Tekko 2017: Elephant At The Con Report

The Questions

The Data

We received 151 survey responses. Not a large sample of the convention, by any means, but a vocal group of people who care about Tekko and are passionate about making the event even better in the future. 98% of people surveyed said they usually or always felt safe at Tekko. The number of people comfortable sharing their sexuality or gender identity was even higher, though as you will see in the demographics section, a majority of the surveyed con attendees were cisgender and straight.

One attendee commented

“My willingness to talk about my sexuality is more a personal hang-up than any lack of comfort that Tekko staff provided.”

Looking at these questions by identity, we see that there is not a clear trend associating feeling unsafe with a specific identity.

Looking at harassment and assault, 96% of attendees did not experience harassment. While the percentages are certainly in a good range, it is important to remember that every instance of verbal, physical, or sexual harassment had an impact on attendees and even one incident is too many. As con staff and people passionate about convention safety through listening to attendees and working on concrete solutions in response to their feedback, we can make conventions safer.

4% of attendees were verbally harassed, 2% were touched without their consent, and < 1% were sexually harassed or assaulted.

Tekko’s attendee base skews towards straight, white, women. Anyone walking around the convention center will not be surprised by these numbers, but digging into the specifics allows us to. 
Questions to think about include: how can a Japanese Culture Society increase the presence of Japanese attendees? How do these demographics compare to the greater Pittsburgh area?

Stories

The graphs give us a high-level overview of . The following are attendee responses to the question:

At any point in the weekend did you feel uncomfortable at Tekko or see others in a difficult situation? Tell us about it.

Bystander Intervention

“I saw a dude talking to a female artist about maybe religion but he was a lot older and she looked uncomfortable so I intervened. Not straightforward harassment but not ideal behavior because he was ignoring her discomfort.”

While we don’t know the full context of this story and whether the reporter read the situation correctly, it’s good to know that some attendees are looking out for each other in a more casual context.

Accessibility

“The only time I felt uncomfortable was when I was not allowed my medical supplies during the dance party and concert. It isn’t something major, but I need the items to fully enjoy the experience and since small bags aren’t allowed…. I had to be overly open with complete strangers who don’t understand my medical conditions.”

Cosplay

The cosplay community is a huge part of Tekko. Meeting a cosplayer dressed as your favorite character or having someone compliment the cosplay you worked so hard on can be an incredibly positive experience that creates the community at Tekko that keeps people coming back from year to year. However, the harassment faced by cosplayers (especially women) can detract from the experience as discussed at the Cosplay: Confidence and Consent panel.

“I have seen girls in cosplay harassed for pictures and hugs in the past.”
“During the speed friending panel I was asked a rather inappropriate question. We were in cosplay character and I was asked (as Belle) if I would be down for a “threesome” with Gaston and the Beast and when I said no, he proceeded to press the matter further, asking one more inappropriate question. While I didn’t feel unsafe, I was highly disgusted. Turns out the person was not sober, as he had an iced tea “mixture” in his Arizona Iced Tea gallon jug.”

Of course as the last story discusses, cosplayers may get too into character and use their cosplay as an excuse to harass others. This was not the only example of this behavior.

“My mom was touched out of nowhere by a deadpool cosplayer. We were so taken back by this action [that] we didn’t do anything. I am assuming this person found it ok because my mom is obviously older. However, mom was not enjoying any of the antics of the deadpool. The deadpool did not let us know he was going to do anything, [they] just sat down touched mom’s face and walked on.”

Masks involved in cosplay can also introduce a security risk for staff identifying attendees and prevent attendees from being able to identify those around them. One attendee detailed a story (that they asked not to be further shared) of knowing that their rapist attends Tekko in cosplay.

He dresses up as [popular cosplay] so when there are masked [popular cosplay] cosplayers who match his body type I can never be sure if it is him.

Other Harassment

Of course, harassment was not limited to cosplayers.

“My girlfriend mentioned that while I was working and she was walking around alone a guy basically accosted her and another girl and made them incredibly uncomfortable, going as far as grabbing a girl by the hand and telling her ‘you’re coming with me’ because he thought she was attractive.”
“Someone Friday may have said ‘nice tits’ to me, but it was under his breath and I may have misheard or even imagined it.”
“There were some touchy feely people at the rave.”
“I was hit on repeatedly by an woman despite telling her I was gay.”

