They are the ‘boots on the ground’. An accessible, friendly team of specialists trained to assess and deploy anti-harassment tactics at conventions throughout Australia. They are the Cosplay Sentinels: they want to make the con experience better and safer for all cosplayers, photographers, attendees. Everyone. Their goal? To empower every single attendee of every convention to enjoy events without fear.
credit: Foto Play Photography
But first: a little history: the convention scene in Australia is currently in a troubled place. In Queensland there is, for want of a better term, the Adam Baldwin/Supanova situation. Having invited Baldwin without pre-knowledge of his role in Gamergate -- an online movement notorious for its harassment of female developers -- many cosplayers are boycotting the convention in response. Many feel unsafe.
In South Australia, the cosplay community is in the process of dealing with a more nefarious situation. Timothy Marshall, a well-known photographer in the local cosplay scene, was recently convicted of statutory rape and one count of aggravated sexual assault. His victim was 12 years old at the time. “This little kid,” she said, testifying six years later, “just wanted to play hide and seek with the man who sexually abused me.”
Many in the local scene were shaken by the news. It was just one more reason to feel unsafe at cosplay conventions in Australia.
For Dustin Wilson, an events director, this situation was front of mind when it came time to launch his own convention, Cosplay Live. How could he help cosplayers feel safer at his event? How could he help remove the stain that Marshall had placed on the local cosplay community?
His answer, in part, was the Cosplay Sentinels, a small team of three people, all cosplayers trying to revolutionise how harassment is dealt with at local conventions.
Team member number one: Thorin Black. The ‘muscle’. An ex-military man with experience as a bouncer, currently serving a police officer in Adelaide.
Team members number two and three: Justine from JusZ Cosplay and Tiffany Dean. Two well-known cosplayers in the local community. Their role: to provide support. To be a point of contact for any cosplayers who have been harassed on the show floor. Their job: educate the harassers, or escalate the situation to Thorin Black if perpetrators need to be removed from the show.
It may sound like a fairly extreme solution but, according to Dustin Wilson, the Cosplay Sentinels are all about support.
“My concern is I don’t want anyone feeling uncomfortable or harassed,” he told Kotaku.
The idea is simple: provide an accessible point of contact for anyone who feels as though they’ve been harassed: someone who understands cosplay, someone who has been trained in anti-harassment policies. Dustin believes this will help cosplayers feel safer at his convention.
“In the past conventions have had anti-harassment policies, or their staff have some sort of training,” he explains. “But from a cosplayer’s point of view if something happens to them sometimes they don’t know how to react. We put the Cosplay Sentinels out there so that instead of having to approach a member of staff or something like that, a cosplayer can talk to an experienced cosplayer who can now look to their training and react accordingly.”
There will be multiple ways of contacting the Sentinels at the show. The plan is to make them as visible as possible with armbands, but there will also be a contact phone number, as well as point of contact at the information booth should anyone need immediate help.
Justine and Tiffany, says Dustin, will be the first point of contact. The team understand that Thorin, might be a little intimidating.
“Thorin, he’s a big guy. A mountain of a man. A bit like The Mountain in Game of Thrones. He’s got all the official training and escalation methods. But when it comes to someone doing a cosplay for the first time at their first convention -- he’s a very large imposing figure. Justine and Tiffany are like the face of cosplay in Adelaide: so they are the first point of contact. If something feels weird, they can contact either Justine or Tiffany and speak to them.”
Dustin is extremely keen to reassure everyone: this is not meant to be an aggressive response. The Cosplay Sentinels, he claims, are there for support, to make people feel safer at Cosplay Live.
“Some people I’m sure will be like, ‘I don’t harass anyone, why are you doing this huge anti-harassment drive?’ It’s there as a passive thing: they’re not out there to patrol, they’re there as support, as a point of contact.
“No-one’s being eyeballed. If you’re going to a con for the first time or you’re cosplaying for the first time, you know the sentinels are there to help support you.”
While the Cosplay Sentinels were, for lack of a better word, 'assembled' specifically for Adelaide’s Cosplay Live event, Dustin has not ruled out using the team’s methodology for other conventions: not just locally in Adelaide, but across Australia. According to him, one other major convention has already signed up for weekend training courses and in the long term? The word ‘franchise’ is being used.
Dustin is using his own convention as a live-test of how the Cosplay Sentinels operate.
“This is like a case study,” he says.
“We see a great opportunity for the sentinels to offer their services to other major conventions.”
Credit: Rob Jenkins Photography