Saturday, April 8, 2017

Safety II: Sharing Hotel Rooms

It’s been a while since I wrote something for the safety category (a long while). Ever since I retired from conventions, I’ve been really removed from the scene itself. I still have many friends and contacts in the show circuit though, and they occasionally bring up stories or questions that I feel would be beneficial to others.

Today I want to write about sharing hotel rooms.

I’ve experienced my share of hotel rooms split among a half dozen or more people. The idea of splitting hotel costs with so many people is great for the penny-pinching artist, amiright? Nothing seems more logical than reducing that $300 bill to $25.

As I progressed in my art career and it became a little more relaxed on the budget, I started reducing my number of roommates from 6-8 to 2-4, usually a friend and their significant other or similar. By my last year, I almost always had a room to myself. Sure, it cost more, but let me explain why it was worth it.

Peace. Comfort. Security.

Peace should be obvious. You’re not trying to sleep while drunk friends crash in at 2AM after an adult panel or karaoke at the bar. I was such a light sleeper, I was never able to sleep well with other people coming and going, turning lights on and off and watching anime on their laptops. A tired artist is a grumpy artist.

Comfort. Most rooms come with 2 queen beds. Unless you like snuggling close with friends, someone is on the couch, someone(s) is on the ground hopefully with a sleeping bag and a hoodie as a pillow. I don’t know about you, but after working a booth for a day I do not want to sleep on the floor. Ever had a sleepy person trip over your face? Sucks.

Also, it’s extremely difficult to keep that many people organized and clean. The clutter from cosplays, makeup, personal items, and vendor booty is going to pile up and explode all over the room. I don’t care how “neat” anyone says they are, six people in one hotel room cannot keep their stuff in one concise location. Being really particular about clutter and mess, I hate empty pizza boxes, piles of Ramune bottles, and dirty laundry all over a room.

Lastly, and the whole point of this article, security.

The more people you share a room with, the more people you have to be conscious of. Even in a room full of trusted friends, there's a lot going on and misunderstandings breed in chaos. In a room of acquaintances or even strangers, you just never know.

I've shared rooms with people I only met once at another show six months ago. Good people, but I always felt uncomfortable leaving my belongings in a hotel room someone else had access to. With really close friends, it's not much of a concern. I still won't leave my firearms or cash unattended just as good sense. No need for a misunderstanding or straight up crime. I think it's fair to say that while we may see each other many weekends each year, most artists don't have relationships beyond casually acquainted.

So things to consider when rooming with others:

Do you have any personal or hygiene habits that may conflict or bring out self-consciousness?
  • Leaving makeup all over the sink counter
  • Eating in bed
  • Sleeping in the nude 
  • Leaving the TV on for white noise all night
  • Snoring, sleep talking
Alcohol related activity, under age or of age
  • Coming back drunk
  • Drinking in the room
Where will you be keeping your valuables?

Not saying your roommate is a villainous thief, but at least be mindful of where you're storing things while you're in the bathroom, at your booth, or sleeping. Some people are pretty comfortable with "unpacking" and making themselves at home in a hotel, while others like to keep everything in the bag it traveled in.

For things like clothing and toiletries, you're probably ok to leave it out if you're not self conscious about it. However for electronics, purses, wallets, and anything of value, you should probably keep it out of sight and secured.

Keeping your valuables out of sight and out of mind is the easiest way to reduce issues. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity, so simply storing things away under the bed, inside your suitcase, or anywhere not immediately visible will help. For securing things, locked suitcases, inside your locked vehicle, or with your person at all times is definitely the way to go. I'll admit, I rarely locked my suitcase, but I did toss a lot of things in my car or carry my personal gear around in a backpack.

Who has access to the room?

Sure, you have a room key and Greg has a room key. That's two people right? But Greg's girlfriend and her two best friends are meeting him on Saturday. He'll probably let them in the room to fix their makeup, hang out. Oh and Todd and Angela from the Cosplay 101 Panel wanted to play Cards Against Humanity and they were going to bring some friends. Two people becomes two dozen pretty fast, even it's just to "run in and use the restroom."

