Below is the companion to the consent workshop zine on safer sex and relationships called: Consent is part of my operating system with some sweet robot graphics, artwork, safe sex pointer-roos, and some practice scripts to help you find the right words in difficult situations. (Scripts were lovingly borrowed from scarleteen.org) Check it out!
Presenting Break the Silence’s newly created zine: How to Put Together Your Own Consent Workshop! Including in-depth workshop curriculum to use or adapt with definitions and activities, how to be a good facilitator, resources, and more. Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com! We’re working on getting one compiled pdf up for you, but until then, you can download the files and print them double-sided in order.
Below is a text version of the content of our consent workshop facilitator zine. But we encourage you to download the zine itself for awesome art and cartoons, sexy poems, and handwritten funkiness!
How to put together your own (participatory, community-specific, radical) consent workshop!
includes: in-depth workshop curriculum to use/adapt (including definitions and activities), how to be a good facilitator, resources, and more.
What is this zine?
This zine is a practical guide to putting together your own consent workshop. It is the product of
almost a year over a year and a half of work from members of the Break the Silence collective (BTS) formulating and facilitating participatory consent workshops. It is a collection of what we’ve learned over this time about what consent means, how to implement it in our lives, and how to work with others to collectively unlearn the unhealthy practices and beliefs that we are taught in this culture. This is not meant as an introduction to radical consent or sexualized violence. If that’s what you’re looking for, please see the resources section at the back for some amazing books, articles, and blogs. In this zine, we assume that you have a basic understanding of consent, rape culture, sexualized violence, and the many interlocking oppressions that shape our society.
This was not an easy journey for us, nor will it continue to be for anyone who embarks upon it. Many of us have chosen to do the work we do because of our connections to interpersonal violence, particularly sexualized violence. In this process, we not only hit obstacles in our research and with the triggering effects it had on many us, but also in being challenged by individuals and the institutions of which we are a part. This is the kind of work that cannot take place without self-care, group discussions about personal experience and identity, and solidarity. Without these things being present throughout the process, and even when they are, burn-out is frequent and persistent. That’s why although each workshop only requires 3 facilitators, taking on this project should be done by a group of at least twice that, which has some experience working together already. However, despite being painful and sometimes discouraging work, I doubt any of us would regret taking it on.
The reason for putting this zine together is that we found available resources of this kind few and far between. We hope that others can take what we’ve done and find some use in it: adapt it to fit your own community, switch out the activities, make it into a musical, improve on it in whatever way you want.
History of BTS
BTS was formed by students in Seattle out of a radical class taught by a radical professor/organizer. It started as a one-time event, a movie night and an open, honest discussion of sexual violence (SV) and incest. Two years later, it was a conference attended both by other students and community members. That conference was entitled Break the Silence: Shattering the Culture of Violence and it offered workshops on a wide variety of anti-violence topics such as community accountability, SV and native women, transgender individuals in the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), domestic violence, and more. We also had break out sessions based on identity and a closing creative visioning exercise. That was last year. The people on the conference committee (there were only 7 or 8 of us, of various identities) formed a group over the summer and began taking on internal education and collective analysis building. We started working on the consent workshops, worked on community engagement, and involved ourselves in events and issues on our campus. We are now very close to holding our second annual conference, Creative Resistance: Confronting Legacies of Violence and Building Consent.