This last one highlights that harassers are not always of a particular gender.

“We encountered an asian guy who just would not stop talking and leave us alone, even when we literally said we were finished talking to him. Unfortunately he was right behind us as we were waiting to get into a workshop so we couldn’t really walk away. He was being incredibly rude and inconsiderate and would just not accept that we had opposing views and didn’t want to fight with him. I’m not really sure how staff could have helped with that one.”
“Sometimes during the dance I felt awkward because people don’t really understand ‘no’ when I say I don’t want to dance with them and I know from experience that Tekko staff isn’t very good at handling that.”

These last two touch on a common theme in the feedback for why people chose not to report. There are many reasons why people would choose not to report, but the two highlighted here were: many people felt that their stories were not clear-cut enough to act on so there was not a reason to report to staff. Others felt that staff was not handling previous incidents well. Both of these contribute to underreported instances which can mean that merely tracking harassment reports to your hotline and email will not always give you the complete picture.

Why Report?

“I’m an overweight white female, and a few comments were made about my weight. ‘Fat Shaming’ is something I deal with outside of the con, and I felt a few comments here and there weren’t worth reporting. Especially if it wasn’t said directly at me, I wouldn’t be able to give names, and reporting it wouldn’t change hearts.”

And another story:

“I’m not really sure how staff could have helped with that one.”

Bad Experiences Reporting

“[There] was one man that made me feel uncomfortable because of his treatment of some younger kids (just general creepy pedo behavior) but it was super quickly handled by staff and when we saw him later, they removed him again. not sure why he was able to return the next day though.”

Obviously your staff and security team know the full details here, so we won’t speculate, but regardless of the details the perception from attendees remains that people violating policies are allowed back in and this contributes to a distrust of the reporting mechanisms even if there was a misunderstanding or extenuating circumstances that they were not privy to.

“I wish I could feel like I would not just face backlash with no understanding or compassion if I came forward.”

Recommendations

Synthesizing the feedback, there are some actionable trends we have noted. Your staff can determine the feasibility of implementing some of these, but based on the feedback, these would lead to a safer con atmosphere and a higher rate of reports to incidents in the future.

  1. Add a note about accessibility accommodations available to your website and train staff and security for the dance and general entrances on how to approach accessibility subjects with empathy. Geek Feminism offers some tips and examples in this area.
  2. Offer an anonymous reporting mechanism. Tekko offers a variety of ways to report harassment today, but some of the stories here highlight that people avoided reporting because they were worried about backlash or the awkwardness of discussing the scenario with someone on staff. While having someone’s contact information allows staff to better gauge the situation, identify the perpetrator, etc. anonymous reporting would make some people more comfortable. Integrating anonymous reporting into the app or creating a simple anonymous form on your website could result in a higher ratio of reports f0r incidents.
  3. Communicate that people should report issues without a clear resolution. The explanation of the harassment policy in the bathroom stalls were a great feature that led to more people being familiar with the harassment policy. Adding a line in there that you encourage reporting even if they don’t think staff will be able to do anything or even if they feel the incident was minor will make people more comfortable reporting. Examples can help here.
  4. Ask for feedback from people who reported — Were they satisfied with the resolution? Did they feel it was worth reporting?
  5. Offer more panels on these topics. The Confidence and Cosplay panel could have reached higher attendance if it were offered later in the weekend when more people had arrived. Offering panels as safe places to discuss topics like fatshaming or accessibility in the cosplay community could provide a forum for people to brainstorm solutions to these topics while creating a supportive community.
  6. As you make positive changes, communicate these out. Whether through the website, social media, the unofficial facebook groups, etc. it is important to share progress that you are making with the broader Tekko community. Tekko has been going on for years and your policies have certainly improved over time, but one bad experience or mishandled situation can leave people thinking things like “I know from experience that Tekko staff isn’t very good at handling that.” To earn the trust back from attendees like that, you need to communicate changes.

Of course we would be remiss to not mention all the positive parts of the Tekko experience. Having a slot to talk about the harassment policy on the mainstage as well as widely disseminating the policy around the con and in the bathrooms led to a high proportion of attendees being familiar with the policy. Including the reporting methods on the back of the badge ensured that everyone had their reporting options readily available. Staff was easy to identify and dispersed around the convention center. Overall, the data and the stories indicate that Tekko is a safe and supportive con for many that keeps people coming back.

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