Bellechere, a professional costumer and popular cosplayer, has posted that she won’t be attending New York Comic Con, despite having a pass.
A man who didn’t like me saying that I cosplay for myself, not for other people, threatened extreme physical violence against me if I went to NYCC. He even went so far as to brag about his SO being in the NYPD, so he’d ‘get away with it’. My local authorities shrugged and told me there was nothing they could do (even though I tracked down the man’s name and home address). The NYPD gave me a run-around on the phone that resulted in nothing but wasted time. ReedPop refused to answer any concerned emails I sent them. So, while I don’t want to back down and let a bully win, I’m not exactly wanting to be knocked out and raped (his threats) either.
In an update, Bellechere reports that ReedPop (the company that runs NYCC) finally got in touch with Bellechere after Bellchere’s post – apparently they are saying that her previous emails (sent through their online “contact us” form) were not received.
Re: FBI. Friends of mine (cosplayers who have had similar threats/stalker issues) who have tried to involve the FBI regarding online threats/harassment have had extremely little luck in being taken seriously. For one friend it took over a year to get a simple restraining order. I dealt with a lot of anxiety when this was happening, and I didn’t have the time or energy to be put through another fruitless run-around. Needless to say, I’m extremely jaded regarding the justice system.
~ That said, ‘justice’ dealt by the people (ex: ‘outing’ the man by releasing name and address) is something I’ve been dissuaded from. When I approached the authorities regarding this, they told me not to rally people against this person, or I could be charged with organized harassment.
[…]We live in a world where ‘she was asking for it’ is still used as an excuse to sexual assault when a woman is wearing tight/revealing clothing. You know that if something happened to me, while wearing one of my costumes, that’s exactly what people would say. The blame would be placed on me, for what I was wearing, rather than on the assailant.
I don’t know Bellechere, but what she’s gone through should make everyone in comics culture furious. I hate this shit, because it’s horrible that bullies win, because misogyny sucks, and also because as a comics professional I want the comics community to be so much better than this.
In the past, when I’ve gotten into arguments about threats like those against Bellechere, I’ve been told that they shouldn’t be subject to legal penalty because free speech. There is a reasonable concern about the possibility of government overreach, although that concern can be overstated.
But the most relevant free speech issue here is that Bellechere’s right to free speech. Somehow, people rarely seem as concerned about Bellechere’s free speech as they are about the free speech of the people making the threats. Bellechere has effectively lost her right to free speech when she’s chased away from public events by rape threats that our legal system refuses to address. Let’s begin protecting free speech by addressing Bellechere’s lost right to free speech.
That the FBI and the NYC Police apparently refuse to take rape threats against a woman delivered over the internet seriously is no surprise, but it is appalling, disgusting, and misogynistic as hell. They should be ashamed. ReedPop, who runs NYCC, should be ashamed, embarrassed, apologetic, and falling all over themselves to explain how they’re going to fix this so Bellechere can safely attend next year’s NYCC. (To their credit – and the credit of the feminist website The Mary Sue, which has been pushing NYCC on this issue – their website now sports a clear anti-harassment policy, and they’ve put up signs like this one at NYCC. But how vigorously they address the threats against Bellechere is one way we’ll know how seriously they’re taking their new policy.)
The comics community doesn’t have to belong to the sexual harassers and the dirtbags who make threats. It should belong to professionals who love comics and want it to be a place for all our fans, girls and women included. It should belong to fans, including fans like Bellechere, who show their love for the stories and characters by bringing their own creativity to cons. And it should belong to kids like my nieces Sydney (10) and Maddox (8), who love cosplaying at conventions and are big fans of well-known cosplayers like Bellechere. I hope they’ll continue being fans and cosplayers as they get older – and I damn sure hope that they never get threatened the way Bellechere’s been threatened.
The US already has laws against “true threats” which make it a felony to make a threat of violence that a reasonable person could take seriously. But our legal system refuses to take “true threats” delivered via the internet seriously. That must change. The person who threatened Bellechere should be arrested, should be enjoined with threat of prison from ever again contacting Bellechere or being within 500 feet of her, and very possibly should spend time in prison (or perhaps a halfway house or some form of mandated therapy). Until that can happen, Bellechere and others who are threatened will not have full access to their free speech. And that is the most pressing free speech issue here.
* * *
Some recommended reading regarding misogynistic threats on the internet:
Trouble at the Koolaid Point — Serious Pony (Very long but worth reading). (If you’re not familiar with the context for this one, you can read the author’s – Kathy Sierra’s – Wikipedia entry.)
