Making Cons Safe Places

The Mary Sue considers the question of whether anime conventions should do criminal background checks to prevent situations like one where a man in his 30s plead guilty to sexually coercing a 13-year-old girl he met at Katsucon. I think the post conflates attendance at cons with job applications that require you to disclose whether you’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime in a way that’s problematic, but I do, of course, agree that “men and women alike should be able to enjoy a molestation-free time at any anime convention they desire.”

One of the best ways to do this would be not criminal background checks, but strong anti-harassment policies and good training for convention staff and volunteers about how to enforce them and to balance the difficult task of supporting victims while showing respect for the principal that people are innocent until proven guilty. The database kept by the awesome folks at the Con Anti-Harassment Project doesn’t show a harassment policy for Katsucon or for the biggest Con of them all, San Diego Comic Con. And that’s just nuts. This is a basic thing you can do that doesn’t infringe on anyone’s privacy or civil liberties, that would help combat bad press-inducing incidents and would make everyone more comfortable coming. It’s a win-win scenario.

As things like the racialized reactions to the announcement of a mixed-race Spider-Man or a black man as a Norse God, or the treatment of people who ask about diversity in employment and characters at DC Comics demonstrate, being a self-described nerd or geek is no guarantee that you’ll be sympathetic to the concerns of minority groups who face actual systematic oppression. And in some cases, the norms of geekdom or nerddom can be employed in defense of the status quo as a way to avoid charges of racism or sexism. It would be nice if we could that we’d keep each other safe, but in any large group, that’s probably overly optimistic. Harassment policies at cons are a must. It’s an embarrassment that any convention wouldn’t have one.