Facilitating, as we’ve noted, is not an easy process, particularly for a topic like this. It requires sensitivity to body language and group dynamics, thorough knowledge on the issues but an openness to learn from others, enough comfort with the topic of sex and sexuality to be able to engage in meaningful discussion, the ability to mitigate and de-escalate conflict, and to encourage participants to share deeply personal experiences and thoughts in what might be an entirely unfamiliar setting for them. When we held workshops, we had a team of three facilitators working with 5 to 10 participants (any more than that, and it’s difficult for everyone to have time to fully participate in the discussion.) One facilitator is ideally dedicated to the task of ‘vibes watcher’–the person who pays attention to body language and group dynamics, and who intervenes if someone seems to be triggered, is resisting the material, or if people are having trouble focusing. They are available to step out with someone if they want to talk, and are proactive about following someone out and checking in with them. We didn’t have formal training in this, and are of the opinion that you don’t need to either, though it may help. It is our opinion that the power of popular education comes from personal experience and self-instruction, not from accreditation. However, we did follow these guidelines when talking to someone as vibes watcher:
* Let the person speak/frame the conversation if they wish to
* Give them space (leave them alone) if that’s what they want
* Don’t place judgment on them or attempt to rationalize others’ behaviors
* It’s okay to share some personal information too if appropriate
* Acknowledge the emotions/thoughts people express, even if you follow it up with some constructive criticism
Be intentional about the identity of the person acting as vibes watcher. For example, a white cis-man may not be the best choice for this position due to the patterns of violence and perpetration in our society. This may differ depending on your own community. Also be intentional about other facilitator roles in the group. Some things to think about: What are the identities of the various facilitators? Who is the audience/will there be a diverse range of identities? If so, how will they perceive/interact with the facilitator group? How well will specific facilitators work together? Do any of them have histories or are currently in a relationships with each other (this may be something for those individuals to discuss outside of the group, rather than as a group issue)?
We found it was useful to have more than three people trained to facilitate the workshop so that we could offer them continuously without worrying about scheduling issues with facilitators (organizers always seem to be busy) and, of course, burn out. In general, BTS tries to shift around tasks and responsibilities so that we can all build our individual repertoire of skills. This is also so that we don’t get entrenched in the roles that we take on and begin to claim ownership to work that is ultimately a group product (although we do definitely believe in giving credit where it’s due!) Again, this is dependent on the type of group you’re organizing in. We also began doing regular, intentional commitment check-ins within the organizing collective, which consisted of each person giving an update of how they were doing on energy and time to commit to the project (capacity). When we weren’t doing this, it was much easier to assume others’ ability to commit and get frustrated when we perceived some people taking on more or less slack. Depending on where the group is on commitment, you can adjust your plan or scale it back. Overextending yourselves is never fun.
Depending on where you take your workshop and what your plans are for it, the materials you need will vary. For example, if you choose to incorporate the Stoplight Activity in the activities section that evaluates how well (or not) famous movies depict consent, you’ll need computer and projector equipment, as well as a space that accommodates that (and perhaps a back-up plan if the equipment doesn’t work.) We had our own mini-zine that we passed out to participants that included the agenda, definitions, our group values, as well as other cool shit that we didn’t have time to go into in the workshop, like info on safer sex and model conversations between couples practicing consent. If you don’t have paper handouts, you might want to have a powerpoint or a chalk board or really large notepad so that you can display info/take notes from the group discussions (particularly the ground rules and definition sections). Participants found this really helpful so that they could reflect back on previous topics during the workshop. At our workshops, we also had info on our group, free condoms and dental dams, and info on upcoming community events. If you’re planning on doing free writes, provide scratch paper and pencils.
Space and Accessibility
We wanted anyone who was interested to be able to attend the workshops, which means being aware of how accessible the space is: how easy/difficult it is to access for those live far away, have difficulty with mobility, how safe people feel in the space (are there gender neutral bathrooms, where is the workshop being held/what are the values of the space/institution, etc.) Are you charging for the workshops? If so, is there a fund for those who can’t afford but want to attend? What about a sliding scale? Are you offering childcare? How are you marketing the event – is it restricting your audience? There is an amazing list of things to think about when putting an event on at cripchick’s blog: http://blog.cripchick.com/archives/2910. Check it out!
