Content Warning(s): Harassment
After presenting a panel or speaking about harassment, we're often asked, "How can I help?" There are several ways that we'll be delving into over the next few weeks, but we're going to start with the easiest.
The simplest thing you can do to help keep our community safe is to tell a convention you find it unacceptable when their harassment policy is lacking. This is unfortunately extremely common. Some cons don't even post a policy, and others have a vague "cosplay is not consent" or "don't harass people" section in their rules.
This is not enough. Anti-harassment rules need to be clear and specific with defined consequences, and as an attendee you have every right to demand better--it's your safety on the line.
All good harassment policies answer three questions.
Question One: What is harassment?
This part of the policy defines what behavior is not acceptable. If the con uses the phrase, "cosplay is not consent," they need to finish the sentence by saying what cosplay is not consent to do. For example, "Cosplay is not consent to target someone with unwanted behavior, such as following, touching, or photographing." Moreover, not all attendees who are harassed are cosplayers, therefore ALL attendees should be covered in a harassment policy.
Although several "common sense" negative behaviors may be listed (such as "no hugs or physical contact without express permission"), a good policy makes it clear that harassment is defined by the victim; if they do not welcome the behavior, it is not permitted, even if the perpetrator sees it as harmless or it is not specifically mentioned in the rules. Harassment policies are about making attendees feel safe, not enforcing only strict definitions of traditionally unwanted behavior.
Question Two: What are the consequences of harassment?
This part informs the audience of what will happen if they are found to be engaging in or targeted by the above behaviors. Depending on the severity of the offense, consequences can range from a verbal warning to removal from the convention, or even permanent bans from future events and involvement with the police. This is the part of the policy that shows how harassment is not tolerated. It labels clear consequences for the behavior, which the convention will reinforce through action.
Question Three: Where can I go and/or who do I talk to if I am being harassed?
This part describes how to connect with the people who will handle harassment issues. It can be describing a staff shirt or uniform, or directions to a set location such as Con Ops. Many conventions are also setting up phone lines or email so that incidents can be reported discreetly.
A policy should avoid saying that "staff will respond appropriately." Which staff members? What if a staff member is the offending party? What if the responding staff member is friendly with the offender and does not want to follow through with consequences? And most importantly of all, how does the staff member decide what is and isn't harassment on the spot? Unless every member of staff and security, both for the venue and the convention itself, is trained to respond in the exact same manner, there will always be too many variables for a policy item like this to be functional.
Ideally, every convention would have at least one specifically-trained person handling each harassment claim instead of leaving all issues to general staff discretion. Reporting an incident to any staff would result in them taking the reporting person to the trained staffer, so that they only have to talk about what happened once, in private, to someone with the authority and training to enforce necessary consequences.
If a convention is lacking these three basic parts in its policy, it is not a policy that can be trusted to keep attendees safe. Make sure you let a convention know that you want answers to these three questions easily available to the public! You can do this by directly emailing their general information address or reaching out on any contact or feedback forms the convention provides. We will form a template for you to use if you don't wish to write your own feedback and link it here in the upcoming weeks.
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