This Editorial Is Authored By UsagiMed Intern and Writer Allison Marrero
Trigger Warning for Mentions of Sexual Assault and Harassment
On October 9th, 2014, attendees of New York Comic Con entered the event seeking exciting guest panels, performance events, and of course, coveted cosplay photoshoots. However, fans saw signage at the entrance that permanently changed social expectations across the cosplay community: “Cosplay is Not Consent”
Cosplay Is Not Consent
This motto is now commonplace at most cosplay conventions such as Anime Weekend Atlanta, Megacon, and FanExpo Canada, reminding attendees that while they can look at people in cosplay, they cannot touch them without their explicit consent. And it’s not restricted to physical contact–offending behaviors include harassment, catcalls, etc. In Alexandria Ellsworth’s 2018 UCF thesis I’m Not Your Waifu: Sexual Harassment And Assault in Cosplay, Anime, & Comic Conventions, she interviewed numerous cosplayers, male and female, asking them about their experiences cosplaying at conventions. One respondent “Lexie” stated she was “pinched and slapped hard on the backside” while leaning down in a Harley Quinn costume at an overseas convention.
This is experienced by both women and men across the cosplay scene. “Cosplay Is Not Consent” should continue to be enforced not only at cons, but at any spot you find people wearing costumes. I’ve been attending conventions for eight years. I became the target of disturbing catcalls and comments around the time I turned 16. These acts should not happen to anyone, especially not minors. While the “Cosplay Is Not Consent” campaign has been very beneficial towards spreading awareness for this issue, there is a lot that both convention attendees and organizers can do to advocate for safe fun when cosplaying.
What can Conventions Do?
Organizers, while the “Cosplay Is Not Consent” signs are beneficial, they are not enough to bring these acts to a halt. Assigning security to roam all halls of the convention, especially vendor rooms and halls towards panel rooms, can prevent perpetrators from acting out towards cosplayers. Additionally, while these signs are commonly found around most convention sites, they’re not often printed onto the badges and/or lanyards given to attendees. Having this motto laid out somewhere on the event badge can serve as a constant visible reminder when seeing a cosplayer.
Cons have been steadily returning for the past few months, and while it’s great to see that these events are still taking consent and assault issues seriously, it’s important to reinstate this reminder not just at every convention, but everywhere. No matter what someone is dressed in, unless they’ve given you explicit permission to do so, they should not be touched, groped, or catcalled in any way without their consent.
What Can Cosplayers Do?
Know where your safe spaces are. Every con should have a designated safe space. Maybe with their public safety people. Maybe with UsagiMed. (Every UsagiMed space is always a safe space.)
Know where and how to ask for help. If you experience harassment, don’t be afraid to report it, and to hold people accountable. The entire convention industry has your back on this. Your public safety crew should have training in how to handle these problems. If UsagiMed is present, they will have special contacts at the con to help you.
Stick with friends. When in doubt, there is safety in numbers. The buddy system helps for a number of different reasons. It’s always a good idea to keep your trusted supporters close by.
What Can Everyone Do?
As for attendees, this goes without saying: unless someone has explicitly told you that you can touch them or their costume, DO NOT touch them or their costume. Just because someone is wearing a revealing cosplay does not mean you have permission to behave sexually towards them or say sexual things to them. Say it with me: Cosplay Is Not Consent.
If you’re at a convention and you see someone harassing a cosplayer, take an active role in defending them. Addressing the harasser can sometimes be stressful or even dangerous, so try to see how you can create a distance between the harasser and the victim, such as going up to the cosplayer and striking up a conversation to direct them away from the negative situation. Remember that it’s not your responsibility to address the problematic individual, and you should defer to the convention’s public safety staff.
UsagiMed is all about improving safety and reducing your con’s liability. Call on us so we can be your event partners. As you plan and prepare, we will answer any questions you may have about addictions, mental health, and creating a safe space for all your attendees, guests, and staff. Feel free to drop us a question and we will answer you.