NYCC: Harassment Is A Public Health Issue
John Odum writes for Bleeding Cool:
An enthusiastic crowd was greeted with some sobering statistics by "Let's Talk About Harassment in Fandom" moderator Diana Pho; 25% of women at cons have reported being sexually harassed, 13% report receiving unwanted, inappropriate comments, and 8% of all attendees have been groped or outright assaulted or raped.
In light of the serious picture laid out by the stats, panelists spent a lot of time debunking the notion that harassment was a matter of "personal drama" that could be easily dismissed – and just as easily avoided by those in a position to stop it.
"It's like saying domestic abuse is a personal drama issue," panelist Emily Asher-Perrin noted.
Panelists repeatedly cast harassment as a "public health" issue, which as the conversation developed, took on more of a literal than a metaphorical quality.
Speaking from a psychiatric background, panelist Robert Anders noted the progressive, infective impact of harassment on a victim's "inner dialogue" about their own value, potentially creating blowback into their personal and professional lives. Combined with descriptions about harassers "high fiving" and encouraging each other, and frequent reminders that many offenders prefer to offend in an environment where they're less likely to be seen (Anders: "[harassers] wouldn't do it in front of their religious leader, wouldn't do it front of their mother, or their father…").
Taken together, the panelists painted a picture of a full-on social pathogen, but one that can be dealt with.
Mikki Kendall stressed research indicating that less than 1% of harassment reports turn out to be illegitimate, making priority one to believe the victim. Panelist Marlene Bonnelly emphasized "it's important to have zero tolerance" while sympathizing with the difficulty in doing so, relating her own failure to step in during an instance of inappropriate behavior by a photographer two days prior. Panelists agreed that harassers will continue harassing at cons across the country when there are no consequences.
Kendall granted that it might be challenging at times to give victims the benefit of the doubt. "'No, that person's nice, they're not a harasser'" Kendall continued, "[But] sometimes that person who is so nice with you, is not that person with other people."
The ubiquitous "Cosplay is not Consent" signage around the con was lauded as impactful, and a strategy that should be emulated by other cons. Cons need to make good on their harassment policies, though.
"Having a policy and not enforcing it can almost be more demeaning [to a victim]," Anders cautioned, emphasizing the feelings of vulnerability when a victim comes forward. "It can feel like, there's this system in place, and it's failed them."
At a convention attended by a reported 150,000 people, 45% of whom are women, Kendall summed up the collective challenge to fandom.
"We have to come to sort of mutual agreement in these places," Kendall charged the crowd. "People don't always mean harm, but people sometimes need to actually be told – don't do this thing."
Although most of the time was spent on discussing gender-based harassment, the topic of racism was broached as well, with Kendall calling on listeners to be just as vigilant in calling out racial harassment.
"Say it, then mean it," Kendall charged. "Be a fandom that the second a [racist internet] post goes up… you say yo, that's really racist."
Particular scorn was reserved for those who charge "reverse racism" when called out on their own behavior. Bonnelly noted that the very term was meaningless at the personal level, while Kendall added that the term was ludicrous at the institutional level, given the dynamics of cultural power in play.
Kendall's reality check to any who would use the charge to deflect criticism; "You probably just said something real fucking ignorant and people are just sick of your shit."