SDCC Volunteer (2012): Harassed as a volunteer, no training, no protection

Cross-posted from ElfGrove’s tumblr, originally posted in 2012.

So I was assigned a 4 hour shift (as opposed to the three hour shifts outlined in the volunteer info, fuck you SDCC — one day I’ll learn my lesson to not work for this con). I was assigned to the “Fulfillment Room” — which needs to change it’s name very badly. There was the opportunity to work in the room, exchanging tickets for prizes from panels or vouchers for volunteer/staff shirts or standing in the hallway holding a sign pointing to the room and yelling to direct people. I did not volunteer to work in the hallway, but got stuck out there because other people wouldn’t and someone who had fucking skipped all the way to the room suddenly had a “bad knee” and couldn’t stand for long periods. Damn my near-inability to lie.

The organizer people were nice enough for the first couple of hours, sent folk out to give us brief breaks for the restroom, and brought me a granola bar around noon since I was scheduled where lunch fell right in the middle of my long shift. Then they seemed to forget we were out there. They stopped sending people out to let us take bathroom breaks occasionally (not a big deal for me, but other volunteers had to abandon post a couple of times). I only got off shift when I saw multiple people from my shift who had been working in the room leave, and they were leaving late. I had to just abandon post and go back to the room and simply tell them I was leaving. They got new volunteers in and didn’t bother to dismiss the prior shift. Yeah, standing in a hall for 4 and a half hours yelling at crowds and being harassed by skeevy dudes is my idea of fun. Asshats.

Speaking of skeevy dudes. When someone is obviously on assignment to stand in a certain spot in a hall holding a sign and yelling at the crowds, their lack of ability to leave is not an invitation to keep hitting on them when they don’t initially respond to you. This wasn’t just me, another girl who was on the same assignment further down the hall was getting harassed so badly she briefly left her post to talk to me and make sure she wasn’t alone with the harassing dudes and so she could disappear until that particular group moved on. Skeevy dudes. “Fulfillment Room” does not have an unspoken “Sexual” in front of it, and especially the one dude sidling up to within less than six inches of me to whisper that you didn’t have a ticket but you wanted “Fulfillment” and surely I could give it to you right there right now anyways is so incredibly creeper-tastic I have no words. I try to sidle away, and this shithead follows me. There are no other staffers in sight, and his group of 3 male friends are standing off to the side watching and grinning. I’m on-duty, practically a captive audience, have to be polite because I am representing the con, have no back-up, and you are a foot taller than me. GO FUCK YOURSELF CREEPER. None of you are being unique, creative, or clever with that “Sexual Fulfillment Room” BS — which several clearly thought they were. I heard it more times than I could count.

Also, a lot of people were really upset that they couldn’t just walk in there and get free stuff without a redemption ticket. Like I can change the rules for you. The sticker says “Volunteer On Duty” — I do not have decision-making power. Even if I did, why would I change the rules just for your unique snowflake ass?

P.S. “Fulfillment” no longer sounds like a real word by the way.

EDIT: The big issues here was the total lack of information on what the volunteers could/should do when faced with sexual harassment and the not relieving the volunteers on duty when their shift was up. Standing in one spot and yelling for 4 hours is far from comfortable, and it should not have turned into four-and-a-half hours because no one could be bothered to manage the volunteers after the first 2 hours.

We were only given direction of where to stand, what to yell, not to abandon our post under any circumstances, and not to lean against the wall or sit down (even if there were chairs nearby). The staff surely know that this sort of shit happens, and they should either not send females out to stand by themselves or should have told us what to do if it got as bad as it did (Mr. Less-Than-Six-Inches-Of-Personal-Space).

The stupid comments don’t phase me so much. I’m a cosplayer, so you learn to deal. The guy invading my personal space and asking for sexual favors (while he had back-up and I did not) was beyond the deal-able norm for me. I was more concerned for the younger (clearly a minor) girl down that hall that panicked enough to seek refuge with me for a couple of minutes.

EDIT 2: Since this post is being referenced by an SDCC harassment article, a few updates. Please see follow ups to this post here, here, here (note that my friend and I both emailed and never received a response from the convention), and here.

I find it alarming that SDCC has no publicly posted harassment policy, and that the only training volunteers receive is one unlabeled page in a general orientation email attachment sent months before the con and is never mentioned again. (This is the 2013 edition.) Fun exerpts:

All harassment complaints should be documented in writing and submitted within twenty-four (24) hours, or as soon as it is possible.

All submitted complaints will be promptly and thoroughly investigated and appropriate action will be taken. The investigation will be as objective and complete as reasonably possible. Upon completion of the investigation, a determination will be made and the results will be communicated to the complainant, the alleged harasser and, as appropriate, to all others directly concerned.

