Conventions are wonderful events that give fans from all over a chance to congregate and share their love for their favorite shows, manga, movies, etc. Putting one together is no easy feat, and sometimes in all that hard work, things get overlooked. If you've perused our Convention Policy Report Cards, you know that one of the aspects most commonly overlooked is a good harassment policy. Maybe the organizer is lucky enough to have never had to dealt with harassment, so they didn't consider it. Maybe they believe "Cosplay is Not Consent" is a sufficient policy. (It's not.) Maybe they adapted their policy from one given to them by another organizer.
Whatever the reason, once a convention chair is aware that their policy isn't enough, they need to look into improving it. Harassment will happen at conventions, just as it will continue to happen in the workplace. The purpose of a policy isn't to tackle the futile task of eliminating harassment completely, but to provide a framework for supporting those who are harassed and disciplining those who violate the policy.
Uplift is a great resource for helping you enhance your policy. (Full disclosure: 2/3rd of CSSN also volunteers wtih Uplift.) In addition, we've provided below a sample policy to give you a starting point. You are free to adapt it for your convention; we only ask that on your site, you link back to this page, so others who may need to improve their policy can find the resource.
If you have any questions, you can contact our founder, Trickssi, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Qualities of a Good Policy
Easy to Find
It should be listed somewhere that makes sense, like under "code of conduct" or "convention rules." Do not put it in a cosplay section. It needs to be clear that your policy applies to everyone—attendees who cosplay, those who don't, guests, volunteers, staff, and even security.
Along those same lines, don't think just putting it on the website is enough. Contact information and an abbreviated version of the policy should be on every badge. The full policy should be posted consistently throughout the venue, especially in bathroom stalls. This lets people know that you care about their safety and you're going to take harassment seriously.
"Cosplay is Not Consent" may be the buzzword of the day, but that doesn't make it a policy. It's too vague, and implies that it only applies to cosplayers. Some conventions have a Cosplay is Not Consent section separate from their harassment policy, with the former focusing on obtaining consent for photography. That's great! But good harassment policies define harassment and provide examples, while explaining that the list is not all-inclusive.
Definition of Consequences
You may feel it's sufficient to assure attendees that staff will "deal with it," but this is too unclear. If people think their harasser may just get a slap on the wrist, they may not report, and then that person may go on to harass others, or worse. It's impractical to list a specific consequence for specific offenses; you'll never be able to think of every thing that could go wrong at a convention. What you need to do is list the possible consequences so attendees feel assured there are penalties for harassment and abuse. The most common consequences range from verbal warnings, for minor cases where staff believe this will deter future actions, up to being ejected from the event, banned from future events, and law enforcement involvement in the most serious situations.
Address Possibility of Staff/Security Being Offenders
We get it; you don't want to believe anyone you work with would do such a thing, and hopefully they never will. But it does happen. Every respectable business never wants to believe their employees would harass others, but you can bet they have a policy in their employee handbook. It's crucial. Not having such a policy opens them up to massive liability issues.
Look, if you're still not convinced, even if you say you have 100% confidence in your staff and volunteers, what if someone pretends to be staff to harass people at your convention? If you don't have a policy that explains that it applies to staff, the targets of that harassment may be too afraid to report it. Now you have two problems—harassment at your con and someone giving your staff a bad name. Don't risk it. Have a designated harassment official who can be impartial and take reports on people staffing the con.
Don't just say "find staff" or "go to ConOps." It can be difficult to find staff sometimes, especially if the person designated for the area is dealing with another situation. In addition, for those with mobility issues, it may not be possible for them to quickly get to a designated location. There needs to be a phone number or email (preferably both) that people can reach out to when they need help. Someone should be available to answer the phone/email during the entire convention. It's okay to have multiple people taking shifts to be on call during your event.
And finally, just having the policy isn't enough. It'll be really easy for you to copy and paste this sample policy, swap in the appropriate names, and post it. But you need to go beyond that. Your staff, security, and volunteers should be educated on how to properly respond to reports of harassment. Reading our page on how to help is a start for knowing what to say and what not to say to someone who's just been harassed. Your staff will need more in-depth training, however, and for that we again suggest Uplift.
If you're running a convention, we know you want to provide a safe, fun environment for everyone. Updating your policy and staff training is a huge step in the right direction.
Sample Harassment Policy
Harassment of any kind will not be tolerated at [Name of Convention]. This policy applies to all attendees, guests, volunteers, security, and staff.
Harassment is generally defined as unwanted behavior that creates an intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile environment for the person being targeted. It can be physical or psychological. If someone tells you that your comments or behavior are unwelcome, you need to stop immediately. If that person tells you to leave them alone, you need to cease contact. It doesn't matter if you don't think your behavior was harassing; harassment is defined by the victim.
Examples of harassment include, but are not limited to:
- 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.
- Bulling and discrimination.
- Whistling, catcalling, and any kind of non-consensual flirting or sexual advances.
- Following someone or impeding their path.
- Attending a person's panels solely to heckle them.
- Photographing or recording someone without their permission.
- Exposing oneself or miming sexual acts.
- Bathroom policing (harassing someone because of the bathroom they feel most comfortable using).
- 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.
If a person is in cosplay, that does not give you consent to photograph or touch them without their permission. Remember that underneath the costume and make-up is a real person; they are not the character they are portraying and you do not have the right to treat them as you would the fictional character.
Excessively loud noises/music and disruptive behavior is prohibited unless noted otherwise. Please refrain from screaming, blasting music, or using noisemakers such as vuvuzelas and air horns, especially in hallways.
Costumes must cover any area usually hidden by a bathing suit (genitalia, buttocks, nipples unless otherwise specified). [You may need to modify this based on the rules of your convention venue.] Flashing/mooning other people is considered harassment and will not be tolerated. Please be aware that businesses and other venues in the area may have stricter dress codes (e.g. shirts required before entry).
Any clothing, signs, props, or other materials containing explicit content must NOT be visible inside our convention space. Anyone in Artist Alley selling work with explicit content must have it out of view and must view a photo ID before showing it to interested customers. Customers must then keep the purchase in a pocket, bag, or case that does not allow it to be seen by other attendees. Ahegao shirts are prohibited.
Please report any incidents of harassment as soon as possible. We take all reports very seriously, regardless of who is involved. You can report harassment even if you are not the directly involved, and no retaliation for filing a report will be tolerated.
Harassment by any individual (attendees, guests, volunteers, security, or staff) should be reported to [Contact People (Usually Security)]. If you are not comfortable reporting to [Contact People], you can report to our [Person Specifically Designated as a Harassment Contact] at [Contact Email/Phone].
Any violations of our harassment policy will result in immediate penalties dependent upon the severity of the action. Such penalties include:
- Verbal warnings. (You will only be warned once.)
- Confiscation of your badge and ejection from the event, with no refunds.
- Banning from any and all future events put on by [Group Running the Convention].
- Contacting law enforcement when appropriate.