Cosplay is Not Consent, but Danger Still Lingers

“It’s just not safe for young girls to go into events, especially in costume. We’re vulnerable.”

It’s been more than three years since “Cosplay is Not Consent” signs were erected throughout New York Comic Con. The movement, which seeks to educate about actions that should reflect common sense and decency, is now firmly set in minds of con attendees. All across the country, from Ohayocon to Ikkicon, experiences, precautions, and standards mirror each other, but even with the strength of this movement, even with sexual harassment and assault in the public eye like never before, the problem remains.

Part of the issue is that even though most attendees are well aware of how they should act toward others, the environment creates conditions in which many choose to ignore their knowledge and better sense and react in ways that harm others. Elena, attending Ikkicon this past year as Yurio from Yuri on Ice, noted that conventions are “more loose” with fewer societal constraints than the world outside, while Skye, dressed as a character from the Percy Jackson book series, also stressed the anonymity that cosplay offers, providing a hiding place both for the painfully shy and for those that would do harm.

Every time I cosplay a girl, I have people come up to me, especially older men.

Lulu and Elena cosplay ikkicon
Lulu (L), with Elena (R), finds that cosplay emphasizes issues that women and minorites face: “Cosplay puts me into the perspective that things aren’t always going to be easy for me.”

Etoile, who gave the initial quote in this piece, pointed toward another angle, commenting, “Anime oversexualizes teenage girls all the time and that’s who get preyed upon at conventions—teenage boys and teenage girls. It’s just a place where it’s easy.” But it doesn’t take sexualization to turn attendees into perpetrators, as she also noted: “It’s not necessarily a character that’s sexualized, but a character that’s female. I’m cosplaying a boy right now and every time I cosplay a boy, I don’t get bothered at all. But every time I cosplay a girl, I have people come up to me, especially older men.”

While the lack of inhibition by attendees who should know better, who do know better, is problematic, more fearsome are those who willfully and intentionally come to conventions with sexual assault on their minds, some of whom are counted among those “older men” Etoile describes. It’s often been noted that sexual predators know which kinds of young people to target, and conventions are a vast pool of teenagers and children from which to choose. Tyler, dressed as Junko from Danganronpa, noted, “Kids don’t know what to do. Some adults can take advantage of that.”

Convention staff are well aware of these problems. Ikkicon security was very proactive this year and according to many, this particular convention is safer than others, but a volunteer staff can hardly be counted on to keep all con-goers safe. As Etoile stated, “This is a giant group of people where somebody like that can hide, where they can get away with it.”

And so while convention staff needs to continue to make safety a priority, to take complaints seriously while creating an atmosphere of compliance, it ends up becoming the role of cosplayers themselves to keep one another safe. As Moni, also cosplaying from Percy Jackson, suggested, “See the world for what you want it to be, but at the same time, protect yourself.”

This is a giant group of people where somebody like that can hide, where they can get away with it.

general sunbeam cosplay ikkicon
General Sunbeam has been able to enjoy conventions without being harassed, though others noted that many male cosplayers face these issues as well.

That kind of self-policing was evident at a Fate/Grand Order meetup at Ikkicon. A photographer who was known to violate attendee’s comfort level, if not go even further (a Berserker of Black cosplayer referred to him as a “rapist”), was effectively chased away when a clamor was raised against his presence. As Etoile noted, “The cosplay community is pretty tight-knit. Almost everybody knows somebody. It’s easy for the word to get around that that person is being a creep.”

See the world for what you want it to be, but at the same time, protect yourself.

Smaller groups at conventions, namely groups of friends, also offer a level of protection against perpetrators. Tyler reflected, “I always tend to stay in groups with my friends: big, big groups because they can probably see something you didn’t see. There can be an eyewitness for what happened.” Moni (a second cosplayer by this name) agreed and added, “A big thing in my group is that you don’t go anywhere without having someone nearby or close to you.”

moni meme-chan cosplay ikkicon
Moni echoes the comments about group safety: “I admit I don’t pay very much attention to my surroundings so its good for me to be with friends.”

But what of the young man or woman wandering alone at a convention? One who may not be emotionally or physically strong enough to force off an assault, who would make the perfect target for a predator or who could become the victim of an attendee who takes things too far? There are plenty of these individuals at conventions, a sea of them.

And just as troublesome is that even though most know what they should do, walls and fortresses in the form of cosplay communities and groups of friends have to be erected to keep young people safe. Ultimately, it may be too optimistic to believe that harassment and assault at cons will ever go away—these are the actions of people who put their carnal desires first, ahead of caring for others, ahead of common sense and human decency. There’s a little of this awful side to us all, and there will always be those who let it out, but with safeguards in place, incidents will hopefully continue to diminish at conventions.

Even more promising, when young cosplayers, more aware than ever of such issues, take the lead in caring for one another, they demonstrating the communal spirit of conventions, and those would seek to break that spirit will find themselves like a lion in the water—out of their element, under attack by those who thrive there, and drowning in a sea that takes away all their predacious intent.

