NEWS

Shutting down sexual harassment at Comiccon

09/12/2014 01:59 EDT | Updated 11/12/2014 05:59 EST
Just because I’m wearing a sexy Batgirl costume, it doesn’t mean you get to grope me. 

Montreal tattoo artist and Batgirl fan Maery Morrison says she shouldn't have to spell that out, but overt harassment and inappropriate comments are all too common in the cosplay world. 

It actually happens more at conventions than in daily life, she said. 

“Sometimes an interviewer will ask you for your breast size, or when posing for a photo the person will take a little grab," she said.

"A lot are not malicious, not out to hurt you, but it does wound and is a problem within the community."

Cosplay stands for costume play. Cosplayers wear costumes representing a specific character usually from manga, anime, comic books, video games, and movies. It's a popular element of conventions like Comiccon. 

Montrealer Dave “Hobbes” Hickey said its not just female cosplayers who have been targeted or harassed.

Hickey likes to wear a kilt to conventions.

He told CBC people have lifted up his kilt to see what he's wearing under it and have gone as far as shoving cameras underneath and snapping pictures.

“Sometimes I catch them and sometimes I don’t, but every time I’ve been faced with it I say, 'Hey! what are you doing? You can’t do that!' and they’ll say, 'If you’re gonna dress like that in public this is what you should expect so grow up.'”

Montreal’s Comiccon organizers are taking those concerns seriously.

Last year, the organization added a clause to its Terms of Agreement spelling out conduct that’s unacceptable: that includes hugging, groping, back-slapping and kissing.

They’ve trained staff on how to respond to complaints and put a full-page ad in the program which reads "Cosplay is Not Consent."

Cosplayers like Morrison and Hickey want a panel discussion at the Comiccon to air the issue.  

But getting someone to take to the stage and talk about harassment in the cosplay world is tricky.

Hickey said the panellists at a similar event at the Ottawa Comiccon, in May, were subject to verbal abuse.

Organizers had a hard time filling the slots on that panel because those who initially agreed to take part started to received hate mail and even death threats and backed out. The message was, "Stop talking about it."

Montreal Comiccon program director Cliff Caporale says he’s found a young woman who will take on the issue this year. 

But Caporale admits there are unique challenges in large gatherings like Comiccon. People might not even realize they've been targeted because of discreet devices like cell phones. 

"The biggest issue is actually a lot of [people taking photos] that are inappropriate with different angles and, excuse my language, butt shots," he said.

"It’s not cool. That’s not what people came there for so we’re on the lookout to make sure people don’t do that and, you know, people could get kicked out of the convention if don’t pay attention to the rules."

Montreal Comiccon opens today at the Palais des congrès and runs through the weekend.

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