15 minutes Introduction/getting to know one another/guidelines
07 minutes Why is consent important? Free write
17 minutes Defining and broadening what consent is
15 minutes Not giving permission (verbal/non-v/power dynamics): circle/knee activity
10 minutes Engaging consent activities (home alive and hand-holding): pencil activity
06 minute break
30 minutes skits/scenarios (traffic light cards)
10 minutes Social/structural/non-sexual consent discussion (community visioning activity)
10 minutes Check out
TOTAL: 2 hours
Introduction – 15 minutes
The first thing we do is have everyone introduce themselves with name and gender pronoun*. We also have a short ice breaker where we ask everyone to share three things that they’re really amazing at. We give a quick history of BTS. We talk about how we don’t want to present one type of relationship as normal, we believe that every relationship should be based on consent, but we recognize that consent should adapt to fit relationship, not the other way around, and that even though power dynamics mean that consent may be complicated for some relationships (i.e. interracial relationships, polyamorous relationships), that does not mean that we don’t support them.
Then we go over a plan of the agenda (hopefully displayed on the wall or on a handout.) Finally, we establish ground rules for the workshop:
* Brave/safe space
* Use ‘I’ statements, frame personal experience
* Be aware of your participation and identity (How much are you talking in relation to others in the group? Who is dominating the conversation/staying quiet?)
* Ask questions to clarify if you aren’t sure about a comment
* Assume the best intentions of others’ comments, speak comments with good intentions
* This is a confidential space, anything personal shared stays within the space
Introduce the vibes watcher and let people know that it’s alright to step out/tap the person on the shoulder/whatever if they want to talk.
*Depending on the participants in the workshop it can be necessary to explain why sharing preferred gender pronouns contributes to a more welcoming space. Something as concise as, “It is important to recognize that we don’t all identify with the gender assumed from our appearance. Please be respectful and ask if you are unsure before assuming!” will usually lay enough foundation.
Why is consent important? – 7 minutes
We start with a free write on what it feels like when boundaries of consent are broken and/or how it feels when you violate others’ boundaries. We let people know that we’ll move into a group discussion after, and that not everyone has to share their responses. This is very short free write, just 2 or 3 minutes. It’s not to exhaust the topic, but to open us up so that we can have a full discussion. After we shift to the group discussion, we ask the question “why is consent important?” which gives people the chance to share from their free writes if they want, but doesn’t put pressure on them to. We did it this way because we felt that before moving into the bulk of the consent workshop, it might be necessary to start with why it’s important to have these discussions about consent at all (this is more for when consent is a new concept for some participants; if you know that people are already past this step, you can skip it.)
Defining and broadening what consent is – 17 minutes
We begin by presenting the legal definition for Washington State and Seattle University (since that’s where we were located), which are, incidentally, extremely similar. We encourage you to do a little research on your local legal definitions as well as the definitions of any institutions participants might be connected to. Both of the definitions below are highly problematic, and do not encompass the idea of radical consent. After presenting the definitions to participants, we ask the questions “What is missing, assumed, and excluded?” and begin to break apart the definitions. Then we present an activist definition of radical consent (from where?) and ask the same questions of it. If you have group values, this may be an appropriate time to point them out to people (time for discussing them isn’t included in our version of the workshop.)
WA state definitions: “‘Consent’ means that at the time of the act of sexual intercourse or sexual contact there are actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact”…”‘Forcible compulsion’ means physical force which overcomes resistance, or a threat, express or implied, that places a person in fear of death or physical injury to herself or himself or another person, or in fear that she or he or another person will be kidnapped.” (from Washington State Law RCW 9A.44.010 available here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9A.44.010)
Seattle University definitions: “Consent means at the time of the act of sexual intercourse there are actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse”…”Sexual assault occurs when there is non-consensual sexual contact including forced sexual contact or when there is non-consensual sexual penetration including forced sexual penetration by a person individually or in concert with others.” (from SU Code of Conduct, available here: http://www.seattleu.edu/studentdevelopment/Inner.aspx?id=11456)
Activist definition of consent (in part from both Gen5 and Common Action): Consent means everyone involved wants and agrees to be present at each step of the way. You can change your mind at ANY TIME before or during sex. Consent means that ALL parties say YES! Just assuming someone wants to have sex is not enough—it’s not safe. Further, it is a free, fluid ongoing discussion and negotiation about what our desires are, what we want for ourselves in our lives, and what we want for the people we’re either intimate with or in relationships with at any level. Through free association we have the ability to make choices about what we feel is best for ourselves, for our bodies, for our communities. To complicate consent is to realize that we live within an oppressive society, so consent is always tenuous. We don’t really get to consent to the country we live in; we don’t really get to consent to living within capitalism. Often times, even making a choice, yes or no, has many other implications about the choices we were forced to make before that.