If inappropriate conduct is proven, prompt and effective remedial action will be taken.

You must submit any reports of harassment in writing within 24 hours and wait an undetermined amount of time to see if they decide you have sufficiently proven that something bad happened. Then they will take unspecified “appropriate action”. This achieves nothing in regards to non-staff or non-volunteer harassment cases as the attendee harassers will be gone and not care and there is no hint that anything will actually be done save for the victim of harassment will be subject to as much scrutiny as the perpetrator.

Since there will inevitably be the question of “what were you wearing?” What a person is wearing is never EVER an invite nor justification to harass. You’re human beings and I expect you to exert the same self-control over your libido that I am am expected to do so over mine. That said, I was not dressed particularly provocatively, nor should it have made a difference if I were [see photos]. I am still a sentient fellow human being.

I have a history since 2006 with SDCC, as attendee and volunteer, there has never been a year when I was not sexually harassed at this con, and I cannot make that same comment of any of the several other cons I attend every year. #SDCC

Lady Blackhawk’s Story: Describing being groped, and call for bystander intervention SDCC 2011

Originally posted on ElfGrove’s tumblr in 2011.

Let me explain something about conventions and the convention atmosphere that is NOT okay. Touching people without their express permission. I’m not talking about brushing shoulders in crowded halls. That’s unavoidable. It’s the intentional touching, violating someone’s personal space. Regardless of your gender or sexual orientation. I don’t care. I do not know you, so it is NOT okay to touch me without me specifically saying it is okay.

Hey, you admire my costume. That is great. Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate it.

The next appropriate action is NOT to reach out and start fiddling with the edges of the chest flap (this was my Lady Blackhawk costume, Saturday night at the Hyatt Bar by SDCC), trying to pull at the snaps. When I look at you and surprise and mortification that you are violating my personal space, the appropriate response is NOT, “Oh, it’s okay. I’m gay.” I don’t care if you’re not attracted to women that way, you do not get to randomly start touching a stranger who is clearly uncomfortable with the situation. You sure as hell do NOT continue that unwanted physical contact after you realize the person is uncomfortable.

Boy is lucky I was 1) too shocked and horrified to punch his pink-dyed head off his shoulders, 2) trying to politely get him to stop (brushing his hands away and discouraging the conversation he was trying to start from continuing) on the assumption he was too drunk to know better, and 3) the point he was touching is practically all the way at my armhole, mostly away from the boob so I felt uncertain as to how threatening to interpret his behavior. You don’t know how my costume is constructed. If he had achieved what he seemed to be attempting (which was to open the edge of the front flap across the chest) he might have exposed me to the rest of the bar. Now, my costume doesn’t work that way, and It wouldn’t have shown anything because it is a fully zipped up jacket beneath the flap, but he did not know that, and he could have damaged my costume.

I didn’t stick around too much longer after that, but I would glance around and see the guy in the crowd (an Asian man with the top of his hair dyed pink stands out a bit) and he would nod at me and grin every time our eyes met. At one point he was poking a friend next to him and pointing at me. I had had 2 drinks at that point and felt really uncomfortable and unsafe when I saw that he was still paying attention to where I was, and not very far away.

My wingmen (two male friends) kind of failed at backing me up. They stood and watched while I tried to politely get this guy to stop touching me. I’m shy when it comes down to the bones of things, and the old school Southern sensibilities from Grandma are what kick in when I panic for myself. They said afterward that they had been concerned, but weren’t sure if they needed to step in or not. Of course, there was a mixed message to my forceful attitude an hour earlier when a homeless guy separated Julius from the rest of the group while we were walking down the street and had initially told him no to the request for money. He put his arm around Julius and literally pulled him away from the group. I had stepped back, grabbed Julius’s hand and started towing him back into our crowd of friends while insisting we had someplace to be and were in a hurry. So me being less forceful an hour later when someone starts harassing me is confusing, I get that.

However, General Advice: if your friend looks uncomfortable and the first “No” is not getting the stranger to back off, please step in. I don’t care about the gender or whatever involved. Sometimes it’s hard for the person at the center of the attention to speak up for themselves and get an escape.

Sherrie’s Story: Her experience at SDCC involved so much harassment, she’s not comfortable going back.

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.

SDCC’s Glanzer Tells NBC News Their Policy Is Sufficient – sounds proud of it!

Comic-Con Criticized for Not Protecting Women in Costume

Geeks for Consent have launched a petition to demand Comic-Con 2014 organizers create a detailed anti-harassment policy

Last night San Diego Comic Con’s public relations rep was interviewed by NBC news in San Diego about their firm stance that their anti harassment efforts are sufficient. Despite the internet backlash against that stance when expressed in his interview with Comic Book Resources last week, a thorough break down by The Mary Sue of the flawed logic SDCC is using to justify ignoring the needs of the women and LGBTQ folks who attend Comic Con, and generous amounts of tumblr and twitter outrage at SDCC — Glanzer has not budged, and continues to defend their efforts – which involve ZERO training of their volunteers, NO publicizing of their anti harassment policy, and a policy itself that is more vague than both the pets policy and the weapons policy.

