In the last few months many in the cosplay community will have been made aware of some safety concerns surrounding convention attendees from both a cosplay and photographer standpoint. It is important to remember that these individual events, as unacceptable as they are, do not represent the community as a whole. They should be listened to, respected and acted upon absolutely. But it does not mean we should fear attending conventions. In light of both this and my own personal experiences, I felt the most helpful and constructive thing to do, would be to compile some key safety points to adhere to whilst attending a convention. These cover parts that range from standard common sense, to small steps that can be done to help ensure the safety of everyone at con. These are things that I do whilst attending but also have been suggested by other cosplayers and photographers alike. This is by no means a rule book, nor is it a way to blame anyone who has had bad experiences by saying they did not do something mentioned here. Please also note that this post will not be detailing any events or persons, nor is it targeted at any individual or event. This is simply a way to try and help everyone attending to feel a bit more safe and to be aware of help that is available around a convention if needed. I actively encourage anyone who has any concerns from experiences they have had, to seek help from friends or family. As a community we must support and lookout for each other. If you have any other suggestions or would like to contribute please feel free to comment with suggestions.
Have a Convention Buddy
As with any large event, Conventions tend to be very busy. Venues will vary in size and capacity but generally they are crowded places to be. With this in mind, it is well worth buddying up with someone for the day, whether you decide to coincide this with cosplaying together, or just want to hang out with your good friend all day it is a great way to stay safe. It ensures that should anything happen, from the fire alarm going off to unwanted advances from others, you not only have a witness but you also have help should you need it. Going around in a group is also a great idea as again it ensures you all look out for each other, sometimes this isn’t an option with people having their own interests around the convention, but at least one person is encouraged. It also has the added bonuses of someone to take pictures of you with cool stuff being displayed, other cosplayers and stops the awkward “I lost all my friends so I will awkwardly wander around alone until someone answers their phone” situation!
This same recommendation is strongly encouraged for both cosplayers who attend photoshoots and the photographers who organise them. They have different reasons but also share some benefits, one of which being safety as it is the main focus of this blog you can expect it to be the incentive behind all of the points! From a cosplayers perspective, we don’t always know the photographers we organise a shoot with personally, so going to a meet point whether it is inside the convention hall or not, should be done accompanied. This to me falls under a small part of common sense, you are agreeing to meet with someone you potentially haven’t met in person before, to get photos taken of yourself in costume. Some designs can be restrictive, others may not be ideal for a quick get away if needed. By this I do not mean to suggest that any photoshoot with someone you do not know well will result in some kind of awful attack, but it is certainly encouraged to at least take someone along just to be safe. A friend can help to pose a heavy prop, move stray wig hairs, adjust armour and generally be there to help! The same should also be said of Photographers, if you are due to have a shoot with someone you have not worked with before, have a friend to assist you, your safety is important too! You are also putting yourself in a potentially vulnerable position with someone you do not know personally, taking your camera gear into that with you! This is again, not to say that any cosplayers you do not know well are going to attack you and your camera, but at the end of the day we are putting trust in people we do not know therefore it is advisable to be safe! Besides, a friend can potentially help with additional lighting, stopping people obscuring a shot and fend of those snipers we all love so much. For the whole photoshoot experience it can be really helpful to have another person to bounce ideas and suggestions off of for both sides. The main thing to remember in any case, is that you are attending a large public event, the presence and opportunity of both cosplaying and photography do not change this. Treat a convention as any other large event in a city, be aware and don’t be alone if it can be helped.
As mentioned above, Conventions are a great place to organise photoshoots! For cosplayers, it is a great way of working with new photographers and showing off our costumes to the world. For Photographers it is a fantastic opportunity to work with new cosplayers, to potentially find that character you have always wanted a shoot with and nail that perfect shot. I started off not knowing any photographers, it was only through asking on public groups if anyone was interested in taking my photograph that I slowly built up not only a group of photographers to work with, but strong friendships with people I now shoot with regularly at conventions. Before I knew these people personally however, I was in the same position as I described in my earlier point, meeting with people I did not know for a shoot. I did some research before the convention, of course initially I browsed their work to make sure I liked their style and offered my cosplay page so they could ensure they wanted to work with me. After this I asked other cosplayers I knew if they had worked with them, how it was and if they were recommended. Once I was happy I then agreed a shoot and took along a friend on the day.