We generally chose two or three activities to include in each workshop (in the interest of time), and we describe several possibilities below from which to choose. We found that there are a few different types of activities, with pros and cons for each. We appreciate participatory exercises because they give people the chance to learn skills (like asserting boundaries, using new language, actively listening, etc.) that they can directly implement in their lives. However, the intricacies of power dynamics and the complexity that exists in all relationships isn’t communicated as well in these more participatory activities. For that, we found that activities that may be more observatory can help to fill in gaps and bring a complexity to consent that would otherwise be lacking. In formulating these exercises (such as the skit activity) we tried to keep a few things in mind. We asked ourselves what stereotypes are we enforcing? We need to be writing/showing authentic dialogues and reducing tokenism.
Hand on knee activity – 15 minutes
This activity was taken from Home Alive (a Seattle-based defense collective, see resources). We ask the participants to sit in a circle. We explain the activity, in which each person will take a turn putting their hand on the knee of the person sitting next to them (you may choose to ‘hover’ if you feel uncomfortable). That person will use whatever language they choose to re-establish their boundaries (like “Get your hand off me!”, “I’d rather you not touch me without my permission”, “That’s not okay.” etc.) Then the speaker will put their hand on the person next to them, and you go around so that each person has had the chance to play both roles. The activity itself is short, but we’ve found that the discussions it spurs are extremely valuable and deep. For the workshops we’ve led, this activity portion is the part where people begin to open up more and the discussion becomes more fluid and participatory (which is AWESOME!) If people aren’t sharing as much at first though, link this back to the first free write and ask people if they found any connections.
Pencil Activity – 10 minutes (younger audience)
In this activity, one of the facilitators asks to borrow one of the participant’s pencils. Someone will usually give their pencil without thinking. Ask all the participants:
- Did I have permission to take the pencil?
- How did I establish or get permission?
- Return the pencil to the owner.
Then ask the group to pretend it is the next day. The facilitator goes to the same participant and takes the pencil (not using force). If the participant will not let you take the pencil, either tell them to play along or pretend you took the pencil.
- Ask again, did I have permission to take the pencil?
- Can’t I just assume that the person will let me have the pencil because the person let me borrow it yesterday?
- Didn’t they deserve to have their pencil taken? They just left it out for anyone to take?
Ask participants how consent or lack of consent with the pencil is similar to consent with sexual activity.
- How do you know when it is okay to move forward?
Skits/stoplight Activity – observatory/participatory
In this activity, facilitators act out prepared skits or dialogues setting up scenes where consent may or may not come into play (examples include a party setting where a friend puts a hand on your leg without asking; a couple staying at a hotel where one pays for the room and then wants to initiate something; etc.) To add more of a participatory element to this activity, you can hand out scraps of red, yellow, and green paper to each participant. As they are watching the skit, they act as the ‘stoplight,’ holding up the green card when they think consent is present and things are going well, the yellow one when they are unsure or think things need to pause and be discussed within the skit, and red when consent is not present and things need to stop. After the skit is over, you can discuss people’s reactions to it via the stoplight metaphor (once the light turns yellow, it can’t go back to green without stopping on red.) Skits can be difficult to perform, especially if you’re shy, so an alternative is showing pop cultures clips from movies, ads, or the news that deal with (lack of) consent and analyzing the scenarios.
