There are a couple questions we've been asked lately and we wanted to take a little time to do our best to answer these difficult questions. Please note the following is our take and not meant to be directive. Each person needs to come to their own decisions around this complicated topic:
What do you do if someone has violated or broken your consent?
1) Take a deep breath. This is a hard and emotional thing to have happen. It can bring up a lot of different feelings. Common ones are anger, fear, sadness, guilt, shame, and anxiety. It can also trigger old memories or traumas. People often feel confused and uncertain at first. Through the whole process, always remember to breathe.
2) Get support. Avoid thinking you need to go through this alone. Find a friend or someone you trust to talk to about what happened. Seek support from a therapist, counselor, or other professional who can help you process. Engage people to help make day-to-day things easier while you’re working through what happened.
3) Take the time you need. Some people process things quickly. Other people need more time to work through things. There’s no right or wrong answer to how much time you “should” take to process. It’s different for everyone, so take the time you need.
4) Think about what you want or need. Everyone is going to have an opinion on what you “should” do. Use the time to think about what you want, what’s right for you, and what you want your boundaries to be. You have every right to make these decisions for yourself and to request the people around you respect your decisions. If you need help to figure it out, engage your support network.
5) If you decide you want to tell the person who broke your consent, make sure you have other support in place. Understand they are likely to have an emotional reaction, may see the event differently than you, and may not be able to give you the response you need. If you’re telling them, make sure you are doing it for yourself, to help you heal or process, and not out of a need for a specific response.
6) If you decide you want to report what happened, which you have every right to do, contact the venue (if there was one) and ask what their policy is for reporting a consent incident or violation. If they have one, do what you can to follow it. If they don’t have one, ask them to work with someone who does.
7) If you decide you want to post your experience on-line, that is your right too. Remember some people will be supportive and others will be critical. Make a conscious choice to step into the public space and make sure you have additional support to help when things get tough. Get someone to help you review and edit your posts before you put them up.
8) Remember, dealing with a consent incident is a process; sometimes a long and emotional one. Take care of yourself, use your support network, and be gentle with yourself while you’re going through it.
A few suggestions to the internet for when you read about a consent violation or even a potential consent violation:
- DO: Recognize any consent incident or violation is complicated and can be placed on a broad spectrum.
- AVOID: Engaging in black/white, either/or thinking around the topic.
- DO: Offer support to the people involved. Dealing with this, especially when it is made public, is hard.
- AVOID: Stating an opinion when you don’t know all the details or facts.
- DO: Recognize only the person whose consent has been violated gets to determine if and how much that incident impacted them. It is their right to decide how they want to deal with it.
- AVOID: Defining how other people should feel or what their intent was in a given situation.
- DO: Talk about issues of consent on your own feed/wall/blog/etc. These are important things to talk about and to share ideas on.
- AVOID: Engaging in debate about an idea in a place where someone is talking about their personal experience, seeking support, or asking for help.
- DO: Ask yourself before making a public statement whether or not someone will be harmed, or if the risk of harm will be increased. Remember, real people are on the other side of the comments you’re making.
- AVOID: Shaming or threatening people simply because you disagree with them.
- DO: Encourage people to seek support, get help, and better educate themselves about consent.
- AVOID: Criticizing anyone for wanting to learn, grow, or change.
- DO: Recognize if we want people to come forward, either as someone who has had their consent violated or as someone who violated another’s consent, we need to support them in doing so, both emotionally and logistically. We need structures where they can get emotional support, education, and good consultation.
- AVOID: Thinking this process is simple or easy.
- DO: Encourage organizations you work with to develop, use, and improve consent policies and procedures.
- AVOID: Ignoring this critically important issue.
- DO: If your consent has been violated, it is important you come forward and talk about it. Recognize doing so publicly, at this current time, has risks and stigma attached to it. Find a therapist, friend, or confidant who can support you in talking about what happened. If it happened at a party, gathering, or event, find out if that organization has a procedure for reporting it and talk to them, if you feel doing so is the right thing for you.
- DO: If you have violated someone’s consent it is also important you come forward and talk about it. Recognize doing so publicly, at this current time, has risks and stigma attached to it. Find a therapist, friend, or confidant who can support you in talking about what happened. Get help to make an honest apology, receive appropriate education, and figure out how to make amends for the harm caused. It’s never easy to admit you hurt someone, but it is the right thing to do.