Between the Lines: Points Kotaku Missed

January 21st, 2019

Content warning(s): stalking, harassment, abuse, sexual assault, violence/murder, rape culture.

Last week, someone from Kotaku reached out to me with some questions about recent activity in the cosplay community.

I will not allow survivors, CSSN, or the cosplay community at large be misrepresented again, so here we go, full exposure of what I told them.

This conversation [about harassers in the cosplay community] has never NOT been happening. It's just no longer behind locked accounts and closed doors, and/or in some cases, it's being caught before the victim is sued into silence. Thank you for taking our concerns seriously and allowing me to voice them.

This particular thread of conversation began, at least accounting for my tweet, when I arrived home from Ohayocon (where I had been having a great conversation about consent with Erin Tillman, author of The Consent Guidebook) to see that not only had there been a fire at Anime Los Angeles (ALA), but that the target was a cosplayer, and that the offender was a known stalker of hers. I tweeted about this megaphone-style, including a mention of another act of violence toward a cosplayer in the past year, with the intention of exposing the kinds of violence/harassment/stalking/abuse/sexual assault we experience in our community that aren't taken seriously, both because of how the outside world views us and how the cosplayers, fans, staff, and community members on the inside enable those offenders to offend.

This is what I tweeted verbatim:

The point of my tweet was to illustrate how "Cosplay is not Consent" is a catchphrase that isn't serving us. Certainly, the convention scene has improved since the days of "glomping" and "yaoi paddles," but I'm not going to settle for anything less than full protection and resources for all attendees at cons—not just for cosplayers, not just in situations where a photographer takes a photo in a way in which they didn't agree; and with consequences for offenders and how to get help for targets listed for when harassment or worse should strike. I have yet to attend a single convention where someone has not, unprompted by me, told a story about being harassed. And it affects every single type of cosplayer in our community. The fact that I expected to be harassed when I started cosplaying seriously is worrisome.

I was pleasantly surprised that on my tweet, I only received one case of targeted harassment, and I was able to deescalate the situation and report it. The rest of the replies and quote tweets followed a pattern of either asking how individuals could help or expressing frustration that this is the situation in the community. There was a tweet simultaneous to my tweet that asked cosplayers to recount a time when they had been stalked or had their personal space violated, and that response was just as loud, but unfortunately much less respectful to the OP. I encourage anyone who might be questioning whether our claims are "real" to read the entirety of that tweet, but I won't link it here because OP doesn't need more harassment about it.

I was then asked if I know which cons have taken actions against some of the alleged offenders, to which I disclosed I'm not an authority on holding conventions accountable in that way. However, I can tell you that there are cons that have policies that will account for situations where the offense occurs onsite.

Conventions are where a lot of people in our community go to meet irl, and where cosplayers often go to show off their work. (I have specifically attended anime/videogame conventions, myself, and the experiences at a comic con are much different.) Anime cons are often privately owned and there is no overarching organization to ensure that everyone at a convention is guaranteed safety through mandatory policies. We're currently working to hold conventions accountable for their harassment policies on our Convention Report Card and asking people to let us know what cons we don't yet have graded, or where the policies have been updated recently due to this conversation.

As far as I understand, conventions don't yet have a way to fully prevent known predators from outside situations. "Missing stairs" in our communities may have a ban at one convention but attend others, because their misdeeds either didn't occur on the property of that convention, or weren't reported exactly when they happened (which, again, is understandable—I didn't report my rape or some times I was harassed, and I understand why one wouldn't want to, or couldn't report). I understand why people might want to keep a list of "avoid this person," but it's getting to the point where it's both too long, and not going to solve the problem; see my responses below.

Also as far as I understand, there's no continuous "ban list" between cons, and actually, that such a list might be a legal liability in certain areas. Those are just a few of many reasons I can't answer the question directly.

The infamous spreadsheet came into question at this time. I will not be linking it here out of respect and understanding that it would be massively consequential.

I warned them: before you read further, if you bring up OP in this article, you are encouraging targeted harassment. For their own safety and protection, not only should you reach out and warn them that you're going to mention their spreadsheet, but you should encourage anonymity. The retaliation of doxxing and impersonation are real issues for people who speak up.