Obviously good roomies will let you know if they plan on bringing anyone (especially if the other is trying to sleep, hint hint), but I've had plenty of people see it as no big deal to drop in the room with a few friends for a minute while they drop off vendor hall loot, or grab a jacket.

I keep my laptop, phone, and cash with me. Nothing else I leave in the room is worth stealing.

Ikr. But in reality, it doesn't have to have "value" in the sense of $$ for someone to take it, break it, or move it. Clothing, that Ultraman figurine, the signed art print, your Ramen, those three defective acrylic charms you decided not to grab in the morning. Seriously, people will take anything if given the opportunity. If you even remotely plan on keeping it, use some common sense.

So let's move away from property security and talk about personal security.

I've talk to many good friends and artists who have mentioned anecdotes about roommates turned stalkers, sexual harassment, general lack of boundaries. It happens and sometimes you don't see it coming. When you set up the hotel situation six months before the con, that person you set it up with might fall out, change, disagree, or simply not know each other well enough.

Never feel pressured into staying in a bad spot simply because you don't want to back out of a room or because you don't want to pay the money to split with someone else/get a different room.

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Story time.

Alyssa (not her real name) met an artist, Jared (not his real name) and his wife at A-Con. They started to see each other around the convention circuit, B-Con, C-Con, D-Con, and became friends. Alyssa, Jared, and his wife got along really well for about a year and decided they wanted to share a room at E-Con, because the convention hotel was more expensive than usual.

E-Con was 4 months in the future. During those 4 months, Alyssa still saw Jared in the artist alley, but sometimes his wife wasn't there because of her work. Totally normal. One weekend, Jared asks Alyssa if she is attracted to him. She says, no. A few weeks later, Jared asks Alyssa if she is serious about her boyfriend. Alyssa says yes. Jared starts texting her outside of conventions about her relationship with her boyfriend and Alyssa asks him to stop. Jared becomes angry and calls her a slut because he has "seen the way she looks at him".

I'm hoping by now, you're cringing at the very least. Jared started sending threatening text messages, some with sexual innuendo, to Alyssa. Alyssa became so uncomfortable she emailed the artist alley coordinator for E-Con and requested to be placed on the opposite end of the room from Jared AND cancels her hotel room that she was going to split with him. She finds another friend who agrees to let her crash on their floor instead. Just kidding, she crashed in the second bed because I'm spoiled and book double bed rooms for myself.

During the weekend, Jared talked about Alyssa being a whore and "leading him on" to the artists around him; he even started tagging her artist alley name in some pretty terrible social media posts. It became a pretty difficult weekend for her and we reported the behavior to the convention. Like most conventions, the staff weren't able to do much more than listen in and ask Jared to stop. Alyssa didn't want to contact law enforcement and make a big deal out of it, which was unfortunate.

This behavior is wrong. And it's coming from another artist. It's not just the "weirdos preying at the con," it can be anyone. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself in this situation.

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So what can you do if someone is scaring you, following you, etc.? Note: this does not refer to someone who is simply annoying. If you feel like you are being threatened or your safety and well being are at risk, you have many options:

1. Leave.
Leave? Leave?! I paid a lot of money to be here! This is how I pay my bills! But is that money a greater priority than your health and wellness? No. Leaving a convention, hotel, or group of people is always an option. You might lose out on the money, but you'll go home safe and not spend the weekend feeling angry, scared, or anxious. 

2. Buddy system.
Surround yourself with good company that will watch out for each other. The ones that won't leave you trapped in an awkward conversation because it's hilarious. Buddy system works. One friend is better than none, but more good friends is always a plus. Even if they aren't at the table all day, ask them to check on you occasionally and maybe be there during setup/tear down.

3. Talk to security.
I understand some conventions don't have security. In these scenarios, find a staff member (not a volunteer), to report the issue. Depending on the situation, I would also contact local law enforcement, especially if staff aren't able to reign the issue in. What if security is just some kid with a SECURITY tshirt? As long as the convention has designated him as security personnel, he has some responsibility to try to help. As with all convention staff, they may or may not be able to do something.

