Caution Hand
Caution Hand

Writing the Unwritten Rules

In light of the upcoming convention season, AnimeChicago has been speaking more about the safety and comfort of our members at club-sanctioned events. Here’s one of a series of articles on this topic. Content warning for excessive talk on sexual harassment.

In the last decade that I’ve been running AnimeChicago and visiting conventions, I’ve heard countless stories about unwanted attention, creepers, inappropriate words and gestures… pretty much everything under the sun. While these incidents have been getting more attention recently, we are far from eliminating this type of behavior in our community.

Anime conventions are places for young fans to express themselves and their identity for the first time, learn personal comfort and discomfort, and experiment in a safe environment… except that last part. Conventions create the illusion of safety, and not just anime cons. I’ve heard of sexual assault at video game conferences, sci-fi symposiums, annual meetings for professional associations, and pretty much any place that involves a lot of humans in one spot for an extended period of time… often with liquor and hotels in the mix.

Our new reality

There are malicious sexual predators out there and everyone should be alert. But sometimes the sexual predator is actually a friend that you’ve known for years, off-duty security personnel, or a con chair with a lot of clout and money. That’s what makes this scenario so detrimental to communities that thrive on trust. That’s why when a victim comes forward or files a police report, we need to heed that person’s warning. They experienced something traumatic and they absolutely do not want this incident to happen to anyone else.

Based on previous accounts, here’s how an incident usually plays out:

The accuser always receives dismissive comments, and sometimes death threats if they’re “too popular.” If they’re well-respected, they’ll also have messages of support and divisions will naturally emerge. Now there’s pressure for everyone to take a side based on hearsay and little to no evidence, and some will view this division as an attack on the community itself.

If the most influential community members believe the accuser’s story, the alleged attacker is ostracized forever more. Some argue that this is true justice and the preferred scenario for such heinous actions, but even innocent people can be subjected to public outcasting.

If the accused comes from a place of power… we have a huge problem. Through our continued inaction, we’ve set a precedent for discrediting the accuser and allowing the alleged attacker to continue on like nothing ever happened. This is how rape culture proliferates and how dismissive comments become accepted norm.

What now?

You might be angry at the alleged harasser, angry with the accuser for pointing fingers at your friend, or angry that anyone is angry at all. Everyone is pressured to react or stay silent when a personal incident becomes public knowledge. Anger doesn’t solve the larger issue and neither does inaction.

I’m here to say that there are no sides and there’s nothing to dispute. Sexual assault isn’t a black and white scenario. Disputing someone’s traumatic experience only degrades the community as a whole.

It is estimated that 92% of sexual assault allegations are true in the United States. The accuser is always brave for coming forward in the face of public scrutiny regardless of the circumstances. The accuser acknowledges the discomfort they feel from seeing their alleged attacker welcome in shared spaces, and want to let others know so they can avoid pain and make the community collectively safer.

Claiming someone is incapable of being a sexual predator is extremely naive. Anyone can make anyone else uncomfortable at any time! It doesn’t help that our source material is littered with panty shots, yandere characters, tentacle rape, and the idolization of sexual predators. One person’s drunk cuddle session in a catsuit on a hotel bed is someone else’s nightmare. The person who voices that discomfort is labeled a wet blanket, but really, we as a community have failed to respect their views on personal safety. We have said that “no” isn’t fun, and therefore isn’t valid.

Going Forward

We as anime fans must demand reform within our conventions, clubs, and community spaces. Con staff needs review of current practices, sexual assault training, integration with local law enforcement, and adoption of zero tolerance policies for sexist and predatory behavior. Movements like Cosplay is Not Consent is a step in the right direction.

We must make it very clear that there are repercussions, and that questionable activity is subject to extensive scrutiny when the accused is responsible for public safety. We shouldn’t grow our community on the foundations of those who use their power to undermine victims of any assault whatsoever. Every single anime fan is responsible for holding them accountable.

Let your friends know that their words or actions are inappropriate, regardless of how nice they act towards you. Deter younger fans from “just playing around” and “crying wolf.” This isn’t a witch hunt — it’s a collective elevation of our ingrained behavior so we can set new boundaries that are inclusive and safe for everyone.

Regardless of the circumstances, the accused let the entire community down with their questionable behavior. The most they can do is come clean, give the victim space, request others keep things professional, and devote time and energy to the reformation of themselves and society. This isn’t a substitute for forgiveness, trust, or respect. It’s a long road ahead for both parties, but the community shouldn’t forget this incident or the thousands that came before just because “it’s in the past” or “they’re a different person now.”

Let’s take our outrage, anger, frustration at isolated incidents, and turn it into productive reformation of our community. We as anime fans, cosplayers, and convention attendees would be better advocating and abiding by the three points below:

  1. Acknowledging that personal comfort is entirely subjective.
  2. Speaking up when an action or statement makes you or others feel uneasy.
  3. Actively seeking consent and respecting the right to revoke consent at any time.

We’ll be addressing the subject further in future articles. Until then, please support, an organization devoted to ending sexual assault and domestic violence in everyday society.