How do you handle being sexually assaulted at a con?

Question

How do you handle being sexually assaulted at a con? I've been groped by strangers almost every con, and received varying levels of predatory aggression. And I'm not alone on this. 'Deflecting unwelcome attention' is sort of one level, but there's definitely more aggressive levels to it and frankly it's at the point where I've had people recommend I grab the person's badge and march it down to security.

Received via Telegram (name withheld)

Answer

Conventions are meant to be places where we are able to let our fur fly, so to speak. For many people, it’s one of the few times a year where they are able to see long-distance friends, lovers, or be surrounded by people who they feel comfortable with. It’s quite common to see people bouncing from room to room, carousing and having fun in this limited window.

During conventions we find ourselves comfortable and, therefore, vulnerable. While there is an unspoken social agreement that we should not take advantage of this mutual vulnerability, there definitely are people who do not take “no” for an answer, or in some cases neglect to even ask permission at all. We see this in all levels: from hugging fursuiters to your case where someone has groped you without requesting consent.

First, and foremost, enthusiastic consent should be a must in sexual actions and vocabulary. In the past, “no means no” implied that it’s okay to start an action and, when told “no”, you stop. We need to fully embrace a culture of “request consent before you sexually act”, especially if it is with someone new or, perhaps, a new sexual activity or kink/fetish play with an existing partner. We need to move past “no means no” to “yes means yes”.

When people fail to achieve enthusiastic consent, it shows either a failure of understanding or a failure of ethics; I would argue that there is a portion of the fandom that is inexperienced with requesting consent, and the permissive atmosphere of a convention might add to that. In some cases, people lack common sense, or they leave their common sense at home while they are at a convention. While I’m not excusing their behavior, nor does ignorance make one innocent, I do want to offer that as a possibility.

Now, in accordance with the standing of most (if not all) conventions, their policy is that you need to report any incident where you are harassed to convention staff or security in order for them to resolve the situation. Conventions are of the practice of promoting a safe, peaceful space for their attendees and will act accordingly, from removing the individual from the convention space/hotel to contacting the authorities. Each convention handles matters differently, and I would encourage you to contact convention security to inquire as to their enforcement methods of their harassment policies for more information.

Whenever you are the target of unwanted sexual advances, whether they’re verbal or physical, you should say no. I recommend being loud about it, because that immediately puts attention on you and that often can mean the difference between continued harassment and getting away from your harasser.

Once done, you should consider the following actions as being essential:

  1. Put space between yourself and the offending party. This will give you air to think and move. If there are other people around you, try putting yourself in a position where other people are in between you and the offending party. This will act as a good buffer, especially in case their intent is far more persistent.

  2. Consider removing yourself from the room/party/location entirely. If you are unsure of your safety, consider leaving the location temporarily. That being said, if you question your safety, you should take that opportunity to inform the convention security of the situation. That being said-

  3. Decide whether you want to report this to the convention staff. In most cases I would recommend you report this occurrence. While you might view an unwanted grope or sexual advance to be a nuisance, others might view it more negatively. If you feel that telling the person no and how it’s inappropriate is enough to suffice, then use your judgment. However, when in doubt, allow convention security to sort it out.

Private parties can sometimes be an exception to the above. If you are invited to a party, take the opportunity to ask what is going to happen while at the party. If it is a kink event, or a sex party, do not be surprised if someone propositions you while attending, or perhaps acts in a way that might be more than sexually suggestive. If you feel you might be uncomfortable with this type of behavior, take the initiative and decline to attend.

Even so, if someone at such a party propositions you for sex and you say no, they should respect your decision. You do not owe anyone sex, affection, or attention, even if you are attending a party centered around sexual activities. Keep yourself aware of the context of the party and the expected behaviors of the party and, if you find yourself uncomfortable, decline to attend or depart the party entirely. Time, place, and circumstance does create slightly extenuating circumstances, and it’s best not to blame another party for a misunderstanding on your part. If it doesn’t hurt anyone to ask if hugging is okay before giving one, it won’t hurt to ask about the expected course of a party that you will be attending.

