There are no real words to express the feelings that come from hearing someone was attacked, touched inappropriately, or hurt at a convention. It is a mixture of anger and sadness, realizing that no matter where you are, you are never safe from “those people.”
You know the type, those who do not understand the rules and decorum of simple human interaction. They have little respect for human space. I can go into the millions of different mindsets and attitudes surrounding this, but that is for another blog. It is utterly impossible to say that we can take something good from these situations, but we can take something constructive. We can learn to limit the entry points of “those people.”
This is by no means, faulting anyone in these situations. Instead, I aim to bring awareness to newcomers, parents, booths, writers, artists, and just about anyone involved in conventions. This is information everyone should arm themselves with, because our world is expanding and our safety zone is shrinking. It is no longer the “geek society.” We are meeting mainstream head on and they are coming to conventions. This brings in a whole new element of people. Now, I really want to believe that we live in a good world, but I’m a New Yorker. I am a realist, and know that there is scum out there. Even though I believe nobody deserves it or calls it upon themselves, “these others” do not care. And sadly, we have yet to come out with the technology to scan for “pervert who does not understand limits.” Google needs to get on this.
Whether you are male, female or align otherwise, you become the center of attention once you put on a costume. That is not a bad thing. You should be enjoying your convention and proud of your work; the last thing you should be worrying about is someone trying to grope you or grab you. That being said, everyone should arm themselves with some knowledge. The other awesome editors at The Geek Initiative brainstormed with me some great ideas from our own experiences, and we got some great insider tips from KotoriCon, DragonCon, and ReedPop’s NYCC, and looked at Geeks for CONsent to make a comprehensive guide to being prepared.
Know Your Surroundings and Utilize Technology
I wanted to point out that even before going to a convention, you should know where you are heading. Let’s face it, once the day is over you are not just going to pack yourself away in the hotel room. Well, maybe… I was all about the post-con nap last year. Regardless, know your surroundings. I met more than a few people at NYCC last year that had never been to New York and were asking for directions and places to eat. This is great if you are in a large group, but it is still pretty easy to get lost in the bustle of a major city. Know how to navigate where you are and the address of where you are staying. In an age of technology, I should not have to be your mother and say “bring your cell phone.” Seriously, bring it, even if you have to stuff it down your costume. NYCC security recommends bringing and extra battery and your charger with you; there are plenty of places to charge your electronics there.
Personal Information is Personal
All three conventions were adamant about not giving out personal information. If you have made friends at the convention that is great, but be wary about who you are inviting to parties and your hotel with you. Big cities offer a lot of anonymity (and a few thousand Starbucks) to go to, if you want to get to know people.
Maintain Safety with Transportation
With this, goes transportation. These larger cons often offer transportation to and from the con, from hotspots around the city. Take advantage of this. While NYC has an extensive subway system and taxis on every street, offered transportation provides you continued convention safety meaning no outsiders from the convention to your hotel. Plus, they’re free.
Use the Buddy System – Even Tony Stark Needs Happy
No matter what, every outlet believes that the buddy system is the best. It is by far the easiest way to keep in control. Personally, I have always enjoyed conventions when I am with someone else. Nobody wants to think of having a handler or a purse carrier with them, but it is the best way to have a worry free convention. Just think of it like this, even Tony Stark had Happy.
Convention Crowd Control
NYCC and KotoriCon use crowd control as a way to help with safety. Since, KotoriCon is on a college campus, they restrict anyone under sixteen to be with a chaperone. They also pride themselves on being a small convention which allows them to monitor the crowds more thoroughly than some of the bigger ones. On the other hand, NYCC has implemented the RFID system which is supposed to keep out anybody who did not buy a ticket. Unfortunately, that does not mean bad people do not buy tickets. The RFID system also means that there is a point of entry and exit where someone physically has to tap you in or out and see you. This also means if someone goes missing, they know exactly when.
Have a meet up time and place. We all do not have the same tastes, and perhaps you want to see a panel or get some autographs while your friends head down to artist alley. Or, maybe you just got separated in the crowd of people. Just make a time and place to meet in the convention center. While you are scouting out a good meet up place, familiarize yourself with the convention hall. They are a bit like mazes, especially when filled with people.
This is a tip my brother taught me recently, after one of his daughters decided to go to the bathroom at the beach alone. Take a photo of everyone you are with that day, each day. Admit it; you probably will take a few selfies anyway, so you may as well take a good one for security. It is much easier to show them a photo of your friend than say “she’s the kind of short girl in the Mikasa cosplay.” They have probably seen a few hundred Attack on Titan cosplays.
Educate and Become Educated About Convention Safety and Harassment
Geeks for CONsent, www.geeksforconsent.org, are a great bunch of ladies spreading the word about con harassment. Their stories will really solidify that harassment at conventions is a big problem. They also reminds us that, sometimes we do not realize what we are doing is harassment. Remember, everyone’s level of comfort is different.
Now we are into the icky parts, the part of what to do when something starts to go wrong. We all have our own comfort levels and that is perfectly fine. But, the major thing is your costume does not give anyone the right to mistreat you in any form- verbal or physical. So what happens when someone starts to invade your comfort zone?
Two Words: NO and STOP
Immediately, tell them no and stop. To some people this is the hardest thing to do, and it is understandable. However, you have the community behind you. NOBODY will ever fault you or vilify you for saying no. Geeks for CONsent have “Harasser cards” which are wonderful if you are not quite sure how to word yourself.
Escalation of a Situation
Escalation. It is a horrible thing to think about. By now the story of Adrienne Curry’s friend is well known. Someone decided to stick their finger down her panties and Ms. Curry reacted very loudly and a bit physically. TGI does not expect everyone to act that way. However, the situation shows how quickly things can escalate. When you are in a situation that has escalated beyond your control, it is necessary to gain control back. Curry’s incident demonstrates something that I think is very important–BE LOUD. Do not feel ashamed, do not be embarrassed. Draw attention to yourself and the person offending you. This not only is going to make the person think twice, it will be alerting security and everyone around you.
Find a volunteer, immediately. One of the biggest things, I have seen is that people are either afraid to report harassment or they feel that it is a hassle to find security. Security is all around you. While there may be only one main security office, every volunteer at a convention is part of security in some way. All three conventions state that their volunteers will help you, even if it is just escorting you to the office safely. Security cannot stop the person if they do not know who they are.
Be a Vigilant Friend
This is another point that DragonCon really drove home for me: do not be afraid to help out. Before people start screaming equality or white knights, stop. This is not about being a strong woman or being put down by the man, this is about safety. Girl for Girl, Guy for Girl, Girl for Gender Neutral, I do not care… if you see someone being hassled, say something. Step in and offer help, even if it is just another body. A lot of people suggest, the Fake Friend as a great way to defuse the situation. Step up to the confrontation and act as a friend to the cosplayer. “Hey I’ve been looking for you!” “Hey, it’s been forever!”
Finally, do not play ignorant. Your safety is your priority.
By now, seasoned veterans have probably closed the article and newcomers are looking in wide-eyed fear. It is not my intention to scare you, but to raise awareness. Harassment is a subtle beast in our society. You cannot predict who it will be or when.
As an EMT, I have heard the phrase “it could never happen to me” uttered way too many times. It should never happen to you, but it is better to be prepared than just assume. That being said; enjoy the convention! Make friends! By all means, talk to everyone. Conventions have some pretty cool people and are a great place to network.