“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.
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.
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.”
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.