It is never easy to know what a good response looks or sounds like. It’s made more complicated by the bounds of confidentiality and not having consent to discuss details openly in a public forum. Recognizing this letter is likely insufficient, we still wanted to respond and outline what we have done, are doing, and are able to do moving forward.
Some weeks ago the Consent Academy received notification about harm incurred during an intervention we mediated some years ago. We attempted to engage, but did not do so as skillfully as we could have. After several exchanges it became clear to us that we were not helping, and may have been making things worse. In accordance with our procedures, we formed a group to review the issue. This letter is the outcome of that process.
We believe and understand harm was done. There’s no response or explanation that can change what happened. As an organization and as the individuals making up that organization, we regret what happened.
We reviewed the notes and comments left. Through our process we determined that we’re able to meet some, but not all, of the requests made. As an organization there are things outside of our capacity. To address what we can, we offer the following:
We also took the feedback as an opportunity to improve our organization. We want to help make sure this negative experience doesn’t happen again. Along with other feedback, we are making the following changes to our practice:
*** We intend to complete #s 5-9 by October 2020.
We know these changes will not erase the harm experienced. We hope it lets people know that reaching out has and will make a difference. We are committed to taking feedback and making positive change as we are able.
We request everyone reading this respect the confidentiality of all those involved and refrain from asking for specifics or guessing at them. To uphold confidentiality and consent, we are not able to give any identifying details. Beyond that, we firmly believe everyone involved has a right to their privacy and the right to consent, or to withhold consent, to the telling of their story.
We are only posting this in a limited way. We acknowledge our part in what happened and have no wish to cause additional harm or hardship. This letter intends to show the changes we’re making and our process in working through a complicated situation while also living up to our own ethics.
There is certainly more we can do to improve. If there is other feedback or suggestions, please contact us via the website: www.consent.academy/contact.html
The Consent Academy
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.
Here at the beginning of 2017 we find ourselves on the cusp of change. Whether or not you like the direction things are heading, there has been a significant impact on people. Through last year’s deaths, political upsets, media frenzies, and conversations about what behavior is right or wrong, we’ve had a lot of opinions, arguments, and fear. So what next?
Lots of answers to that question. Mine… practice consent.
This may seem an odd answer, but hear me out. Change creates anxiety. Anxiety stresses the connections and interactions between people. Stressed people tend to be reactive and less likely to pay attention to others. In doing so people are more likely to engage in nonconsensual behavior which creates distance, anger, and hurt.
In this time of change we need the opposite. We need connection, compassion, and healing. Practicing daily consent does all of this. When we respect the boundaries of the people around us we foster connection, mutual respect, and a sense of safety. When people respect our boundaries we are more likely to trust, engage, and share ourselves. By practicing consent in our daily lives we start to create a Consent Culture that can grow and support our communities.
It is hard to know what’s going to happen next in our world. Whatever it is, I know that facing it connected is important; that we are stronger together than we are alone. Building the practice of consent will foster connection both within communities and between communities. If we can listen to and respect one another we will counter anxiety and distance.
The practice of consent is one of the things that grows the more it’s used. I practice with you and you feel better. You practice with someone else and they feel better. And so forth and so on. Each link forges new connections and increases safety. We collectively build a better world.
So if you want to save the world, whatever that means to you, start with the practice of consent.
Join me at www.consent.academy
Sar Surmick – Director of the Consent Academy and Marriage & Family Therapist
Welcome to the Consent Academy. We’re happy you found your way to us.
This blog is a place where our members can post their thoughts and ideas about consent. Because consent is such a big topic we’re likely to have a wide range of posts and concepts. Part of our goal here at the CA is to move the discussion of consent outside being only about sexual consent and to talk about how consent impacts all aspects of our lives.
One of the questions I ask: “How does consent show up in your day to day life?” If your response to that that question is “Huh?” or “What do you mean?” or “How can consent be a part of my everyday life?” welcome. We are happy to have you here.
Any time we ask for something or when someone asks us for something consent comes into play. Are we getting consent from someone before proceeding? Is the other person respecting our answer, yes or no? Think about how many times in your day a request is made. Each time consent enters into the conversation, and whether or not that consent is validated, significantly impacts our perception of the interaction and the people involved.
By expanding how we think about consent and our behavior around it we open the discussion. This blog is here to facilitate that expansion. We hope you will continue reading, questioning, and engaging in this essential conversation.
Sar Surmick – Director of the Consent Academy and Marriage & Family Therapist