All of that being said, I do want to touch on convention policies ever so slightly. While convention policies detail what is harassment and what you should do if you find yourself to be the target of harassment, most do not offer any sort of guidelines on enthusiastic consent and, instead, default to a “no means no” mentality.

In looking at AnthroCon, I was met with the following policy:    

  • Harassment of any kind, including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions, will not be tolerated at the convention. If people tell you "no" or ask you to leave them alone, your business with them is done. If you continue to attempt to have contact with those people, you may be removed from the premises. Remember: "A costume does not imply consent." If you have been the target of harassment, we urge you to report the incident immediately to a member of Security or to Convention Operations. The sooner an issue is reported to us, the more appropriately we can address it.

This policy is the same as it is at FurTheMore, and is quoted almost verbatim at Eurofurence.

Furry Weekend Atlanta provides the following policy:  

  • We’re all here to have fun, and harassment will not be tolerated at Furry Weekend Atlanta. Harassment includes, but is not limited to: punching, striking, kicking, shoving, threatening, stalking, or any close-proximity behavior that occurs that is unwanted by one or more parties. Remember that no means no and go away means go away. Any harassment complaints will be dealt with immediately by convention security.

Vancoufur provides the following policy:

  • Be considerate! Inappropriate conduct towards hotel guests or staff will result in immediate expulsion and possible ban from future events.

NordicFuzzCon has the following policy:    

  • If someone asks you to stop, then STOP. If you are asked to leave them alone, then LEAVE. There is NO discussion.

  • It should go without saying that some people reserve any kind of physical contact to their close friends and family only. If you are not sure somebody wants to be hugged, tackled, pounced, or otherwise assaulted, please ask the person first.

Midwest Furfest has the following policy:

  • We investigate reports of harassment during the event and will take appropriate action to respond to legitimate claims including but not limited to, revocation of convention membership, barring offending persons from convention space, and informing the Hyatt Regency O'Hare that offending persons are no longer eligible for the convention room rate. This may result in additional actions such as but not limited to, revocation of the convention room rate and removal from the premises, at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare's discretion.

As we can see, we find more “no means no” as opposed to a policy of enthusiastic consent/”yes means yes”. In some cases (NordicFuzzCon in particular), there is a mention of obtaining consent before coming into physical contact with an individual, however it is my view that it could be stated more explicitly. I find that the less room for interpretation when it comes to matters of sexual agency, the better, especially when codified as a standard for conduct.

In the United States, the Department of Justice defines Sexual Assault as the following:

  • Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

They use the language “explicit consent”, which means that before any sexual contact (yes, even fondling as in the case of you, anonymous questioner) takes place there must be enthusiastic, freely given consent. This is the standard of language that must be adopted in conventions, not the language of “stop means stop”. When you do not hold attendees to this standard, you are creating space for ignorance, or violations of the policy while still being in the spirit of the policy. I’ll give an example:

If you are at a convention and someone gropes you. For the above conventions, by saying “no”, they would then be directed to stop. If they then stop, then in theory that leaves slight recourse for you as an individual. If you go to convention security, the story is “he grabbed my ass, I told him to stop, he stopped”. While we are, of course, ignoring the fact that in most conventions this would be grounds for a warning, if not expulsion, the fact is that there is still a slightly grey area that exists where people can think that their unacceptable behavior is acceptable and act in good faith in accordance with this faulty, unreasonable logic. Laws, policies, and codes of conduct are written with this lowest common denominator in mind, and while it might seem like common sense to many, for some individuals it does have to be spelled out.

I would recommend that conventions evaluate this language and adapt it accordingly for their codes of conduct to be more representative of enthusiastic consent. No still means no, but emphasis needs to be placed on asking for permission before coming into physical contact. While this obviously does little to stop people from being verbally suggestive, it does help with the issue of physical contact that is entirely inappropriate. If we can find a solution for verbal harassment, please inform me so I can share it with New York City; maybe then women can walk the street without being catcalled at.

