Let's talk about the harassment of cosplayers, taking some recent Italian testimonies as an example: how do they happen and what can be done?

The theme of harassment of cosplayers it is not new at all, unfortunately. We know that they happen in practically all the fairs, but today we will examine some episodes, told by some witnesses.

Although such situations are not new, in no way should they be considered the norm, something that happens because "it's natural" or a kind of price to pay for cosplaying. Therefore, in this article we will talk about the facts told in the testimonies as starting examples, comparing them with what the Italian cosplayer community generally tends to suffer. In addition, some international initiatives will be presented aimed at making fairs safer for cosplayers.

The hope, of course, is to succeed raise awareness on this issue and that fair organizers and cosplayers will mobilize to take more precautions.

NB: this article and its comments are not a place for discussion on the nature and philosophy of cosplay. Above all, they are not a good place to debate whether the cosplayers are real cosplayers or not. Any sexist or degrading insult against cosplayers will not be tolerated.

Poster present at the Emerald City Comic Con, combined with their Anti-Harassment Policy against harassment of cosplayers
Poster present at Emerald City Comic Con, combined with theirs Anti-Harassment Policy against harassment of cosplayers

Not only in Italy: harassment of cosplayers in the world

The phenomenon of harassment of cosplayers is not concentrated in Italy. Rather!

Already in 2014 the petition Stop sexual harassment at San Diego Comic Con, created a formal anti-harassment policy created by the group Geeks for CONsent. The petition asked convention organizers (and especially San Diego Comic Con!) To adopt some anti-harassment measures against cosplayers. The movement was born from this petition Cosplay is not Consent, designed to raise awareness of harassment for cosplayers and improve safety in fairs.

Since then, there are several world-famous conventions that have adopted some anti-harassment policy, putting on paper their zero tolerance for harassment. This is already the case with New York Comic Con, Animé Los Angeles, Anime Expo and Wintercon. Even in not so nerdy environments, like the RuPaul's Drag Con, dedicated to drag queens, similar signs have been seen: “Drag is not consent”. Meanwhile, the movement Cosplay is not Consent has expanded all over the world, seeing the creation of similar movements in several other states, including France.

As reported by this article by Mic, it seems that the NYCC policy has had good results. In fact, if the year before the new regulation there were 20 complaints of harassment, the following year these complaints stopped at nine. However, it must be taken into account that most of the harassment is usually not reported, out of shame or fear of retaliation, so you have to take these numbers carefully.

Just di-ver-ten-tis-si-mo, huh! Photo from the Nerd Pride article on harassment of cosplayers
Just di-ver-ten-tis-si-mo, huh! Photo fromarticle of Pride Nerd about harassment at cosplayers

Harassment of cosplayers in Italy

In the meantime, in Italy in 2016 the phenomenon dressed up had caused a sensation crunchy box for cosplayers at Lucca Comics & Games, as reported by Nerd pride. Since then, many Italian companies have raised the problem by trying to raise awareness: in addition to the aforementioned Nerd Pride, in fact, they exposed themselves Player.it, MangaForever, badtaste, Comics e The Boson.

The news about harassment of cosplayers has also arrived out of the nerd world, getting articles in feminist circles, like Stuff for women, come on Vice and even on Buzzfeed and onHuffington Post, with two video interviews. But also some Italian sites dedicated to cosplay have dedicated some articles to the subject, such as CosplayHub.

What is said in the Italian cosplayer community?

Before analyzing in detail the testimonies of the 5 cosplayers interviewed by us, let's see how the issue of harassment of cosplayers in Italy is perceived by insiders.

In general, in the Italian cosplayer communities the issue is deeply felt and many and many complain of the harassment and / or, in general, of the fact that too many people feel legitimized to reach out. Many cosplayers are concerned, rightly, that these individuals may spoil their customs or their trick, but in general there is also a certain intolerance towards those who take too much confidence.

