Policies

A Statement of Principle Regarding Consent and Handling Consent Violations

At the Center and Foundation for Sex Positive Culture we talk a lot about consent and consensual activity. It’s the cornerstone of our events, what we teach, and who we are. While that is easy to say, living it takes work, dedication, and a clear statement of how we view consent and its place in our organization.

Our understanding of consent is this:

  • The act of getting consent is the act of making sure everyone involved in a given activity is able to give their ok, understands what’s going on, and directly, consciously, and willingly chooses to engage in that activity.
  • The basics of consent are simple: Get full and informed consent, with awareness of the explicit and implicit consent you are using, before you engage in an activity with someone.
  • The application of consent is complex, emotional, and takes practice.

We realize it is not enough simply to state that consent is important. To build a consent culture, we need to both talk about consent in detail and improve the safety of the people we serve. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines and watch as events unfold around us. It is our right and our responsibility to find better ways to talk about, explore, and protect consent.

We recognize that we are, and should be, held to a high standard of understanding and enforcing consent. This statement and associated policy and procedure documents are the culmination of our current discussions and understanding. We have taken our knowledge and help from other organizations to craft it as best we’re able to in the moment. These are living documents and will grow and change as we learn and understand more.

Even though we have more to learn it’s important that we stand up for this complex and exciting concept. Consent is something we need to make a better world, both for ourselves and for you. Let’s get started.

Why It’s Important

It’s not enough to talk about consent. It’s not enough to teach about consent. As organizations that promote explicit consent and the freedom of sexual expression we recognize our responsibility in working to promote a safe, secure, and consensual environment at all of our events.

  • The Center for Sex Positive Culture encourages the exploration and celebration of the many facets of human sexuality. Through an encompassing variety of events, created by and for its membership, the CSPC seeks to educate, to facilitate consensual open sexual expression and dialogue, and to provide a venue for fellowship and community.
  • The Foundation for Sex Positive Culture’s mission is to promote the many ways sex is beneficial through education, outreach, the arts, advocacy, and research programs that serve the public.
  • As proponents of sex positive culture, we believe the appropriate uses of sex extend beyond reproduction. They include creating personal pleasure, bonding interpersonal relationships, promoting spiritual growth, and enhancing emotional and physical health. In a sex positive world, everyone has the freedom and resources to pursue a fulfilling and empowering sex life.

Part of our mission is the creation and promotion of a Consent Culture where people are able, welcome, and encouraged to openly and honestly ask for consent regardless of the desired activity. Where people are free and encouraged to respond based on their own choices and desires. And where everyone respects and honors the response given, regardless of the desired outcome.

Consent violations and injuries happen and we are deeply concerned about the personal, communal, and cultural repercussions. We recognize the damage these do and are committed to finding ways to both reduce the number of incidents and to supporting people who have experienced them.

We believe that changing the culture starts with making consent the cornerstone of all of our events, educational opportunities, and outreach. We believe that creating a Consent Culture takes all of us, working together to be personally responsible and to hold each other accountable.

And finally, we believe in working toward a time where people are so concerned with consent, that they can and will report their own violations; working with both the person who experienced the violation and the community to make amends.

