San Diego Comic-Con Pushes Back on Harassment Policy Petition

The San Diego Comic-Con has finally responded to’s petition demanding that Comic-Con create a formal anti-harassment policy.

The petition’s organizers say Comic-Con’s existing Code of Conduct is inadequate:

Cons should be about celebrating our favorite games, stories and characters freely and without judgment. But for many fangirls, women and LGBTQ cosplayers, going to cons often includes sexual assault and harassment. Comic Con has refused to create a full harassment policy. Will you join us in demanding a harassment-free Comic Con in 2014?

Launched in mid-May, the petition now has 2,375 signatures.

The Comic-Con Code of Conduct reads:

Code of Conduct

Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy. Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner.

Geeks For CONsent is looking for upgrades in the policy statement, the way it’s communicated to attendees, and how volunteers are trained:

We’re asking Comic Con San Diego to include the following in a formal anti-harassment policy:

–A harassment reporting mechanism and visible, easy to find on-site support for people who report harassment;

–Signs throughout the convention publicizing the harassment policy and zero-tolerance enforcement mechanisms;

–Information for attendees on how to report harassment; and

–A one hour training for volunteers on how to respond to harassment reports.

The petition’s creators have been in the news agitating for a public response from the con. Finally, on June 3, Comic-Con spokesperson David Glanzer defended the Code of Conduct on the air with NBC San Diego. He doesn’t feel the it is lacking, rather, he says it is “broad by design.”

“The fact of the matter is the broadness of the policy allows us to take more action than if we were specific. If we said ‘A, B, C, D was not allowed, what if somebody tries to circumvent that?’” said Glanzer who points to the heavy security and police presence as proof Comic-Con doesn’t take harassment claims lightly.

“The reports we’ve gotten have been few and far between.”

The need for conventions to have anti-harassment policies, in the words of Susana Polo, is that without clear paths to reporting harassment, con staff trained or experienced in how to receive such claims in a professional manner, and clear rules for attendees to follow, both reporting and creating consequences for inappropriate behavior becomes very difficult.

Lisa Granshaw wrote on The Daily Dot:

Facing harassment at conventions is unfortunately all too common for many cosplayers. Women especially encounter those who feel these events gives them the right to treat cosplayers as sexual objects instead of people. This is why it’s important for conventions to have firm anti-harassment policies in place and services to help those who feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Jon Voisey, The Angry Astronomer, adds:

Their real purpose is to send messages. They send a message to potential victims and aggressors that they feel this is an important enough issue to address specifically. This makes people who may be victims feel safer. It puts aggressors on note. Good policies also specifically address behaviors that constitute harassment and thus also serve to educate.

Fandom was slow to adopt the ideas of the Con Anti-Harassment Project until a highly-publicized incident of harassment at the 2012 Readercon, and the ensuing controversy over its administration of the con’s existing harassment policy, rallied a wide spectrum of conrunners to add policies tailored to their local conventions.

One of the conventions that adopted a code of conduct was the 2012 Worldcon (Chicon 7).

In July 2013, John Scalzi gave the idea another big push when he declared he would attend only cons with clear anti-harassment policies. Over 1,100 people co-signed his resolution.

Geeks For CONsent has gained traction with their complaint about Comic-Con’s Code of Conduct because, as an anti-harassment policy, it’s not very good. It’s missing several of the key things that, for example, Jim C. Hines’ harassment policy starter kit says typical policies should include:

  • A definition of harassment.
  • A clear statement that harassment is not tolerated at your event.
  • Instructions on how to respond to and report harassment.
  • Information on how staff will respond to reports of harassment.
  • A statement of the potential consequences for anyone choosing to harass others.

As a result of the shortcomings in its written policy, San Diego Comic-Con makes the perfect foil for advocates of this issue. It’s the country’s highest-profile sf/fantasy convention, thanks to its size and Hollywood connections. Mainstream news services already cover it. News websites love to run photos of cosplayers every chance they get and lately they’re running them alongside stories about cosplayers who have either experienced harassment at various cons, or about the effort to organize fandom to deter the harassers. If that’s a bit cynical, advocates have proven willing to capitalize on media cynicism to get out their message.

