Kevin Church over at has posted an interesting article by John DiBello about sexual harassment at the San Diego Comic Con, and what isn’t being done about it.  Kevin wants everyone to spread the word and talk about it on their own sites, so we’re posting it here.

Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: “These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, ’cause I wanted to see what her reaction was.” This was only one example of several instance of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the “prettiest girl at the con.” They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he’d targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it’s to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you’re dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, I pulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining “Convention Policies,” which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a “Where Is It?” guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There’s no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she’s sympathetic to the situation but who doesn’t have a clear answer to my question: “What’s Comic-Con’s policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?” She directs me to the nearest security
guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there’s little that can be done.

“I understand that,” I tell them both, “but what I’m asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what’s the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?” But this wasn’t a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like “Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room XXX.”

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more red-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I’m looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I’ve retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn’t have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

I don’t understand why there’s no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.

I agree that grabbing some girl’s butt without being given permission is a big no-no, and should be grounds for getting arrested for assault.  Verbal abuse is something that falls into that gray area.  From John’s comment, there is a fine line between freedom of speech and openly verbally flogging someone just to make yourself feel better.  In this case it seems the fellow putting down the female exhibitor falls in the verbally flogging category – which isn’t cool.

And it isn’t just SDCC, there are hot women dressed in revealing clothing at almost every convention and trade show out there (save for E3).  From the National Association of Broadcasters, and the Consumer Electronics Show, to AVN and SDCC, sex sells.  Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t a slew of assault and rape charges that come out of trade shows each year.  Either the Booth Babes know how to handle being man handled, or they don’t know who to go to (which John points out above).

What are your thoughts?  Does the convention need to set a policy and enforce it?


The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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  1. Mark I.
    August 15, 2008 at 5:58 pm — Reply

    “Verbal abuse is something that falls into that gray area. From John’s comment, there is a fine line between freedom of speech and openly verbally flogging someone just to make yourself feel better.”

    There’s no gray area. San Diego Comic Con is not a public event no matter how big it is or how many people show up. It is a private event that charges admission, and any disruptive verbal abuse should result in a 2-step process:

    1. Warning from security
    2. Ejection without refund

    And depending on the level of abuse, you could skip steps 1 and go right to 2. This of course assumes that you have a competent and attentive security staff, which isn’t a given even if you hire off-duty cops. Comic-Con needs to step up.

  2. hermit
    August 15, 2008 at 10:01 pm — Reply

    there is such a thing as being too forward. harassment, sexual or otherwise, is not tolerated in the workplace, why should it be at a convention.

    yes the women have to be able to handle those behaviors, they also need to report such incidents, but there should be more security around the floor.

    i’m surprised it has not come up before.

  3. Julian
    August 16, 2008 at 12:22 pm — Reply

    I just went to Otakon for the anime convention and i found one girl who is pretty much 90% naked. She dressed up as La Mariposa from the Dead or Alive series and i admitt, she was very hot and her outfit was successfully put together. But seeing this, i was wondering if she has been touch inappropreately. Or even thought about the fact that being surrounded by hundreds of people, is she afraid of what might happened to her?

  4. hermit
    August 16, 2008 at 12:28 pm — Reply

    i’m fine with half naked women, but i won’t go and touch her or harass her because of that. maybe try to talk to her, but that’s it.

    when they dress like that, they are not ”asking for it”

  5. Rodrigo
    August 16, 2008 at 6:00 pm — Reply

    I think it’s interesting that it was creators and booth attendants that got harassed, not models. But does Comicon need rules on this? yes, of course, because no patron or booth attendant should have to put up with that.

    Now, that whole ‘there’s a guy going around verbally bashing women writers and artists’ thing is a tricky subject. He might be a bigot, but are they going to throw out every nerd who bashes a comic creator?

  6. The Ninja Charro
    August 16, 2008 at 8:38 pm — Reply

    If I were there , I would have kicked that bastard on his balls so strongly, he would never dare see a woman again.

  7. mosdef
    August 17, 2008 at 4:51 pm — Reply

    lol @ ninja charro. I dont think there should be a gray area, sure you can nicely criticize somebody, but to openly do it to one sex is rude and sexist. More security is the next answer, I have never been to a Con or anything like it, so i would have expected major security to be around in case stuff like that ever happens, so beef up the security and like one of the guys up there said, you get a warning and after that you get kicked out, no refund, no reentry.

  8. August 17, 2008 at 7:20 pm — Reply

    I’m kinda creeped out about going to the con next year now. I don’t wanna see any of these weirdos out there

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