Here are my thoughts: that spreadsheet is not a good solution. It was intended to help, and those intentions were good, but it continues to be a bandaid. To spread it would be to repeat the history of the "Shitty Media Men" spreadsheet. It's also legally very dangerous for anyone involved. The alleged outed predators can sue for libel if the claims affect their income.

We DO need to hold these people accountable, even if that's not how we should do it.

But the answer isn't as simple as "avoid this person and you'll be safe!" One of the tenets of abuse is that abusers ARE nice to other people and different behind closed doors, and something else I've been seeing is that survivors feel invalidated by people who either say, "I wouldn't expect X to do such a thing," as well as people who say, "I always knew X was shady [admitting they never did anything about it]."

Such a spreadsheet also implies that it's the victims' responsibility to look over the list and have knowledge of who the predators are, and if the victim doesn't know, that it's their fault for not knowing. That's known as victim blaming and it's a part of the greater rape culture that exists thoroughly within the cosplay/convention/"nerd" community. It also comes up in the form of, "Well, if you didn't want to get harassed, why did you wear that costume?" For cosplayers, it's even worse than for someone in plainclothes. The reason we wear the costume is often because we love the character, the work, or the people we're cosplaying with. There's no "just wearing another costume." We're often devastated when we experience offenses in our favorite cosplays. No amount of sharing who did the offense will give that back.

As for the experiences I may have had with the currently-alleged harassers in the community: I have been fortunate to have had very little interaction with the currently-being-talked-about alleged serial harassers in the community myself. (I've definitely been stalked and harassed outside of this circle, but bringing up names is not something I want to do.) However, I have close friends who have had harrowing experiences involving everything from an icky feeling to sexual assault and every time someone courageously shares their story, I hurt with them. I also urge you to think about why you're asking for stories from survivors. Some people aren't ready to tell their stories or can easily be coerced without knowing the consequences.

There's another thing—it doesn't have to be serial harassers. There's no way I'd be able to remember all the people, including "normies," who have catcalled me at conventions. We need to change the mindset of the general public regarding cosplay, consent, and the issues we face so that no random person feels like they could harass and get away with it. It's currently very easy for offenders to not face consequences and for targets not to be believed. It's very easy for one situation of harassment to stop someone from cosplaying altogether.

This conversation sparked a memory from four years ago that my PTSD-brain in its survival mode decided I needed to forget in order to function. As I describe in my articles and through my mission wherever I post, I was raped in 2014 by someone outside of the cosplay/con community. I've gone through years of therapy on and off to process and work through that incident. But a friend of mine shared a story about someone, and I realized, I'D had an experience with that person as well. They'd sexually assaulted me. When my friend reached out, I also felt guilt that I didn't report this offender four years ago for their behavior, which is something survivors often feel. Truth is, I wouldn't have been able to. Until CSSN started grading and reaching out to conventions about their harassment policies, there were very few ways someone at a convention could report a sexual assault and have it taken seriously.

There are also serial harassers on the internet who use multiple accounts (sometimes called "burner accounts") to stalk and harass cosplayers. Because social media refuses to step up, even if you block someone on one site under one username, they can continue to make new usernames and access your information that way. Would you believe it's happened to me? It feels like you're constantly surrounded, like someone's always watching you and waiting for you to reveal something about yourself that they can turn against you.

Finally, I want to impress that although the current conversations are primarily revolving around male offenders, ANYONE can be an offender, and ANYONE can be a target. There was, in fact, a time of my life when I thought stalking someone on their behalf would make a certain group of cosplayers like me. It's so easy to fall into at first, and I'm lucky I was able to catch myself before it got worse. So many aren't able to do that.

How am I feeling, though? Tired. Currently shaking a little. Anxious. It's not easy to experience stalking, harassment, abuse, or sexual assault, and it's even harder to speak up about it. Speaking up on behalf of a community with collective trauma bears more difficulty, especially when the conversation seems to invite further trauma. Add that to a stressful holiday season followed by two long convention weekends and a week-long continuing conversation on how "Cosplay is not consent" is not enough; add to that the questions that have been coming my way about how to help, and wanting to answer them because I know people will benefit, but being overwhelmed by the sheer number of responses. I may be tired, but I'm still hopeful and I'm still fighting, because it's so, so worth it. I'm grateful for my friends, who continue to inspire me and remind me of why we need to have this conversation.

