According to a 2014 study by Janelle Asselin, 59% of comic book fans felt that sexual harassment at conventions is a problem that must be dealt with. Sexual abuse is mostly aimed at female cosplayers and shockingly only 8% reported that they were sexually abused physically. Other results showed that 13% reported sexual comments made towards them at conventions and on social media. While these results apply to American comic book conventions specifically, people should not turn a blind eye to sexual abuse happening in their own community. Although the South African cosplay community is smaller than the American community, sexual abuse against cosplayers is still a reality.
So what is it about cosplay that attracts men to sexually abuse female cosplayers? “Girls will don a skimpy/sexy cosplay, and then con creepers will think it gives them the right to touch them inappropriately, take pictures up their skirts and yell grossly inappropriate things at them,” says Sakura Breeze, a Cape Town cosplayer. “Then, they will excuse it as it being her fault because of the way she was dressed – which, no, it wasn’t.” Kuroneko Cosplay, a Cape Town cosplayer who experienced sexual harassment herself, gives a general view as to who the culprits usually are: “It’s not usually anybody within their (cosplay) community, it’s often people who don’t know about cosplay and they take it as sexual roleplay.”
Sexual abuse is not only limited to female cosplayers; male cosplayers are also the victims of it: “I’ve seen some of the gross comments fangirls can make about guys cosplaying,” says Sakura Breeze. “It’s completely overlooked because it’s girls saying it about guys rather than the other way around.” So what does this say about the culprits of sexual abuse? Can we excuse women for making sexual comments towards men but punish men for making sexual comments towards women? The ideal answer would be no, but because male sexual abuse is generally in the minority female sexual abuse needs to be stopped because it is so prevalent.
For crossplayers (a cosplayer who cosplays as someone of the opposite gender), they are also not exempt from sexual abuse. Yamaki, a South African cosplayer famous for her crossplays, has once been a victim of sexual abuse due to cosplaying as a male character: “I had two con-goers and a cosplayer, at different times respectively, come up to me and ask: “You’re a girl right? Where are your boobs?” To which I explained that female to male crossplayers wear chest binders to flatten their chests (and no it is not painful if done correctly). Said persons then proceeded to reach out and attempt to feel my flattened chest.”
So how can one create awareness to this problem? What can one do to curb sexual abuse against cosplayers? Cosplay is Not Consent and Geeks for CONsent are two non-profit organisations in America that have respectively embarked on awareness campaigns to highlight the severity of sexual abuse towards cosplayers and are petitioning for conventions to adopt strict anti-harassment policies. These two organisations have also opened up a platform for cosplayers to come out and share their experiences on social media and lend their voice in the fight against sexual abuse: “I really love that movement!” says Sakura Breeze. “It addresses not only the issue of sexual abuse against cosplayers, but also the larger mindset behind it. It isn’t specific to one set/type/community of cosplayers, it’s open to everyone who wants to have a voice.”
“We showed up [at San Diego Comic Con], audited the convention space using the United Nation’s best practice Gender-Based Safety audit model, and went a little rogue, posting harassment policies ourselves,” states Geeks for CONsent on their website. This act by the organisation garnered much public and media attention and also put pressure on New York Comic Con to implement anti-harassment policies; hence the “Cosplay is Not Consent” sign.
If we are to combat sexual abuse against cosplayers, it has to begin with the cosplayers themselves. They have to offer up their voice to the matter and take action: “Two of the best ways to deal with such harassment I’ve found,” says Yamaki, “is to one; ignore such vulgarities. More often than not responding to them is exactly what the other party wants. Two; if the harassment is continuous from the same parties, confront them in a polite manner. If that does not help then report said parties to the convention’s security or any security around at the time.”
In order to curb sexual abuse, the general public must also play their part. If someone sees a cosplayer being harassed, they need to stand up and protect the cosplayer or report it to the local authorities. You do not need a costume to become a hero, become a hero by helping others.