Collaborators: Sharon Elkind, Erica Kanesaka
Project date: 2022 to present
The World Health Organisation defines sexual violence as ‘any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching and other non-contact forms’. In fandom spaces, sexual violence can range from physical assault and unwanted advances, to technology facilitated abuse, including the non-consensual reposting of an individual’s photos and videos for the purposes of sexual gratification. Perpetrators can include both members of the community and members of the public.
While acts of sexual violence and harm are statistically likely to be carried out by someone known to the victim, they can also occur between strangers in a range of social spaces. Sometimes these acts of violence can occur in public settings, re-enforced by bystander apathy or rape cultures that imply the victim-survivor was ‘asking for’ this unwanted attention. This can be compounded by racist, ableist, homophobic and transphobic structural forces.
This research aims to understand the prevalence of sexual violence in popular culture fandoms, including convention spaces, social media, forums and clubs. While there are studies of other gatherings and happenings such as music festivals and parties, the situation in fandom spaces has yet to be investigated. It is critical that this issue is addressed, as fan communities often include vulnerable populations who are statistically more likely to experience sexual harm in their lifetime.
This research calls for an ‘overhaul’ of research that works with fandom populations vulnerable to sexual violence. Scholarship itself has a history of bystander apathy and some theoretical frameworks can unintentionally exacerbate rape cultures. In particular, we call for an end of research that implies that fans ‘deserve’ or are ‘looking for’ unwanted attention through their dress or fannish interests. Research resources and attention urgently needs to be directed towards intervention and prevention through tracking how and where violence occurs and who the perpetrators are.
Working with a range of experts, advocates and organizations, we hope to develop strategies to improve the safety of fans in these spaces.
To address this issue, we are taking an incremental, pilot study approach. The first project is ‘Magical girls, RISE! A study of sexual harassment of kawaii fans’. This study invites fans of kawaii to report experiences of harassment at events, online or in public spaces. Kawaii fans can include cosplayers, J-fashion practitioners, anime and game fans, as well as cute character collectors. A survey will be circulated in late 2023.