The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society
Let’s Be Real: Online Harassment Isn’t ‘Virtual’ For Women
When Misogynist Trolls Make Journalism Miserable for Women – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic
I agree that what happened to Bellechere is terrible and the judicial system should be more responsive to online rape and death threats. But you’re sweeping condemnation of he comics community is unwarranted and excessive. This is one chap, not an organised attempt to silence Bellechere. If he isn’t going to the NYCC, there’s nothing they can do to prevent threats, so why should they be “ashamed and embarrased”? The idea that the comics community belongs to harassers because one dirt bag sent a threat to a cosplayer is absurd. Its like saying feminism belongs to manhaters because Solanas.
Blaming an entire community for the actions of a few is the definition of bigotry. This kind of thing fuels needless antagonism between gamers and activists.
Gah. So many spelling errors. I should really proofread before posting.
I’m not directly involved in the gaming/cosplay community, so I only know what I’ve read about it on various blogs like this one. But I do know that saying this is a problem involving “one dirt bag” is what’s really absurd. This sort of thing is reported all the time at cons like NYCC (not always something so stark as threats of rape and other physical violence, but certainly blatant sexism). I obviously don’t know what proportion of gamers are involved, but it’s pretty clearly more than “the actions of a few” in terms of absolute numbers.
I think an important point regarding the gaming community is that as Amp says “what she’s gone through should make everyone in comics culture furious” even if they’re not directly involved in this behavior, but I don’t get the impression that’s the case. Certainly some pushback and criticism of individual incidents, but it seems like there are way too many people who want to sweep the broad patterns of harassment under the rug and blame it on a few bad apples rather than acknowledging the prevalence and the need for a cultural shift (as well as more formal things like explicit harassment policies). Again, this is based on my reading online rather than direct experience at cons – but gaming/cosplay sites overlap enough with the science/tech/geek/whatever sites I read that I’ve seen it quite a bit.
Perhaps that’s because there is no “broad patterns of harassment” unique to the gaming or comic community? Death threats are a dime-a-dozen in every field of political discourse; rape threats and misogynistic slurs are sent to conservative female writers by “progressive” men and women; sexual harassment is so common I can’t think of an industry free of it (bitcoin mining?)
So when Ampersand and other bloggers single out the gaming/comics subculture for criticism, it’s unfair and causes unnecessary friction.
I don’t think it’s unfair to call out a subculture that you’re a part of.
I don’t think Ampersand is part of the subculture in question. Cartoons are not comics. He’d be as out of place at ComicCon as Scott Adams or Jim Davis.
Insofar that Ampersand is part of a subculture, it’s an activist subculture that gamers see themselves as being in conflict with. This kind of essay doesn’t help.
ETA: I may be wrong of course. This is just the impression i get from the essay. Do you go to a lot of ComicCons, Ampersand?
You’re wrong on at least three counts. 1) There are plenty of people who make comic strips who are regular features at ComicCon and other comic conventions. Not only have newspaper cartoonists (including Scott Adams) appeared at ComicCon, but lots of webcomics are in comic strip form and have a large presence at ComicCon. 2) Even if you weren’t wrong about that, I could still be a part of the culture simply by being a fan of comics. You don’t have to create comics to be part of the comics culture. And 3) as it happens, the main thing I do for a living is create my comic book Hereville.
With all respect, it’s almost certainly the case that I’m more involved in comics culture, have been part of it for longer, and know more about it, than you or any other comment writer here.
Hmm, I have two of Amp’s comics on the bookshelf behind me (one of them with a personalized drawing) I think that he is part of the community, at least as much I am, and I consider myself part of it.
By the way, I do not cosplay, oh, not me ;-) I just take the opportunity to wear armor and as much weaponry as I can get away with. You can get away with a lot more at some places (Buccaneer Days) than others (ComicCon SanDiego)
That said, who things. First of all, it is not all that widespread to have women harassed. My wife has never been harassed, my sister has never been harassed, and of the two other female cosplayers whom I know well, only one told us that she had been getting any kind of attention than she didn’t welcome. The PAX Enforcers took care of that before we even heard of it.
Second, there is quite a bit of groping of males by females. One of my friends used to get pawed a lot before he got married, and even now when he does NOT in any way encourage it, it happens. Anecdotal only, but I have personally seen more ‘wandering’ groping by females than by males. Of course, that’s because males would get in trouble if they touch anything but shoulders and upper arms. But wear a barbarian outfit that leaves firm buttock exposed as a male and you WILL be groped by FEMALES who will NOT ask. Buccaneer Days, RenFair, late parties around ComicCons, I guarantee it.
And hell, there is even three. As a male, you may not get rape treats. But wear a Renaissance outfit with ties and ribbons, and it will be hinted that you are gay, and that you could be beaten up if you do not behave. Attract someone’s date’s interest, and you may actually be threatened with violence. Of course, my reaction to that is often ‘Your sword is plastic. Mine is not’.
