‘Creeping at a con’: Sexual harassment at Comic-Con not so comic


Allie Shaughnessy, who is dressed as Mystique, poses during the 2014 Comic-Con International Convention in San Diego. (Sandy Huffaker/Reuters)

Comic-Con International. It’s a convention where celebrated superheroes and science fiction stars come to life. And, with thousands behind masks, it’s also a hot spot for misbehavior, according to reports.

In fact, Comic-Con events across the country have become so notorious for groping, stalking and unwanted photographing — even “upskirting” — such harassment has been termed “creeping at a con.”

Thousands of fans dressed as their favorite superhero, fantasy character or cult comic gathered in San Diego on Thursday for the opening day of the 2014 Comic-Con convention. (Reuters)

As the event launched in San Diego this weekend, backlash over allegations of sexual harassment prompted a prominent science fiction author to hold his event away from the site in protest of what he called lax anti-harassment policies, the Los Angeles Times reported. And Geeks for CONsent, founded by three women from Philadelphia, submitted a petition, which now has more than 2,600 signatures, urging organizers to make those anti-harassment policies more public and establish a more formal anti-harassment policy at Comic-Con, the Associated Press reported.

They group is collecting stories on its Web site, like this:

I was cosplaying as a female anime character of somewhat large chest proportions. I happen to be large myself and wore a padded bra to slightly enhance it. Multiple times throughout the con, people asked to take pictures with me, and I agreed, but a few times men thought it would be awesome to grab a breast for the photo. When I got angry, they acted like it was no big deal and I was called a ‘bitch’ and other things for standing up for myself.

By the time I could get the attention of con staff each time but one, the offenders were no longer nearby, The other time, the staff member was dismissive. I also received inappropriate sexual comments from both attendees and exhibitors. Being that I was fully clothed from neck to toe without tight clothing, and STILL getting that kind of treatment, I couldn’t possibly feel safe dressing in anything that would draw attention to me, and maybe even not then, because I got rude comments while NOT cosplaying as well. I have so little desire to return until they can fully convince me the atmosphere has changed.

Mariah Huehner, author of the “True Blood” and “Emily and the Strangers” comics, told the L.A. Times that a few years ago she experienced the harassment first hand at a nighttime Comic-Con party.

“One of the guys suddenly had his hand on my butt,” Huehner, 35, told the newspaper. “It’s a shocking reminder that you’re seen differently.”

Although groping, cat-calling and kinds of sexual harassment are a global problem, Geeks for CONsent said the issue is amplified at the festival.

“It’s a separate, more specific issue within the convention space,” 29-year-old Rochelle Keyhan, director of Geeks for CONsent, told the AP. “It’s very much connected [to the larger problem] and it’s the same phenomena, but manifesting a little more sexually vulgar in the comic space.”

For the first time this year, San Diego Comic-Con sent attendees its anti-harassment policy via email two days before the event, NBC Bay Area reported.

On Sunday, Comic-Con International told the AP in a statement that Comic-Con has a code of conduct online as well as in the events guide given to each attendee.

“Anyone being made to feel uncomfortable at our show is obviously a concern for us,” Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer told the L.A. Times. “The safety of our attendees is a primary concern of ours. For this reason we have more staff and security than other events of our type. In addition we also have a command post in the lobby of our event that is staffed with members of the San Diego Police Department, fire and other emergency services.”


Fans attend Day 4 of Comic-Con International 2014 on July 27 in San Diego. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Earlier this year, Seattle’s Comic-Con event put up “costumes are not consent” posters to publicize its zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, NBC Bay Area reported.

But sci-fi author John Scalzi  told the L.A. Times, “I found Comic-Con’s policy to be deficient.” He held his book reading and signing away from the convention center this year.

“Every section of culture and society goes through this, where a group who has put up with a lot of harassment says, ‘No, we don’t want that anymore,’” he said recently. “There’s always that moment where the world shifts. Nerd culture is in the middle of that now.”

Batman turns 75 this year and the popular Comic-Con convention is celebrating by displaying the largest ever collection of Batman memorabilia. (Reuters)
Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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