It’s even possible they’ve had more success drawing attention to the issue from mainstream journalists than from people inside the sf/fantasy/comics field. Justin Landon at Staffers Book Review complains that people inside the field have been reluctant to identify with the issue for selfish reasons —

And yet, where’s the outrage? Where’s the social media campaign to get them to fix it? To this point, I’ve not seen anyone call them to task. Rather, everyone seems very keen to get on programming. Because, well, Comic Con has a lot of fucking social power. I believe very strongly in social justice, but social justice is only worth something when powerful institutions, either individuals or franchises, are treated with the same kind of skepticism and indignity as the less powerful. Isn’t that the very root of social justice? It doesn’t matter how ivory your tower is, we’re all people who deserve to be treated the same. So, let’s make sure we act in a manner conducive with our words. I’m calling on San Diego Comic Con to ensure its a safe place for all 130,000 of its attendees. I hope you’ll join me.

Ironically, one of last year’s heroes is on the receiving end of some of this criticism.

John Scalzi, through a series of circumstances he explains in “A Note On A Topic of Interest”, agreed to go to Comic-Con and help promote Tor. But he admits the convention’s Code of Conduct is not state-of-the art. What to do?

With that said, here’s how I’m going to deal with this personally. I made a commitment to my publisher, and one should honor one’s commitments. SDCC says it won’t tolerate harassment, and I expect it will honor that commitment, too — I expect it wants to be seen letting harassment happen on its watch even less than I do. So I’ll be at SDCC this year, and am looking forward to seeing folks there.

With that said, again: providing clear guidance on what is harassing behavior is something SDCC should do — it’s not difficult to do, other comic cons do it, and it would help everyone who has to deal with this crap. So I think SDCC and Comic-Con International should add that into their Codes of Conduct (or even better, break it out under its own heading), and the sooner the better. I think it’s reasonable, and it’s something I look forward to seeing — and it’s something if I don’t see in the future, will matter to me, in terms of attendance.

However, the resolution disappointed Steven M. Long, one of Scalzi’s fans, and two days after it appeared Long was asking himself, “What Should We Expect From Our Leaders?”

I hold everyone to the same standard when it comes to commitments they’ve made. In the case of the SDCC policy issue, it’s a reasonable expectation that anyone who signed off on Scalzi’s convention standards shouldn’t be going to the SDCC, or should offer an explanation as to why they are. Opinions evolve, or gain nuance as time passes and circumstances change. I believe in assuming good intent, and while calling people out to effect change serves a valuable function, ratcheting up online outrage makes the community a worse place , not a better one. That said, in the case of John Scalzi, he used his authority to take on a leadership role, invited others to follow suit, and then re-prioritized his position. This is his prerogative, but it’s hard not to question his leadership.

Meantime, is working to increase the pressure on Comic-Con.

The principle members of this “collective of comic, sci-fi, and fantasy convention enthusiasts interested in creating those conventions as safer spaces” are three Philadelphia-area women:

Rochelle Keyhan is a practicing attorney in Philadelphia focusing on women’s issues and non profit legal assistance.

Anna Kegler works as a case manager in an Immigration law practice group, where she handles complex business immigration cases.

Erin Filsonis a local Philadelphian, a graduate of the University of the Arts, and has her own, hilarious online comic, The Adventures of Ranger Elf!

They understand that it helps bring their issue to the attention of the general public if they can link it to institutions and people that already have a high profile. Don’t go after a minnow; go after Moby-Dick.

However, just how threatened should Comic-Con really feel by a petition drive that’s only been able to collect 2,000 signatures?

Last year’s “Skip Ender’s Game” petition, organized by fans enraged by author Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay-marriage stance, gathered 2,000 signatures in the first six days, and over 11,000 by the movie’s opening weekend. Although this story got enormous coverage in the blogosphere, enough to scare the studio into leaving Card out of its summer Comic-Con panel, the movie still was the top box office hit the weekend it was released.

Considering those results, there’s little reason to expect the Geeks For CONsent petition to impact Comic-Con’s bottom line. They will win only if they find a way to convince Comic-Con this is not a purely business decision.

