Conversation Starters

It's not always easy to start up a conversation with someone regarding harassment, abuse, or sexual assault, or to respond to someone who makes an uncomfortable, inappropriate, or simply abusive comment. Here are some tips on starting - and sometimes finishing - tough conversations.

  • Counter disinformation with facts; RAINN has a plethora of statistics available here.
  • Remind people that sexual assault and harassment is about power and control, not sexual attraction.
  • If anyone asks why a survivor of abuse and/or intimate partner violence didn't "just leave," remind them that the survivor may have feared for the physical safety of them or their loved ones (including pets). They may have not had the financial security to leave. Beyond that, leaving an abusive relationship is extremely taxing emotionally. It's never as simple as other people make it out to be.
  • Point out that advocating "self-defense training" or "modest dress" as rape "deterrents" implies that the victim did something "wrong" to deserve what happened to them. We all want to believe in a just world, but that's simply not reality. Victim-blaming is, for some people, a defense mechanism. If they believe those who are raped or assaulted did something to trigger it, then they can avoid doing that and be safe. If you can help people understand that, they may re-examine their beliefs.
  • Raise awareness of the intersectional issues involved with harassment, stalking, and sexual assault. When the target is a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and/or any other marginalized group, they may fear "just calling the cops" or seeking out authority figures.

  • Rape Jokes

    If someone is making rape jokes, inform them that they aren't funny and aren't acceptable. Point out explicitly what their "joke" was saying - that it's funny when someone becomes a victim of a brutal assault, or that certain people somehow "deserve it." Maybe the person making the joke won't care; but by spelling it out, the person's audience may think twice about laughing at something like that again.
    • If they say, "It's just a joke," you say, "Joking about a rape sends the message that you don't take it very seriously. It makes you look like you don't have a problem with rape, although I assume that's not true. Attitudes like that deter survivors from coming forward, because they're scared they won't be believed or be mocked. You make it sound like something they should be embarassed or ashamed about."
    • If they say, "Great, another social justice warrior trying to be the joke police," you say, "This isn't about policing anything. There are comics who discuss serious topics like rape in a satirical manner that highlights flaws in our system and societal attitudes. Nobody is saying it should be off-limits; but your "joke" was mocking/minimizing a serious, traumatic act."
    • If they say, "You just have no sense of humor," you say, "This isn't about my sense of humor. This is about you normalizing and minimizing rape, which is rape culture."
    • If they say, "This isn't your safe space, snowflake," you say, "About one in five women reports experiencing rape in their lifetime; for men, that's estimated to be about one in six. That's 20% of women, 17% of men. How many people have you told that joke to? If it's more than six women or five men, then there's a chance you laughed about someone's trauma to their face. Do you really not care if you hurt someone, as long as you get a laugh?"

    Suggestions for Contacting Conventions

    If you've checked out your favorite convention on our Convention Report Cards page and want to contact them to urge them to improve, you may not be sure where to start. For that, we've put together some suggestions.

    General Guidelines

    Be polite!

    You're much more likely to get a positive response if you treat the person you're addressing with civility. Even if a convention has an utterly insufficient policy, or no policy at all, that doesn't mean the people running it don't care. They may think that "Cosplay is Not Consent" is enough, or maybe they got their policy from another convention. To butcher Hanlon's razor, don't start by assuming malice; it's possible it's simply ignorance.

    Be selective!

    It would be really easy for us to just put up a form letter, or just shoot off a generic email to every con we could find contact information for. Unfortunately, form letters don't have much impact, and not every convention that needs to improve their policy has the same deficiencies.

    More to the point, convention chairs—and people in general—are more likely to take action if it failing to do so will impact them directly. If you're in Maine, emailing a convention in Texas that you'll never attend, they may not be motivated to act. But if you're in Florida or attend cons there, and you reach out to them and let them know you're a paying customer, they may take you more seriously.

    Be honest!

    Along those lines, don't lie to them. Don't say that you're planning on attending their convention (or planning to stop attending it) if you don't mean it. Don't say you're from their state if you're not; any tech savvy person can verify that by checking the header of the email. If you say you're in Michigan and they can tell you're emailing from New Mexico, that taints your entire message.

    Be diplomatic!

    Use the Compliment Feedback Sandwich Technique. If you work HR or in management, you're probably rolling your eyes right now, but the reason it's so widely recommended is that it does have benefits.

    Start your email by complimenting the convention about something. If their harassment policy already has some good elements, that's a good way to start. If not, use something that meets the "Goldilocks" test; you want something that's not so trivial it makes no impact ("Your convention name is really quirky!") but not something so substantial that it negates anything that follows ("Your con is the best one ever!"). Tell them you appreciate how easy it is to get a hotel room, or how entertaining the panels always are.

    Then insert your criticism, without using the words "but" or "however." Often when we use these words, it can wipe out everything that came before. We want them to keep the feeling of the compliment as they go into this section.

    End the email with another "Goldilocks" compliment, and thank them for their time.

    If you still need help putting together an email, reach out to one of our staff.