Sexual Harassment at Conventions Gaining Attention, Including New York’s ComicCon

450px-Wonder_Girls.jpgConventions for various entertainment genres, or “cons,” as their fans call them, have grown into substantially large enterprises in many cities. New York hosts numerous conventions every year, drawing people from all over the world to meet one another, share ideas, and perhaps meet writers, actors, and other famous creative people. Unfortunately, conventions can also include sexual harassment and other forms of mistreatment of attendees. Because much of the harassment is directed at guests and not employees, the set of laws protecting employees from sexual harassment may not apply. People who endure sexual harassment at a con may have recourse under a con’s anti-harassment policy, if it has one. Convention organizers are adopting such policies, as more people take stands against sexual harassment.

A recent story from New York Comic Con brought widespread attention to sexual harassment at these events. New York Comic Con draws fans of comic books and similar forms of entertainment from all over the world. Many fans attend the convention in costume, known as “cosplaying.” Many female fans attend in costumes that resemble the revealing outfits seen in many comic books.

One such fan, twenty-three year-old Mandy Caruso, attended New York Comic Con dressed as Black Cat, a Marvel Comics character. Caruso wrote about her experience in early October 2012, when she agreed to an on-camera interview that, instead of focusing on her costume or her work as a fashion designer, revolved around questions about her cup size. She related stories of other experiences of harassment by male attendees at the con, and her story went “viral” on the internet, prompting other women to come forward with their experiences at events around the country. New York Comic Con came under scrutiny because it had not enacted an anti-harassment policy.

A series of alleged incidents at ReaderCon, a gathering of science fiction writers and fans, during the summer of 2012 led to the resignation of its entire board. A woman accused a prominent male author of ongoing harassment during the weekend event. The board banned the author from the event for two or more years, invoking the con’s anti-harassment policy, but the policy reportedly took a “zero tolerance” stance on harassment. This reduced penalty, combined with further allegations that years of complaints about the author had gone ignored led to demands for the board’s resignation.

Few, if any, lawsuits have directly addressed sexual harassment at conventions, and laws like the New York City Human Rights Law do not necessarily deal with this issue. Groups like the Con Anti-Harassment Project, however, offer guidance to con organizers for developing effective anti-harassment policies. Most policies revolve around a commitment to respect for all attendees, and a lack of tolerance for harassment. Different markets and genres might have different needs and concerns, so each con should consider its own environment in determining what types of behavior are unacceptable. Policies should also have clear consequences for people who violate the standards, as well as provisions for investigations and assessments of penalties. It is possible that con organizers who do not follow their own anti-harassment policies could be liable to harassment victims for negligence in some cases, but that theory remains largely untested.

The lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent victims of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination in New York City and surrounding areas, fighting to protect their rights at the municipal, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Actress Sues for Alleged Sexual Harassment on the Set of the Television Show “The Mentalist”, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 7, 2012
Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Shakes Up the Tech Industry, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 9, 2012
New Survey Shows Extent of Sexual Harassment in the New York Fashion Industry, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 15, 2012
Photo credit: ‘Wonder Girls’ by Gregg O’Connell (originally posted to Flickr as Wonder Girls) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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