In particular, there are many testimonies that tell of harassment or unpleasant episodes happened to cosplayers minors. However, there are also cases where the cosplayers were harassed by 13/14 year old boys. Nor should we think that harassment has only cosplayers as its victims: although rarer, there are also testimonials from molested male cosplayer. Furthermore, even those who harass are never necessarily a man: there are many testimonies of girls or boys in cosplay harassed by women, who felt entitled to grope the cosplayers or catcall them.

A particular case: photographers and fappographers

Furthermore, the problem of photos taken in secret seems to be general, since many complain about them, nicknamed these individuals fappographers. The pappographers often seem to be more or less occasional passersby, stumbled upon the fair by chance, often accompanied by a wife and / or daughters. However, this is definitely not an Italian problem only: this letter, for example, was written after the 2012 Comikaze and is addressed to those who photograph the butt of the cosplay cosplayers. For anyone who loves taking pictures of cosplayers at the fair, the photographer Andy Ihnatko has compiled one label guide on what to do and what not to do. Needless to say, not taking pervert photos by tucking the lens under your skirts is part of the list.

However, the world of cosplay also has problems with self-styled professional photographers. In fact, complaints are often heard about photographers who, during photo shoots, push themselves to ask for provocative photos or to tuck the camera under the girls' skirts.

For this reason too, those in the sector recommend that you only turn to trusted photographers, who have made a name for themselves in the world of cosplay and whose professionalism is certain. And even in these cases it is always good to be cautious. In fact, there are cases like that of Timothy Marshall, a well-known photographer from the Australian cosplay scene, who was convicted of rape a 12-year-old girl.

Safe photographers: AIFA Cosplay

In Italy, however, professional photographers or serious amateurs attending fairs are usually members of the association AIFA Cosplay. These photographers are filed and registered and, during the fairs, are recognizable thanks to passes provided by the organizers of the event. AIFA Cosplay works both to ensure that photographers have the intellectual property of their works recognized, and to ensure respect for the subjects of the photos.

Note that, in the description of AIFA Cosplay, among the guidelines this stands out:

Always educate yourself: respect and education must never be lacking, neither towards cosplayers who portray themselves, nor towards other photographers even if not associated. You don't sneak in and don't intrude on other photographers' sessions without permission.

The cosplayer Sabrina, photographed by Ignazio T. and present on the website of AIFA Cosplay

The initial testimony: the Facebook post against harassment of cosplayers

After this general overview of the perception of harassment in the online communities of Italian cosplayers, we are going to analyze some particular cases. We have in fact collected some testimonies from harassed cosplayers on the occasion of RIMINICOMIX.

These harassment suffered by some cosplayers was raised by a fair goer. In a post on Facebook, has thus exposed his experience:

However, I don't know if the discomfort has increased significantly or if it has always been there and I really only realize it now, but in this Rimini I have never seen so many cocks pissing girls off.

First on the list are men of a certain age married, with their wives absolutely impassive next to them. One thing that I find creepy.
Friday I was approaching the fair and I found this girl in cosplay from Cubone in front, I seemed to see everything through her. An old man on the bench started screaming "KILL THAT PUSSY OH BUT DO GO LOOK AT THAT ASS OH" and made a thousand gestures with his hands, while the wife next to him jokingly put them down laughing.
5 steps later ANOTHER is placed very close to her, squaring her like a fucking scanner, saying "MAMMA MIA BUT WHAT A BEAUTIFUL CARNIVAL EHEHEH MAMMMMMA MIA".

IMMEDIATELY AFTER he does not have time to cross the road that a car passes and goes crazy with honking and shouting.
All of this happened in the last 50 meters before arriving directly at the fair. How many others have you heard before I arrived? I was more and more dry-mouthed like an idiot and unfortunately the only thing I was able to tell her was "they are swine, I'm sorry". I felt really stupid for not saying or doing more.
And yes, his was an uncovered cosplay, but this isn't absolutely relevant.