4. Call law enforcement.
Many people I've talked to don't want to make a scene, or they don't think their problem is important enough to call police. If someone is following you to your room, threatening you, or trying to harm you, call. It's called prevention. It's better to have a police officer come by and nothing happen, than to not call and bad stuff go down. We take calls from stubbed toes to armed robberies, you might get some huffs from saltier cops, but we'd all rather take a "nothing" call than have to investigate an assault that could have been prevented. Also know that other first responders can also help, such as on site EMTs, firefighters, medics.

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Know your state laws and if/how they define certain crimes so you can report it if necessary. For example, in the state of Missouri:

565.090. 1. A person commits the offense of harassment in the first degree if he or she, without good cause, engages in any act with the purpose to cause emotional distress to another person, and such act does cause such person to suffer emotional distress.
2. The offense of harassment in the first degree is a class E felony.
565.091. 1. A person commits the offense of harassment in the second degree if he or she, without good cause, engages in any act with the purpose to cause emotional distress to another person.
2. The offense of harassment in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.
565.225. 1. As used in this section and section 565.227, the term "disturbs" shall mean to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that serves no legitimate purpose and that would cause a reasonable person under the circumstances to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed.
2. A person commits the offense of stalking in the first degree if he or she purposely, through his or her course of conduct, disturbs or follows with the intent of disturbing another person and:
(1) Makes a threat communicated with the intent to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety, the safety of his or her family or household member, or the safety of domestic animals or livestock as defined in section 276.606 kept at such person's residence or on such person's property. The threat shall be against the life of, or a threat to cause physical injury to, or the kidnapping of the person, the person's family or household members, or the person's domestic animals or livestock as defined in section 276.606 kept at such person's residence or on such person's property; or
(2) At least one of the acts constituting the course of conduct is in violation of an order of protection and the person has received actual notice of such order; or
(3) At least one of the actions constituting the course of conduct is in violation of a condition of probation, parole, pretrial release, or release on bond pending appeal; or
(4) At any time during the course of conduct, the other person is seventeen years of age or younger and the person disturbing the other person is twenty-one years of age or older; or
(5) He or she has previously been found guilty of domestic assault, violation of an order of protection, or any other crime where the other person was the victim; or
(6) At any time during the course of conduct, the other person is a participant of the address confidentiality program under sections 589.660 to 589.681, and the person disturbing the other person knowingly accesses or attempts to access the address of the other person.
3. Any law enforcement officer may arrest, without a warrant, any person he or she has probable cause to believe has violated the provisions of this section.
4. This section shall not apply to activities of federal, state, county, or municipal law enforcement officers conducting investigations of any violation of federal, state, county, or municipal law.
5. The offense of stalking in the first degree is a class E felony, unless the defendant has previously been found guilty of a violation of this section or section 565.227, or any offense committed in another jurisdiction which, if committed in this state, would be chargeable or indictable as a violation of any offense listed in this section or section 565.227, in which case stalking in the first degree is a class D felony.
565.227. 1. A person commits the offense of stalking in the second degree if he or she purposely, through his or her course of conduct, disturbs, or follows with the intent to disturb another person.
2. This section shall not apply to activities of federal, state, county, or municipal law enforcement officers conducting investigations of any violation of federal, state, county, or municipal law.
3. Any law enforcement officer may arrest, without a warrant, any person he or she has probable cause to believe has violated the provisions of this section.
4. The offense of stalking in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor, unless the defendant has previously been found guilty of a violation of this section or section 565.225, or of any offense committed in another jurisdiction which, if committed in this state, would be chargeable or indictable as a violation of any offense listed in this section or section 565.225, in which case stalking in the second degree is a class E felony.
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I know that's a lot to read, but legal text is pretty spelled out for you (usually).

So after all that, it sounds like roommates are a terrible idea. Wrong!

It's still great to have people to talk to, watch movies with, split the cost with. It's just really important to keep your safety and security in mind when coordinating rooms. Know who you're rooming with, have boundaries and expectations communicated, and be aware.

Stay safe in your travels and take care of yourselves and each other!



1 comment:

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