quickly turn into a form of harassment, as it can pressure and frighten the person on the receiving end with unwelcome attention. People need to be aware of these boundaries in order to avoid conducting this type of behavior.
Many cosplayers are often minors, as a love for fantasy and dressing up can begin early on in people’s youths. There are thousands of teenage attendees, which is why consensual communication and boundaries are crucial to emphasize between all who are in attendance. Especially with younger participants, it’s necessary to make sure that they understand the law regarding texting and harassment to avoid any illegalities.
Due to the high rates of cosplayers experiencing assault, the conventions have attempted to crack down on predatory behaviors, with security throughout the event doors and strict consent policies. However, there’s only so much they can do. Event organizers often request that anyone who experiences this type of behavior file reports it so they can see how to better manage instances of assault.
It’s important for people who attend comic conventions to feel safe throughout the events, whether they’re in cosplay or not. However, the culture of these events, as well as society in general, has allowed those in attendance to feel that they can get away with harassing cosplayers or violating their boundaries.
Therefore, the event organizers have responded with campaigns, even since before the #MeToo movement, to make it clear that this type of behavior is not appropriate or tolerated. Establishing this message can help more people feel better about dressing up as their favorite characters and having a good time without risk of harassment.