Zero Tolerance At San Diego Comic Con

Sexual harassment at comic book conventions has become more of a thing of late. Oh, it always happened, but now people are more likely to be aware of it, to talk openly about it and realise that it's not just them, it's a problem that needs to be addressed. And with San Diego Comic Con coming up, now seemed to be a good time to bring it up again.

A combination of sun, sea and open bars and an away-from-the-office attitude combines for some people to act in a manner they would never dream of otherwise. Or think they could get away with. From 2008;

Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: "These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, 'cause I wanted to see what her reaction was." This was only one example of several instances of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the "prettiest girl at the con." They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he'd targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

It can be confusing to some. There is some truth is the stereotype of the young male geek, suddenly seeing all manner of interestingly dressed women and acting inappropriately (or plain grossly) simply because they've never in their life understood the rules. And the show doesn't go out of their way to display them. They are not with the other guidelines on the show website, though they did appear in last year's convention exhibition guide;

"Attendees must respect commonsense 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 pass 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."

They should be common sense. But sometimes that is lacking.

Some may presume that all cosplayers are extroverts and enjoy the attention, however lascivious. But many are the opposite – their costumes part of dressing for themselves, not for you. Yes, even if they are Slave Princess Leia. You are welcome to look. But staring for two minutes might not be encouraged. And sexual slurs are never going to go down well in any such scenario.

Basically you wouldn't grab the ass of a female police officer, so best not grab that of a female ghostbuster either.

Though maybe some would. One volunteer last year in official uniform talked about her experiences with some;

This wasn't just me, another girl who was on the same assignment further down the hall was getting harassed so badly she briefly left her post to talk to me and make sure she wasn't alone with the harassing dudes and so she could disappear until that particular group moved on. Skeevy dudes. "Fulfillment Room" does not have an unspoken "Sexual" in front of it, and especially the one dude sidling up to within less than six inches of me to whisper that you didn't have a ticket but you wanted "Fulfillment" and surely I could give it to you right there right now anyways is so incredibly creeper-tastic I have no words. I try to sidle away, and this shithead follows me. There are no other staffers in sight, and his group of 3 male friends are standing off to the side watching and grinning.

It's not just the paying attendees. There's one senior comics industry employee who was banned by his publisher from going to comic conventions after a series of incidents, one including the sexual harassment of a freelancer's girlfriend in a hotel lobby. Some people were placated by that ban, but it seems that one year later it has been rescinded and he'll be back at San Diego Comic Con.

Elize Mattheson's article How To Report Sexual Harasssment about a recent sci-fi convention experience with another alleged repeat offender, saw him named as James Frenkel of Tor books, who was then dismissed by the publisher.

Certainly there's more of a collective understanding that something must be done. A feeling that there should be no tolerance amongst attendees for such behaviour, even if they aren't individually targeted. And, as Billy Bragg once sang, there is power in a union. If you see something, make a stand and expect to be backed up by your peers.

Because hey, this is Comic Con. What better place for people to team up to fight the bad guys?

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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