What are we doing about it

  1. We have created a dynamic policy to lay out an ideological grounding for how we look at consent and consent violations. This policy will be posted in all of our locations, listed on our websites, and made available to anyone who wants it. It will be reviewed and updated yearly or whenever new information comes to light.
  2. We have created a procedure to give step by step guidelines for how to deal with consent violations or injuries when they are reported to us. This detailed procedure will be taught to our staff and volunteers and available for anyone to look at. It will be reviewed and updated yearly or whenever new information comes to light.
  3. As an educational organization we believe it is important to help people learn about consent and that through education we can help people to understand how important it is to engage in consensual behavior.
    • We provide regular workshops on consent at low cost to the public and free of charge to all CSPC members. We also host additional workshops on the subject.
    • We engage in outreach to colleges and other organizations to support their consent curriculums and/or to offer ours.
    • We require all educators who teach at the FSPC to include consent as part of every workshop, either integrated into the curriculum or taught at the beginning.
  4. We are working in partnership with the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom) to promote consent and consent education here in Seattle and across the country.
    • The FSPC has participated in the NCSF Consent Counts program.
    • The FSPC and CSPC hosted the NCSF Consent Summit in April 2016, contributing both support and educators to the Summit.
    • We continue to talk with and coordinate with the NCSF to stay abreast of current legislation, changes to concepts, and connect to other consent educators.
  5. The CSPC and FSPC will be working to create a Consent Advocate Program. This program will be made up of people willing to be on-call for helping someone should a consent violation occur including: trained volunteers, therapists, and local victim’s advocates.
  • Advocates will be expected to be available to be called in to support and help someone who has experienced a consent violation or injury while at an event hosted by the FSPC or CSPC. We will also keep a resource list of people willing to support anyone who contacts us looking for support.
  • Individuals will be designated to be on staff at any large event.
  • The program will include training in Consent Advocacy: Connection and Validation Skills, Creating and Managing Safety, Supporting and Minimizing Trauma, Legal and Resource Support, and Restorative Justice Techniques (Inclusion, Encounter, Amends, & Reintegration).
  • This program is in development and we hope to put it in place within the 2016 calendar year.

Discussion around the Level or Severity of Consent Violation

When working on these documents we found that there was lot of discussion and concern around how to quantify the level or severity of a consent violation. This is a place people go to for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes they want to know how outraged they’re supposed to be. Sometimes they want to know the severity so they can determine how to either punish or defend the people involved. And sometimes they ask the question in order to deflect or deal with their own discomfort about what happened.

In the process of writing about Consent and Consent Violations we have come up with the following ideas. We know they’re neither perfect nor comprehensive. And we hope they can give some grounding and basis for further discussions.

  • We acknowledge the only person who can qualify the level of a consent violation or injury is the person who experienced it. No one should ever attempt to convince another that a given experience is either less or more significant.
  • We understand the perception of the level of violation/injury may differ between the people involved and recognize that this is normal, complicated, and doesn’t need to be changed. It is okay for different people to have different perceptions.
  • We know that we cannot allow the rights and needs of a person reported against to supersede, overwhelm, or overshadow the rights and needs of a person who reports. At the same time we recognize a person reported against has needs as well and want to do our best to help them understand what happened and find ways to prevent it from happening in the future.
  • Finding a balance between creating safety, managing confidentiality, supporting those that have suffered harm, and working to repair connections within the community is not easy work. And we believe it is possible with time, compassion, understanding, and patience.
  • We acknowledge there are different levels of consent violation/injury and that these need to be handled differently.
    • Accidental Violations are non-consensual actions that happen without the intent to harm and which may happen within the normal course of human interaction. Such an event, regardless of the intent, may still cause physical, emotional, or psychological impact. It should be reported and supported for both the person who experienced it and the person reported against.
      • Basic examples (not meant to be a complete list): An unwanted hug, standing too close to someone, pushing against a stated boundary, following someone through an event or space, etc.
      • Working with these types of violations/injuries is about working with, understanding, and acknowledging the emotions of the people involved and pursuing reparative actions to address the impact of what happened.
    • Serious Violations are non-consensual actions, that may or may not happen with the intent to harm, which have a significant physical, emotional, or psychological impact on an individual.
      • Such an event should always be reported and the person who experienced the violation/injury supported in that reporting. The person reported against may also need support, but safety must be the primary priority.
      • Basic examples (not meant to be a complete list): Not stopping immediately when perceiving a safeword, not following negotiated safer sex protocols, breaking negotiated boundaries or agreements, etc.
      • Intentionally acting to remove or reduce someone’s ability to consent will always be considered a serious violation.
      • Working with and acknowledging Serious Consent Violations is complicated, serious, and necessary work. It is first about safety for the person reporting and the community as a whole.
    • Legal Violations are non-consensual actions for which there are legal statutes against them and/or for which someone has pursued legal action.
      • There are many laws and legal statutes that determine what is and is not a violation pursuable under the law. We recognize that BDSM, Kink, and Sex-Positive Culture create difficulties and oppressions under the law and this often makes pursuing legal action difficult.
      • We have the responsibility to support anyone who has experienced a consent violation/injury to contact the police, should they feel the need to do so, and to support them in through the emotional process of dealing with the authorities.
  • No volunteer or staff should ever attempt to discourage someone from making a report should they choose to do so. The level of violation is never an issue in whether or not a report should be made. Any attempt to discourage someone is grounds for dismissal.