The research aspect is something I recommend both sides invest in, word of mouth is not always gospel but it is certainly worth taking note of, there is a strong difference between gossip and genuine concerns, something that is up to you as an individual to decide, but looking into people is harmless. As a cosplayer, browse through the albums of a photographer you are interested in working with, make sure you like their style and see if they have any reviews available, ask your friends or any cosplayers you recognise in their photos for an idea on how they work, and if they are good to work with or not. Remember that everyone is different, so do get a good general opinion and not just the word of one person. This is the same for Photographers, take a look at a cosplayer that you are keen to work with, ensure you want to shoot the characters they are bringing to that con, speak to photographers that have worked with them so you have an idea of what to expect. Doing this ground work can be a really good way of you both getting the most out of a shoot, I also highly recommend talking before the event, of course to agree on location and time, but also talk through poses, this ensures neither party is expecting anything from the shoot that the other is not comfortable with, for example if a cosplayer wanted a slightly racier shoot with a costume, but the photographer is not comfortable shooting a sexier style, this can be discussed before the event to avoid awkwardness, allowing both of you to get the most out of the shoot! This is also a good way to establish boundaries, no photographer should be touching you or your costume/props without expressed consent, regardless of social status or if they know you. It does not hurt to say in a message that should anything need adjusting on the day you have a friend to help or prefer to do so yourself if the photographer can describe what needs fixing, for example a wig sliding back exposing hairline or wig cap can be pointed out for the cosplayer or friend to fix. This also goes for the Photographer, a cosplayer should not be handling your camera to see a photo, nor playing with lighting or touching you in any way unless you have asked for them to assist with part of the shoot. This can be confirmed before the event. Essentially a photoshoot is for both parties to get the absolute most out of, in a relaxed and friendly environment that can then not only lead to fantastic photos, but potential friendships and future shoots.
It is becoming more of a normality to book a hotel or other accommodation for the duration of a convention, for sake of ease and to enjoy evening socialising after the event has closed. I personally do this for most conventions I attend, mainly for the social aspect of staying with my close friends whom I otherwise wouldn’t see for as long thanks to them living a distance away that may as well be Narnia. In situations like this it is really important to stay with people you know, a great suggestion is something like a “chain of friends” meaning that whilst everyone in the apartment or room may not directly know each other, everyone knows at least one person and can wholeheartedly vouch for them. This can be a great way of meeting and staying with new people in a safe and reliable way. This being said, if during your stay you feel uncomfortable in any way, speak up about it, tell a friend who is staying with you, and ultimately if you feel that the safety of yourself or anyone else is compromised, remove yourself and others from the situation. Most hotels have a form of security and if required the Police are there to keep us safe. Do not stay in a situation for the sake of avoiding drama, or because it may mean having to go home early, conventions happen all over the world all the time, your safety and wellbeing is far more important.
This also applies for if you feel someone is acting inappropriately towards a friend, we can look out for each other and we should. There is no harm in raising a concern, remember that as much as you may not all be together during the convention, you will be sleeping under the same roof as these people and leaving your possessions there too, it is important to only do this with people you are comfortable with. Staying over for a convention is a fantastic way to do it, I love the freedom it gives and the potential for even more costume changes and late nights socialising with friends, it is something to be encouraged! The best way to look at it, is would you go away on holiday with the people you are planning to stay with? Or would you have any objection to a friend bringing their friend along? If this seems good to you then chances are this is going to work out great. If you do have any concerns try to address them before the convention, talk to people who are planning to stay and get to know them before you plan to share with them, not only is this good for safety purposes but it also helps to stop things being awkward at any point during the weekend.
Staff and security
During your visit to any convention, there may be a need for security. This can be for a number of reasons, from losing a phone, to reporting a serious incident. With this in mind it is good practise to take a mental (or physical) note of what security are wearing, most will have uniforms, an armband or vest to stand them out from an already colourful crowd. This means that spotting them in a time of need will be easier and can ensure that should they be needed, you can get to them quickly. The same can be said for general staff, they will also have some sort of recognisable feature from a t shirt with Staff on the back to a vest. They will know the layout really well so if you end up lost or cannot find a certain booth they will be able to point you in the right direction. They can also help to locate a first aider or any other staff you may need.
Remember that these people are here to help you, treat them with respect and be polite! They are simply doing their jobs and making sure you have a safe and enjoyable convention. In the event of anything happening at con, whether it be losing an item or being inappropriately touched, security should be made aware as soon as possible, this can help them to locate lost items and potentially find whoever has harmed yourself or your friends. This not only helps the Police in the event of a report being filed, but it helps to ensure the care and safety of others attending.
