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I want to publicly thank C2E2, Chicago's premiere comic convention, for action they took this afternoon. I was not going to attend their Mardi Gras event tonight due their affiliation with a traumatic figure from my past. Now, I enthusiastically will, and encourage everyone else to support C2E2 as well.
I am going to share my story before anyone else does.
Thirteen years ago, I was under 18- a minor. I was attending an anime convention in the Chicago area. A group of cosplayers, including myself, headed up to a hotel room to change out of our costumes. We were followed. While we were undressing, a photographer began slamming into our room's locked door in an attempt to break in. The room had one of those sliding locks, which broke open under the force. The photographer rushed in with a camera, attempting to get nude photos and/or video of underage cosplayers.
This photographer's name was Ron "Soulcrash" Ladao.
From the start, I was absolutely clear about how wrong this was. Amidst girls' screaming of "No!" and "What is wrong with you?" and "Go away!" I made it clear that this act was unacceptable. I threatened to call the police if he did not immediately leave us alone. He left, but not without grinning and calling me a rude name because I had touched his camera to point it away from the girls.
I was young, and admittedly didn't have the emotional maturity or feminist intelligence to fully process this assault. I just wanted to have a fun con with my friends. I was scared that my parents wouldn't let me attend things like this anymore if I admitted what happened. Ron was also a friend to many people I knew. He offered free photography, and I was worried cosplayers would take his side because of his services. For these reasons and more, I tried to minimize things for literally years. I even used his photos on this blog once, in an attempt to convince myself that this was a good person and that the incident was a fluke.
My feelings about this event are coming to a head now. In 2016, Ron Ladao is an official photographer for Uchicon, (EDITED:) ReedPOP/C2E2's segment of the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade, and is a prominent presence at events by We Are Cosplay - an organization that sends cosplayers and sometimes photographers on charity assignments. More and more, I have to decide if I want to see this person, if I want to speak with him, or simply just watch other women allow photos to be taken. I've internalized this as "my" problem and "my" burden, when really, that's the opposite of what a victim should do. We shouldn't be the ones running away while they live their lives like nothing happened.
For a long time, I told myself that "we were kids" and that maybe Ron had grown up. Unfortunately, his behavior online has told me otherwise. He continues to post sexist, degrading comments about "cosfamous" cosplayers on his social media accounts. He appeared on a panel last year spouting the same sentiment. His opinions aside, I'm here to tell you that there is a REASON some of us choose not to work with Ron Ladao: He is a criminal harasser.
I have not been completely silent about this issue. I informed CosAwesome studios about the incident. (EDIT: My friends at CosAwesome have spoken to me, and things are great. Please support them. <3) When several women complained about his statements about women on a Chi Fi panel to We Are Cosplay, we were told that everyone has a right to their opinion, and that his was as valid as ours. Ron was (EDITED:) nominated by his peers and received a photography award at We Are Cosplay's Cospys. After this event, I resigned from the club.
I told a few friends about the incident. As a result, I keep getting private messages about other people's experiences with Ron. I'm not surprised by their public silence, given how often organizations sideline cosplayer safety. I'm happy to finally speak out. I hope more of us do.
C2E2 is the first organization thus far to take me seriously. They are no longer professionally affiliated with my harasser, and thanked me for helping provide a safe environment for all. I encourage everyone to attend their party tonight, the convention, and other affiated events.
A lesson for everyone: If someone is making you or a loved one uncomfortable, don't ignore it. It is easy to brush off someone's disconcerting actions as "just their sense of humor," but acts like these are no joke. We should not be laughing at predators. In fact, several people told me I should "talk" to Ron, to see if he'd apologize. Absolutely not. If someone broke into your home, or mugged you on the street, would you follow them later to seek an apology? No. We should believe and support one another, and let our actions show zero tolerance for harassment. We don't owe harassers anything.
I'm not here to ruin anybody's career or to make decisions for others. I just want to make sure that the female cosplayers in my community know who they are dealing with when they decide what a great deal this free photography appears to be. This was breaking and entering. This was sexual assault. The women involved were under 18. In my opinion, nobody would protect or befriend ANY harasser's actions if they didn't offer free exposure. Ask yourself: Is a free photo worth the damage done to do to cosplayers?
You can answer that on your own. I have, and won't be working with organizations that endorse him. I WILL be working with the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo. Thank you for all you do, C2E2.
EDIT 1: Uchicon and CosAwesome have also contacted me with how they are addressing this situation. I thank these organizations for taking cosplay safety seriously.
EDIT 2: I've encountered quite a bit of conflict for this post, which I expected. Most issues that have been brought up (e.g. "Why didn't you mention this sooner?" and "He was young!") are already mentioned in the above text. Please read thoroughly. One wrinkle that has come to my attention is a party of people saying "This was Ron's room!" and using this to discredit my story. I would like to address this:
Given the time that has passed, I can genuinely say I do not remember whose room it was. This doesn't change the narrative at all. If this was, in fact, Ron's room, I would not be surprised. He WAS a person I trusted at one point in my life. In that moment, he broke that trust. I would certainly never be seen in his room again. Gender aside entirely, someone paying for a room does not mean they can behave however they choose. Women were clearly screaming "No," "Go away," "etc.," and he pushed forward. He DID know women were changing, he DID still have his camera, he DID have his eyes wide open, and he DID throw his weight against the door despite clear protestations. OF COURSE he feels he was in the right. He was not, and that's it. With his actions, he said "If you share my space, even for 5 minutes, you cannot expect respect or privacy."
FINAL EDIT: I absolutely believe and respect the people who say they've had positive experiences with Ron. That said, someone being nice to you doesn't make them incapable of being a harasser to someone else. This is, in fact, how many harassers stay well hidden in public. We're not ALL targets of individual harassers. They will always have friends. That's OK- it just doesn't make victims wrong.