"Open Secrets"

July 5th, 2018

Content Warning(s): Mentions of abusive behavior, violence.

"He had a reputation."

"Her activities were well-known in the community."

"It was no secret."

How many times have we seen phrases like these when people discuss those who abuse and harass? For every story that breaks about the "nice guy" who nobody suspected would do such things, there's two more about allegations that surprise nobody who knew the person. In the absence of a society that takes harassment and abuse seriously, we often form our own protective networks. When convention staff brushes us off, when someone's twitter followers swarm our mentions with attacks, when we're threatened, we start whisper campaigns. We warn anyone who will listen not to go to this convention, or shoot with this photographer, or meet up with this cosplayer. We try to protect ourselves when nobody else will.

And then when someone shines a spotlight on the abuse, instead of being thankful it's finally out in the open, we're filled with dread. Because inevitably, those who wouldn't believe us if we came forward publicly will turn to attack us with, "Well why didn't you say something if you knew?"

A recent example of this is Alonzo Rodriguez, who is alleged to have made threats to shoot people at Anime Expo. Someone is quoted in the article as saying that he "believes that [Rodriguez's] temperament is tied to failed romantic relationships." (Emphasis mine.) This is another phrase we've seen again and again recently, regarding men who perpetrate mass shootings to get back at a woman they believe wronged them because she dared to push back against abuse and harassment.

Anime Expo reported that they have contacted authorities and banned him from the event. In response to allegations that Rodriguez attended Anime Conji and threatened staff with a knife, Anime Conji's chairwoman stated that this was not true and he had already been banned from their events, since "his behavior in the community is not a secret."

On the other hand, the Ronin-Expo chairman confirmed that Rodriguez had been a volunteer with their convention, and furthermore, had been asked to leave due to making staff uncomfortable. Due to a "miscommunication," Rodriguez was let back in and when this was discovered, rather than making him leave again, staff allowed him to stay as long as the panelist he was with "kept an eye on him." This is appalling and horrifying.

Imagine you're a staffer at Ronin-Expo and your chairperson assures you that the volunteer who was bothering you was kicked out. You let yourself relax. At least, until you see your harasser in the hallway and when you ask what happened, you're told that a panelist — who probably isn't even on staff at the convention — is "keeping an eye on him" so it's okay.

Now imagine that he went out to his car, got a gun, managed to sneak it in, and killed the people who reported him, and anyone else who happened to be in the way.

We may never know if Rodriguez had an actual plan to open fire at Anime Expo. What we do know is that the Capital Gazette shooter was upset that the paper had exposed his harassment and abuse of a former classmate. What we know is that the Pulse nightclub shooter had a history of domestic violence. We know the Parkland shooter had been reported to the police multiple times for being violent and was reported to have abused an ex-girlfriend.

Being part of a society that doesn't take harassment and abuse seriously is literally killing us.

When the Ronin-Expo staff allowed Rodriguez to stay, that sent a very clear message to anyone who reported he made them uncomfortable - "your concerns aren't as important as our desire to look 'civil' and 'reasonable' and not make waves."

Is it possible Rodriguez might have put up a fight and refused to leave if staff tried to evict him again? Yes. But if there's a real fear for safety, then they should have called security or even the police. Conventions should have not only a harassment policy but emergency plans in the event of fire, an active shooter, or abusive/disruptive individuals who are trying to make a scene. They should be taught how to de-escalate and when it's time to call law enforcement.

When con organizers are questioned about a lack of serious harassment policy, they often fall back on "Cosplay is NOT Consent" or assure you there's "zero tolerance" for harassment. In reality, we know that attendees are told, "Well, you could be lying." Or, "Nobody else has reported a problem with her." Or, "Don't worry, we'll keep an eye on him."

Conventions should have a serious, detailed harassment policy that is strictly adhered to because it's the right thing to do. They should do it out of basic human decency. They should do it because congoers should feel safe, knowing that if harassment does happen, staff will be there to support them.

But if none of that motivates you, please understand this. It is much, much better to have a headline read, "Police Called Out to Remove Violent Attendee from [Convention]" than, "X Number of People Shot/Killed at [Convention]." We can't stop every act of harassment and violence, but that's not good reason for not even trying in the first place. If you run a con and you get a report that someone is being abusive, take it seriously. Take appropriate action. Don't be afraid to involve the authorities because you don't want your con to "look bad."

Our lives may very well depend on it.


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