(Trigger Warning: Contains Sexual Harassment discussion.)
Something that non-geeks and first-time convention-goers don’t expect is bullying at conventions. The Ace of Geeks held a panel at Wizard World in Sacramento this year regarding this matter, which I was a part of, but with only 45 minutes to talk, we weren’t able to cover all of the things “bullying” encompasses. You all will have the opportunity to listen to our intriguing discussion with the audience of the panel soon, but for now, I’m going to try to elaborate on what there was nowhere near enough time to talk about.
The types of bullying that were addressed at the panel were Exclusion, Physical Harassment, Unnecessary Criticism, and (very briefly) Sexual Harassment. I’m going to expand on the latter of the four, as it is something that most people don’t think about immediately when the topic of negativity comes up in the various geek communities.
Sexual harassment is a largely unnoticed phenomenon at conventions. Occasionally, someone doesn’t even realize they’re doing it. In my experience, typically the people who don’t realize they’re sexually harassing someone fall within the autism spectrum, and they will stop and apologize 99.9% of the time when you point it out. Otherwise, the people I’ve seen commit it know fully what they are doing, and they don’t seem to care, because who is going to stop them? As I mentioned in the panel, I’m grateful that I’ve never been a victim of sexual harassment in the violent manner. When I say this, I mean that the only physical sexual harassment I faced was brief and limited to ass-grabs. I know that violent sexual harassment happens to people at conventions, as I’ve discussed this with victims of such situations, and I am thoroughly disgusted by it. People come to conventions as a haven from everyday life, hoping to feel welcomed and safe in a community of people with like interests—that there are people who exploit this sickens me on every level. Hopefully, all of you will agree with me, and will take measures to help change this.
There are many things that we can do as bystanders to prevent (and, hopefully, end) sexual harassment at conventions, and these things can be used outside of conventions as well. Firstly, if you think someone you know is going to do something inappropriate, talk to them immediately about how they should act instead. If your friend/acquaintance doesn’t seem to understand what they’re doing wrong, explain it to them. If they still don’t understand, you may want to ask someone else to help you explain, or stick with them when they leave the house/hotel room. Secondly, if you see someone doing something wrong, intervene. Step in and say something. If you don’t feel comfortable calling someone out on their wrongdoings, ask the victim if they want to come with you to somewhere public and safe, like to check out a big booth the convention floor. If you don’t feel comfortable with either of those options, you can always run to the nearest convention worker/volunteer and report what’s happening. Thirdly, if you don’t feel safe in a situation, find backup. Travelling in groups of 2+ people at conventions is a good idea for many reasons, if for nothing other than feeling safe.
If you feel like you are being sexually harassed, you have a few options as well. You can tell the person who is committing the crime that you are not comfortable with what they are doing. It does not have to be those words exactly, and I personally suggest you be more assertive than that, as most will either not completely understand what you mean, or see it as a passive response that won’t deter them. If you don’t feel comfortable telling them that what they are doing/have done isn’t welcome, you can tell them that you are late meeting your friends, or something along those lines. If they have done something physical, call them out on what they’ve done, and/or tell the closest convention worker/volunteer. Take note of what the person looks like if you can, as they may look different from one day to the next, be it a completely different outfit, or a different cosplay. Something you may want to do if you are afraid of this happening to you in any degree is carrying pepper spray if the convention allows it, or something similar to it. Read the policies of the convention if you plan to carry defensive items such as this, as it may be against convention regulation for you to have them, and you may get in trouble. (Editor's Note: Please use pepper spray and the like as a last resort, and try con security, walking away, or any other solution first. Once the situation is escalated into using weapons, con staff is just as likely to lay the blame, and the criminal charges, on you.)
Overall, if you think there is something you can do to keep sexual harassment from happening, or to stop it in its tracks, do it. There is no excuse for allowing it to happen. If you think you may have done something wrong, ask someone, and correct your actions accordingly. It is shameful that this is still happening in our havens as geeks. We must do what we can to end sexual harassment in the place many consider home, and hopefully in our world as a whole.