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Alleged harassment of 11-year-old at brony con raises troubling questions

Cons have sexual harassment policies and child safety policies, but there’s no precedent for this.


Aja Romano

Internet Culture

What do you do when a child comes to you begging for help, claiming she’s being stalked by a stranger?

The response to that exact scenario by one group of convention staffers this weekend has enraged and polarized a fandom, driven one convention staffer offline in a wave of harassment, and led to a clash between two regional conventions.

It has not, however, led to any consequences for a man who may have been stalking and harassing an 11-year-old girl.

The Bay Area Brony Spectacular Con, which took place over the weekend, is a fandom convention for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. While most bronies and young fans of the show came for events like the “Hoof-wrestlin’ rumble” and panels like “How to draw a pony,” some visited the convention as vendors or to promote their own events.

In BABSCon’s vendor hall, a separate fandom convention, Sacramento’s Sac Anime, had set up a table to promote their own con. The Sac Anime table was run by the con’s staff and supporters. According to BABSCon staff, they were located just three tables away from BABSCon’s own convention registration table.

But when an 11-year-old girl reportedly ran up to the Sac Anime table asking if she could hide, the Sac Anime staffers say they didn’t notify anyone at BABSCon.

Instead, a woman at the table named Kali, who until Wednesday had a Tumblr account as user saintcheshire, described the incident as follows:

We met a little girl who was there with her family. She got a button drawn at our booth, told us all about her favorite ponies, and was overall just too damn cute. She had an MLP lanyard filled with pins she’d gotten in the vendor’s room, and gave me a Fluttershy pin because she liked my cosplay. She ended up just hanging out with us for a while and bein’ super cute. We call her Babby because she’s 11 and precious.

The next day, she runs up to the booth, terrified, and asks if she can please hide under our table for a few minutes. Turns out a dude had been following her around the con all day, and tried to get her to come up to his hotel room. Alone. She tells us she thought he was okay at first because he was wearing [a My Little Pony] shirt, but she didn’t want to go anywhere with him, and he made her uneasy. At one point, after she’d refused, he grabbed her arm in the elevators and tried to get her to follow him. She ran, and now she wants somewhere to hide.

We tell her of course, hurry her behind our booth and fucking station ourselves around her because she’s eleven years old and all of us are prepared to physically attack the human trashheap who tries to fuck with her. We’re all dressed up in wings and ears and we’re 100000% prepared to rip them off and launch across that table to defend this kid. Eventually this very large dude strolls by, very obviously looking around, and she quietly points him out to us. At this point I’m ready to set him on fire, but when I ask if she needs me to go report him, she shakes her head. She doesn’t want to get in trouble, or make anyone mad.

We see him a few more times over the course of the day, because he keeps meandering over to our booth and just casually looking around. Eventually he actually stops to take a flier from our table and asks us a question, and we coldly send him on his way. We start sending a coworker with Babby whenever her parents aren’t around and she wants to go check out artist’s alley or the vendor’s hall. Because otherwise she’s not safe.

Saintcheshire’s full post, made on Monday after the con, described how this incident, as well as other interactions she had with adult male bronies, has led her to dislike of all bronies as a group. But after alarmed Tumblr users read her post, they had a very different concern: Why didn’t Sac Anime staff alert con security that they had a possible predator on their hands?

As readers scratched their heads and suggested that Sac Anime staff could still contact authorities, the brony fandom expressed outrage. Many members of the fandom, including poniesforparents, believed the entire story was fabricated in order to “demonize” bronies. A Tumblr user named ponyprincessesforjustice summed up the reaction:

“I think the thing I hate about this the most is that on the off chance this wasn’t entirely fabricated out of thin air, that there is possibly some pedophile now wandering around free because [saintcheshire] decided it was a better idea to make this into a tumblr post instead of going to the police, putting more children than just Babby in danger now. Good job.”

Kali’s version of the story appears to be corroborated by at least one other person in attendance—another Sac Anime staffer who was also manning the table. Sac Anime founder and director Dan Houck confirmed that the staffer described the incident to him as follows:

On Sunday of BABSCon we had just finished setting up the Sacanime booth and had begun promoting. Minutes later our new friend we made named [redacted] (a 11year old girl) [sic] came up to us and said “Can I please hide under your table?” We asked why what’s wrong and she said a man had been following her the whole con, that he had grabbed her arm in the elevator and told her she should come up to his room. She got free and automatically came to us. After he realized she was with us he came to the booth but we had [redacted] stay with us until her mom came and even then she still stayed with us. She ended up helping us sell wheel spins and passing out flyers.

