Content Warning(s): attempted panty shots, abuse of position of power, sexual harassment, coercion, stalking, multiple victims.
Submitted for Sexual Assault Awareness Month - Our Voices & Stories.
Submitted by Nekoyasha (tagged with permission).
"My story goes back to a midwest convention in my home state in 2013. During this time I was cosplaying from a popular bullet hell game from Japan called Touhou Project with my best friend. And to preface this, Touhou Project is a bit problematic in itself because of the over sexualizing its young characters by its fanbase and the creator of the game has made comments about the fans doing that against his wishes. So you can imagine the type of super fans into the game series.
My bestie was cosplaying as this character named Yukari. Yukari pretty much wears this long ankle length dress with heartshaped neckline and she will called Yukari. Myself, I was cosplaying as one of the maid characters named Sakuya. It was a typical maid outfit and it was knee length. While we were walking around the convention this photographer flagged us down and was really excited to see us cosplaying from the franchise. And begged us to do a photoshoot with him free of charge. We looked at each other and talked it over and we agreed because not many people we knew where the convention was being held ever cosplayed from the series.
The photographer had us come over to one of areas popular for solo shoots, and this is where things started to get strange. He only wanted to shoot us one at a time and have myself wait away from where he was shooting Yukari. That should have been flag number one but somehow we didn't pay that no mind. But I still stayed closed just in case because we didn't know this man. He began shooting Yukari, and she was doing some typical poses for the character but our photographer started asking my friend to do different poses and that's when i saw how he was constantly trying to angle his camera to get low angle shots to the point I think he was trying to get upskirt shots. That was flag number 2 looking back. Then he started to get real pushy with Yukari making sure her legs were posed correctly and still taking the low shots. That's when I caught on and saw my friend was looking worried and I butted in and asked to swap with her and made the excuse that her phone was going off and it was important. She looked relieved but our photographer sure wasn't. That when it was my turn and it got creepier.
I started to do my pose and I saw his demeanor change. Almost as if I was his main target. All of the shots he took were him low the ground or lying on the floor. He was also doing the same thing with me asking me to make sure my legs were more far apart or raised a bit more. Somehow during all this some of our friends stopped by and then left with Yukari and I was left alone and nervous. We took a few more photos before con staff came by and told us we couldn't take any photo here because a planned group cosplay gathering was scheduled in our area. I tried to take this opportunity to tell the photographer thanks for his time but i have to go. But instead he somehow convinced me to just shoot outside and i went along with it. Flag number 3 but I couldn't figure out how to escape as my friends were not answering my texts or calls during the walk but made it known where my location would be and to come get me. We made it outside and we started to take photos on the bench and at this point I caught on to what he was trying to do. He wanted me to pose certain ways on the bench in which I knew would be a clear panty shot and I was not having it. And I could see his frustration with me and many times I said I had to check my phone, I have a phone call. Anything to try and get away. It was at that point he proceeded to put his number in my phone and used my phone to call his and save my number. I was furious but wasn't sure how to act or what to say because I was in disbelief. We took a few more photos to my dismay and I was just getting even more uncomfortable. This shoot went on for at least 40 minutes until my then boyfriend and a former friend came to my rescue finally. They came after hearing what happened with Yukari and seeing my messages of distress and multiple missed calls.
He got really angry that our "Shoot" was being interrupted and asked if I was going to be cosplaying Sakuya anymore that weekend. I lied and said that was the only day I was wearing her and so was Yukari. We all left and I was so relieved to get away. Yukari and I talked about what happened to me and her and were really shaken up by everything. Later on that weekend, we both got missed calls from the photographer and texts about when out next convention would be and our email to send the photos. All we replied were our email addresses to send the photos. Flash two months later, I get a call from Yukari telling me to check my email because our photos came back. I opened the email and was just appalled. They were all the ones where you could tell he was trying to get panty shots and we looked visibly uncomfortable in them. I still have them save on my laptop to show people what a bad photographer looks like and what to do if you are in this situation. and to make matters worse. For two straight years in a row since that incident, around the time of that convention, i would get a text and an email asking if I would be attending that con again and be in Sakuya. And to make it worse, in 2016 there was a facebook post going around from a few girls in the southern us states who were also cosplaying from Touhou who had the same story as Yukari and I. And it made me visibly sick because I don't know if he is still out there preying upon other women."
We're so sorry that happened to you, Nekoyasha. Your story is an important one for cosplayers, and one we can encounter easily when at a convention: you agree to a photographer's request, then before you realize it, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable and difficult to escape. It's a problem of coercion not dissimilar to sexual assault itself. You agreed to the initial photo, but not the ensuing attempted panty shots. You should never have had your initial consent taken advantage of - know that it was not your fault, and even if you had called them out at your red flags, it would probably not have stopped them from doing what they were doing. And you're far from alone, which is something we wish we couldn't say for this particular issue.
It hammers the point home: "Cosplay Is Not Consent" does NOT cover what happened to you. Your initial consent was not your consent to photos taken after the initial photo, and the photographer's coercion was not your consent, either. We hope everyone reading this understands that it's NOT cool to bait someone into panty shots by taking an initial photo that seems innocent. There's a huge difference between a photographer directing a subject for purposes of better lighting, posing, or confidence, and a photographer directing a subject's pose to take unsolicited lewd photos.
Photographers, take note of how you can avoid becoming an accidental "upskirter": if your subject is wearing something or posing in a way that may expose them, regardless of whether they requested that angle for whatever reason, SHOW THEM the back of your camera. If for any reason the cosplayer decides the angle is nsfw/unflattering/inappropriate for what they're attempting to portray, respect that decision and have the cosplayer watch while you delete the photo. If you notice something inappropriate later on while editing that you missed during the shoot, bring it to the cosplayer's attention and ask them what they'd like to do before you publish any photo from the shoot. If they request the photo in question be deleted entirely, delete it, then clear your trash cache. There is no reason for you to keep a photograph that a cosplayer is unhappy with, beyond even those reasons. Cosplay photography should always be a collaboration between both parties. Keep it respectful and it will always be fun!