A previous volunteer gave us the volunteer manuals from 2012 and 2013, the past two conventions, and they do not mention the harassment of guests, they do not mention what a volunteer should do if someone tries to report harassment, they do not mention any policy or procedure for enforcing the harassment policy. The packet doesn’t even mention that they have an anti-harassment policy. The volunteers are also not trained in what to do if someone is harassed. We’ve created resources to streamline the training of volunteers — even a quick form for them to fill out when someone reports harassment so that they know what to ask and how to be supportive, even if they didn’t have a full training. But San Diego Comic Con IS NOT INTERESTED in any of these efforts to improve their policies.

Watch the interview for yourself (above), sign the petition, and vocalize your discontent with the hashtag #SDCCFAIL. Note: in both interviews, it is clear that Glanser hasn’t even bothered to read the petition or respond to the specific requests.

Do not let them silence our voices. Telling thousands of people that their gender-based concerns about public safety are not worth hearing is what creates a culture where people feel free to grope, assault, and verbally and sexually harass. San Diego Comic Con may be happy to create an environment where those people are told their behavior is acceptable — but we as a community need to demand better. Together, let’s recreate convention spaces as harassment free fan zones where we celebrate our differences, instead of making each other feel unwelcome and unsafe.

For more info, and examples of harassment at SDCC, and cons who are doing right, read Heidi McDonald’s post at Comic Beat from this morning.

It’s time to hold San Diego Comic Con accountable for the harassment and groping that happens every year!

The above video illustrates examples of cosplayer harassment and the effects it has on making people feel unsafe in convention spaces, to the point of avoiding certain conventions, choosing not to dress as their favorite characters, or only feeling safe when they bring cis-male companions as a sort of shield at the conventions. Enough is enough – it is time for the major conventions to follow the example being set by smaller conventions — creating and publicizing thorough anti-harassment policies, having educational and zero tolerance posters throughout the convention, trained staff who will appropriately handle reports of harassment, and effective internal procedures for being sure the appropriate actions are taken when a convention guest is engaging in this offensive and exclusive behavior.

GeeksForCONsent has emailed San Diego Comic Con staff multiple times about their insufficient anti-harassment efforts, but has received no response. Today, GeeksForCONsent launched a petition demanding that San Diego Comic con create and enforce a thorough anti-harassment policy, train its volunteers to adequately respond when people report harassment, and have designated staff who can guide con-goers through the process of reporting the harassment.

Ways You Can Help:

  • Sign the Change.org Petition here.
  • Share the petition on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. Be sure to tag Comic-Con International on Facebook, and @Comic_Con on Twitter.
  • If you’ve experienced harassment at conventions, share your story at GeeksForCONsent to help spread the word about the types of harassment people experience, and how widespread the problem is.
  • Join our team at the actual convention, July 23-26. We will be personally delivering the petition and spreading the word about San Diego Comic Con’s insufficient response to harassment and groping at their convention. Email us at GeeksForCONsent@gmail.com or tweet at us @GeeksForCONSent for more details!

Awesome Con Awesomely Tackles Convention Harassment

Sexual harassment and groping at comic conventions is a serious problem that has received increased attention in recent months. Awesome Con, a crowdfunded, by-the-fans, for-the-fans convention, responded to reported harassment at their first convention last year by creating an anti-harassment policy and procedures for dealing with harassment, training their volunteers, and partnering with GeeksForCONsent to provide an in-house, trauma-informed team to provide resources to attendees.

Unlike harassment in public spaces, conventions are private events. There are rules in place, and they should extend to include and address harassment. GeeksForCONsent (affiliated with HollabackPHILLY) is a safe haven for victims of convention related harassment to build community and organize to influence conventions to improve and enforce anti-harassment policies. Read more

“Reporting Harassment at a Convention: A First-Person How To”

Cross-posted from John Scalzi, originally published June 2013.

 

My friend Elise Matthesen was creeped upon at a recent convention by someone of some influence in the genre; she decided that she was going to do something about it and reported the person for sexual harassment, both to the convention and to the person’s employer. And now she’s telling you how she did it and what the process is like. Here’s her story.

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We’re geeks. We learn things and share, right? Well, this year at WisCon I learned firsthand how to report sexual harassment. In case you ever need or want to know, here’s what I learned and how it went.

Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to check on me. I was lucky: my host was alert and aware. On hearing what had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company the harasser was representing at the convention. Read more