Again, there’s nothing to indicate Sac Anime staffers considered contacting authorities about the presence of a possible predator at the convention. When asked by the Daily Dot if he thought his staff should have notified BABSCon’s security, Houck wrote in an email:

The girls [sic] parents were informed of the situation. Shouldn’t it ultimately be their responsibility? My staff members helped the girl and notified her parents, who were at the con.

Given that the Sac staffers were eye witnesses who could identify the alleged predator, it seems unclear why the parents would be more qualified to alert security than they were. As of publication time, Houck had not responded to several follow-up emails.

When contacted by the Daily Dot for comment, Olivia Daniels, the vice chair and head of events for BABS Con, expressed her frustration that Sac Anime failed to notify them about the potential safety threat:

As the founder of introducing children programming at Brony Conventions (Events targeting the core demographic) I wanted to weigh in.

First, we did hire a safety staff, an experienced group that has many years experience in Convention Safety and maintaining rules and regulations at all kinds of Cons, called F.L.A.R.E. We also had several staff members that were continuously roaming every area of convention space we had for all 3 days of the Con.

Let me make one thing clear, [neither] the Con safety team nor any member of staff or [its] volunteers were ever notified of any such incident. SacAnime staff never brought this to our attention despite them being only 3 tables away from our registration staff who had radios and cell phones to contact the safety team and senior staff at all times. Had we known, we would have acted swiftly to remove this person from the Con space and contact the police.

Our harassment policy is universal. Harassment of ANY kind will not be tolerated happening to ANYONE.

Daniels also pointed out in her email reply that the con maintains a separated children’s programming area that is open only to children and their guardians. It’s operated by specially selected staff who have experience in working with children. Daniels also stressed that the issue was not about some innate evil of bronies, but about potential dangers that come with hosting any large event, especially one that involves children. (It’s also no secret that other conventions have struggled with inappropriate and even predatory behavior—something some events are now proactively trying to address.)

We have these rules, not because we believe Bronies are dangerous people but because we know that ANY event that attracts children could also attract predators. We believe that the core demographic of the show should have a safe place to enjoy the convention with targeted events just for them. Our children’s programming room was a huge success this year and happened without incident.

I hope this clears up any confusion. We are reviewing our policies to ensure we are doing all we can to make sure everyone who attends our con is kept safe, but sadly there is only so much we can do when situations happen and are not reported.

As a mother myself, I take the safety and fun of our young attendees seriously. BABSCon will continue to strive to ensure a safe environment for all our attendees.

BABSCon does not have an official policy on adult supervision of children because the entire con is designed for “general audiences (young children and teens).”

Sac Anime does have such a policy and it’s clear: Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times. With this policy in mind, Houck’s statement that the ultimate responsibility for any incidents belongs to the parents is clearer.

Though BABSCon staff expressed frustration that they weren’t notified immediately about the alleged incident, they also had doubts about the veracity of SAC Anime staffers’ version of the events. In a follow-up email to the Daily Dot, Daniels wrote:

One final thing if I may. We have some very serious hesitation to if this actually occurred. The room they describe this happening in is the vendor hall yet SACanime had a fan table which was in the foyer, right in the heart of the convention with heavy traffic. Plus, they imply this little girl was running around the Con without a parent or guardian since this guy had been apparently following her the whole con. I was running all over the Con and never once saw a child running around scott free, nor did the reg staff who was right in the foyer the whole time.

Despite SAC anime claims, there are many aspects of this story that don’t add up. Regardless, either way, I am suggesting to the our Con Chair, Sonya [Hipper], to ban SAC anime from ever having a booth at our con again. Reporting an endangered child should be common sense and there is no room for organizations who can not make that distinction. Thank you for your time.

The Daily Dot asked Houck if he wanted to respond to Davis’ remarks. He sent the following comment in an email:

Could you have Olivia please send me an official email banning us.

The Daily Dot asked Houck for contact information for the Sac Anime staffers who witnessed incident, but he had not yet responded by publication time. Attempts to contact the staffers directly via Tumblr had also went unanswered. Meanwhile, Kali, the woman whose original Tumblr post sparked the controversy, appears to have been driven to change or delete her Tumblr due to a deluge of angry remarks. Her original post exists in the 33,000 notes and reblogs it racked up on Tumblr over the last day.

The possible con predator, meanwhile, still goes unidentified.

Update: The mother of the young girl at the center of the scandal reportedly sent a letter of clarification to BABSCon. In it, she claims that, while a man did in fact approach her daughter, she was never informed of the incident, and her daughter may have exaggerated certain details. The mother claims she had a serious discussion with her daughter about the event, the importance of speaking up, and doing so without exaggerating. She concluded, “We all learned a lesson.” 

Illustration by evil-dec0Y/deviantART/CC-BY-3.0

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