The same afternoon, a friend of mine was making 2B Bride and while she was talking to me I literally saw one behind her who could very well have been her grandfather pointing the camera straight at her ass, with his wife next to her super quiet. In this case, I placed myself in front of him to signal him to finish it and everything went away, even the wife looked at me badly.
Yes, his was an uncovered cosplay, but this is absolutely not relevant.

During the rest of the day and Saturday, I heard at least 2 or 3 girls complaining that some stranger had disturbed them on the street.
The girls in question were completely covered in cosplay, so MORE REASON the type of cosplay you wear isn't absolutely relevant.

Maybe I have always been too focused on my problems and my daily battles or maybe I really fall from the clouds ... And you will have every right to say "good morning honey, it has always been like this, this is my life since I have been on this earth" , but I've never seen anything like this before and am really amazed at how easy and generally acceptable it is to do this. Reading just a few stories around makes all of this seem like something much more sporadic, while it happens every fucking day, at all fucking hours and, above all, with all the fucking clothes a person can wear.

If before you have always had my support and my understanding, now multiply everything by 10000. I no longer intend not to act as I should in front of shit like that.

Poster of RIMINICOMIX 2019, created by Antonio Lapone
Poster of RIMINICOMIX 2019, created by Antonio Lapone

RIMINICOMIX: the circumstances of the fair

Before going further, however, it is necessary to clarify the circumstances in which RIMINICOMIX takes place, so as to better contextualise the harassment reported in the testimonies.

As many will know, the Riminicomix it is one of the best known and most popular summer cartoon fairs. It takes place in Rimini in the large square overlooking the Romagna waterfront and, over time, has grown considerably.

This year, for its 23rd edition, the RIMINICOMIX was held over four days, from 18 to 21 July. It has hosted not only cartoon stands and cosplay competitions, but also many guests and cultural events, including a cartoon workshop and a conference on the K-POP phenomenon.

Taking place both indoors (in the stands and in the Palazzina Roma), and outdoors (in piazzale Federico Fellini), the RIMINICOMIX is open to public and free admission. The opening hours are from 17 to 24, although on the days of competitions and cosplay parades the dressing rooms open from 11 in the morning.

Security at RIMINICOMIX

Aware of the large turnout of visitors, the organizers of the fair took precautions to try to thwart disturbers, thefts and harassment. The management writes to us:

At our demonstration there were 16 bodyguards or bouncers 24 hours a day, 24 area chiefs, corps of police and police during the opening hours to the public.

However, these security measures do not, of course, extend outside the event area. Furthermore, they certainly cannot cover the events organized by other organizations on the occasion of RIMINICOMIX, with which they have nothing in common. Therefore, the management warns visitors to the fair:

To all Cosplay, guests, or visitors who will participate in the RIMINICOMIX Cosplayconvention on 18/19/20/21 July 2019.

We communicate that all events - also called "Event on the occasion of the Rimini Cartoon Fair" organized at other venues and / or in other locations in the city, and which are not organized in Piazzale Federico Fellini in Marina center of Rimini, at the RIMINICOMIX stage, have no authorization from us to proceed and we are not the creators, or collaborators . And we have not issued any permits to organize them. Therefore; we decline any responsibility or anything else that could damage or damage your presence, or that is not to your liking.

Rose City Comic Con comic poster, which has a Harassment Policy against harassment of cosplayers
Comic book poster of Rose City Comic Con, which has one Harassment Policy against harassment of cosplayers

The harassment testimonies to the cosplayers

Having clarified the circumstances of the fair, let's move on to the testimonials.

Below the post of the boy mentioned above, a large number of cosplayers have gathered, who in turn have told their own experiences, in this and other fairs. Their numbers aroused our interest, so we contacted them for more information on their experiences.

They replied to the interview five cosplayer, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Not all of this harassment took place within the RIMINICOMIX, and indeed many took place in other places in Rimini, but generally with the cosplay witnesses. In the context of the fair, some cases of catcalling and photographs of intimate areas taken without the consent of the cosplayers seem to have occurred.

