Seminar to address sexual assault within LARP culture
Beginning last summer, a flood of stories began being shared in a newly-created private, gender separatist Facebook group, revealing sexual assaults and harassment at Live Action Role Playing, or LARP, events and medieval festivals. In response to this, a group of individuals from these communities are organizing a seminar this March to come up with a plan for how to deal with these problems.
LARP pedagogue and author Teresa Axner is one of the organizers of March's seminar, where they hope to form a plan to prevent more assaults at future events.
"Our goal is to create a huge to-do list. We want to really change this culture. Maybe we will have a code of conduct after a weekend, but we know we won't solve these problems for real. So, maybe we just make a list of what kind of training we need to work long term to be better," Axner said.
The Facebook group that set everything in motion was a private group, where people felt safe and comfortable sharing their stories. And Axner said that after the first few stories were posted, many more followed.
"There were stories that ranged from, 'This guy sent me creepy messages on Facebook,' to stories of people who were almost murdered. And I would say that there were several hundred stories," Axner said.
Axner also said that there is no consensus as to whether there is something unique within the culture that causes these attacks and harassment. She said that these problems are universal within different youth organizations and activities like sports, church groups and boy scouts. With this initiative, Axner said they managed to rip a little hole in the culture of silence.
"I've also heard people say there might be special vulnerabilities with LARP. One of them is we have a lot less structure. With something like boy scouts, there is always a supervising adult but when you go for a weekend in the forest for a LARP there is not that kind of structured leadership and there is more opportunity for a predator to do bad things," Axner said.
Axner said that, unlike with online gaming's Gamer Gate, there hasn't been any backlash in the public sphere against people who have shared their stories, just a few cases of individual private harassment.
Also, she said that the Swedish LARP scene is very involved in the discussion of issues like gender equality and homophobia, especially amongst the organizers of LARPs. But there are some individual participants who are sometimes not cooperative.
However, Axner is optimistic that things are changing for the better.
"When I tell people about what happened, ta lot of people are horrified. But it's not a terrible thing, it's a fantastic thing. People are trusting enough to tell their stories, other people are listening to them and we're actually trying to make things better. This is a step forward," Axner said.