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Finding Comic-Con International’s Harassment Policy

And That's Terrible

Harassment in the geek sphere has been a hot topic as of late. Whether it comes anonymously over the internet or in person, harassment is something many are finally looking to put a stop to, or at the very least, create consequences for, in our community. So when we personally witnessed something we felt fell squarely in this category and looked into how we could put an end to it, why did we find a roadblock? 

Like many of you, we here at The Mary Sue reached our Network-inspired, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” stance a while ago. But in case you haven’t, here are some harassment posts we’ve run over the last twelve months:

Fast foward to Friday of this year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego. A post on HitFix.com was brought to our attention by a reader. The title alone should tell you why we felt the need to speak up – “Comic-Con 2013: 15 amazing butts in costume.”

I don’t encourage clicking through but suffice to say, as it sounds, the post is a gallery of Comic-Con attendees’ posteriors. These photos were not posed, but mostly blurry images taken on the sly of both men and women at the convention. While attendees agree to be photographed or videotaped when they purchase their ticket and enter the San Diego Convention Center, these photos seem not only a gross misuse of that rule, but also harassment of unsuspecting con-goers. I tweeted about the situation to let them know this was not OK behavior from my point of view, and also spoke to the recent outcry of the “Cosplay ≠ Consent” campaign.

Legally, are they allowed to take these photos? Yes, but doing so in this particular way makes them look like bullies. I’m sure there are plenty of Comic-Con attendees who would have willingly posed for a shot of their rear if they were asked politely. Instead, they took “creeper” shots. In framing the photos this way (an interpretation supported by the author of the post), they firmly establish the intended value of the gallery is not simply in objectifying the body parts of Comic-Con attendees, but doing so against their will, without their permission or knowledge.

After my initial tweet was retweeted over fifty times with no response from HitFix, I wrote two more tweets; one to the author of the post Liana Maeby and another at HitFix Executive Editor Daniel Fienberg. Maeby’s own tweet publicizing the post on her account read, “Hey, creeps. I made you a gallery of Comic-Con butts.” It has since been deleted but here is a screenshot I took from the website Topsy, which keeps tweets even after deletion for some time.

Fienberg replied to my tweet with, “There are people above me. I understand the concerns and will make sure they’re voiced.” The post remains active.

While HitFix seemingly had no interest in the issue, conventions (and those who frequent them) have been taking harassment, and the conversation surrounding it, more seriously as of late. In fact, writer John Scalzialong with a thousand others, took a stand to say he wouldn’t attend a con without a harassment policy. Some conventions, like CONvergence, even went so far as to create posters to make the point clear – harassment is not OK at this convention.

And then there’s Intervention, an event specifically created to be a different kind of con but which also takes pride at being a safe space for women and members of the LGBTQ community. Their harassment policy is clearly stated on their attendees’ rules page.

So you can understand our surprise when we looked for something similar on the website of one of the largest events in the geek community and came up empty. I scoured the Comic-Con website looking for a harassment policy specifically to see if there was a note for members of the press. When we did our story on PAX East harassment, Robert Khoo, President of Penny Arcade, Inc. told us, “Our media guests are expected to behave in a professional manner, and it was clear to us this particular individual crossed that line. We got in touch with the outlet and the individual during the show, and that particular journalist is no longer welcome at PAX. We want everyone at PAX to feel welcome and comfortable.”

But again, our search for this policy, or something similar, on Comic-Con’s official website yielded no results. I turned to Twitter to ask if anyone else knew where their harassment policy might be and was directed to a post by Greg van Eekhout from earlier in the year, which quoted this:

Attendees must respect commonsense 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 pass 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.

But where did he get this paragraph from? A photo (taken by Lea Hernandez, spotted by David Seidman) of a page from last year’s Comic-Con events guide. We found it a bit odd this information wouldn’t have a prominent place on their website, especially considering all the recent discussions on the topic, so we emailed Comic-Con PR in order to find out if they were aware of this particular issue or the HitFix post. We received an automated reply since their team was “on site” at the convention. We followed-up with another request, which was met with an automated reply saying their offices were closed.

In a post Wired ran the week before Comic-Con 2013, they mentioned reaching out for information about harassment policies as well. “Wired asked a Comic-Con representative to outline the training provided to volunteers and staff members but received no response. In a previous conversation with Wired, [Director of Marketing and Public Relations] David Glanzer said the convention has ‘no tolerance for harassment’ and ‘encourage[s] anyone who feels they’re being harassed to contact a member of security or staff.’”

But how are guests supposed to know about this “no tolerance” policy and what it entails if it’s not front and center or easily accessible?

Oni Hartstein, Co-Founder of Intervention, spoke to us about the importance of a clearly stated and publicly available harassment policy.

“Harassment policies educate the public on what is and isn’t acceptable while it also lets attendees know that we are here for them and that they shouldn’t fear coming forward if they feel threatened,” she said. “I founded Intervention based on my personal experiences as an independent artist and as a woman. I’ve personally been on the receiving end of harassment – I’ve been touched without my consent at cons and verbally harassed. [Trigger warning] Outside of cons I’ve had my face broken over a table by a guy who wanted to ‘put me in my place.’”

She added, “Most importantly I wanted people to know that they shouldn’t fear coming forward if they feel harassed or threatened in any way.”

Once more, we reached out to Comic-Con PR for clarity on the topic and were happy to receive a human reply. We reiterated our questions as to whether or not they were aware of the HitFix post, if they have a policy of revoking press privileges to press guests who are causing issues for attendees, and if any action was going to be taken in this particular case. We also asked if a harassment policy was posted on the Comic-Con website for everyone to view in case we had missed it.

Glanzer replied:

We were not aware of this posting previous to your email. Yes, Comic-Con does have a harassment policy which is written into the Events Guide. The Events Guide is handed to and/or made available to each attendee.

I cannot comment on specifics regarding any complaint, however, each incident is handled on a case by case basis, as are the decisions on how best to prevent the issue from occurring again.

I hope this answers your questions.

Glanzer’s response still leaves us with a few questions. Among them, the issue of not commenting on the complaint when the complaint in question was submitted by me (by his own admission this is the first he’s heard of the Hitfix article, and so cannot be refusing to comment on someone else’s complaint process) and whether or not there was a policy in place specifically for the press. It’s deplorable to us that some individuals still feel that making fun or exploiting the bodies of others is the best way to cover an event. However, it’s more concerning to see Comic-Con not take every possible step to prevent harassment in the first place.

What reason is there to not have their harassment policy posted prominently on their official site (or exist on the site at all)? Perhaps it could be displayed as a prompt when a ticket is purchased or sent along with the email confirmation they send to everyone attending. It would certainly ensure more attendees, press or otherwise, were aware of the policy than hoping they read through the entire Events Guide which, if you’ve never seen one, is usually over 200 pages long.

As a leader, if not the leader, in the fan convention circuit, shouldn’t Comic-Con also be leading the way by fostering a safe space for all, instead of being one of the last to jump on the bandwagon?

[UPDATE] Since posting, convention goers have reached out to us to say they’ve emailed their local cons to ask about their specific harassment policies. We’ll continue to update this page with conventions that do have a clear, and easily found, harassment policy. Please feel free to send us others.

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