A's testimony:

During a set in the America Graffiti area, my friend and I had set up quite high steps in the new part of the fountains (in the area we say panoramic of Rimini). We were waiting for the photographer to fix the lights for a moment and my friend's boyfriend (every time we turned our backs so we didn't immediately realize what was happening behind or even above us) he realizes that two men were doing cell phone photos pointing straight to our asses. He yells at him to leave

In the afternoon we move to the fair area towards the grand hotel. We are talking to each other and always my friend's boyfriend notices that behind us, beyond the hedge, two middle-aged men, still with cell phones in hand, were taking pictures of our butts. Then the angry guy approaches and asks him if they asked us for permission to take those photos, their response was "no, because cosplayers don't ask, they don't have the right to complain."

On Sunday, as I was going to the umpteenth set towards the Ferris wheel, a middle-aged man on a bike who works in a nearby factory starts licking his lips and yells at me “ah diavolessaaa”.

B's testimony:

The first episode was when I was wearing a cheerleader cosplay. I was chatting with my group of friends, I was approached by a shirtless guy who asked me to take a picture. There and then I didn't realize that he didn't have a phone in his hand (nor a camera).

He approached me, initially he put his arm around my shoulders (and I was already a little uncomfortable), but the time my friend asked "but you don't have a cellphone for the photo" and this guy jumped at me behind her, conspicuously leaning on me with her genitals and holding me in her arms (even touching my breasts a little). For a moment I was petrified then I reacted by dodging and running away behind my friends who started in the fourth, telling the guy everything (thank goodness they were there because I panicked).

The second one happened in the evening, along the main street where all the shops are. I was returning to the hotel with a friend of mine (in this case I was dressed as a man and my friend had a very normal dress) and we were chased by a group of half-drunk Albanians all the way. We got confirmation when we stopped at a shop (to see if it was just a coincidence) and the guys in question hid until we left. Luckily there were a lot of people so they didn't dare to get too close. But I admit that the road to our hotel (which was a bit isolated and in the dark) we made it by running for fear of meeting them.

The testimony of C

It was night, almost dawn. I was near the fair because I was waiting for friends who were coming to pick me up by car to reach our rooms. While waiting, several people pass by, including some cosplayers still in costume, probably headed home or to their accommodations.

Among them was a crossplayer. As he walked away, not far from where I was sitting, he passed a group of boys, four or five people. At the moment of the passage, some of them addressed her with whistles, giggles, jokes and 'compliments', clearly fake by the tone, like “what a beautiful lady”. The crossplayer, however, ignores them and pushes forward.

The group starts walking again, in my direction, and I hear some of their comments, full of scorn and contempt, like "crazy stuff" or "that's disgusting", accompanied by other exclamations. They pass me by and I try to ignore them so as not to argue with them until they walk away.

The testimony of D

I was just back from the fair and on the way to the hotel there was this mascot who distributed balloons to children! (This makes me even more horrified by this ...). At one point he sees me and inflates a long one and tries to pass it under my skirt on purpose. To which after seeing my shocked face simulates a laugh about, through that mascot costume you couldn't see anything.

Then during the fair there was more! It almost seems like they've never seen a woman in a skirt. I was basically sitting with another girl who was doing crossplay, so she was breastless because she was bandaged and all. A photographer approaches, asks me for photos and then asks her if she was making a man or a woman. At her answer the photographer looked at her very badly and didn't ask her anything while he also urged me to take a selfie with him. One even while I was taking a SITTING photo sits next to me and says "well now let's take a picture of you and me;))" I spent the rest of the day avoiding human contact

The testimony of E

Two things happened to me. The first was while doing a set with a photographer. The photographer realizes that an elderly gentleman had clearly photographed my ass and I asked him to delete the photo and after insisting he did.

Then, as I went to the beach, various comments from husbands with wives next to them like “what a beautiful bowler hat”. Or whistles or "beautiful is proud eh", lowering the glasses.

NYCC Cosplayer Harassment Placards. Photo by arorea
NYCC Cosplayer Harassment Placards. Picture of arorea

What do these harassment testimonials tell cosplayers?

