Consent, healthy relationships and violence workshops
On 18 September, Loophole Community Centre in Thornbury, Melbourne, hosted a day of 9 workshops on the theme of consent, healthy relationships and violence. Between 40 - 80 people attended workshops and according to Caitlin, one of the organisers,
the day had a very relaxed and informal feel to it which was great considering how heavy a lot of the topics were. People seemed to enjoy themselves as well as learning and sharing info and experiences, meeting new people, seeing old friends.
We interviewed two of the organisers, Liz and Caitlin, to find out more...
1. Why hold these workshops? Where did the need for them come from?
The workshop day (CO.HE.RE.VI) is themed around consent, healthy relationships and violence. These are three things that we see as pretty important to be thinking about and which are pretty present in our daily lives, in some way or another. Instead of the conversations about this stuff just being between me and my friends at the kitchen table, why not have it be a more, I guess, open dialogue. We want to encourage those conversations and discussions and the sharing of knowledge & information as not just a "private" thing and create an opportunity for people to be able to do that. So that we're talking about stuff that matters to us or affects us not just quietly with friends or family or lovers but with people who we might not otherwise have that conversation with. It's also about learning about and from other people's experiences and perspectives. We think the need for them is that, well, this stuff is present in everyone's lives. Everyone has at least one relationship with another person. Many people experience violence - in all it's different forms - in their lives. Consent and negotiating consent are really important to safety and well being and happiness. Let's acknowledge that and be more open about it. Share what we know and what we want and who we are and where we are coming from. It's also important to be aware that this isn't like, the only thing happening that talks about or works around these things. There are heaps of group in Melbourne that do different work around violence and consent - groups such as World Without that ran as a survivor support collective, the Storytelling and Organising Project and Prison Abolition collectives, to name just a couple.
2. 'Respectful relationships' education is now being embraced by Federal and state governments – how was this set of community workshops different from more ‘mainstream’ approaches?
We are totally independent – we’re not working in government spaces or receiving government funding. In that sense, we’re perhaps able to be more explicitly political about how violence works in our communities, and more critical of existing institutional responses to interpersonal violence. While we’re not aiming to propagandise, we do believe in the old feminist maxim that “the personal is political”. We’re able to openly acknowledge the ways institutional responses don’t always work for people who experience violence. For example, a common response from well meaning people when they hear about a case of sexual or intimate partner violence is “what a scumbag, they should be locked up”. But what does it mean to increase the prison population when the fastest growing prison population is young women with children? When poor people, migrants, the mentally ill, Indigenous people, people who’ve faced violence and abuse their whole lives, and other disadvantaged groups between them make up virtually all the prison population? When so many people experience sexual violence within the prison system? When so few people who experience sexual assault and interpersonal violence are able to successfully prosecute the person who attacked them? When so many people who turn to the legal system for justice instead find themselves attacked, slandered, and retraumatised? We’re asking what might actually help people find justice and healing, and what might really work to end violence. What we’re hearing from a whole lot of people is that they want something totally different from what’s on offer. Ultimately each individual needs to decide for themselves what is going to help them heal. So for example someone who’s experienced violence might want someone to help them find counselling, or someone to make requests of the person who hurt them so they don’t have to, or someone to support them through an alternative dispute resolution process. We want to have conversations about how we can help people find the resolution they need, whatever that is. Also, respectful relationships education is primarily focused on high school students. While it’s obviously really important that we teach young people to respect one another, we think that this is something we can learn more about throughout life. Our goal is for the workshops to be conversations, not lectures. We’re really excited to hear what every workshop participant has to say, not just in the sound of our own voices! I think this workshop day is about building, from a 'grass roots' level up, ideas about how we can create good relationships, definitions of consent, recognition of violence and ways of reacting/interacting with violence. So that we're working and existing in our communities in healthy and safe ways that are appropriate and relevant to us and the people around us. This group of workshops isn't about telling people how to treat other people with respect, it's about people sharing their ideas around what they think are good or different ways to do that and their experiences on how that has or hasn't worked in their lives. Some of those ideas might be similar to those being set out by state or federal governments and some of them might be totally, radically different - because they're coming from a different framework and a different place and a different set of ideals or 'rules'.
3. What is 'radical consent'?
Radical consent can be whatever people want it to be! Which is really the point. We want to move away from a strictly legal definition of consent that doesn’t vary for different people and situations. We want people to consider what works for them, what makes them feel supported and respected and all-around good about their sexual experiences. Having said that, in general there are a few things that are different about how we’re thinking about consent and how the legal system thinks about consent. Basically – we want people to think less about what you can get away with and more about how we can create mutually enjoyable and life-affirming sexual experiences. We’re not saying “here is the minimum standard you must reach in order to escape punishment”. We’re saying that we need to have real conversations about what we and our sexual partners want. For most people this is really difficult and scary. But we think it’s worth it – more than worth it, it’s essential. In addition, consent isn't only present in our sexual relationships. One of the workshops on the day is Consent 101 where they'll be talking about how we just generally work out our boundaries with other people.
4. How have zines inspired or informed some of the workshop content?
[A zine is a noncommercial, often homemade or online, publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter, such as punk or feminism: Merrium-Webster Dictionary] Anyone can write a zine, anyone can self publish their own zine and so it creates this source of information that can be widely shared and which is accessible by heaps and heaps of people. It's this great way to speak out about something or share something or tell a story about something, there are very few (if any?) rules to zine making, there's so much freedom there. I know that at least some of us organising the workshop have been inspired by zines that we've read but in terms of specific workshops.... I know that a couple of the workshops are related to specific zines or borrow content from zines but other workshops have nothing to do with any particular zines, though maybe the facilitators have been inspired by stuff they've read, I'm not sure. In general, I think that there are a lot of great zines out there that talk about consent, healthy relationships & violence and talk about these things in a way that is heaps community based and about communities responding to stuff or doing stuff in cool ways.
5. All workshops had a 'listening tree'. What's that?
Listening trees are also sometimes known as 'listening posts' or 'listening people'. Basically, we recognise that some of the workshops are treading on difficult topics and that content may bring up tough or difficult emotions for people attending and so we have someone available all day as a listening tree. So, if you’re struggling in the workshop, are feeling stressed or anxious by content or conversations or just need to take a break and have a chat with someone a Listening Tree person will there for that & you. You don’t have to tell them all the details of what is going on, you don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to and they won’t run off and do something you don’t want or tell anyone what you talked to them about. They’re just there for you if you need it.