Content Warning(s): Stalking, Rape Culture, Intervention
Hello everyone! As a warning, this post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. 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. Our stories are our most important weapon! Thank you for your ongoing patience and support.
This weekend, I was alerted to a situation of continued harassment at Saikoucon in Pennsylvania. I had heard of that con because it takes place in my original home city of Allentown and I'd never attended, and had wanted to try this con. Now? Not so much. After having looked at the convention's policies (General Convention & Cosplay Etiquette Guidelines), I found there was no policy stating the consequences of anti-harassment. In fact, there ARE no policies that strictly state what will happen should harassment, stalking, assault, or abuse occur.
While I'm not surprised, I'm disgusted. I think about the people attending this con that have no idea there are no protections should the unthinkable occur.
In this story, a known stalker - we'll call them "Flareon" - was spotted continuing their behavior and the convention's security put the people reporting it at risk for harm. If "Flareon" was confused about how to treat cosplayers, the policy's vague language clarifies nothing.
The following is an account of what followed by Alyssa K., edited for clarity and to protect the names of all those involved:
This was my third run-in with "Flareon." At AnimeNEXT he harassed me, at Otakon he harassed a friend, and this past weekend at SaikouCon he harassed a friend who was walking around with me in a group.
I met up with my friends after they had first been approached by him and we confirmed that it was the same person who harassed both me and another friend (during both AnimeNEXT and Otakon), we decided to tell the con staff. We found a security person and told them the history of "Flareon" making us uncomfortable at other events.
The con security said all they could do was talk to him because he hadn't assaulted anyone or done anything other than just follow us around. [The editor notes that stalking is defined by the National Center for Victims of Crime as "a pattern of behavior that makes you feel afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger. It is when someone repeatedly contacts you, follows you, sends you things, talks to you when you don't want them to, or threatens you."] He also mentioned he couldn't really use our past experiences as evidence since we could be lying or be a jealous ex-girlfriend. The con security did talk to "Flareon" for a solid 5 minutes to tell him to knock it off and ASSURED us that his staff would keep an eye out (which turned out to be a lie since we had more interactions with "Flareon" with 0 staff there to help until after the fact).
The whole time when I was describing the situation and the past interactions we had, "Flareon" was standing within earshot of us.
After we were assured that con staff would keep an eye on "Flareon," we decided to go to the Dealer's Room. While in the Dealer's Room, my friend felt a pair of eyes on them while we were shopping. Apparently, "Flareon" was standing behind a few tables and peeking over every few seconds to glare at my friend. We got really skeeved out so we decided to leave the Dealer's Room and head to a panel room since there was a gameshow panel we wanted to see.
On the way there, I asked a cosplayer for a photo because I had been cosplaying from the same series the previous day. I heard the familiar voice of "Flareon" proclaim "OH NO, DOES THAT MEAN YOU'RE-" I didn't let him finish his statement. We ran into the panel room and sat at the very back of the room thinking we were safe for at least the duration of the panel.
A few minutes later, "Flareon" entered the room and sat at the very front of the panel room. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for the first five seconds until he started glaring back at us every 30 seconds. Because this was a gameshow panel, so the hosts wanted to go over the rules and ask if anyone had questions. After they opened up questions, "Flareon" raises his hand. The hosts choose him, having thought he had a legitimate question. Instead of asking anything related to the gameshow, he takes over the panel by starting a confusing speech about how he "is a really good guy who would never hurt women and women overreact and call him a stalker or harasser" in a room filled with confused people who had NO idea what was going on.
At this point, our friend who was being stalked bolted out of the room and called for con security. While my friend was talking to con security, "Flareon" ran out of the room to intercept them. "Flareon" got between my friend and the staff they were talking to and he started begging for help, and said he would leave the convention of his free will if they didn't ban him and kick him out. Con security let him escape from that situation without consequence.
He then apparently exited the building only to loop around and then enter again a few minutes later. He immediately went BACK TO THE GAMESHOW PANEL ROOM. He was glaring at my friend and we had to go to con staff for a third time.
I do not know all of the specifics of what happened after they apprehended him, but I finally fucking saw con security following us and keeping us safe only after this third incident. I am beyond disappointed with the response of the con security and the fact that we had to be followed on multiple occasions for con staff to actually do anything. The fact that they thought I was lying when I said he stalked myself and my friend group before at different cons while my friend looked terrified says a lot about the convention, its staff, and its level of care for attendees. Meanwhile, "Flareon" knows full well what he is doing (despite him claiming that his autism makes him not accountable for any of his actions), and will keep on doing so until he does something that gets him in real trouble, something that hasn't happened yet.
I would like to encourage you to think about what would have happened in the following situation: "Flareon's" ex-girlfriend is followed around by him at the con and feels unsafe. She tries to report this behavior because she feels unsafe but convention security refuses to offer protection or support because they were previously romantically involved. This conversation is within earshot of "Flareon," who hears everything she's saying and becomes enraged. The convention does not present consequences for "Flareon" and he continues to follow her. When "Flareon's" ex-girlfriend goes home, she discovers he has followed her there and is seeking to punish her for what she said to the convention security. What would happen to her? How could this have been avoided?
Let me be clear: IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER YOU ARE AVOIDING AN EX-ROMANTIC PARTNER. YOU SHOULD HAVE SUPPORT FROM CONVENTION STAFF AND SECURITY IF SOMEONE IS INTENTIONALLY MAKING YOU UNCOMFORTABLE.
This article does not condone the witch hunting of "Flareon"; rather, we would end up harassing THEM, which does not help our cause. It's imperative that we pressure conventions into having better antiharassment policies AND appropriate training to handle situations that may involve harassment, stalking, abuse, or assault with the appropriate level of respect. Here are some steps you can take:
- Contact Saikoucon and demand an explanation for their lack of antiharassment policy on their website. Follow the link here to see it for yourself.
- Contact the Poconos Kalahari and ask them what their security policies are for Colossalcon East. (Please use discretion-I repeat that this is NOT a witch hunt and we're not trying to prevent him from attending, just prevent the ban-worthy behavior that he has shown time and again and make sure attendees feel safe BEFORE a situation should occur.)
- Contact Colossalcon East and express your concern about their policy. Their antiharassment policy heavily relies on staff discretion. What happens if someone ON the staff harasses, stalks, abuses, or assaults someone? There's nobody to report to. There are no safety phone lines like there are at Tekko; they expect you to either contact staff or police. When there's no alternative for someone who's survived one of the above and there's no description of discretion considerate of the specific needs of survivors, we're less likely to report at all. Let them hear your disdain.
- Get on board with us here at the Cosplayer Survivor Support Network. We've only just launched this website, but bringing attention to the fact that cosplayers and other convention attendees face danger without solid antiharassment consequence policies is VERY important! We know you're not alone and #WeBelieveYou.
- Take care of yourself. If you've experienced stalking or harassment, or are a friend of someone who has, and this experience brings up strong feelings, you may need support or to take a break from what you're doing. Remember to eat, stay hydrated, don't stare at the sun today, and walk away from an argument if you don't feel you can handle it.
Thank you for reading this perspective.
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