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Amid the Tampa Bay Comic Con fantasy, some feel harassed

It’s photo time as Jenna Beth, center, stops to take a picture Saturday with Logan Johnson, left, and Braeden Loepke outside of the expo hall in the Tampa Convention Center. She is the founder of Cupcake Burlesque, a troupe based in Fort Lauderdale.

SAM OWENS | Times

It’s photo time as Jenna Beth, center, stops to take a picture Saturday with Logan Johnson, left, and Braeden Loepke outside of the expo hall in the Tampa Convention Center. She is the founder of Cupcake Burlesque, a troupe based in Fort Lauderdale.

TAMPA — The gawkers had gathered near the entrance of Comic Con to snap some photos of Wonder Woman. Or, rather, the woman dressed as Wonder Woman.

The woman flipped a strand of hair, cocked her hips and smiled. A circle of camera phones flashed.

Comic Con is a nationwide convention that invites everyone to dress as beloved superheroes and science fiction stars. The event invaded the Tampa Convention Center this weekend with thousands passing through the doors, dressed in costumes you'd likely never see outside of Halloween.

For many, the convention was a wonderful gathering of geekdom, a chance to role-play and pay homage to classic characters. Around one corner, Batman and Robin munched on pretzels. Around another, Spider-Man shot a string of web from his wrist.

For others though, Comic Con-related events, including the one in Tampa, have started to develop a reputation for groping, upskirting and sexual harassment.

Tired of what they saw as blatant objectification, three women from Philadelphia formed Geeks for CONsent to raise awareness about the issues surrounding fantasy and appropriate behavior. A costume doesn't mean consent, they say. "It doesn't give someone any reason to overstep a woman's boundaries," said Rochelle Keyhan, the group's director.

In San Diego, the mecca of Comic Con, numerous reports surfaced of men harassing women. One woman said a man tried to follow her home after stalking her during the event. Another said a man grabbed at her butt while they were posing for a picture.

One post on the group's website from someone who called herself Hannah from Tampa said that at MetroCon earlier this summer, she dressed as Lady Loki. She wrote that a group of guys joked about her costume's horns and made obscene hand gestures.

Some conventions have a code of conduct to prevent such behavior. Tampa Bay's Comic Con does not, said Kailee Baylor, the event's spokesperson.

"The only policies we really have are based on costumes or weaponry," she said.

There were no sexual harassment incidents reported over the weekend, according to the Tampa Police Department.

But some eventgoers cited examples of inappropriate behavior.

After waiting in line several hours Friday to attend the event, Nash Thompson and her fiance, Anthony Spear, of Anna Maria, grabbed beers at a nearby tiki hut. "At least six guys tried to take pictures of just her butt," Spear, 25, said.

Once inside, they walked through the main expo on the second floor. As she passed one booth, Thompson, 22, said a man reached out and slapped a sticker on her breast that read: "I have been touched by the Almighty One … And it was good."

"We've been doing these conventions long enough," Spear said.

He paused.

"So, you know, you just kind of get used to it."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@tampbay.com. Follow @zackpeterson918.

Amid the Tampa Bay Comic Con fantasy, some feel harassed 08/02/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2014 10:27pm]
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