Featured image (L-R): Tyler, Etoile, Max, and Regan

13 thoughts on “Cosplay is Not Consent, but Danger Still Lingers

  1. Good post! I am happy to see the ways people are protecting themselves. Even if a girl is wearing a super revealing outfit (just my opinion, but I think there should be requirements in cons for clothing. Like, you can’t go in a bikini or basically not having pants on….yes, I once saw a girl with NO pants on basically walking around with everything out….) that is NOT an excuse to get frisky. Everyone needs to keep their hands to themselves. Protecting yourself from harassment is the same in a con as it is outside the con. Use common sense, stay with a group of friends, don’t go somewhere alone when it’s dark (especially girls) and just have fun. Don’t assume everyone is being “nice”, many guys are “nice” so they can get close to a girl. Many times it’s just a strategy so they lower their guard.

    1. Definitely true—guys are so often being nice because they want to let a girl’s guard down. Thankfully, it seems like a lot of young women nowadays are especially diligent around guys, and that’s a start!

  2. I’ve always wanted to go to an anime convention. But now that I’ve seen this…I’m not sure anymore. Good post btw! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Rachel. I would definitely encourage you to visit a convention—while there’s that possibility of something bad happening, the same is true at concerts, festivals, and all sorts of other events. And just as with those, if you take precautions, you should be fine, most of all going with friends and sticking with them, which is almost a necessity to have fun at a con in the first place!

    1. I think that almost all anime fans should attend a convention at some time in their lives—they’re not for everyone, but it’s just an experience that’s so connected with the anime fandom that it’s kind of a must!

  3. Hey Fiona, guess what? I just looked up animazement! It looks like there’s so much to do there! There’s even a anti-harassment policy. 🙂 I hope we can afford to go!

  4. Samuru, I’m a little wary of the idea of policing cosplay clothing (beyond “No real weapons” and “No exposed private parts or cleavage that exposes……stuff” <___<;;;;;; ). My reasons being that well…most anime outfits are pretty suggestive, even somehow the ones that involve at least two layers of clothing. Like see how many anime schoolgirls are drawn with visible curves even though they're somehow wearing a jacket and a shirt under there. Creating some sort of dress code would vastly limit the number of possible outfits women could choose from.

    Well, that, and whether clothing is found to be suggestive seems very context-dependent, and also dependent on the viewer. I'm a lady, and I'm not an ugly lady, but in the history of my life as far as I know I've never been the target of any serious sexual harassment, even during the three or four years where I was thin, young, and pretty (ah how the mighty have fallen XD). Why? Largely because, I'd guess, my mannerisms are whatever the opposite of glamorous or sexually suggestive is. I come off as eccentric, nervous, and somewhat unintentionally moe (until they hear my low authoritative monotone voice, and then they're just confused XD) which among non-anime fans translates to somebody you want to carry home rather than somebody you want to harass.

    I agree with you, though, that we should plan for a world in which people are crooks, even if they shouldn't be. And I'm glad cons are awaking to the dangers of the enterprise.

    1. My two cents about a dress code: anime conventions are not a place for the modest! And while a more defined line might be helpful, that seems to be something that needs to be decided convention by convention based on their audiences and purpose. And besides…if it’s a reaction against sexual assault, that’s problematic in itself!

      Oh, and thanks for sharing a bit about yourself Luminas! You usually don’t share the more “real life” kind of stuff, so that was a surprise to read!

  5. Yeah, it can get a little awkward to do so, so I avoid it with strangers on the Internet these days unless I know the community pretty well. I actually have a more specific example of how dress codes are sexist and arbitrarily applied that comes from my personal life.

    The thing to understand is….people with developmental disabilities aren’t sexualized. Pretty much ever. In any culture. In fact, very often we’re desexed by others or even outright prevented from having healthy intimate relationships as adults. Feeling like little more than a genderless, ugly *thing* that not even a mother could love is enough to give anybody a complex about their gender, and there’s a tremendous amount of proof that that’s in fact *exactly* what it does. It would sort of be betraying my own community to explain my suspicions in detail, but basically, anecdotally, autistic people are LGBTQ at more that double the rate of everyone else, and my guess is there is a good reason for this. I had exactly the opposite reaction as a kid—- I skewed hyper-feminine mentally out of a desire to counter this behavior as hard and fast as I possibly could.

    Anyway, getting off topic. Autistic people tend to have powerful sensory sensitivities, and mine are all tactile. I cannot ignore the texture of my own clothing, and most of it comes off as unpleasant to me. The itchy effect is particularly bad on my legs, so as a kid I wore very short shorts to avoid the effect. Guess what? Nobody, absolutely nobody at all, called me out on violating the school’s below the knee shorts dress code. Why? Because they weren’t turned on by me. They didn’t find me sexy. Simple as that. Dress codes are basically only applied when the viewer finds the woman either “too sexy” or “utterly repulsive.” When neither apply, no one cares, and so the lack of sexualization there is indirectly proof of the dress code being sexist. XD

  6. Good post. I attend conventions, and I have fun and enjoy myself, but I always am aware of my surroundings and realize that some people that attend conventions are not always nice and good potentially be a predator.

Leave a Reply