Recently, I posted two threads on Twitter regarding sexual predators within the local anime communities. Both these adult men who have past convictions with one having sexually assaulted a minor and the other engaging in harassment (with them also facing a court hearing in the coming days over child pornography possession charges).

The response given by the anime convention where these two adult men attended was initially very lackluster. For one of them, they stated that his autism was responsible for his behaviour, which was utterly disgusting and ableist, and then later stated they had a letter from his psychologist stating he was not a threat to the community (despite court records suggesting he has probation orders prohibiting from being around minors which an anime con is full of).

It took weeks of yelling at the convention to get them to finally state that they screwed up with a post from them days before suggesting that the victims “prove it”. Overall it was a sorry situation and the convention definitely has made it aware of how much it really doesn’t care about its attendees.

How do we approach this situation if we’re actually a community that cares?

What does it mean to “86” someone?

The term “86” is rooted in American English slang as getting rid of something or someone and has its roots going back to the prohibition era. In programming, I’ve used it as a label for data I don’t want and in international electrical standards, it refers to an electrical lock-out device, preventing electricity from forming a circuit.

In communities, it has been used to refer to people who were once members or around that are no longer wanted or desired. San Francisco’s hackerspace, Noisebridge maintains an online list of those who been effectively banned from the space. Details about what their name is, an accompanying photo if available, and specifics on why they have been removed are available for members to see.

Some examples of why people have been banned are as follows:

[…] we have heard several reports from members of the community that he has raped young women. He is not welcome at Noisebridge.

[name] engaged in non-consensual sex (aka rape) with someone who comes to Noisebridge. He acknowledges the sex was non-consensual but insists it isn’t rape. He is not welcome at Noisebridge. Feb-2017

[name] was banned from Noisebridge due to a history of internet hate speech and having been asked to leave Sudo Room. Noisebridge aims to be a space that is inclusive of people of all walks of life, which means we actively work to exclude those with views of intolerance and threats of violence.

Pathological liar. Told Noisebridge that he was on the board of Hayhackers, and told Hayhackers that he was secretary of Noisebridge

Reasons can vary but those who were known to be known sexual predators appear to have consistently removed from the space. There are avenues for these removed people to be permitted to return, but it requires initiation by them and the community must decide whether or not it is permissible.

This practice is used in other communities including the kink community (which both of these two adult men mentioned are banned from) which generally relies on strict consent models. Because a lot of fandom events have a large base of minors, it is important to keep predators out.

My experience with removing people from communities

I’ve had my hand in helping with many anime conventions in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, a local hackerspace, and local information security groups. My involvement in these sort of events and communities goes back as far as 2002 when I was 18. I’ve seen so many different people come and go from these spaces and while the majority of them were behaving and well-behaved, there were times where I’ve had to be involved in removing those who were not there with the best intentions.

My earliest experience with removing someone stemmed from 2004 when a problematic person had made threats of violence, leading him to be banned from two conventions both in California and Washington. Being that he has attended our convention in Vancouver, we opted to ban him as well. Back then, banishments were just as noisy but in this case the beligerant was responding to us on LiveJournal. Personally, I didn’t handle this so well but we did at least ban him.

Another example includes someone engaging in drug use around minors in 2006. The details are fuzzy to me now, but we sent him a letter stating he was not welcomed to register again. We never saw him reappear.

The last anime convention-related banning I had my hand in was when during a late-night panel at a 2010 convention, a man dropped his pants right in front of the female panelist, suggesting that she have sex with him; the next day his badge was removed and was asked to not return.

Outside of anime conventions, a local man has been banned from the hackerspace I once helped run, one of the local cyber security conferences, various other security events, and probably elsewhere. This was due to his beligerant behaviour and constant making threats at whoever challenged him.

Unfortunately he has reappeared in other tech events and did harass me and a friend during a panel we gave at a video game expo a year ago.

How has this incident changed things locally?

Because of the feckless approach this anime convention took to these two adult men’s sexual predatorial behaviour, many people affected by him or had resources to help banded together to combine information and find out who has banned them.

We have learnt that they were already or have been banned from another local anime convention, local kink events, a retro video game convention, and a few other events and communities. People also have reported their appearances at local furry conventions, Pokémon Go meet-ups, and other fandom-related events. And unfortunately, we learnt that one of the men had decided to harass and attempt to assault a woman who he thought was someone that reported him for being at the convention.

Herd immunity is important in keeping tabs on predators and we are starting to learn of other individuals and are taking names.

One of the men, while unemployed, has a wealthy parent involved in the venture capital scene who has been known to harass people with legal threats should they not opt to permit her adult early-30s son from being a part of their activites, citing that he is afflicted with autism (be it known that autism doesn’t make anyone a predator but her behaviour can reenforce his actions). She cannot go after us all if we’re making it aware of how much of a garbage human being he is.

An e-mail from a sexual predator's mother; said predator is in his 30s

Seriously, an early-30s adult man with criminal convictions against a minor and is now facing child pornography charges had his mother reach out to a local group about having him unbanned, citing that his autism is to blame for his dangerous behaviour. Autism doesn’t make people terrible human beings who are incapable of being part of our communities, but reenforcing poor behaviour does.

Whisper networks can work (for example, a Slack I am in for women in tech does discuss which companies or people are problematic) but they do not scale.

What can we do to make our communities safer?

There is a lot of overlap in our communities. Anime conventions, furry conventions, hackerspaces, kink groups, and so-on have people who go to some of them, many of them, or even all of them. Because of that overlap, we can engage in some level of information sharing and reporting.

There are a few things we can record to idenify people who may be a problem:

  • Their name (and any aliases)
  • A photo or multiple photos of them (if available or sourced from social media)
  • Date of removal
  • Description of any or all events
  • Who removed them (the name of the community or event)

Obviously there is more but this may be enough for one event to consider someone banned. But how do we share this information?

The problem right now is that everyone is recording this information either in a wiki or on Facebook, which is great for letting the community at large know, but when it comes to registration or book-keeping in general, it isn’t effective due to its inability to scale.

What would I like to do?

I’d like to build a central database for communities to use that will allow one to know if someone who is there should be there. It wouldn’t be an open database where one can just search openly, but instead one that is useable by those who run a community. People without access to the list can instead submit details on a person and let them know what event they appeared at.

This approach isn’t new as this is precisely what BarWatch does. I am not a fan of this system as-is due to its abuse of government ID to collect information and its collusion with the police, but its approach with some modification can work for communities that want to keep predators out.

What it should do is the following:

  • Allow anyone to collect the information as mentioned before and store and view it
  • Grant anyone to share that information with individual communities elsewhere or in a collective community
  • Permit anyone to look up details on a specific person should they have access to those details
  • Let those outside of the permitted communities to request that information from those who stored it there
  • Enable registration software to interact with it in order to prevent or alert their attendance automatically
  • Allow those who may have been banned to appeal with a central contact with the option to deny any appeal as well
  • Give those a channel to submit details on someone abusing them anonymously

This can be expanded upon but I want to ensure that this database is kept to those who are community organizers who are running events or clubs.

Caveats to this approach of course includes having to deal with abuse of the service, which means we have to rely on a web of trust who gets to participate. This requires some further thought and I am inviting people to come help collaborate to work on a system that works. I have software development experience in designing secure systems and running databases due to my past work with data breaches.

Let’s keep predators away.