The Invisible War

April 17th, 2017

Content Warning(s): Sexual Assault/Abuse/Violence, Rape Culture

Day seventeen! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!

The first time I had any inkling that sexual assault was a problem in the military was when I watched the documentary "The Invisible War" on Netflix. (Unfortunately, it's no longer available on Netflix, but if you can find a way to watch it, I highly recommend it.) In it, various survivors speak about their experiences and the repercussions from what happened to them in their lives following their time in the military. Over 100,000 veterans sought medical assistance for sexual trauma in 2010 alone; this number seems staggering, but that's because the military actively suppresses the number of reports of sexual assault and harassment that are addressed. Even more horrifying, it seems as though almost every woman (and a sizeable portion of men) endures some level of assault, abuse, or harassment. I have a friend who's a survivor of military rape; watching her life change as a result has been heartbreaking because I now know what she had to go through to obtain even a court trial against her rapist. (However, she's very strong and special, and I'm very proud to know her as both a fellow survivor and human.)

I couldn't help but notice the parallels between sexual violence in the military and on college campuses. Both have systems with many layers of bureaucracy between the survivor and appropriate justice and resources for the survivor. Both are hush-hush about being places where a high number of rapes occur. Likewise, the cultural propagation of the "alleyway rapist" lessens the "believability" factor for survivors seeking support. Survivors in this situation are not only silenced by society's rape culture, but by the institutions that betrayed them. Members of the military and students going off to college usually matriculate voluntarily and with a level of respect and excitement for where they're going. I can't imagine what it's like for any survivor to be kicked by either institution while they're already hurting.

I also see the parallels between those cultures and the culture of most anime and comic conventions. Certainly, there's not as much political infrastructure as in the U.S. military or a university, but there are people with quite a bit of authority in some circuits who have assaulted, harassed, or bullied others in the community. It's happening right now. And the people who are survivors of these offenses have very few resources aside from the usual rape-kit/court-case non-solutions. That is, it isn't explained to people going to conventions for the first time that misogyny and harassment abound. Almost every cosplayer I know has a story about a "creeper" that we tell each other in commiseration, as though it's not a harrowing thing that so many of us know exactly what that creeper encounter might entail. Since there's still online harassment and bullying in the larger "nerd" community as well, I've seen a lot of people downplaying the significance of someone being harassed, abused, or assaulted in the community; as though survivors are crying wolf, or over-exaggerating. Even when some attendees have attempted to report what happened to them, they were either not taken seriously or the offender was not given adequate consequences (e.g., "banned" from the con but not followed up the next year, "if it happens again we'll take action," removed from the online convention public social media but the offender creates another name to continue harassing the person, etc.). There are also very few places for cosplayers in particular to turn without the "what were you wearing/what did that character represent" questions of outsiders.

If we could rise up and support each other, survivors or not, we might feel like we could speak up more to convention leaders about our needs, which seem to be invisible to people who haven't experienced what we have. I'd love for harassment policies and consequences like Tekko's to be ubiquitous. I'd love for comic cons to recognize that "Cosplay Is Not Consent" is not enough. I'd love for adequate care for survivors, such as insurance that anyone requesting assistance would be taken seriously and given appropriate aftercare by trained, dedicated staff.

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be about the video game character I champion as my symbol of survivorship, Velvet Crowe of Tales of Berseria.


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