Oh, one more thing:
Gamer culture is not composed exclusively of conservatives, or of men, or of people who agree with the #gamergate activists. There are lots of gamers who are themselves so-called “SJWs” or, even if not active themselves, support social justice views. The pretense of #gamergate people that their views alone represent all gamers is what really “doesn’t help.”
Secondly, stop conflating gamer culture and comics culture. They’re not at all the same thing – sure, many comics people are gamers, but many are not.
If I wasn’t already hip deep in horror in my daily life I’d be further horrified.
BTW how’d you all drift from the Supreme Court case of RIGHT V WRONG and into debating about how various sub culture venn diagrams intersect?
*casts the 2nd level MU spell DISPEL DISTRACTION*
“When you awake you will be calm and focused on the issue at hand…”
Fair enough. I apologise for the presumption.
I should have said “many gamers” rather than “gamers”.
I never said that gamers were conservative or men. All I said that passing sweeping judgements on gamer or comic culture is unfair.
Interesting that Amp doesn’t mention gamers in the essay, but commenters are thinking it’s about gamers.
FYI for anyone who doesn’t know, Amp’s book Hereville was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2011. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest you read: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=31764
Jeezus, what part of dispel distraction don’t some people get? Unless a lot of you made your saving throws.
Navin, this is our community too.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the comics community, the SF or alt-lit community, the atheism activist community, the BDSM community, and yes, the gaming community, the people who are singling out these communities for criticism are part of these communities.
The people who are talking about problems as they appear in their communities aren’t saying “We are unique and worse than everyone else.” They’re saying, “Hey, this is my home, this is the place I like to go to relax, and there is a problem here. People are making it impossible for me to be here and nobody seems to care.”
The answer to “Hey, a cosplayer was threatened with violent rape to the point where she didn’t feel safe showing up at a major convention” should be “That’s awful! How can we have her back and make her feel safe?” and not “WHY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT THIS PROBLEM OTHER PEOPLE HAVE RAPE THREATS TOO.”
Yes. Yes they do. There is no community that I know of that is actually free of shitty behavior, behind-the-scenes abuse, boundary violations, derailing, and minimizing. This is in no ways new. It happens everywhere. But when it happens in YOUR community, then YOU have the responsibility to help squash it. Because otherwise, you are telling certain members of your community that it’s less important that they come to a rape-free zone than that you don’t have to have an awkward conversation.
I didn’t claim that there’s no justification for talking about rape threats in the comics community. I was under the misapprehension that Ampersand wasn’t a part of the comics community, and to me it looked like he was singling them out for scorn. I acknowledged my error, and apologized.
I agree with you on everything else.
I think my big take-away from Pesho’s comment is that he thinks it worse for a “male” to be thought as gay than it is for a “female” to receive a rape threat.
Other than that, I’m just really disturbed and exhausted by men who contribute little else to these conversations than “not all men,” “men have it worse,” “it happen to men too,” or “it doesn’t happen to my 1 woman friend, therefore it’s not a problem.”
These complacent, defensive attitudes do nothing to stop boundary violations and threats aimed at either women or men. They’re pathetic shrugs of the shoulders that, honestly, seem like they’re only possible if one is perched prettily in a solipsistic position of privilege where if a man doesn’t think something is that bad of a problem, then it surely isn’t that big of a problem for women.
It needs to stop. Guys, you’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Thanks, Amp, for raising this issue.
Navin: Sorry, dude, I didn’t mean to come down like a hammer on you in particular. You echoed an attitude I’ve seen from a lot of people over the course of the last few flareups of this conversation–Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” (which he has in fairness finally apologized for) comes to mind–in which the sanctity of “the community” is used to squash any discussion about the ways in which the community is failing people.
(It’s not just “us”, either, it’s also currently happening in the patriarchal fundamentalist Christian community/homeschooling community with the revelations about various leaders (Goddard, et al) abusing women working for them–but while people in various alternative communities are quick to point out that hypocrisy, it’s a lot harder to see the chunk of wood in your own eye than the splinter in your enemies’, to borrow a phrase.)
(Also too, Joe Paterno.)
So yeah, I think it’s important to point out that, for example, women have always been part of these communities, so these sexist threats are not just coming from the community, they’re attacking part of the community. Racist threats and threats against queer people are attacking part of the community. The specific accusation “You’re not part of the community so you don’t get to judge us” is something I see most often turned against people who have been hurt by their own communities and are trying to do something about it. (See for example any comments section where a guy starts inveighing against the women who are suddenly everywhere and ruining video games, or the “fake nerd girl” meme, believe me I can find others but I don’t actually like reading about how I’m an outsider who is invading my own subculture and sapping and impurifying their precious bodily fluids.)
