Women Speak Out About Sexual Harassment in the Gaming Industry

Karima_Adebibes_Lara_CroftSexual harassment at conventions has gained substantial attention in recent years, as conference attendees have begun to speak out about their experiences and call for change. Conventions in traditionally male-dominated industries and interests, such as gaming, have been at the center of much of the recent discussion. Sexual harassment among gamers is unfortunately a common occurrence, but people are now speaking out about their experiences and exposing the sexual harassment that occurs in real-life encounters among both gamers and gaming professionals. While sexual harassment can affect anyone, much of the recent attention has focused on harassment of female conference attendees by men. We have previously addressed concerns about sexual harassment at conventions in New York on this blog. The question remains of how best to represent an individual who has experienced sexual harassment, since anti-discrimination laws may not always apply to the convention setting.

Meagan Marie, an employee of the company that develops the Tomb Raider game series spoke out about her experiences at the Boston gaming convention PAX East in March 2013. She was organizing an event for “cosplayers,” people who dress up as characters from video games at conventions and other events, specifically for the Lara Croft character from Tomb Raider. A journalist asked for an interview with the group of women, and allegedly began asking a series of explicitly sexual questions. Marie intervened in the interview, and claims that the journalist responded with a “cosplay is consent” argument, essentially arguing that dressing as a sexualized character like Lara Croft implies consent to harassment. Convention organizers reportedly ejected the journalist, but Marie’s account of the incident led to many more people coming forward with similar stories. The attitude that women at these events invite harassing behavior seems to be widespread.

At about the same time as the incident in Boston, an event at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco led to the resignation of at least two gaming nonprofit officials over concerns about gaming’s sexualized culture. The International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) hosted a party towards the end of the conference that featured “scantily clad female dancers,” despite concerns that it was inappropriate and was making attendees uncomfortable. In response, two IGDA officials resigned: a female co-chair of the Women in Games group and a male board member.

The question for many convention organizers and attendees is how to make convention environments comfortable for female attendees, and how to increase female attendance in a male-dominated industry. For employment discrimination attorneys, the question is what recourse a person may have if they are the victim of sexual harassment. If the conference organizer is a business or organization with an anti-harassment policy, that policy still applies to its employees at the conference, and may give an attendee legal rights against an employee who engages in sexual harassment. Laws like the New York City Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace.

The difficulty is with harassment of a conference attendee by another attendee. No court has addressed this issue in any depth, although it may simply be a matter of time. Even though anti-discrimination laws may not apply in such a situation, conference organizers may have taken on a duty to provide a safe environment, which could give rise to a negligence or premises liability claim.

The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent the rights of workers in New York City and surrounding areas, asserting claims for harassment and discrimination at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Lawsuit Accuses Famous Yogi of Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 9, 2013
New York Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Harassment by Female Boss Against Male Employee, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 27, 2013
Criticism of Art Production Highlights Lack of Protections for Performers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 28, 2013
Photo credit: By Arturo J. Paniagua (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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