Please Note: Safety is paramount, and you should use the information provided at your own discretion. Evaluate each situation and use your best judgment as to what is the safest way to proceed, for all parties. We're all about respect here and do not condone or endorse violence. If you're uncertain how to proceed or in fear of your safety, your first step should always be to get help from a staffer, venue security, or emergency personnel. The CSSN is not liable for any damages resulting from the use or misuse of information on this site.
What is Harassment?
While laws vary from state to state and country to country, harassment is generally defined as unwanted behavior that creates a hostile environment for the person being targeted.
It can include:
- Making comments about a person's appearance, sexual and/or vulgar statements, offensive jokes, or anything disparaging a person's gender, race, religion, sexuality, identity, et cetera
- Whistling or catcalling
- Following someone or impeding their path
- Attending a person's panels solely to heckle them
- Photographing or recording someone without their permission
- Spreading rumors or attempting to get a person banned from a convention on false pretenses
- Exposing oneself or "flashing"
- Bathroom policing
- Touching someone without their permission
- Repeated texting, phone calls, or emails, after being told to stop
- Any persistent action that creates a hostile environment for the person or persons being targeted - harassment is when a person is feeling harassed, period
What to Do if Someone Confides in You
- Listen. Then listen some more. Then keep listening. Don't interrupt.
- Respect their language and mirror it when appropriate. This isn't a time for correcting grammar or being critical of foul language. If they use the words "sexual assault" instead of "rape," also use those words when responding. (For example, "You didn't deserve to be sexually assaulted.") By mirroring their speech, it subconsciously reinforces to them that you're listening and processing what they're saying.
- Validate their emotions. Phrases like, "that must have been scary" or "that sounds so frustrating" indicate to them that you hear what they're saying and validates that it's okay for them to feel that way.
- Let them cry and/or express frustration and anger. Don't interfere unless it seems like they're going to hurt themselves.
- Don't rush them. Let them speak at their own pace. If they fall silent and you can't think of anything to say, that's okay. Just let them know you're there for them.
- Don't initiate physical contact without asking first. Your instinct may be to hug them, but this could be re-traumatizing.
- In the event of physical or sexual assault, even if the incident isn't recent, ask them if they want to seek medical attention. Respect their decision if they say no. The same goes for asking if they want police involvement. If they want either or both, offer to go with them.
- Resist the urge to try to "solve" or "fix" it. You can't. Just be there for them.
- Do NOT offer to physically assault the person who hurt the survivor. You may very well feel angry and wanting to harm this person, but that's not going to help the survivor. It's not what they need to hear.
- Do NOT blame the survivor in any way. Don't say things like, "Well, you are wearing a skimpy outfit." Or, "I told you you shouldn't have gone there or been drinking."
- Do NOT do the "well, at least..." thing. The last thing a survivor wants to hear is, "At least you're alive." Or, "At least this isn't like that horrible thing that happened to that one girl."
- If you're also a survivor, monitor your own feelings. If you feel that you're becoming triggered, practice self-care. Explain the situation to them and proceed if you can, or offer to get someone else for them to talk to if you can't continue.
- In addition, if you're a survivor, you may feel like it's helpful to compare stories, or say things like, "Yeah, that's just like what happened to me." It's normal, and borne out of a desire to empathize. But it may make them feel like you're not listening.
Ways to Help the Community
- If someone confides in you that they have survived sexual violence, abuse, or harassment, look them in the eye and say, "I believe you." Fear of retribution or not being believed is a prime reason why so many people don't report.
- Act when you see harassment in the community. Depending on the situation and your abilities, that may mean getting the target of harassment to a safe area, verbally intervening, or getting another individual to provide needed assistance.
- Start conversations with your friends, family, fellow cosplayers, and convention staff about important topics such as consent and harassment.
- Consider volunteering with us! This could mean writing an article, helping assist with a sponosored panel at a convention, or helping to provide training and resources. Contact Trickssi at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in volunteering.
- Speak up, when you can, for survivors who can't do it for themselves, but don't speak over them. Each survivor's experience and feelings are their own, and should never be invalidated.
Responding to Harassment as a Bystander
The blame for harassment lies solely with the person committing the offensive behavior. It is never appropriate to make someone feel as though they "asked for" harassment or somehow "brought it on themselves."
Each situation is unique and there is no one perfect way to respond to every incidence. The most important thing is to know that even the strongest and most confident individual shouldn't have to deal with harassment alone. Harassment is about taking power away from an individual, and abandoning someone who's being targeted can make that person feel even more powerless and alone, amplifying the trauma.As a bystander, it's not your fault if harassment happens, nor you should feel guilty if you do try to help and the situation escalates negatively. Do the best you can. If you're traveling with someone who's been harassed before, consider making a safety plan in case it happens again.
If you don't know what to do or you feel you can't handle it alone, get help. Ask a friend to stay with you. Flag down staff members or venue security. Together, we can make harassers feel unwelcome and make the convention environment safer for everyone.
What to Do
- If you don't feel safe or equipped enough to do something yourself, seek out help from someone else.
- Assess the situation and act accordingly; if the harasser is aggressive or may have a weapon, do not directly confront. Take the route of action that seems safest for all parties. If it feels safe to do so, tell the harasser to stop and call out what they are doing for what it is - harassment.
- Approach the target and start a conversation unrelated to the harassment - compliment their outfit, ask them a question about their wig or makeup, talk about the weather. Anything to change the flow of the situation. If possible, get the person to another location, away from the harasser.
- If the harassment escalates, get help from a staffer, your friends, or emergency personnel if necessary.
- If the harassment is over before you get a chance to intervene, still go over to the targeted person and ask them if they're okay, or if they need help. Validate their feelings and let them know you understand what happened was not their fault or acceptable.
- If you documented the harassment in still photos or on video, never post it online without speaking to the target and evaluating safety issues.
This information is available in pamphlet form here. It may be printed or distributed as long as it is done so freely.