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Safety Considerations for In-Person Events – For Attendees

Safety Considerations for In-Person Events – For Attendees is part of a larger resource for members of the writing community on personal and event safety concerns, both in-person and online. To see all the resources available, visit our Safety homepage. This section includes basic guidance for professional conduct, safety tips for attendees, what to do if harassment occurs, and effective bystander intervention. There is a related section for people planning in-person events here, as well as anti-harassment and accessibility policy templates here.

Professional Conduct

This section provides basic guidance for professional conduct during in-person events such as conventions, readings, or any other meeting of industry professionals and/or fans. The gradual evolution of many cons from purely fan spheres to mixed fan/professional spheres (as well as the personal evolution of many authors from fan to professional attendee) can create challenges in gauging appropriate behavior as well as openings for bad actors seeking to push boundaries.

Though the culture and expectations surrounding events will vary, it is important to remember that these are, ultimately, work events. The presence of room parties or bar hangouts at a con, for example, doesn’t negate the fact that most of the attendees are there for business reasons and wish to be treated accordingly.

The following suggestions are not comprehensive. It is important to remember that regional and cultural differences abound. Rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all model of behavior, your goal should be to treat everyone with care and respect boundaries as they arise.

Also see the professional conduct section of our Safety Considerations for Virtual Events resource for more information about behaving professionally at industry events. See What to Do if You’re Harassed and Event Safety for Authors in this resource for more information about staying safe when others act unprofessionally.

Do Not Engage In Harassment

This is the bare minimum of professionalism, but harassers often claim ignorance (ignorance of con policy; of norms and expectations; of their target’s discomfort). You can see our template for what a clear anti-harassment policy looks like here, but this section is worth quoting in its entirety:

Harassment proscribed by this Policy includes:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other physical, verbal, written, or image-based communications of a sexual nature. 
  • Creating an intimidating, threatening, or offensive environment by severe or pervasive conduct, including stalking and uninvited or unwelcome physical contact.
  • Sexual harassment may occur in hierarchical relationships or between peers, and between persons of any gender or sex.
  • Repeated verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or derogatory slights and insults toward any individual or group, particularly culturally marginalized individuals and groups

A hostile environment can be created by, among other things: unwanted jokes, gestures, and unwelcome comments or repartee; touching and any other bodily contact such as hugging, scratching, rubbing, or patting a person’s body, grabbing another person around the waist, or deliberately interfering with a person’s ability to move; repeated requests for dates or sex that are turned down, or other unwanted flirting; filming, transmitting, or sharing any communication (such as chats, direct messages, and emails, etc.) or video and/or pictures of a harassment-related nature.

 Look Out for Fellow Attendees

The safety and professionalism of an event is largely dependent on the ability of the event runners to enforce safe policies and the willingness of attendees to reinforce a culture of professionalism.

  • Read the Code of Conduct. Make sure to familiarize yourself with any anti-harassment policies or other expectations published by the event runners.
  • Know how to contact the event’s safety/security team and when to do so.
  • Consider taking some time to learn about Effective Bystander Intervention to better aid your fellow attendees if an incident happens in your presence.

Pay Attention to Social Cues

Comfortable levels of social distance have changed since the pandemic began and were always subject to cultural differences and personal preferences before that. Err on the side of caution. For example:

  • Do not touch anyone without permission. This includes hugs, taking someone by the hand or arm, or touching their hair or clothing.
  • Permission to touch also extends to animals, mobility devices and belongings. Do not pet service dogs or other animals without permission. Do not physically assist disabled attendees without asking first or being asked—and when doing so, follow the request and nothing more.
  • Do not take offense if people say no to physical affection, handshakes, etc. You may see people interact with others (friends, colleagues, etc.) in ways they do not interact with you.

