No geek-themed convention would be complete without hardcore fans dressing up as their favorite fictional characters, at least half of which are going to be Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn until the heat death of the universe. Hey, we're not here to judge your outfit -- you'll have to pry our Office Sombreros from our cold, dead skulls. But dressing up like comic book characters involves terms like 'skin-tight,' and 'scantily-clad,' and 'physically impossible spandex draping.' And where there are butts, there are problems.
For women, that is. Guys usually just have to deal with back strain.
"Cosplayers can't win," says Emma, a cosplay director at a large anime convention. "If you alter the costume to be more modest, you might get accusations of not being 'true to the source.' But if you cosplay the character as-is, there's catcalling and groping."
Dirty telegraphs if you go with a steampunk version.
Accuracy is also a great excuse for pedantic assholes to be, well, pedantic assholes -- just ask cosplayers who happen to have different measurements from the actual cartoon, or forgot to be born white.
"Cosplayers of color are constantly told they are only allowed to cosplay characters that match their race," says Jessa, a veteran cosplayer.
Somehow changing race became a bigger deal than playing fast and loose with species.
You'd be amazed how quickly the tiniest shred of power can turn the bullied into bullies. When you combine that with the fetishistic status many female comic characters have, it gets creepy, fast. Cosplayer Alexis told us she gets constant requests for photos of her characters in "damsel in distress" scenarios, "high kick fighting poses," and even "tied up like a hostage."
But not everybody is interested in a female cosplayers posing like hostages. Some demand more ... accuracy.
"My first encounter with a cosplay predator was in 2001 at Otakon, the largest anime convention on the East Coast," Jessa recalls. "I was eight years old, and was dressed up as Sailor Mini Moon. We met a photographer who took some photos of me. He and my mom talked for a while and became friendly. A few months later, he was travelling to another convention and asked if he could stay overnight at our place. My mom said OK."
Yeah, this really is going exactly where you think.
Sure enough, "that night, before I went to bed," Jessa continues, "he asked me if I wanted to take some pictures in the morning before my mom got up. I, being completely naive, said yes. We went into my basement and he took photos of me sitting on his lap, with him holding up my dress."
It's not exactly a fond childhood memory, but it could have been a lot worse: The guy became somewhat infamous in the cosplay community for inviting preteen girls to sex parties in his hotel room. He has subsequently been Banned As f**k From Everywhere Forever, but he's not the only one out there.
Unfortunately comic conventions aren't exactly difficult places to conceal your identity.
"About five years ago, the head of Safety approached me about a stalker situation," Emma remembers. "A young teenage girl dressed as Hatsune Miku was upset and crying. She and one of her friends had met some guy on the internet who seemed 'cool' and promised he would show them around the convention. He was not eighteen like he said he was, more like late twenties, and almost immediately started making sexual comments about her and inviting her to his room. This girl was fifteen and scared."
After the cosplayer got away and found security, the man was escorted out of the convention and arrested, hopefully by actual cops and not just some random guys cosplaying Patlabor.
Not unless they were willing to go full mech rage on the pervert in question, that is.
No seriously, it's an actual problem: "Technically, we aren't legally allowed to detain anyone," Emma says, so the most a convention's security can do is try to alert the police without tipping off the target.
There are a few precautions the con-runners have begun to take. "Our registration system will automatically flag anyone who has previously been expelled from the convention, or who is in our database as permabanned," Emma explains. "A permanent ban is issued to known sex offenders who try to register. We also ban people that have previously had their badges pulled for harassing behavior."
Though an event where half the attendees are armed kinda seem like a counterintuitive place to harass someone.
But that does nothing to stop predators who've never been caught before, and frankly, those are the ones we should be worried about the most. To that extent, "We try to group all of our programming together in one area of the convention center, to keep people from wandering around deserted hallways where sexual assault can happen," Emma continues. "Our Safety Personnel goes through some brief conflict resolution training, and the entire Safety team also meets with the members of the police department that will be staffing our convention to go over some basic procedures for de-escalation."
Plus that training really helps sell any Ghost In The Shell cosplay, so it's a win-win.
To be clear, most conventions are mostly safe, and any given dude in a Deadpool costume is probably not going to kidnap you ...
Though, full disclosure, there will be enough Deadpools that the law of averages guarantees at least one will be sketchy.
... It's just that this is a very old problem in a very new setting, and nobody's quite sure about the best way to keep you safe while you get your geek on. In the meantime, might we suggest a costume with some offensive capabilities?
Jessa, AKA Petrichor Cosplay is an award-winning veteran cosplayer of 16 years. She is also the founder of Cosplayers United Against Harassment, an international organization committed to bringing awareness to and eliminating harassment and bullying in the Cosplay community, and has traveled nationwide speaking at conventions on this subject. Alexis is the lead fabricator and designer for Shattered Stitch Cosplay, based out of Tennessee. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.
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For more insider perspectives, check out Cosplay Porn Is An Industry: We Talked To Its Titans and 5 Insane Realities Of A Professional Costumed Stormtrooper.
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