A little nervous, feeling not as prepared as I wanted to be but it had to be done, so I got on the eastbound train and headed to the Scarborough Youth Resource Center to have my first Conversations on Consent with the young ladies of the Sister to Sister Women’s Group. When first asked to speak to the young women I knew immediately that for me it was more important to hear their thoughts on the topic at least initially instead of bombarding them with stats and how things should be. I want to walk with them where they are and discover with them uncensored how they truly feel about issues around consent. The Young ladies of the Sister to Sister Group were thankfully a balanced bunch so none too shy but not overly boisterous in a manner that would take over the conversation. I had met most of them before on a prior occasion (a talk on Career Paths) so this made walking into the room and breaking the ice a little easier. After my introduction by contributor to this blog and Program Facilitator Kay-Ann Ward we were off to the races.
I initially had prepared the presentation as a series of questions/information spanning the whole spectrum along the journey from consent to violence against women. However thankfully on my train ride to the center I realised that in order to have a more meaningful conversation I should tackle the topic in smaller bits and bites and use the information gleaned from each conversation to inform future discussions.
To start I prefaced the conversation with a short blurb about my decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro -cue eyes popping out of sockets accompanied by a chorus of “Really?!!!” -gonna have to get used to this reaction, lolol. Then I went on to share with them a little bit about why I was climbing and the story of my young relation who got violated while walking down the street. This allowed for a somewhat natural segue into a deeper discussion about their thoughts on consent.
My first question was general- What is Consent? As in all groups thankfully there is always at least one person who will always eagerly put up their hands to answer questions. In her answer this young woman gave the example of giving consent within the context of an agreement or legal document- as in ‘by signing this document I give consent or agree to abc or d’. The room agreed so I followed this question immediately with ‘so what do we think is Sexual Consent?” There were no other takers yet so I was thankful again for our eager beaver who correctly expounded on consent within intimate relationships and interactions.
We explored the various ways in which we give sexual consent to which the young ladies offered verbal communication as the main way. I challenged them to dig a little further for additional ways that we give consent by thinking about real life or even movie scenarios. Upon further exploration we determined that the eyes are a pretty powerful tool along other types of body language cues like leaning in and a relaxed and open facial and body expressions.
My next question centered around the age of consent. There were various answers to that question ranging in answers from 12 to 19. That the age of consent was 16 was something of a surprise to some but relatively accepted by most. The question of age opened up the floor for a discourse on “consent’ in cultural context, with one of the young ladies asking about cultures where girls as young as 12 and 13 were being forced into marriage. Her question allowed us to spend some time on how consent and a girl’s right to her body is a particular human rights issue that is being tackled in other parts of the world. We spoke about the difficulty and opposition that those working towards the change face given that this behaviour is strongly a part of their cultural traditions. In writing this post I now see how our discussions could have gone even further.
We then moved on to questions of actioning Consent. How do girls deal with issues of consent in intimate relationships and what challenges do they face in trying to do so. I was happy to note that all the young women felt very strongly they had a right to say NO at any stage of an intimate encounter. Their questions came up around dealing with objections that may arise like “if you love me you would do it” or “how do you say no and not risk losing the relationship”. Some powerful answers to these questions came from the young women themselves; with one stating “you just keep saying NO” and another stating that the partner should be told “if you loved me then you would STOP when I say NO”. I thought that was a brilliant response and gave me a wonderful opportunity to share the campaign slogan NO Means STOP. I was able to explain that the action word STOP is important as it provides a clear instruction to a partner on what should happen when we say NO.
I asked if they thought that any partner should be or is generally more dominant in a relationship. The answers here varied with one stating that power should be equally shared while others thought it depended on the personalities in the relationship. Interestingly there was a thought that power had less to do with gender and more to do with personality so in effect a woman could also be the dominant figure in a relationship. Interestingly enough there was also some cultural discussions here as well, where it was suggested that men from some cultures felt it was their right to be dominant in relationships. Here I feel that I missed an opportunity to spend some time talking about the appalling statistics that show abuse and sexual violence of women is usually inflicted most notably by intimate partners. Something I will definitely explore in upcoming conversations.
We spent a little time on sexual consent within the context of families. It was easily agreed that there is no time that a girl should have to give consent within a family context and any situation like this falls squarely under Sexual Abuse and is against the law. This opened up discussions about how to be support systems for each other and paying attention to the signs of abuse. The young ladies were right on in identifying changes in behaviour (i.e acting out or extreme withdrawal) as a strong sign that something could be wrong. An important question about how to offer support especially if this person is not a close friend came up. I suggested that the young women could offer assistance either by reaching out directly with a non-judgemental question or speaking to a school counsellor or advisor in confidence if they believe that something could be wrong.
I had exactly one hour with these beautiful and smart young women and I feel it was a valuable one. My hour was followed immediately by another presenter from a local organization called Black CAP a remarkable organization whose work centers reducing HIV/AIDS in Toronto’s Black, African and Caribbean communities and enhance the quality of life of Black people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Mary’s session was centered around the same topics but dug a little deeper into the context of Healthy Relationships. Where in my conversation the ladies and I sat down in a circle and chatted; Mary did an excellent job of getting the young ladies moving about and exploring further their thoughts and ideas on how particular scenarios and generally held opinions should play out in healthy relationships! I learned a lot from her session with the ladies!
All in all I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my first Conversations on Consent. It turned out not to be as scary as I thought and I was blessed to have a receptive and open group of young ladies to learn from and discuss this important topic with. I am thankful to Kay-Ann Ward for allowing me access to the young ladies in Sister to Sister and to Cameal, Manager of the SYRC for immediately supporting this project. Major thanks also goes out to Tropicana Community Services the charitable organization who has officially come on board to endorse the climb and whose programs will benefit from funds raised by the NO Means STOP Campaign.
My next Conversations on Consent will happen next week with the young men of the Scarborough Youth Center’s Man Up Young Men’s Group, definitely looking forward to the dynamics of that conversation! The Conversations on Consent forms part of my Journey to Kilimanjaro to help Raise Awareness about Sexual Consent and Violence Against Women.
I am excited about how this journey continues to grow. I am working towards increasing the content around this topic by speaking to many more on the frontline of this issue so stay tuned.
Till then I am yours always
A Traveling Black Chick…
- Craig on Capacity to Consent to Sexual Risk (lsolum.typepad.com)