Now, for people who think that groping people without asking for consent is acceptable, I have some words for you. Stop Immediately.

Stop trying to blame it on being drunk or high. If you find yourself making potentially questionable decisions, get into the habit of asking if sober-you would do what drunk-you wants to do to another person. If the answer is no, don’t treat alcohol as “liquid courage”. Don’t treat weed as an excuse for shitty behavior. You’re a shitty person if you grope people without permission, regardless of your levels of sobriety.

Stop trying to blame it on the other person being flirty, or misleading, or wearing revealing clothing. I don’t care if you walked into your room and saw them helicoptering their dick around without a care in the world. Ask before you touch.

Stop trying to blame it on not knowing any better. If you’ve read this far, you know better now. Stop being a shitty individual and better yourself. Ignorance might be “bliss” for you, but in the eyes of another it is assault. Stop that shit.

Stop making excuses for yourself. If you grope someone, your ass could be going to jail. You could be required to register as a sex offender. You could face a lifetime of shame, unemployment, and harassment for one shitty choice you made. It’s a choice to touch someone, not a requirement. It's okay to look with your eyes, but ask for permission before you see them with those hands.

Stop trying to guilt other people into letting you touch them. Just because you are a virgin, or believe yourself unlovable, or push the subject after someone tells you to stop does not mean that they will give in. Pickup Artists are bullshit-- don’t neg on someone, don’t guilt someone, don’t coerce someone. The only time you coerce someone into “just the tip” should be if they agree to pay for your dinner but you still want to contribute to the bill.

Stop believing that everyone will be okay with the same things you are. I am a fairly free going person, and I have been blessed to be surrounded by the same types of people (less blessed, more discovered through hard work and dedication). Just because I am free spirited doesn’t mean that I think everyone else is. There are plenty of butts I would like to touch, but I don’t because it’s not ethical. Hell, even at a convention where I walked into a naked guy who invited me to touch his junk, I asked if he was sure that was okay. As it turns out, he was.

Stop thinking that just because your roommates are fucking, you’re going to get to fuck them. Listen, if you follow Viro and Koji, you know that they have sex. If you're out of the loop, they’re married and fuck all the time. When I room with them at conventions, my presence is not going to stop them from fucking. Just because they fuck doesn’t mean that I get a golden ticket to pound town-- even if I am in the same room. You don’t participate without asking first.

Stop blaming everyone else but yourself. You might be a shithead now, but we all can be shitheads from time to time. Stop being bitter, start getting better. Apologize to those who you have hurt, and have people you trust keep an eye on you and hold you accountable for your actions. Stop looking for loopholes, for the vulnerable, for exceptions. Stop treating people like prey and you’re the predator. Your dick doesn’t cure cancer, and your pussy doesn’t grant infinite wishes. Stop acting like you’re more, or less, than you actually are.

It takes time to change these types of behaviors, and it might seem like it's impossible. But you are better, stronger, and more capable than you might think you are. Devote time to correcting your own issues before trying to take on another person in your life in such an intimate fashion. You'll thank yourself later.

To the questioner, I hope this answered your question. With this being a nuanced question, the answer has to be equally nuanced. Use your judgement, listen to what your friends have to say (if you want outside opinions), and follow through on whatever decision you make. Take the initiative for your own agency. You are your own best advocate: never be afraid to use your voice.

Finally, if you find yourself in the position of being groped, assaulted, or otherwise harassed, just remember to not blame yourself. If you keep all of the above in mind it will help you to not shut down in those instances and will, instead, motivate you to regain control in a situation that seems entirely outside of your control. You are always capable of action, and the ultimate choice in these situations rests on your shoulders. 

If you have any follow up questions or feedback, feel free to use the comment section below or getting in touch with us via our contact page.

Thanks and, as always, be well!

Metriko Oni

Metriko Oni is a former government environmental disaster mitigations expert with a focus on outreach, education, and policy writing. He now works with computers. He has been active in the fandom since 2013 and has been an advocate for transparent lines of communication. His interests include philosophy, media, futurism, and speculative fiction.