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 Life Skills for Fanboys:  Who Are the Creepers?

 written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2014

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.  Previous columns are indexed at the end.

Creepers at the Con

So I noticed a link on Intervention Con organizer and webcomic creator, Onezumi’s Facebook the other day.  (An exceedingly rare event for me to notice anything on Facebook these days.  BTW, I will be at Intervention Con this year.)  It was this link regarding the problem with sexual harassment at cons and whether or not to ban people.  You’d think it would be a pretty easy call, but read the piece from the Ferret to see his perspective as a con organizer.

In a Nutshell

In running any event, safety is your number one concern.  You don’t want people dying at a con or getting hurt.  It’s just common sense, not to mention it could destroy the con.  Sexual harassment can be a problem with some attendees and it is often difficult to discern actual sexual harassment from, say, con drama that’s just gotten out of hand.  There’s also the issue of proof.  If it’s a he said/she said situation between two strangers or even two friends, who do you believe when there’s no real proof of what happened?  Do you ban people?  And does banning people turn your con into a mini-version of the TSA or some kind of fascist dictatorship?  Should people get “con trials”?  Should you call the cops?

Sexual harassment can be a huge issue at a con.  Take, for instance, what happened at Dragon Con.  Although that’s a pretty extreme example, how much are the people who just want to run a con responsible?  What should be done and how can everyone stay safe without turning the con into some kind of overburdened, security-fest?

Just like in the column I linked, it’s very complicated.  An associate of mine was allegedly sexually harassed at a con.  I took her side, but I had no evidence of what happened other than what she said.  To this day, I’ve boycotted the organization to whom her harasser worked, but I can’t be particularly vocal about it.  I don’t really have any proof.  I believe her, but I can’t say anything publicly.  That could libel her harasser and get me in trouble.

The Choice

As I see it, con organizers have a choice.  Are they running a con or are they running a party for their friends?  If you’re running a party for your friends, well the situation is more about who gets harassed and who you’re friends with.  You’re probably going to side with the people you’re closest to and to Hell with everyone else that balks.  These kinds of cons are small anyway, so they can always fade away and re-emerge somewhere else.  They’re not really dependent upon attendance, unless of course, you drive all your friends away by siding with the “wrong” person.  Whoever that may be.  Groups of friends often have their own ways of settling scores, so unless the event is particularly extreme, then sometimes that’s the way to go.

The Professional Way

But if you’re running a business, even one dependent upon volunteer knuckleheads and fanboys, you can’t afford to dick around.  When someone is sexually harassed, you have to call the cops in my view.  Con organizers have to deal with cops because their events are being held in their jurisdiction.  They should try and lay the groundwork ahead of time by calling the cops to see what they’re in for if the worst happens.

Being pretty Libertarian myself, I’m not a huge fan of calling the cops for anything.  It could get real messy and they could even make it worse by shutting things down or throwing their weight around.  However, you need to cover the ass of your business, ie the con.  Hopefully, the cops will at least fill out a report, take a statement and deal with the issue off site.  This is a win-win for the con in two ways:

1.  If this is nothing but “con drama” getting out hand, it’s likely the people making the most noise will back down and be forced to be realistic about what actually happened.  This sends a clear message, “This drama will not stand.  We have to call the cops if you act like this.”  Hopefully, you’ll only have to do it once to make that craziness go away.

2.  If you’re dealing with a real sexual harassment issue, it sends a clear message to the harasser, you won’t tolerate this over-the-line behavior.  And if there’s an actual arrest and conviction, it will be easy to ban your problem from the con forever.  Now the person harassed may not come forward for his or her own reasons, but there’s little you can do about that.  But at least now the con is covered.

Private Organizations

Ultimately, cons are private organizations and they can ban anyone they like for any reasons.  Yes, they could get sued, but that’s pretty unlikely.  What exactly is the person suing for?  A con badge?  Con organizers need to pre-empt these potential lawsuits by having attendees sign a document saying that they understand they can be ejected without refund for any reason.  It can be placed on the registration site and attendees can be forced to click them to purchase a ticket.

Place the Burden on the Attendee

There are going to be instances when an attendee gets banned and wants back in.  Place the burden on him.  Have a procedure in place where the person can come to the con organizers and plead their case.  Most guilty people aren’t going to bother and if they’re innocent, hopefully they can bring some kind of compelling evidence.  I mean, it largely depends on what happened and the events, but you get what I’m saying.  Again, if the con has these pathways, the organizers can point to them and say, “See?  You can get back in if you really want to.”  You’re not running a democracy, you don’t even have to be fair, you just have to do what’s best for the business and the con community at large.

Time and Drama

Convention bannings don’t have to last forever.  Over time, con drama fades, people move and stop coming or switch cliques.  And while sexual harassment is not “con drama”, there is drama around it that can spiral out of control.  Some people just need to be banned forever.  The behavior that motivates them is inappropriate and has more to do with their unresolved issues than your con.  Conversely, some people just cross the line by accident because they are drunk, stupid or forgetful.  These people may be genuinely remorseful and if they are forgiven by the person that was harassed, should be brought back into the fold.  Time tends to give everyone more perspective on these issues.

The bottom line is, if you’re going to run a con, you’re going to have to deal with people.  People aren’t always appropriate, nice or sane.  You have to be prepared to deal with a lot of drama, baggage and behavior you wouldn’t normally put up with in your real life.  Running a con is serving people who want to have fun.  Your number one priority is to make sure everyone is safe, even if that means blowing up your con’s reputation by calling the cops or even shutting the whole thing down.

Previous Columns
Obesity at Cons
The Art of Conversation
The Line Between Fans and Pros
Geek Elitism
Convention Panels
Convention Volunteers
Food Gifts
Women and Cons
Get Your Room Party Together
Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons
The Face of Geek Needs Work
Fixing the Face of Geek
Franchise Worship
Presenting Your Project
The New Image?
Stop Trying to Make Geek Cool
 Rethinking the Comic Book Con
Zombie Stories Should Still Be About People
Geek Stereotypes and the Big Bang Theory
Con Locations
Traveling to Cons on the Cheap
Con Economics
Comics, Sexism and Trolling
Searching for the Words
How to Fix Comics?  Stop Reading Them
Shopping at the Con
The Hollywood Double Edged Sword
Beware the Geek Scams
Success Kills
In Response to Chuck Dixon, Paul Rivoche and Janelle Asselin
Fanboy Reporters
Dealing with Critics and Haters in the Internet Age