Obviously, these testimonials cannot be verified and they were not accompanied by complaints.

Given their small number, I'm not a statistical figure who can tell us about how common harassment is at RIMINICOMIX. On the contrary, we also received testimonials that report that they did not see harassment during the fair.

However, comparing them with the harassment told in Italian cosplayer groups, they can be a good starting point for some reflections and wondering how to combat this phenomenon.

Cosplayer more or less targeted by harassers?

From what we have been able to gather, the harassment told in these testimonies they are not unrelated to other fairs either. Indeed they are also quite "soft" compared to other stories that you read on cosplayer Facebook groups, such as Italian Cosplayers. This means that RIMINICOMIX is in all likelihood not a fair with multiple harassers, but rather that cosplayers in general are often targeted by harassers.

It is difficult to understand whether cosplayers are harassed more often than plainclothes people. Probably, their bad experiences fall within those produced by a society in which the concept of "consent" is anything but well known, as discussed at Genderplay. This can also be seen from the harassment that our / our witnesses reported to us: in various cases, they occurred outside the fair.

In these cases, the victims weren't always cosplaying, but in some circumstances their cosplaying attracted the attention of the abusers. This is the case with the boy he did crossplay, that is, who played a female character, attracting the unpleasant (and under transphobic) comments of passing kids.

Catcalling and attention whoring

Furthermore, most of the harassment reported is not always recognized as such. The catcalling, for example, the uttering of unsolicited and unwilling sexual or degrading comments is often thought of as a simple display of little education. However, catcalling is one verbal harassment and could be punished as such according toArticle 660 of the penal code. But it is not always clear or shared which catcalling is a harassment: a whistle on the street, according to somewould be harassment only if reiterated or followed by other statements.

Also for this reason, we should not be surprised if the witnesses did not report the incident: It is difficult to feel in the position of being able to receive justice, in an environment where similar behaviors are underestimated. And it is further difficult to report when, in the Italian cosplayer community, there are people who say that Discolored cosplayers should not complain when they receive vulgar or explicit comments.

In the Facebook groups of Italian cosplayers, looking for the word "sluts“, We can identify many disparaging comments, often written by women, towards the naked cosplayers. The latter are accused of doing attention whoring and to do cosplay only by stripping and looking for attention, without really presenting a good job or knowing the characters.

In a situation where whoever discovers is "a bad guy" or "an exhibitionist", it is difficult to feel legitimized to report catcalling. This is just one of the comments found, and describes well the mentality of some cosplayers:

Then unfortunately there are the "arrizzacazzo". Well, maybe you will hate me, but if they give him heavy appreciation or touch his butt or tits, THEY ARE FUCKS! They are looking for it.

[...]

I purposely exaggerated.
But I think it's partly the girls' fault too.
Males are known to have the hormone ball and cock almost always upright (excuse me for Frenchism) so don't walk around half naked.

The fur is fantastic photo di Notomb Photo (registered to AIFA Cosplay) to the talented cosplayer couple Emy Sabbatini e Gabriele Annovi to RIMINICOMIX

Possible solutions to harassment of cosplayers at fairs

Without claiming to have the answers to such a complex problem, let's see how they handled the issue abroad. Once this is done, we will try to propose some ideas to stir the waters in Italy.

Cosplayer to guard the situation

An all Australian solution, born in the community in which Timothy Marshall operated, are the Cosplay Sentinels. It is a group of three cosplayers, well known in the community and educated on how to prevent harassment of cosplayers, who have made themselves available as reference points to contactin the event of harassment. To be precise, the two women on the team, Justine of JusZ Cosplay and Tiffany Dean, are the people to contact in case of harassment, while the third member, ex-military Thorin Black, is the detachment of the harassers.

Le Cosplay Sentinels have been active in the Cosplay Live convention since 2015 and at the time were considered a case-study, to see if these kinds of countermeasures were effective. At the moment, we have no longer heard from them since 2016.