Respect Boundaries

In addition to the physical boundaries mentioned above, take care to respect emotional and professional boundaries. For example:

  • Do not corner people to ask for autographs, opinions, reviews of your query, synopsis, or book. Conventions often have appropriate venues available for this (workshops, office hours, pitch sessions, signing tables, etc.).
  • Do not follow agents, editors, authors, or other professionals into private spaces such as bathrooms to press your manuscript onto them, pitch projects, etc.
  • Do not continue to interact with someone who has asked or told you to stop.
  • Do not take pictures of anyone without their consent. Check the photo policy at the con or event. Some have explicit opt in/opt out models for photos.
  • Take care with sensitive topics of conversation (sex, politics, religion, and so on). Remember that this is a work function and attendees may have a wide variety of backgrounds, cultural norms, and comfort levels.

Learn to Manage FOMO

The fear of missing out (on new friendships, on professional networking, on interesting experiences) can easily lead people into boundary-pushing or unprofessional behavior.

  • Stay aware of your surroundings, especially in situations where people are drinking. Not everyone will behave professionally. Resist peer pressure to play along with inappropriate humor, sexual advances, or otherwise perpetuate a hostile environment for other attendees.
  • Know your limits: with alcohol; with staying out late; with overextending yourself trying to attend everything with everyone. Build rest time into your schedule. Step away if you find your temper or manners fraying.

Tips for New or Infrequent Travelers

The following tips aren’t safety-specific, but can make attending professional events run more smoothly.

  • Many conferences have first-time attendee sessions aimed at helping you get the most out of the conference. These may be single panels or they may pair you up with a more experienced attendee who can answer questions and give advice.
  • Make certain you are hydrating, eating, and taking meds on time. It is easy to throw your body off when traveling, especially across time zones. Be sure to schedule time for your regular daily rituals.
  • Bring easy-to-carry foods that suit your diet.
  • Bring your own water bottle or drink mug. If you are staying at a hotel, you may have coffee/tea in your room. Some rooms have a microwave, but not all.
  • Regarding clothing: wear what make you feel comfortably professional. You may see a range of clothing from suits to jeans and t-shirts.
    • Cosplay isn’t standard at most writing conferences, though it can be appropriate at some.
    • Dinner events such as award ceremonies are more formal and may warrant bringing dress clothes.
  • Bring pen and paper or your preferred means of taking notes.
  • Consider making business cards. A simple card with your name, email, and website is an easy way to share your contact information with new acquaintances. Leave some blank space on one side for notes—when receiving a card, it’s handy to jot down a reminder of why they gave it to you.

Effective Bystander Intervention

We can all play a role in creating safe public spaces in our community through practicing bystander intervention. Hollaback! provides a list of useful resources as well as free virtual trainings in bystander intervention techniques. Research shows that intervening when a person is being harassed, even if it’s just by giving a knowing glance, can reduce trauma for the person who is being targeted. It’s also important to model the community norms we wish to see through our own behavior.

You can prepare yourself to intervene by reviewing the following steps:

  1. Recognize that harassment can be experienced in both in-person settings like conventions, workshops, and readings and in online settings such as virtual conventions, virtual readings, etc.
  2. Recognize that many different behaviors can be experienced as harassment:
    1. Intimidating looks and staring
    2. Comments about appearance
    3. Vulgar gestures
    4. Making racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, and transphobic slurs
    5. Making inappropriate sexual comments
    6. Following someone
    7. Grabbing, touching, and otherwise forcing unwanted physical contact
    8. Doxing and making threats
  3. Recognize the thoughts you may have that prevent you from intervening:
    1. Fear of making things worse
    2. Not knowing what to do
    3. Paralysis because no one else is doing anything
    4. Minimizing, i.e. “this isn’t a big deal”
    5. Thinking “it’s not my problem”
  4. Become familiar with the 5 Ds of Bystander Intervention developed by Hollaback! and practice using them.
    1. Distract: Start a conversation with the target or otherwise pull attention away from them. Likewise, you can start a conversation about a different subject with the harasser to distract them.
    2. Delegate: Get help from someone else.
    3. Delay: After the incident, check in with the target to see if they’re okay and if they need help.
    4. Document: Take video footage or screen shots of the harassment. (Find tips for filming here.)
    5. Direct: Speak up about the harassment as it’s happening.

