"Cosplay is Not Consent" is NOT Enough

As a woman in the cosplay community, not only have I been harassed in costume, but I've heard many stories from fellow cosplayers who have had harassment and worse happen to them while they were at a con. Whether the stories were typed in public spaces or whispered to me over bathroom sinks, I understood that harassment occurs everywhere at anime conventions to the point where it's unfortunately expected. I can only speak for my personal demographic, but any type of cosplayer can be harassed, just as any type of person can be the offending harasser. I remembered the disapproving stares and catcalls when I wore skin-revealing outfits of favorite characters, and hurting, not just because I was treated as an object, but because the enjoyment I got out of the character connection was soured by the memory. Conflicts of harassment in this community are often painted as "drama" and dismissed or unexamined in an appropriate context.

It got me thinking: why does this happen? Why so often? Why do I never get through a single convention without experiencing or hearing about stories like that? I began to envision a for-us, by-us network of support for cosplayers that provides a nonjudgmental atmosphere and resources for recovery after negative events. In November of 2016, I put a shovel in the ground for the Cosplayer Survivor Support Network. It needs more volunteers and help with its framework and functionality, so if you're interested in supporting the CSSN, please consider checking out my Ko-Fi or Patreon!

I want to educate convention attendees that "Cosplay Is Not Consent" is NOT enough. Signs like this remind guests not to harass, but don't elaborate on what they can do to avoid harassing someone. At best, they're a legal cover for the convention should something serious occur. At worst, they assume every non-consensual act of interacting with a cosplayer will be taken care of by staff. Want to know a dirty, obvious secret? Most conventions don't have adequate harassment policies that ensure safety and support for victims. And when brought up, this issue is often met with a dismissal or an offer to take it up with the police, neither of which is an effective or trustworthy option. Most staff members aren't trained to deal with the sensitive nature of sexual assault in particular. Worst of all, sometimes staff members themselves are the offenders, leaving the survivor nowhere to turn.

Saying "don't harass" is like saying "don't murder." There will still be murders every day, all over the planet. The only way to stop harassment is education about the nature of enthusiastic consent, whether it be regarding taking a cosplayer's picture or putting an arm around them, or beyond. The only way to heal harassment and help survivors of harassment, abuse, and assault is to provide support to them after the incident. To say, "I believe you," and listen freely; to give them someone to trust as they work out what happened to them.

At Tekko 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to present two panels that incorporated the online anti-harassment organization Uplift. These were panels where everyone in the room could feel respected and safe despite uncomfortable topics. The experience encouraged me to believe that there will be more organizations like this contracted to make conventions safer and enforcing anti-harassment policies.

Here's my dream: I want every anime/gaming/Japanese culture convention to become a role model in anti-harassment procedures through appropriate signage, consequences for offenders, support for survivors, and availability of judgment-free communication spaces in the community. I want never to hear whispered stories about "weird" violations of respect at conventions. I want to see survivors and allies demanding better standards for the conventions they attend so everyone has the opportunity to have an enjoyable experience.

Most work to advocate for the rights of survivors is based in volunteership, but the knowledge is extremely specialized and emotionally taxing. Not only do I not get paid to speak up, but I share the most painful and intimate details in order to tell my story and let others know they're not alone. Nobody can fortify my mind to be able to tell those stories, but your contribution allows me to choose where and how I speak and enables me to reach a broader audience. I want to see how far we can go together to encourage our community to speak up for those who can't and help survivors on their paths to recovery and self-improvement.

If you'd like to discover more about the mission and goals of the CSSN, or you'd like to read some articles that shine light onto difficult topics relating to cosplay, click here or here. I've also written more about this topic in an article here.

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