13 thoughts on “San Diego Comic-Con Pushes Back on Harassment Policy Petition

  1. “It’s even possible they’ve had more success drawing attention to the issue from mainstream journalists than from people inside the sf/fantasy/comics field.”

    Musing off the top of my head, I submit that the smaller traditional fandom you and I grew up in, Mike, could be considered as a “Family”. The expanded fandom subsequent to (especially) Star Trek and Star Wars might be best considered as a “Community”. And the hyper-expanded “fandom” (the term gets less tightly defined as the popularity/media-dominance of sf/f continues to grow) of today, with news coverage and a pretty solid section in the public gestalt, is growing increasingly closer to “Society-At-Large”.

    The problem with “families” is that families keep secrets. They rationalize, they ignore, they develop humongous blind spots to keep the peace and avoid saying out loud that Creepy Uncle Fester shouldn’t be left alone with your kids, or that if you’re female, don’t accept an offer of a drink from Cousin Jebediah. The rule is “Don’t talk about the bad stuff.” (The Breendoggle, back in the 1960’s, was an exception, but even there, the old fanzines I’ve read that “discussed” the issue tended to do so in such vague and circuitous manners that I never did get a clear idea of what actually -happened- to spark it all off.)

    In “communities”, there’s less of that, but there’s still a parochialism, a circle-the-wagons mentality. Your community may have problems and troublemakers, but they’re -your- community’s problems, not the business of other communities or general society.

    And now that SF/F has become such a major influence in general society, that remaining parochialism is starting to crumble. The newest generation of fandom is made up of people who’ve had SF/F as part of their universe literally since they were born. They’ve never lived in a world where being a fan of SF/F was actively frowned upon and disapproved of (our generation) or even one where it was kind of acceptable but not omnipresent (the ST/SW generation). And that new generation is reflecting the changes in general society where individual bad behavior is being called out more, and more publicly, including in newspapers and general magazines.

    Names are being named, and details are being reported. Overall, I think that’s probably a good thing, though some of the specific instances being reported are pretty disheartening. (There’s an old, old part of me that liked to believe that everyone in fandom was wonderful and angelic. That old part of me, alas, was a moron.)

    Off the top of my head, as I said. I may have to give this idea some more thought.

  2. I used to believe the fans were golden as well, but even in the times I was in fandom, there were a few trouble makers and eccentrics. The enlargement of fandom has led to the recent needs. No need to read the tales of people being ripped off or hurt because of a desire to believe in the greater good of fandom.

  3. I think I know more about law enforcement and fandom than anyone else. I worked for LAPD for 32 years. I was in fandom for all of that time. I had a pretty good idea of who was using illegal drugs and of a couple of people who were selling them. What did I do about it? Nothing.

    There is a well known story about Kaherine Kurtz. She worked for LAPD Narcotics Division for a time. One dork walked up to her,blew marijuana smoke in her face, and asked if she was a narc. It’s hard to protect idiots from themselves.

    I considered fans as comrades even if I didn’t like them personally. You don’t make trouble for you comrades. Aside from drugs, there are also some fans who play cards for money. At cons, I suspect there are young fans enthusiastically engaging in under age sex.

    Are you sure you really want law enforcement in fandom? Wouldn’t it be better if you solved your problems informally?

  4. The problem isn’t coming up with rational policies that protect fans from predators.

    Its coming up with rational policies that protect *all* people involved, that doesn’t end up exposing the Convention, its Committee/Staff and a bunch of attendees to serious civil lawsuits if things go south.

    Although, I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen in the next couple of years. Someone is going to sue SDCC over this very topic and it will be very very ugly.

  5. The hope of solving these problems informally is, for me, the most appealing argument in favor of antiharassment policies and supporting procedures. There are parallel arguments — that without them, the problems aren’t being surfaced, and aren’t being addressed, or the problem-makers deterred.

    I’ve seen the argument made that cons shouldn’t be trying to do this work because the volunteers aren’t competent to do it and, besides, harassing type behavior is against the law and should be dealt with by the police and the courts. And I’ve seen the counter argument that the victims won’t call the cops for various reasons (don’t want that kind of attention, don’t trust the system to protect them, etc.). However, I agree with you — if people actually did take every incident straight to the cops that would have unintended consequences affecting the social freedom fans current have.

