Violent Threats Are An Infringement On Free Speech

On October 10, 2014 · 1 Comments


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.

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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

One Response to “Violent Threats Are An Infringement On Free Speech”

  1. […] then there are the anonymous multitudes who shower feminist writers, gamers, cosplayers, critics and vloggers with threat after threat after threat—rape, murder, rape then murder—for […]

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