CONvergence, Safe Space, Safe People

As many of you know, my home-town con is this coming week. CONvergence is a cross-media, cross-genre convention, over 5000 people strong. It has a place for nearly everyone. And thus, nearly everyone attends.

There’s a growing tide of awareness in fandom. In all the fandoms I am in or near, to be honest. There’s a growing awareness of sexual harassment, of harassment in general. Last year CONvergence ran a popular anti-harassment poster campaign, Costumes Are Not Consent. CONvergence also has a clear policy on harassment, which I copy in its entirety:

Harassment

CONvergence is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable convention experience for everyone. Harassment of any kind, including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions, will not be tolerated. If people tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done.

Leave them alone. Do not follow them or attempt to disrupt their convention experience in any way. If you continue to attempt to have contact with those people, you may be removed from the premises.

CONvergence is not responsible for solving any interpersonal problems that may arise between individual members. In general, we can take no action to prevent a person from attending the convention unless that person has made a specific and credible threat toward the convention itself. If you feel that a threat exists against your person, we advise you to seek a restraining order against the individual in question and to involve the host hotel itself (security staff specifically) and the municipal police department in advance of the convention; otherwise, we recommend simply avoiding that individual.

If that individual stalks, harasses, or attempts to assault you at the convention itself, you may report that individual to a member of Operations (they will report it to the hotel’s security staff who will get the police involved if necessary) or you may report it to hotel security directly, and the appropriate action will be taken. Conversely, any attempt to have an innocent person removed from the convention by falsely accusing him or her of threats will be itself treated as an act of harassment and will be dealt with appropriately. The responsibility for settling interpersonal disputes lies solely with the individuals involved, and CONvergence will not tolerate being used as a leveraging point in such disputes.”

That’s the con policy.I know at lot of the Ops people at CONvergence. They are trained and briefed, and they take their duties very seriously.

***

There’s a thing, called the Backup Project, or the Backup Ribbon Project. It’s a way of signalling to strangers that the person wearing the pin, or the ribbon, or the t-shirt, is willing to get involved in a potential harassment situation if the person feeling harassed needs backup. There are a number of concerns with this project. Most obviously, a harassing creeper could wear said ribbon in order to gain access to targets. Secondarily, an overly-enthusiastic Backup could escalate a situation far beyond what anyone wanted.

There are problems, yes. But there’s something there, too. The idea that, too often, witnesses to problems walk on by, unwilling to intervene. That a label could make it easier to ask a stranger for a hand.

***

There are campaigns, publicized on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, of people planning to attend conventions with the stated goal of harassing other attendees. I have little ability to judge how serious these public campaigns are. On an important level, it doesn’t really matter if it’s mere online trolling or a serious threat to sexually assault others — people feel threatened. More than that, people are responding as though they feel targeted. Targeted at conventions, where they hope to be among their friends and family, where they hope to be among their tribe.

***

I am just as capable as the next person of seeing a slightly tense situation developing across the hall and walking away. I know, because I’ve done it. I’m not proud of this, and some of those instances stick in my memory, full of ‘what happened to her, later, I wonder?’

I am just as capable of brushing off or excusing an unwanted sexual remark or touch, particularly at a convention. I know, because I have done it. These days, I’m wondering — how many of those people who kissed my hand without asking, or sniffed my hair without permission, how many of them went on to find someone else with whom to escalate their practice?

***

This is what I look like, more or less:

IMG_20130615_144417_976

IMG_20130630_143443_737

***

I’m not in the business of interfering. I’m just not. But if you need a hand? If you want out of a conversation, or you want someone to help you flag down a Wandering Host? You have a too-friendly fan of your costume who keeps following you into the restroom? Whatever. If you want a buddy for five minutes, let me know. I’d be happy to help.

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