With convention season in full swing, and our own visit to C2E2 coming up in a few weeks, I want to talk a little bit about bullying and harassment at conventions. These events attract a lot of people. In 2014, C2E2 alone boasted about 63,000 attendees. It’s only natural that a few bad eggs will show up in a batch that large. Just this year at MagFest, a cosplayer was harassed for dressing as Vivian James, a sort of mascot for The Fine Young Capitalists as well as the online consumer revolt against corrupt gaming journalists. This is just the most recent case of problems at conventions around the world. Taking this in perspective, conventions receive a great deal of scrutiny because they are supposed to be a place where people gather to share interests, fun, hobbies, and build a network. In reality, it is like a small city descending on an area, sometimes no bigger than a city block, policed by staff who really aren’t police. I’ve been going to conventions for years now, and despite the size, scope, and all the horror stories, they tend to be relatively safe, but that doesn’t mean we should take the atmosphere of a convention for granted.
Most conventions now have a fairly extensive harassment policy included in their rules for attendees. This is a great step toward promoting awareness of what is, and what is not acceptable. Always keep in mind, however, that a huge list of rules is not a guarantee of safety, but guidelines for what will result in punishment. There is a great deal that you, as a convention attendee, can do to help the staff, protect yourself, and protect others when you are at a con. Nothing anyone writes, myself included, is going to prevent someone who wants to be a jerk from being a jerk. No rules, no policy, and certainly no article online will make a difference, so here are some things you can do to protect yourself, your friends, and also make sure that no one mistakes you for a bully.
Help the Staff
Remember, depending on the convention, there will be enough people there to fill a small city. The staff, who are usually volunteers, are vastly outnumbered by attendees. Pay attention to signs, directions, and instructions from staff. If they direct you away from an area, there’s probably a reason. If they need people to clear out of a place, again, they probably have a good reason. What does this have to do with harassment? Well your safety is the responsibility of these volunteers, but they can’t do their jobs if people give them a hard time, and, yes, I’ve seen it happen before. Also, be familiar with the different types of staff and their locations. It’s common for different staff members to have different colored shirts, depending on their role, and different stations throughout the convention. It helps to know where security, aid stations, and the lost and found are located. If you see someone getting out of line, stalking, harassing, or bullying someone else, say something to the nearest staff member or security.
Don’t go it alone
Conventions are crowded, full of strangers from all over the place. It’s best to go with a friend or a group of friends. People who like to harass others tend to be put off by groups, so a buddy system is always a good idea. If you do get separated, because of panels, meals, or for any reason, have a place to meet that everyone in your group agreed on ahead of time. Set up regular intervals throughout the day to meet at your spot, and if someone doesn’t show up start calling, texting, or get a hold of staff. Phones have a tendency to die, depending on your service plans, whether you are roaming, and your settings. Our first year at GenCon, my wife’s phone died within a couple of hours due to being outside our area and not having it set up right. Having a place to meet kept us from losing touch when we had to separate during the convention.
With this, too, if you see someone on their own, and it looks like another attendee is bothering them, try to make yourself present. Sometimes, just letting a bully know they are being watched can get them to back down and even go away. In my experience, most bullies are cowards.
Be Mindful of your Surroundings
Convention sites are huge, some of them spanning multiple buildings, floors, and in the case of GenCon in Indianapolis, they can span multiple venues across several city blocks. Needless to say, there are a lot of places to get lost: hallways, stairwells, parking decks, and empty rooms. Try not to wander off alone, and, if you do find yourself lost, find a map or the nearest staff member so you can get back to where everyone else is.
This also goes for leaving the convention site. Most of these events are held in large cities that you may or may not be familiar with. It’s doubly important to be safe away from the convention site. Try not to wander alone, have a map of the area, try to stay within quick walking distance of the convention center, and all the other things that go along with visiting a strange metropolitan area. It’s easy to get caught up in the con atmosphere and forget the real world is out there, but it is to stay safe.
Be Respectful of Cosplayers
Some people are just mean, but many times bad perception can lead to misunderstanding, as well. Some things to keep in mind with the increase in number of cosplayers at conventions: 99.9% of cosplayers at a convention are attendees just like you; they are there to have fun, visit booths, see artists, and attend panels; they are also there to show off their skill and art. Please be respectful of both. Ask before you take a picture, and, if they decline, don’t be a jerk. They may need to meet someone, be trying to make a scheduled event, or just be plain tired. Even the professional cosplayers are not there at your disposal. If they are away from their booth, be respectful of their space and time. If they are at their booth, like all other guests they may have panels, scheduled events and appearances. If you are in line and they run out of time and have to leave, don’t take it personally, and don’t take it out on them or anyone else.
Don’t touch! Even the cosplayers that are there as event guests are still people. If they reach out to hug you, put an arm around you, then return the gesture, but if a cosplayer is posing with you, don’t touch without asking. Con Crud is not just a funny name for how you feel after a weekend-long convention, a lot of exhibitors and guests get sick at cons from all the hand-shaking, hugging, and close contact. Some have even stopped posing in close contact, or giving hugs, because of how often they pick up a cold, so be respectful of that.
There are countless infographics on how to handle harassment and bullying, so here are a handful of the points they agree on:
Know what is and is not harassment. Review the event’s guidelines and rules for behavior.
State very clearly that the behavior is unwelcome, give no room for doubt or misunderstanding.
Avoid responding in kind, with anger, or with violence. If you return the behavior, it easily becomes just an argument where both parties get in trouble.
Record, if possible, and report immediately. Bear in mind, your friends are not security/law enforcement. It’s natural to want to tell everyone what happened, but it doesn’t help the situation.
Do not go to social media. Again, it’s natural to want to tell others what happened, but some trolls thrive on attention after the fact, so do not give them the satisfaction. In some cases, it can even hinder security/law enforcement’s jobs.