Consent Violations and Bystander Intervention

With convention season in full swing, now is a good time to talk about consent violations and how you can help. With the upswing of the #meToo movement, people are feeling more and more comfortable at least calling out behavior that makes them uncomfortable — or worse.

On this panel, Lisa Adler-Golder, Bill Lawhorn, Jennifer Povey, and Stephanie Burke discussed ways to avoid inadvertently (or intentionally) “creeping”, how people and conventions can discourage violations from happening in the first place, ways to help someone escape harassment, how to educate a violator, and what the process is if you need to report an incident.

What Is A Creeper?

There’s a lot of worry out there about intentions being misunderstood and being accused of “creeper” behavior. Plus, there’s the assumption that people who don’t consider themselves conventionally attractive are going to be accused of “creeping” for doing the exact same thing that is welcome from conventionally attractive people.

Let’s start off by leveling the playing field. ANYONE can be creepy. No matter their gender or hotness-rating-level. Those “conventionally attractive people”? Are just more likely to be labeled “sleazes” than “creepers”, but the behaviors are in the exact same category.

Creeping is simply unwelcome and unwanted contact.

While it’s true that some people with poor social skills have issues, often they’ll find that people of the same gender aren’t getting “creeped out”. If you examine their interactions, you’ll find that their behavior around people of the opposite gender is decidedly different. Trying to treat all people the same can go a long way to reduce any perception of creeping.

Many people have been socialized that making a fuss or a scene is worse than putting up with unwanted and uncomfortable attention. And creepers take advantage of that.

Most creepers are pushing boundaries on purpose. They’re probably not some conniving villain, but they are trying to pressure the target into giving them their attention, their time, and maybe more.

Ways To Prevent Harassment

The best way to prevent consent violations is to be aware of boundaries and stop harassing behavior before it starts.

If you have trouble reading cues

Maybe you know you have a problem pushing boundaries, but finding the limits don’t come naturally to you. That’s when you should ask for help.

The panelists recommended:

  • Group dynamics therapy
  • Workshops/lectures on communication – especially mirroring

For conventions

  • Having a Code of Conduct
  • Badge ribbon activism – cosplay/kilts are not consent
  • Modeling good behavior
  • Penalize offenders – if they’re over the line or repeated offenders
    • kick people out of parties/panels/the convention as required.

Note: Legally, it’s hard to share information between events — although videos on YouTube and opinions from participants in good standing can help.

What Are Creeper Behaviors?

  • Sidling up
  • Staring
  • Overly intimate behavior
    • NOTE: Often when you meet a new group of people, you’ll see them being more casual about hugs/touch/etc. Remember that their comfort with that level of touch has been built up over their friendship and just because it’s okay for someone they know to do, doesn’t mean it’s fine for everyone.
  • Skirting the line of acceptable boundaries AND the subject is uncomfortable
  • Stealthing with cameras
  • Startling people, then snagging photos
  • Getting too close on the bed/sofa, during a room party
  • Talking to/at them, and not giving them an opportunity to leave
  • At vendor tables – monologuing at the vendor
    • often (in)advertently blocking sales because people won’t want to interrupt
    • the audience is captive and obligated to be nice

How You Can Help As A Bystander

First, determine if they need assistance. Evaluate their body language.

Watch for social cues

Often, the person being targeting will be:

  • Looking away
  • Crossing their arms and hunching forward
  • Stepping back
  • Looking cornered

Discrete Ways To Help

  • Stand between target and harasser in the conversation huddle
    • Not too close! They don’t need a NEW source of discomfort
  • If you’re helping someone at a vendor or signing table, call out, “I think it’s time for the next person
  • If you see them trapped at a vendor table, start up a conversation with the vendor yourself.
    • Once the harasser has moved on, move on yourself. Don’t replace them.
  • Invite the target to go somewhere else with you, even if it’s just across the room
  • Start up a conversation with the harasser and distract them, giving the target an opportunity to get away.
  • Model good behavior yourself
  • “Can I talk to [Target] for a minute?”

By Calling Out The Behavior

Sometimes, the time for subtly has passed. Or the behavior requires a more forceful intervention. In that case, do it loud and proud. Make sure the room or the people nearby know that this person has crossed the line and there is an issue. Once one person steps up, other people often feel comfortable helping — knowing that then help is needed and welcome.

NOTE: ONLY call out their behavior if you feel safe doing so. There is no shame in not feeling safe enough.

  • “Why are you messing with her/him/them?”
  • If they’re being touchy-feely? Grab the hand and ask loudly, “what are you doing?”
  • “Do you need help?” to the target. Or the harasser.
  • “Excuse me, what do you think you’re doing?”
  • “Excuse me, could you repeat that?”
  • While ignoring the harasser, “are you okay?”

What To Do When You Don’t Feel Safe Intervening

Especially if the harasser is larger and drunk, or otherwise not sober, it can be dangerous to intervene yourself. Sometimes, there’s a disparity in level of, or perceived level of authority.

Subtle interventions can be very handy here, but don’t always work.

  • Take pictures/video of the situation
  • Call for backup – a friend, staff, security
  • Call 911 (If you feel safe doing so, tell the harasser that’s what you’re doing)

What To Do If You’re Harassed

This is for harassment, for anything more egregious, do whatever you need to, to be safe.

While they’re harassing you

Here’s the standard escalation process.

  1. Ask them to stop
  2. Ask someone else/an authority to get them to stop.
  3. Get Security, or send someone.

Once you’re away

Should you file a report?

Assuming the incident did not require police intervention, this is 100% up to you and your comfort level. Most con staffs want to do the right thing. Things to consider if you’re not sure the incident warrants a report:

  1. Did they respond well when you asked them to stop?
  2. Did you have to escalate?
  3. Did they immediately find a new target?

Once you’ve decided to file a report

  1. Go to Con Ops to file an incident report (any staffer should be able to direct you)
    1. Who/description
    2. What the behavior was
    3. Your contact info

This way, the convention has a paper trail. They can penalize the offender as necessary. But also? The paper trail makes it harder for people to downplay the incident years later. (i.e. If someone is banned, con staff changes, and the harasser shows up again, asking to come back.)

Are They Educatable?

Especially for convention staff looking to minimize future incidents, you might want to try and educate the harasser. Sometimes, people make mistakes. But, not everyone is going to listen.

  • When you intervene, do they seem open to critique?
  • Are they doing active listening, or are they full of excuses/talking over you?
  • Ask their friends
    • is this is normal?
    • have they been warned before?
    • are there extenuating circumstances?
    • is this a pattern, a 1-off, or a specific personality clash?

Intervention Success Stories

Our panelists have been involved in the behind-the-scenes at conventions for years.

It’s just part of what Stephanie does. But she’s ashamed of her fellow con-goers when they just keep walking and don’t step up.

Lisa considers it her job, but likes when the harasser apologizes and doesn’t offend again.

At CapClave last year, the Guest of Honor told Bill that this was “Only the second convention I’ve been to, where I wasn’t harassed.” Result? They’re planning on coming to the reunion!


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