Active Bystander Network holds consent workshop during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Discussions centered around what makes up consent in relationships, boundaries, and debunking myths around sexual violence

PHOTO: The HK Photo Company / Unsplash

by Karissa Ketter, News Writer

Content warning: mentions of and links to videos that discuss sexual violence.

The Active Bystander Network (ABN) held a workshop on January 20, 2021 for SFU and Fraser International College (FIC) students to discuss how to understand and practice consent. The ABN is a group of students working under the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO). They are “commited to raising awareness [about] sexual violence and creating a culture of care and consent at SFU,” as noted by Simran Uppal at their workshop.

The workshop was centered around participant discussions, healthy ways to practice consent, combatting rape culture, and how to react when intimate partners set boundaries for themselves.

Participants were asked at the beginning of the workshop to consider what consent meant to them and to anonymously submit their answers. The answers, read aloud by ABN member Anna Markovic, included respect, giving partners permission, having boundaries acknowledged, and understanding where their relationship is.This urged others to consider what they want and Answers also included considering what you want and are comfortable with.

ABN members discussed the importance of conversing about consent with intimate partners. Their presentation noted that “consent is a freely given yes [and is] required every time.” 

Elaborating on discussing consent with a partner, Markovic said, “[It] can definitely be awkward but I don’t think it’s a bad kind of awkward. I think it’s a kind of awkward that, if you do care about the person, you’ve got to push past because it creates respect amongst each other and a stronger relationship overall.” 

Participants were also led through a discussion about long-lasting impacts of a lack of consent. This conversation concluded that if consent isn’t present — with any instances of unwanted touch — it can lead to “guilt, trauma, hurt, fear, distrust, normalization of rape culture, and microaggressions.” 

Gursharan Singh, a member of ABN, explained that “rape culture is [the] normalization of sexual violence through a cultural attitude that promotes victim blaming, attitudes about gender and sexuality, rape jokes, and actions of sexual harrasment like cat calling or leering.”

The workshop shared a video that had been created by the Government of Nova Scotia, explaining the dangers of victim blaming, perpetuating myths about sexual violence, sexual objectification, and rape culture in Canadian communities. Singh noted that “all of these actions lead to promoting the highest form of sexual violence: rape.” He commented that “by practicing asking [for] and giving consent, we can start a culture that centers care and consent in all relationships and interactions with others.” 

ABN’s presentation also noted that consent “cannot be given by someone who is incapacitated including, for example, someone who is asleep, unconscious, or even somebody who may be intoxicated [ . . . ] [I]t also cannot be obtained through any sort of threats, coercion, or other pressures.” 

Singh acknowledged that exsisting social taboos around sexual violence and victim blaming can be challenging for survivors of assault. He said that “getting help is not humiliating, getting help doesn’t show that you’re weak, getting help means that you’re strong.”

This workshop was held in January by ABN in honour of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. ABN members included Simran Uppal, Gabriela Dodge, Aleksandra Ciesielska, Surbhi Singla, Bonnie Ng, Anna Markovic, and Gursharan Singh, along with facilitator Paola Quiros.

For more information on getting help for sexual assault survivors, visit the SVSPO’s website and their list of resources available to SFU and FIC students. ABN is currently recruiting volunteers; more information on how to get involved can be found on their website.