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Comic-Con's dark side: Harassment amid the fantasy

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Amid the costumes and fantasy of this weekend's Comic-Con convention, a group of young women drew widespread attention to a very real issue - allegations of sexual harassment at the annual pop-culture festival.

Geeks for CONsent, founded by three women from Philadelphia, gathered nearly 2,600 signatures on an online petition supporting a formal anti-harassment policy at Comic-Con.

Conventioneers told Geeks for CONsent they had been groped, followed and unwillingly photographed during the four-day confab.

Meanwhile, what Geeks for CONsent and others regarded as blatant objectification continued on the convention floor. Scantily clad women were still used as decoration for some presentations, and costumed women were described as "vaguely slutty" by panel moderator Craig Ferguson. When Dwayne Johnson made a surprise appearance to promote "Hercules," 10 women in belly-baring outfits stood silently in front of the stage for no apparent reason.

Groping, cat-calling and other forms of sexual harassment are a larger social issue, not just a Comic-Con problem. And many comics and movies still portray women as damsels in distress. But Geeks for CONsent says things are amplified at the festival, where fantasy plays such a large role.

"It's a separate, more specific issue within the convention space," said Rochelle Keyhan, 29, director of Geeks for CONsent. "It's very much connected (to the larger problem) and it's the same phenomena, but manifesting a little more sexually vulgar in the comic space."

"Comic-Con has an explicit Code of Conduct that addresses harassing and offensive behavior," said Comic-Con International in a statement on Sunday to The Associated Press. "This Code of Conduct is made available online as well as on page two of the Events Guide that is given to each attendee."

Earlier, Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer told the Los Angeles Times that "anyone being made to feel uncomfortable at our show is obviously a concern for us." He said additional security was in place this year, including an increased presence by San Diego Police.

Keyhan's focus on Comic-Con began with a movement launched in her hometown called HollabackPhilly, to help end public harassment against women and members of the LGBT community. She and her colleagues developed a comic book on the subject in hopes of engaging middle- and high-school students, which is what brought them to Comic-Con.

Costuming, or cosplay, is a big part of the popular convention, with male and female fans dressing as their favorite characters, regardless of gender. A man might wear a Wonder Woman outfit, and a woman could dress as Wolverine. Keyhan and her colleagues - all in costume - carried signs and passed out temporary tattoos during the convention that read, "Cosplay does not equal consent."

In addition to the existing Comic-Con's Code of Conduct, Geeks for CONsent wants the 45-year-old convention to adopt a clearly stated policy and says staff members should to be trained to handle sexual harassment complaints.

"It makes it feel safer for the person being harassed to report it and also for bystanders who witness (inappropriate behavior)," Keyhan said.

Toni Darling, a 24-year-old model who was dressed as Wonder Woman on Saturday, said the issue goes way beyond Comic-Con.

"I don't think it has anything to do with cosplay or anything to do with costumes," she said. "People who are the kind of people who are going to take a photo of you when you're not looking from behind are going to do that regardless, whether you're in costume or not."

Still, she'd like to see an advisory in the Comic-Con program against surreptitious photography, and a clearer statement from Geeks for CONsent. She found some fans were afraid to take photos, even when she was posing at a booth on the showroom floor.

"The kind of behavior that needs to be modified," she said, "is somebody taking a photo of you bent over while you're signing a print."

Join the discussion

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kanga573 July 27 2014 at 4:26 PM

I'm walking around with almosts not clothes on and men are LOOKING AT ME! It's not fair! I want money now! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!

Flag Reply +107 rate up
28 replies
mrcrple July 27 2014 at 4:29 PM

They didn't know that walking around in underwear would cause some negative attention . They aren't just being harassed , they are also dumb as a box of rocks .

Flag Reply +100 rate up
9 replies
threedawgknights July 27 2014 at 4:35 PM

Guess what!! If you don't want to be photographed, oggled, stared at, "eyed", or even worse. Don't scantly dress in such revealing outfits!!! Damn, you reveal everthing except, we'll never mind. You practically reveal that!!!! Its like the Mom who breast feed their child in public. If you don't want your boob seen by ever onlooker around you, prepare differently, maybe take a bottle or dress a little more concealing. Use some common sense!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! geeeesh!

Flag Reply +100 rate up
20 replies
JIMMY JAM July 27 2014 at 4:38 PM

OMG another story about women dressing in sexy, provocative outfits and then whining about the attention they get. Enough of this already. If you don't want the attention or to be objectified then don't present yourself that way. You don't hear Chippendale dancers complaining about women treating them like pieces of meat do you?

Flag Reply +99 rate up
9 replies
kgc073 July 27 2014 at 4:33 PM

I understand that no one should put their hands on any woman but I don't see their point of not wanting their picture taken. I think that would be fine considering the venue.

Flag Reply +65 rate up
8 replies
rickydh1956 July 27 2014 at 4:55 PM

They look like they're dressed for a freak-show gay pride parade. What do they expect wearing this and what happened to common sense???

Flag Reply +59 rate up
7 replies
Hi July 27 2014 at 4:34 PM

Try dressing decent, why show your azzes if you do not want attention!

Flag Reply +50 rate up
6 replies
jabbahugg July 27 2014 at 4:29 PM

sexual harrassment at a comic book convention?...oh no...the geeks and nerds are at each other's throats...this must be the end of the world

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3 replies
tiger July 27 2014 at 4:38 PM

another example of the moral decay of our country so it is PC. Sad

Flag Reply +36 rate up
9 replies
keithalanjones July 27 2014 at 5:25 PM

24 year old model goes to a convention of dateless nerds dressed like a superhero-hooker and gets pissy because people are ogling her? What a sad cry for attention.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
mrpowercore keithalanjones July 27 2014 at 10:24 PM

...as they paid her with their comic books for some Saturday nite fun.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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