Friday, 5 January 2018

Fandom events and personal safety

A few days ago, horizon made a blog post over on Fimfiction entitled "The elephant in the equine room", in which he told an alarming tale involving women having their drinks spiked at a BronyCon 2017 room party – with what is mentioned in the comments as being rohypnol. And yes, in this case it really was. Thankfully horizon and others acted swiftly to make sure everyone was safe, but that might not have been the case. Please read that post, in full, before continuing here.

This being Fimfiction, the comments section on horizon's post has been a mixture of serious contributions and, frankly, politically-motivated point-scoring (though horizon has been managing this pretty well), but let's be blunt here:

Our fandom is not magically immune from bad people who want to do bad things. As such, good people need to step up sometimes.

This is a long post, so cut coming up.

When you go to a convention, and to a lesser extent a meet, I expect you let your guard down a bit in a way you wouldn't do in general society. I've mentioned before that several people at UK PonyCon this year told me how friendly they felt it was – but another thing I was told privately by a first-time attendee was how safe they felt there. This is an immensely valuable thing.

What I read on horizon's blog doesn't make me feel it's an unsafe fandom, not even after reading in the comments from someone who was a victim at Pacific PonyCon. Bear in mind also that the attempted assaults happened at a room party, rather than in actual con space. However, "safe" is a relative term, not an absolute one. Wherever there are human beings, there is a chance that not all of them are nice people.

There are of course Transatlantic differences. Our cons are not generally residential, they don't sell tickets on the door and in this fandom room parties seem to be quite rare. (Largely residential cons such a ConFuzzled in the furry fandom can be another matter.) Also, the UK's rather more relaxed approach to bar access means alcohol can be sold in open, widely visible areas – the UKPC bar was simply a counter along the side of the main hall.

Now, I do know that drink-spiking is rare, rarer than you'd think from the media – but what horizon posted about shows that it can happen, so it's still a good idea not to leave your drink unattended. Finish it first before you leave the glass. If you're a victim, it's not your fault, full stop. Not ever. But it doesn't undermine that fact to suggest that you can help reduce your exposure to such a crime.

As far as I am aware, I have never been the victim or intended victim of an assault of any kind at a fandom event. However, at the very first convention of any kind I ever attended, BUCK 2013, there was an example of unacceptable behaviour. Watch this video of the Cosplay Competition and note what happens at about 16:54, when the cosplayer falls and grabs the host's legs.

This event was held in a full-size concert auditorium, so from way back in the seats I assumed it was a genuine accident. It wasn't, as the close-up makes clear. This guy turned out to be a tremendous creep, who had been harassing a number of female attendees. The BUCK staff did their job well and ejected him with a warning that if he returned the authorities would be contacted.

I post the above to demonstrate that inappropriate behaviour (to use a catch-all term) is not confined to American cons. I haven't heard of anything as bad at a UK-based Pony convention since then, and I hope we never have anything as bad, either. It's a little off-topic for this post, but I think the fandom in the UK (as it's the one I know) is indeed nicer than it was back then. That doesn't mean a repeat is impossible, though.

It's important to bear in mind that I am not a particularly attractive choice of potential victim for this sort of assault. I am a man, not especially young or vulnerable, with a certain amount of con experience. Also, I am moderately articulate and know people to whom I could (and would) report such a thing who would support and believe me immediately. Not everyone has those luxuries.

As some of you know, I've been a moderator on UK of Equestria for some years now, and there's more to that than helping to look after the forums. We also keep an eye on any problems people report at social events and consider whether we should alert certain people (eg con staff) about trouble-makers and harassers. This is very uncommon, but it is something we've had to deal with.

I do occasionally run small meets myself, and part of the deal is accepting that I have a role in looking out for my fellow attendees. It's thankfully never come close to being necessary, but would I report someone to venue staff or even police if I had to? You bet I would. All of us who are able to keep our eyes open can and should do so, and take action as appropriate, ranging from a quiet word to full-on reporting to the authorities.

Finally, here's an open offer: if you're at a convention or meet and something happens but you don't feel up to reporting it yourself, you can come and talk to me and I'll report it for you or come with you while you do. Obviously, you may not feel able to tell me, which is quite okay – this is an offer, not a request. Similarly, if I'm in a group at somewhere like UKPC, you're welcome to come and hang with us.

This is fundamentally a good fandom, I really do believe that, but the bad apples are and always will be there. We neither need to be terrified nor to imagine that nothing can ever go wrong. The best way to beat dark shadows is to shine a light on them, and that's part of my motivation in writing this rather rambly and disconnected post.


  1. Somewhat related to this post:

    Since the theft of my coat/wallet/glasses from the barbers last year, I've been far more conscience of where I leave my things during pony meets now. There have been times in the past where I let my guard drop, and probably didn't take as much care as I should have done.

    It's alright when there's definitely going to be people seated at the same table as you for long periods, like Worcester for example. But other meet venues can be rather more 'open plan'.

    1. Understandable; I did much the same after I had my wallet stolen many years ago in central Birmingham.

      I don't want to stop letting my guard down to some extent at fandom events, because that's part of the whole "escapism" thing to me. But there is still a need to be alert to some degree, certainly.

  2. Thanks for the signal boost and the further meditations on the topic. I'm glad to see this getting some wider traction.


    1. No problem. It's not a subject any of us can afford to ignore.