Cosplay is not Consent

Internationally, movements like Cosplay is not Consent have managed to raise awareness of the organizers of many fairs, creating a safer and more aware climate. Posters or anti-harassment rules in conventions like NYCC may not be an antidote to the rudeness and disrespect of harassers, but they do have the merit of setting a certain tone within the convention.

An atmosphere of general rejection of harassment, in which the participant undertakes not to lapse into disturbing attitudes, can be useful to discourage potential harassers, because they do not feel in an environment that condones their actions. Being surrounded by attentive people and not being able to vanish into the crowd in total anonymity, perhaps these individuals may feel less secure.

Fairs as a safe space?

In general, this technique is the same as that used to create i safe space, the safe spaces in which some groups of people, otherwise exposed to abuse and violence, are explicitly welcomed by the organizers of the events, who then just as explicitly dismiss those who prove disrespectful. In this way, we try to create more civil and welcoming environments towards everyone. We had talked about it in this article, in which we interviewed the creators of virtual and physical safe spaces. However, it must be said that, in most cases, these safe spaces were born as such, and were not transformed into safe spaces at a later time.

However, these explicit anti-harassment rules can be useful indoors, where the whole fair is held within a secure facility. Instead, in mostly open fairs such as Lucca Comics & Games or RIMINICOMIX, where nerdy visitors mix with passers-by and onlookers, it is much more difficult to create a safe space. Of course, the large number of participants also makes harassment controls more difficult.

Cosplay is not Consent posters at Anime Expo, against harassment of cosplayers
Billboards of Cosplay is not Consent at the Anime Expo, against harassment of cosplayers

Let's pull the strings: what can we do to stop the harassment of the cosplayers?

In short, there is probably no definitive solution, a medicine that eliminates harassment of cosplayers completely, effectively and safely.

On the one hand, the great difference in organization and logistics between Italian fairs already poses a significant obstacle, since a feasible solution, for example, at the Bologna Nerd Show (indoors at the fair), would not necessarily be adequate for Lucca Comics. & Games. On the other hand, the prejudices of some fringes of the Italian cosplayer community make it difficult to face a united front, when certain cosplayers are blamed. Adding more guards and bouncers would cost exorbitant for trade shows with many visitors, while writing nice anti-harassment regulations would not interest the harassing casual visitors.

However, even declaring yourself defeated at the start does not help, and it is certainly better to commit to making fairs safer places, even if only slightly. After all, avoiding harassment of cosplayers should be a priority.

Some proposals for fairs and cosplayers!

It could be positive, first of all, if the Italian cosplayers organized themselves to create a national branch of the Cosplay is not Consent association. In this way, collaborating with the fairs, they could be an important one landmark for cosplayers. Also, being in the industry, they would be the best people to fight harassment. Of course, they should also have an education on what harassment is and what consent is, as if they ignored catcalling first, the situation would not improve one iota.

Even the adoption of anti-harassment regulations (and not only towards cosplayers) and the placement of posters that read "Cosplay is not Consent" could be positive for fairs. This would be more of a nominal stance, but it would already help create a safer atmosphere by discouraging harassers, hopefully.

In this sense, it may be interesting to distribute for free during cosplay competitions pins with the motto "Cosplay is not Consent". This would allow the message to circulate more and help create one sense of community and solidarity between cosplayers. A similar initiative has had positive results at Modena Play at the tables of the Need Games, who distributed rainbow stickers with the words “Gaymer” or “Ally” free of charge to emphasize that their space is a safe space for people from the LGBTQIA + community.

Also organize debates and speeches on the topic during fairs it could be useful. In this way, experts in the sector could confront the problems of harassment to cosplayers and could suggest strategies to face the harassment to the public.

Finally, cosplayers can always turn to secretary and / or ai info point fairs to report harassing or inappropriate behavior.

Obviously, cosplayers or organizers of fairs cannot be expected to educate occasional visitors to consent and respect. However, creating a buffer of aware and respectful nerdy visitors could be good protection against the infamous.

Cover image: AxilliaCosplay at NYCC