The kickoff for convention season, in the Pacific NorthWest, is just around the corner, which means the people who put on these shows are gearing up with prep for the challenges that go with running an event with potentially thousands of people attending.
Last year a lot of focus was on creating awareness of some of the pitfalls that exist in the convention scene, with particular focus on harassment at conventions and the associated gate keeper mentality that lead to the idea of the fake nerd girl. A lot of work was done to bring these conversations to the forefront (such as John Scalzi’s call for all conventions to have a clear anti-harassment policy).
With the greater focus on these issues, I think this year is going to be about how these policies are enforced, and in general how we, as a community, can insure that conventions are a safe environment.
I’ve heard some discussion that this is a non-issue and focusing on it is actually a detriment to the convention community. For these people I would like to present the events surrounding a Seattle area convention called Aki Con.
Aki Con is an anime convention, held in the Seattle area, that is going into it’s 7th year. It already had a bad reputation, due to putting it’s artists alley in the parking garage the previous year, but the issue at hand happened this last October. Aki Con had regularly hired a specific DJ to play at the event. It was learned that the DJ was a sex offender who had done prison time in Arizona, but had failed to register in the state of Washington after he moved. The convention was informed of this, but did not remove him. During the convention an 18 year old girl was drugged and assaulted. The DJ was arrested and is awaiting trial. More details about this can be found here.
Aki Con posted a statement about the incident that can be found here. If you look at the statement it has the appearance of a neutral statement, but it is actually siding with the DJ and placing blame on the victim. It is also worth noting that Aki Con has no formal harassment policy.
Of course I was horrified to hear about what had happened, particularly as a member of the Seattle convention community. I am also disturbed by the fact that the Aki Con staff has gone completely silent. The community, however, has not. The story has become a rallying cry for making conventions safe and not allowing something like this to happen again.
And there are people taking this very seriously. The organizers of one of Seattle’s biggest events, Emerald City Comicon, are being proactive in making sure that their convention is as safe as possible. ECCC is conducting training for their volunteer staff, with a heavy focus on harassment prevention. This means that the staff will know exactly what to do if they witness something or an attendee approaches them with an issue. The staff is making sure they are also up to speed in case a volunteer needs to bring them in on something. The anti-harassment policy is going to be very prominent in the program book, and lay out what is and is not acceptable and what the penalties could be, including being booted from the show. It also instructs the attendees on who they can approach if they have an issue. The staff is not only working out a system of dealing with problems, but on recognizing and possibly rewarding good behavior.
I can only hope that this level of proactivity will become the norm for conventions in the future.
Outside of that it is up to those of us who attend to make sure we are keeping up the pressure to make conventions a safe place, both by watching out for each other and not supporting events that do not value the safety of attendees.