The discussion around level, type, details, or even the occurrence of a consent violation is always difficult and it ultimately not the point. When someone experiences a consent violation that is their experience and it is our job, the job of everyone involved, to help them process what happened. We succeed and grow as a community by helping people heal, providing a safer space for everyone, and doing what we can to prevent violations from happening in the first place.

Concerns about False Reporting

Where there is any discussion of policy and procedure around consent there is always concern that someone will make a false, exaggerated, or coerced report. We know that addressing these concerns is difficult, but here is what we know:

  • The vast majority of reports are true. Most studies suggest the percentage of true reports is around 96%.
  • There are significant hurdles for someone to come forward in the first place. There is significant stigma attached to the person who reports and they often face hardship, verbal abuse, and physical threat. Few people will face that in order to lie.
  • The majority of false reports are easily addressed through the lies or inconsistencies in the report itself.
  • It is much more common for someone reported against to make the allegation of false reporting rather than to admit their actions and behavior. People become defensive when they feel accused of wrongdoing, even when they have done something wrong.

Based on this information we feel the need for a strong policy and procedure around consent far outweighs the concerns regarding the possibility of a report being false. Where people continue to feel that concern we ask they remember the following things:

  • There is a process and procedure in place. It is a detailed and rigorous procedure being followed by people dedicated to being fair and balanced.
  • The policies and procedures are designed to create safety for everyone in the community and they need to be followed in order to do that.
  • Issues of false reporting are most often about differing perceptions of the same event. One person sees it one way. Another person sees it in another way. When this happens it’s important to remember that each person gets to have their own perception and it doesn’t make the other one wrong.
  • Only the person who experiences a violation or injury gets to define how serious and damaging that experience was for them.
  • The fact that someone might be discomforted or embarrassed is not a reason to avoid creating or implementing a process to promote individual and community safety.

We wish our world were a place where people engaged in consensual activity by default and these documents were only needed for clarification. We don’t live in that world yet. It is a terrible thing that people are hurt in the pursuit of pleasure, understanding, and exploration. We have all witnessed this happen, either directly or to someone we care about.

We wish our world could be a place where consent culture flourishes. Imagine a place where people learn how to ask for and give consent from their earliest memories; where consent is second nature. Imagine a world where people understand the pleasure and excitement of engaging in activities where everyone present really wants to be there.

Until we achieve that world, and we’re working on it, we have a policy and procedure in place to protect and support the people we serve as part of our community and our lives. We know it won’t solve every consent problem or stop every consent violation. We know it will grow and change as we learn and understand more about this complicated and difficult topic. And we know it is not enough to create change all by itself.

That’s where you come in. If, having read the policy and procedure, you have suggestions for making it better, let us know. If you’re inspired to go out, learn, and talk more about consent, go forth with our blessing. Should you want to use these documents as a template for your own organization, by all means take and use them. If you want help with that, you need only ask.

We are all on the way to creating a better and more consensual culture. By talking through it, learning about it, teaching about it, and living it we build a consent culture that allows people to be themselves in safe and pleasurable ways. Thank you for joining us.

– The Joint Committee on Consent for the FSPC & CSPC 2016 Boards of Directors

To Report Consent Incidents or Request a Consent Advocate

[email protected]

This email is monitored by an FSPC board member who will forward emails to the Director or to a Consent Advocate, depending on whomever is most appropriate person to for each instance.