“Bellechere has effectively lost her right to free speech when she’s chased away from public events by rape threats that our legal system refuses to address.”
True. IIRC this is what they call a “heckler’s veto”. Here’s another example that we have seen multiple times. ‘X’ group arranges to exercise their right to free speech at a venue. ‘Y’ group publicizes that ‘X’ group’s speech is so harmful that they (‘Y’) will engage in violent action to stop ‘X’ from being heard. Authorities decide that this represents a threat to public order, but rather than defend ‘X’ it either stops ‘X’s activity or assesses it/them extra security costs that ‘X’ cannot pay.
It is a foundational premise of the United States (right in the Declaration of Independence) that the purpose of government is to preserve and protect the rights of the individual against infringement by other individuals, groups or even the government itself. Of course it’s easier for government to simply shut down the troublemaker rather than engage the individual or other force that’s seeking to restrict their rights – especially when all it needs to do to accomplish that is do nothing. But in doing so the government has made invalid it’s justification for existing. It has violated the agreement whereby we grant it authority and the money and other resources it uses to exercise that authority over us.
Exactly this. In fact, I think Aris Merquoni is being rather kinder than necessary here. Killing the messenger isn’t just trying to avoid an awkward conversation. It’s an insecure, defensive reaction by people whose identity is deeply bound up in being part of a community that they believe is amazing and special. Admitting ‘hey, we have a serious problem’ and/or ‘we’re made up of people, which means we have the same problems as any other community’ is a blow to that identity.
“That said, ‘justice’ dealt by the people (ex: ‘outing’ the man by releasing name and address) is something I’ve been dissuaded from. When I approached the authorities regarding this, they told me not to rally people against this person, or I could be charged with organized harassment.”
This part is ridiculous, especially in a free speech context. She has every right to say “This man said the following things to me.” The end.
Yes, it is ridiculous – but I don’t know if it’s ridiculous as in “the cops were wrong, and she actually wouldn’t be in legal danger by naming name,” or if it’s ridiculous as in “that’s horribly unjust, but it’s a
Any of the lawyers reading this care to venture a guess?
I find it puzzling that an authority figure would say, in essence, “We can’t do anything about these death threats you are getting, but should somebody post this person’s name and address we will spring into action.”
I mean, if they can’t do much about online threats, that would seem to cut both ways, right?
I know nothing about this case except what I have read here. Speaking generally, though, perhaps I can shed some light on possibilities.
First, officers vary. The response you get from one will often differ from the response you get from another, for a host of reasons which can differ: skill levels, experience, personality, jurisdiction, current caseload, estimation of cost/benefit, to name a few. Even in a department which works very hard to do things consistently, like mine, there can be a lot of variety in edge cases. All officers have to be able to triage, to make an assessment that this or that isn’t a serious case, and then phrase it in the log so that supervisors’ antennae don’t go up. Some officers lean a lot harder toward, “This is probably not important” and others lean a lot harder toward, “This could go pear-shaped, better address it.”
In this particular case, part of that assessment would be, “Is this likely to lead to a prosecution?” For instance proving who said what online can be a nightmare. Suppose you have a suspect you’re pretty sure did it. Does he ever give anyone access to his account? Is he willing to name those people? After talking to a defense attorney will he suddenly develop the memory of accidentally revealing his password on a blog post right around then, a blog post he naturally took down as soon as he realized it?
I’m not at all saying that it can never be done. Sometimes it can be. I’ve done it. But it’s the dark side of the fact that on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. You can’t even be sure that this comment was written by a single person, or the same person you’ve come to associate with “Grace Annam”. In day-to-day life, it matters hardly at all, but in court of course it’s hole in the prosecution’s bucket, a bucket which must hold water in order to make prosecution worth the trouble and expense.
On the other hand, if the victim in this case organizes an online campaign, she has already identified herself to the police and speculated about this course of action, and there will probably be solid citizens among her friends who know something about the events, who are happy to tell the truth to the police, because the truth always sets you free and never bites the wrong person, right?. So her actions would be a lot easier to prove.
Also, they may be alleging different crimes. He’s making threats, the elements for which crime vary from place to place (Vermont, for instance, didn’t even HAVE a criminal threatening statute until a few years ago; you could say anything, as long as you didn’t act). If she organized an online campaign against him, her actions might fall under Stalking, another crime notorious for varying between jurisdictions.
Finally, some officers put more of a premium on keeping the lid on than on justice. The officer probably can’t control the guy threatening rape (though in my opinion she should try), but she can dissuade the other side from potentially adding fuel to a fire.
Again, I have no idea which of these, if any, apply. But there’s some informed and depressing speculation for you.