Most Conventions take place in a centre or hotel. This means that there are usually grounds outside that are used to relax in, take a breath from the busy halls and used as great backdrops for photoshoots! Utilising these spaces is a great idea and can be good for using as a meet point for large groups. With this in mind, it is advisable to stay within the grounds and in plain sight, there may well be locations slightly behind the centre for a shoot but if it isolates you then it is not always the best plan. With this it is best to make your own judgement, if you are good friends with the photographer, trust them and have a friend to accompany you (this also applies to the photographer) then you may be absolutely fine with wandering a little from the convention. When it comes to socialising with new people, do not go anywhere away from the convention alone. If a stranger stopped you on the street because they recognised your Tracer t shirt, would you then walk down a quiet street to hang with them for an hour or two? Hopefully the answer to this is no. Having a general interest in common at a convention is not a certificate of safety, never put yourself in a potentially compromising or unsafe situation for the sake of wanting to be polite. If you meet a group of people who have the same interests then fantastic! Stay and chat to them by all means, swap social media names and perhaps even agree to meet them the next day at the event, but stick to people you know when it comes to exploring the quieter areas around the convention.
The same is true of the after con socialising, there tend to be bars or after parties at Conventions, all usually great fun and a perfect excuse to drunkenly sing along to the Pokemon theme without the family judging you for it… Needless to say you are responsible for your own safety, there is nothing wrong with having a few drinks and staying out all night, but be aware that you need to look after yourself. In a perfect world we would drink all we like and always be safe but sadly this is not the case. Keep your drink with you at all times, stick with your friends and at least one person with a key to your accommodation if you have it. There is always a great chance you will meet new people in the evening which is fantastic! But remember that your safety is important, don’t leave with anyone you don’t know, nor invite anyone back to accommodation for not only yours but the safety of your friends as well. Stick to your group and always have at least one person with you.
Designate a Meet Spot
When attending in a big group, it can be hard to locate each other when you want to break for lunch or to touch base with everyone, a great way of doing this is to agree on a meeting point. It can be a particularly bright stall, a landmark out on the grounds or a shop inside the centre, this gives all of you a point to call base should you need anything like a key to a hotel room or help with anything. The same can be said of people, you may know a friend who organises to do all their photoshoots outside in a specific area, or a coplayer that is helping with a stall inside the halls, having these more permanently based people around the event can be really helpful if you are in any sort of danger or simply need somewhere to rest for a while in the company of a friend that won’t be rushing off any time soon. On the subject of taking breaks, safety is not just about security and sticking together, it also includes looking after yourself physically, ensure you have enough to drink and eat during the event, this not only keeps your strength up but also ensures you won’t feel ill at any point. There is a lot to see and do during your time there but it is very important to look after your body! Especially given crowds make for a humid atmosphere that can quickly lead to dehydration. The best way to stay safe is to look after yourself. Another good practise is to make sure your phone is fully charged before you leave, invest in a small portable charger if possible to keep yourself topped up through the day, some events have special charging stations for this purpose so locating them is a good shout. Having a reliable form of communication is incredibly important for any day trip let alone a convention, being able to check travel routes and having contact with friends and family is a good enough reason, but also being able to contact an emergency service is something we should ensure day to day, this does not change at a con. Should an incident occur where either yourself or someone else is seriously injured then having a phone to call an ambulance is of absolute importance, the same for other emergency services. For a less serious reason, you may see that one comic your friend has been looking for since they started reading and you just want to double check before you buy it! Something as simple as having a charged phone is such a huge part of con safety, don’t get caught out on the little things.
Cosplay and safety
It is safe to assume that most people reading this will be a part of the cosplay community in some shape or form, with this in mind, it is important for me to make a point. A lot of this post has focused on how we act around the convention, taking steps to ensure we are safe and happy at all times. Nothing about your safety is dictated by the costume you chose to wear. By cosplaying a character with less clothing you are not inviting unwanted advances. By wearing armour you are not inviting a challenge to be touched inappropriately. By simply cosplaying you are not painting a target on your back. As responsible as we are for our own safety to an extent, we cannot be held responsible for the actions of others. As a community all we can do is continue to support and protect each other. If an incident should happen to you during your time at a convention, you are not then responsible. You do not accept blame for the actions of someone else, I urge you to report it as quickly as you can to security or the police, which ever is appropriate first. Tell a friend, get a description. The social standing, existing friendship, and circumstances are not excuses for someones behaviour and you are more important than a reputation. It can seem like an incredibly scary thing to do, but by reporting incidents you can not only give yourself closure, but ensure your own safety and the safety of others who attend.
To conclude what has been a long and potentially gruelling post, conventions are wonderful places full of cosplay, geekery and fun. They are a place to celebrate everything we love with people that we love. They are an expression of our confidence as cosplayers and a stage for photographers to do their awesome work. You can purchase items not usually found including exclusive artwork, whilst having the opportunity to meet celebrities you never would have the chance to otherwise. They are amazing community filled places to be enjoyed. They are also places to be aware of crowds, to look after yourselves in and to ultimately exercise common sense and personal safety, be sensible, be aware of your surroundings and put your safety and wellbeing first at all times.