  6. And, Milt, while I’m not sure I want cops in fandom, I have to point out that fandom has done a piss poor job of informally solving our problems.

  7. On the contrary, we have done quite well with solving our problems. In the sixties, it looked like fandom was going to come apart entirely with the doper situation. We established protocols and defused the issue. We were accepting gays and all races decades before the rest of the society was. Women have been major players in the field from the beginning. I think we’re better at solving our own problems than the rest of society is.

  8. In the sixties, it looked like fandom was going to come apart entirely with the doper situation. We established protocols and defused the issue.

    Was any of that recorded for posterity? As somone who wasn’t even alive in the sixties, I would love to learn about what happened and how.

  9. To have kept the opportunity to solve these problems informally, fandom would have had to actually *solve* the problems. Shall we ask Connie Willis how well that went?

    So now we’re trying more public methods. Good. Long overdue.

  10. “Bad behavior” at conventions is not new. 1968’s Baycon had reports of drugs being handed out. I recall a few reports about it. And I know of the 1971 Noreascon skinny dipping that took place in the hotel’s indoor pool. Gardner Dozios says he partook in the plunge. I witnessed. There was a Philcon in the early 1970’s where the pot smoke drew complaints which attracted the police and drug sniffing german shepherds to roam the halls. Disclave had someone disrupt the fire sprinklers in a bondage “ritual”…the list could go on and on, but I am giving you the idea.

  11. My wife and son deal with various small music festivals here in Delaware. Even when it’s about 750 people, someone will get out of hand. And they do have a few body guards and bouncers. This is to make sure no one gets hurt and no one sues.

    By 1971, 750 was a small convention for SF. Larger conventions do turn a larger profit, so there was an inclination towards them.

  12. unfortunately, “self-policing” seems to always end up as a case of the foxes watching the hen house. The paintball industry faced this very issue for the first couple of decades of its existence; there was tremendous outside pressure to make the game illegal, largely over liability and “gun” issues. We struggled mightily to prevent outside regulation and over-site (especially after experiencing some of the proposed regulations and laws thought up by those unfamiliar with the game – and unwilling to learn nuance and detail); ultimately establishing a set of safety practices, training programs and insurance providers to demonstrate that the industry did not need external “assistance”.
    End result? the controls and regulations were largely lip service; their presence afforded a sense of “problem solved, no need to worry about such things” (including – no need to spend money to continue to support safety) – AND used as a shield to prevent real (needed) reforms from taking place.
    No one/org from outside could exert enough pressure on the industry and the industry itself, complacent, never cohered into a sustainable one (the game is largely gone, having blown its major opportunities over “political in-fighting”)
    Not all of that history is germane to conventions, but much of does contain lessons to be learned;
    The paintball industry went far enough to protect the monied interests – but not far enough to really institute true, enforceable regulation and over-site of its own activities. It never established a body that was capable of gathering and disseminating reliable information, or a body that was capable of shutting down bad actors, providing timely warnings to participants, enacting recalls, etc. (Twice I had to threaten manufacturers with public exposure of their unsafe gear if they did not remove them; had I not had the ability to do that, those products would still be on the market. A perfect example of the “family” dynamic noted in an earlier comment.)
    “Fandom”, defining that for now as the organizations that host publicly accessible events, needs an org capable of performing a couple of basic tasks: 1. gathering reliable, verifiable information about “bad actors” and disseminating that information to conventions on a regular basis and 2. of monitoring convention’s establishment of and compliance with (or lack thereof) safety/anti-harassment policies and reporting of the same. (There should be a list: conventions WITH decent programs and conventions WITHOUT decent programs.)
    That organization then needs to seek support from the interests that derive financial income from conventions and obtain from them a hard-and-fast commitment to not attend events that do not participate (protects them from damage-by-association) in the program. Regular attendees will participate and cooperate if they know they will not “pay a price” for not attending an event.
    Something like the above will take, at minimum, a couple of years to implement, so some patience will be required. But until there is some degree of consistency and some clout behind demanding minimal standards and policies, the whole system is vulnerable, subject to criticism and really not doing anything but paying lip service, celebrated incidences notwithstanding.

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