The SPJA Needs to Change Its Youth Protection Policy

by Christopher Macdonald,
On Tuesday, at an SPJA board meeting, the SPJA board of directors will be making a very important decision that could have long reaching consequences for Anime Expo. During this meeting the board will decide how to address problems with their new Youth Protection Policy, problems that many AX partners have pointed out.

On the surface the new policy seems like a great idea. Who isn't in favor of protecting children from predators? This policy isn't unwarranted either, as with every similarly large event, bad things happen… and have happened.

Unfortunately the SPJA's new policy has many unintended consequences. Here are but a few:

  • Cost: It isn't entirely clear who has to pay for the background checks, but these checks could be very expensive for people who have to pay for them. While a typical background checks costs as little as $50, the actual price can be prohibitively expensive for some vendors. For example, some background checks cost an extra $50 for every country a subject has visited in the past 5 years, and an extra $200 if they have lived outside the USA. With those prices, my background check would cost over $1,000 (note: AX has stated on Twitter “No artist, volunteer, guest, staff is being asked to pay for own bg check,“ however it seems that vendors and exhibitors do have to pay for the background checks).
  • Privacy & Security: The new SPJA policy requires that all vendors register with their real names & info. Many people in our industry, particularly professional and semi-professional cosplayers, have problems with stalkers. They do not want to be forced to wear badges with their real names, and they do not want their home address in the SPJA's database. It may even be illegal to force employees of California based vendors to undergo background checks. There is a very limited number of cases in which an employer can mandate a background check, and this is not one of those cases. Therefore, it may be illegal for companies like Aniplex of America, Bandai, Crunchyroll, NIS America and Viz Media to ask their employees to undergo the background check.
  • Good People will fail the background check: I won't go into too much detail about this here, there is plenty of information online about it, but many people often have significant trouble with background checks. Here are but a few of the reasons you can fail a background check: a name change, a minor violent arrest (got into a fight in a bar back in your college days), visiting an "undesirable" country (have you been to Iran or Cuba? I have), sharing your name with an actual criminal, etc...
  • It's Insulting: Picture this, “Hi, you're one of the top manga artists in Japan, and we'd really like to have you as a guest of honor at our show, but first we need to make sure you aren't a child molester.” This is straight up offensive; you should expect that people will be insulted by this. And they are; I can say with absolute certainty that some of AX's potential guests have pulled out because of this, and in at least one case an artist is disturbed enough that it is having an effect on their work. Have you noticed that we're less than 2 months out, and almost no guests of honor have been announced? Guest contracts are in limbo while they wait for this issue to be resolved. For some guests it is already too late for them to commit to the event, their schedules are made more than 2 months in advance.


As a result of the above issues (and more), numerous major vendors and exhibitors have threatened to boycott Anime Expo this year or take other serious action. If the SPJA doesn't rethink or repeal their policy on Tuesday, the exhibit hall could look very, very different, and very, very empty. These companies also won't be sponsoring any guests if they pull out, and they won't be participating in programming.

All this for a policy that is relatively ineffective. It's a combination of liability limitation and security theater for the benefit of parents, insurance companies and local government. 95% of the people attending the event, ie: the regular attendees, will not be screened. While there have been problems in the past with volunteers and GOHs, there have been significantly more problems with regular attendees. However the SPJA is not liable for the actions of attendees.

The SPJA needs to repeal the current policy and come up with a new one for 2017, a policy that will actually protect children instead of just limiting the SPJA's liability. They need to work with child protection and event professionals to craft this policy, not just lawyers.

In the meantime, you can contact the SPJA to let them know that, for the sake of Anime Expo, they need to repeal this policy this year, and fix it for next year.
http://www.anime-expo.org/contact/
https://www.facebook.com/animeexpo/
https://twitter.com/animeexpo/
Or if you are doing business with the SPJA, let your contact there know how you feel.

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