Examples of how to implement the 5 Ds of Bystander Intervention:

  1. Distract: You can start a conversation with the target, pretending to know them, in order to give them an exit. You can spill your drink, pretend to be lost, pretend to trip, drop something, ask for directions, or otherwise distract from the target. On the internet you can distract the harasser by asking them a non-related question.
  2. Delegate: You can find con staff, bookstore staff, a manager, or other official person to intervene. You can also ask a fellow writer if they feel comfortable intervening if you don’t; in an online situation, you can make this request over private message or text. You can find a list of community-based alternatives to police that you can contact by city here.
  3. Delay: After the incident is over, you can check in with the target to see if they’re okay, to tell them you noticed what was happening and that it wasn’t okay (validation), and to ask if there’s anything they need now, like a drink of water or an escort to another space. You can also private message a person to check in with them online.
  4. Document: You can take video or screenshots of the incident. If you do, ask the target of the harassment what they’d like you to do with the evidence and offer to share it with them. Never post it publicly without their permission.
  5. Direct: You can speak up directly about the harassment, saying things like “That’s not okay,” “Leave them alone,” “What’s going on here?” Keep it short and don’t engage in debate. If using this tactic, make sure to assess your own physical safety first. You can learn more about methods of counterspeech online here.

If you would like to learn more advanced intervention methods, you can consider taking a conflict de-escalation course here or elsewhere.

What to Do if You Are Harassed

Sadly, harassment is still prevalent at many science fiction and fantasy conventions. It can take many forms:

  1. Verbal harassment, including name-calling, catcalls, making sexually explicit suggestions, etc.
  2. Physical harassment, including unwanted touching, staring and following, standing too close, etc.
  3. Threats of rape and violence
  4. Public masturbation in front of an unwilling audience
  5. Sexual assault

Before Attending a Convention

Check the convention’s harassment policy: This should be clearly available on the convention’s website. Make sure the policy has clearly delineated procedures for what constitutes harassment and how to report harassment. (See our template for what a robust anti-harassment policy should look like here.)

Consider having a con buddy: If you have a trusted friend or acquaintance who is also attending the convention, ask them ahead of time if you can look out for each other and discuss what that entails for you.

If You Experience Harassment at a Convention

Here are some steps you can consider taking:

Get yourself to safety: Your own personal safety is paramount, and you can take whatever steps you think are necessary to make yourself safe. This might include removing yourself physically from a space, asking others for help and protection, etc.

Take notes of the details you can remember of the incident: The sooner you can take notes, the better. Include what happened, when and where it happened, if there were any witnesses, and any other useful information you might remember. You can also write down names of any people who later help you in an official capacity.

Find support at the convention: Reach out to friends, family, or colleagues who you feel you can trust to support you. These people can act as buffers in panels, parties, or other public spaces, look into the con’s specific procedures for reporting, keep you company if you decide to report the incident, or make sure you’re eating enough and keeping hydrated.

Decide if you want to report the incident:

  1. You can report the incident to the convention. In order to help you decide whether to do this, you might look up a convention’s harassment policy or contact their safety team. Consider whether you’d prefer to make a formal report or an informal report, and what you need in order to make reporting as safe as possible for yourself. You can also read about one person’s experience reporting harassment at a convention to get a better idea of what to expect.
  2. If the harasser is attending the event in an official capacity, such as an editor or an agent, you can report them to their HR department.
  3. If you are the victim of a crime, you will need to decide whether to involve the police.

Again, your safety is paramount. It is a personal decision whether or not to report an incident, and outside pressure about this decision is inappropriate.

Find ongoing support: Figure out what your needs are going forward and ask for help. Some options include: getting support from friends and family, setting boundaries about your con attendance in future, taking self-defense classes, going to therapy, finding an in-person support group, finding an online support board, etc. See our page on Self-Care If You’ve Been Harassed for more information.