Practicing yelling Activity – participatory
from Home Alive. One person stands at end of room and everyone else creates a single-file line facing them; one by one, they walk at the person who practices setting boundaries with their voice (“Stop. Don’t come any closer.”). This activity lets people practice using their words and tone to set their boundaries, a skill that is definitely applicable to interpersonal relationships as well.
Hand holding Activity – participatory
from Jackson from Australia. Break everyone into groups of three. In this exercise, the metaphor of holding hands will be used to explore consent, although no actual hand holding will go on between participants. In part 1 of the exercise, we practice saying no, so one person will ask another to hold their hand, and that person will say no. The third person watches and supports the interaction. Each person should have a chance in each role. For the second part, we practice saying yes. Each person will take a turn asking another it they can hold their hand, and that person will say yes (although they don’t actually hold hands.) This exercise differs from the Hand on knee activity because it gives people the chance to practice the process of consent (asking, answering yes/no, and discussing) rather than just going for it and having to fend off an advance and reassert boundaries.
from Chris. This activity may be more of a personal one to suggest that people take on with their partner/s. Either with a partner or individually, make three lists of romantic/sexual activities that you are interested in doing (the yes list), perhaps interested in exploring or learning more about (the maybe list), and not up for (the no list). Although it’s important to realize that these lists are fluid and that things can move from any column to another, the list as it stands must be respected. That is, if there’s something on the no list, it’s there for a reason and don’t push to get it on the table. This is a good way for partners to begin expressing their preferences about sexuality and discuss exploring new activities.
Community Visioning Activity – 12 minutes
This closing activity is to apply the things we’ve learned about interpersonal consent to the larger society, which is not based on consent. We believe that consent needs to extend to all parts of our lives: workplaces, schools, community, government, etc. In order to structure the conversation, we frame it with a brainstorm about what our communities would look like if they were based on consent and if we all practice consent. Ideally, people’s comments are written up/displayed somehow.
Closing check out – 10 minutes
At the end of what is a pretty intense workshop, we like to give people time to reflect and give feedback about the workshop. We usually do a round robin/popcorn style check out. At this point, we encourage participants to sign up for the listserv, fill out our feedback survey, pick up materials, and chat with us. Inviting everyone to go get food is also a good way to get more feedback, make friends, and build connections between groups.
So there you have it. BTS’ version of the consent workshop. PLEASE email us and let us know what you think about this zine, the workshop, and anything else, or if you want to get involved! We’d love to hear if you’re using this material and what you find helpful or not so helpful.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Yes Means Yes
Color of Violence
Cripchick blog – blogs about her experience at the intersections of disability and radical women of color feminist culture (http://misscripchick.wordpress.com/)
Scarleteen website – feminist/sex positive sex ed for youth (http://www.scarleteen.com/)
Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) blog – Seattle org dedicated to anti-violence and community accountability (http://cara-seattle.blogspot.com/)
This is what a man sounds like blog – about trans identity, relationships, and violence (http://thisiswhatamanlookslike.wordpress.com/)
Deeply Problematic – a blogger at the intersections of feminism, reproductive justice, and disability (http://deeplyproblematic.blogspot.com/)
Learning Good Consent – what to do when someone tells you that you violated their boundaries, made them feel uncomfortable, or committed assault (http://zinelibrary.info/learning-good-consent)
Don’t Rape Each Other (http://zinelibrary.info/dont-rape-each-other)
Icarus Project Navigating Crisis Handout – how to respond to mental health crises like suicide (http://zinelibrary.info/icarus-project-navigating-crisis-handout)
Taking The First Step: Suggestions To People Called Out For Abusive Behavior (http://fruitiondesign.com/dealwithit/02wispy.php)
My Body My Limits My Pleasure My Choice – a positive sexuality booklet for young people by Generation Five (http://www.phillyspissed.net/node/9)
Groups in the NW area:
For Crying Out Loud
Pinay sa Seattle
Please copy and distribute freely, but if you change anything, please take our names and info off of it.
Also, check out these local resources!
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