, , ,

If you’re reading this, you probably spend enough time on the interwebs to have picked up news about, oh, Bill Cosby and various Roman Catholic priests, and to know that sexual harassment and assault is both prevalent and under-reported in America. I don’t want to argue either of those topics, but I want to set the context for you, because sexual harassment, assault, and predation happen everywhere, even in reenacting circles; it certainly happens in cosplay: see here and here.

To be clear: I’ve only had issues with the public, not fellow reenactors, and the issues with the public involve non-sexual touching and drunken stupidity which I can avoid by never being alone in kit–which means I skip some events (Tower Park, I’m looking at you).

Most of us think of reenacting and reenactments as safe places and spaces: we do not expect to encounter predators at the museum or historic site, and I want to emphasize that, as far as I know, the visitors are not the ones being preyed upon. It’s mostly younger reenactors, and it’s rare, but it happens. And I think there are several pieces to the “why” of this.

Sometimes people are completely different away from their homes and families. Whatever secret obsessions they have may be indulged when they’re engaged in fantasy play far away from their homes. These guys (and they are usually guys) are pretty rare, and they are identifiable. The best defense against them is to monitor the vulnerable; young people who have a safety net around them are much less attractive. Once this kind of predator is identified, they have to be confronted.

Men will sometimes act more aggressively masculine (macho) in the presence of other men. There’s a defensiveness that comes to fore when women want to play in that sphere, and men will sexually harass or even assault women in an attempt to maintain dominance over what they perceive as their turf. Think of the firehouse sexual harassment cases, or what we’ve heard about at the military academies or even in some art school departments.This may be what’s behind a couple of the other stories I’ve heard.

Here’s the EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment:

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

  • Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
  • Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
  • Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
  • Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.

And in case you’re thinking, “Well, these folks are volunteers! That’s different,” in Illinois, at least, it is not. An Illinois ruling found that a volunteer can be considered an employee, and is therefore covered under Title VII.

How do we stop this? If the best defense is a good offense, what do we do?

  • Name the behaviour. Call the harasser out on his behaviour, state it to him, be specific.
  • Insist that women are equal to men, even in this masculine and militarized context.
  • Make clear the behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists. (If you are being harassed by a woman, kindly switch the pronouns; yes, it can happen. The incidents I have in mind involve male harassers.)
  • Listen to the people who tell you they have been harassed or assaulted. Don’t judge them.
  • Report harassment to your unit commander, or another trusted person, in case it’s your commander harassing you. Report harassment to a board member or your unit, umbrella organization or museum/site.

Want more information on sexual harassment? Here’s a fact sheet for you.

To be clear: not every guy is guilty. Not every unit has a problem. There’s more good than bad. But I’m hearing about incidents large and small, and it behooves us to be certain we are behaving appropriately and legally.  That said, I’m not a lawyer, I’m a blogger, so see the disclaimer.



The information and materials on this site have been provided for general informational purposes only, are not comprehensive, not complete and are not legal advice. The information contained in the site is general information about sexual harassment and should not be construed as legal advice to be applied to any specific factual situation. None of the information is intended to constitute, nor does it constitute, legal advice. For information about your legal rights you should consult an attorney.