So how do I think the conversation we launched will affect the harassers' careers or the industry at large?

As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I know what this question is intended to do. It does make me feel angry, extremely angry, that the offenders have gotten away with their actions for so long. It makes some people feel violent, which is valid so long as it's not enacted, because that doesn't solve anything. Of course we don't want them to be in this field/career/hobby anymore. Of course we want them to feel some level of empathy for what they've done to us by punishing them in some way, either through the law (not always an option) or through removing them from a community where they were allowed to offend. We want justice. We want to be believed and heard.

But my greatest fear is that nobody will care and their career won't be affected at all, because that's what's going to happen if we don't heal this community. The actions the administration of this country has taken recently confirm that they ARE listening to #MeToo and #TimesUp, but they're giving positions of power to rapists anyway. How is our community supposed to be blind to that? With leadership that not only allows it but encourages it, the way I think it'll affect their career is some radio silence for a while, and then a quiet return to doing exactly what they were doing. Look at the convicted comedians who recently returned to their career without any real sign of significant change. Empty apologies are leading to careers being maintained. Who is really letting this happen?

Who this conversation will affect MORE are the survivors who came forward, who are receiving or definitely going to receive death threats, sexual assault threats, and other harassment, and that will likely ruin or at least put a damper on their careers, their personal lives, and possibly cosplay itself. I experience absenteeism myself because of what I've been through, meaning that upsetting flashbacks or physical symptoms will prevent me from working in the most efficient way I can. To quote Sondheim, "not a day goes by, not a single day" when I don't think about what happened to me, even though I can work through the bad moments with the right support. And I know other people who have been through that trauma will feel the same. There's still a stigma against coming forward even if there is strength in numbers.

As for how people in the industry treat each other: you'd better start holding each other accountable. That doesn't mean "immediately report anything that seems even a little bit weird," or "we're coming after everyone." That means if you see someone acting uncool, call them out on it. Help them realize why it's uncool. Help them actually make the change to be a better person. Then, take reports seriously. Believe survivors and ask them what their needs are. We aren't a "MeToo" punchline, and a one-size solution doesn't fit all. I really hope this conversation encourages this type of behavior for everyone in our community, but especially those at the top who can really make a difference.

At the end of my answers, I made it known that I'm holding Kotaku responsible for their actions, too, and I hope you'll join me. Here's what I wrote.

You need to be accountable for your staff and your readers who comment and how the environment you've created negatively affects cosplayers, too. I'm actually expecting to receive harassment from the comments that will surround this article.

So, Kotaku: when you post photos of cosplayers you found on the internet and don't reach out to them to ask if it's okay to post their picture/ask what other artists were involved in that cosplay, YOU ARE VIOLATING THEIR CONSENT. When you only post pictures of certain types of cosplayers and photographers, you are alienating a large population of cosplayers and insinuating they aren't good enough and they don't matter. You need to take into account the cosplayers who aren't being featured and think about why you aren't showing them. I need to see more trans cosplayers (as well as other LGBTQIA+, and I myself am bisexual), more POC cosplayers (and NOT just to show their struggles in cosplay, but their achievements), more disabled cosplayers, more plus-size cosplayers who AREN'T hourglass-shaped, more neurodivergent cosplayers, more beginners without the technical skills you might be used to, more cosplayers who are middle aged or older. When you post "Best Cosplay of..." or "Our Favorite X Cosplays," you are pitting cosplayers against each other to be "best" when most people in this hobby aren't agreeing to compete for craftsmanship or for how our bodies and faces look. We don't want to be called the "best" version of X character. We want to have fun with our friends and occasionally have our work appreciated by fans. When you don't moderate your comments section to exclude harmful comments beyond death threats, you are perpetuating conversations from outsiders that focus on. You're encouraging harassment; you're encouraging the general public to view us as "attention whores" who are only in it to be "cosplay famous" (which isn't a thing). When you have a group of mods, you need to have a way for someone to be able to anonymously report one of them to their own team for making inappropriate comments, and then you need to take that report seriously. Your terms of harassment need to be just as transparent and effective as the policies conventions have.

I hope you realize that I intend to hold you just as accountable as the conventions on the CSSN list. And I sincerely hope that I see some change. We NEED big names in the community to step up and act on this issue much louder than their words. Help us help each other and we can make change!


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