New expectation: that every burner will use the 4 Cs framework and get verbal Hell Yes consent before taking someone’s picture, touching someone’s body, using someone’s property or giving a gift. Consent also relates to harassment and stalking.
Why now and why us?
The world is changing and changing rapidly. Sexual assault, harassment and stalking are being openly discussed in a way we've never seen before. #MeToo and related reports of violations committed by public figures validated the experiences of many of us and brought new awareness to others. We cannot go back to silence. Pro-actively respecting each other's bodily autonomy, time and energy, imagery and personal property begins now.
While everyone agrees that consent is important and respecting boundaries is mandatory, we have a centuries long history of allowing certain people to violate others and get away with it. We have social norms that contradict the idea of obtaining verbal consent before touching another person in an intimate way. While many of these norms support men's entitlement to women's bodies, consent violations happen to everyone. We all must work together to change these patterns.
We must acknowledge each of us carries these ideas and experiences with us when we come together. Many of us are survivors of sexual assault and other forms of abuse and coercion. Many of us are perpetrators of others' boundaries. Because of the unique community the 10 Principles creates, we believe that the burn community is uniquely capable of addressing the consent problems we bring with us and finding new ways to learn together and hold each other accountable. This post will explain why and how we plan to experiment with that, starting this year, this event. By necessity, it cannot address everything there is to say about consent. This is just the beginning.
Why does consent matter?
Quite simply, getting someone's consent before doing something with them and making sure they're still consenting while doing it is the most basic way to show respect for each other. Avoiding getting consent and hoping for the best is irresponsible and reeks of entitlement. If we wish to treat each other excellently, consent is required. When it comes to sex and intimacy, John Oliver puts it best: "Sex is like boxing, if both people didn't agree to participate, one of them is committing a crime."
From a positive standpoint, prioritizing explicit consent before engaging with someone else allows you to be confident that everyone is on the same page. We can set aside anxiety about whether we're doing something the other person wants to do. By actively engaging the people we are with before we take their picture, give them a special cookie or grab their ass, we can be confident the other person is also enjoying their experience.
How do we become excellent at consent? We become excellent at consent through education, practice and self-reflection. We keep in mind that other people are full human beings with their own reality, their own desires, their own boundaries, and their own histories. When we feel a desire to connect with someone, we remember the 4 Cs: caring, communication, caution and consent.
The 4 Cs: A Handy Framework for Consent
The first C is caring. That means we care about the well-being and happiness of the other person as much as we care about our own. It means we approach the situation as equals and seek the optimal interaction for all involved, including bystanders. Caring means recognizing that every individual embodies unique experiences, beliefs and desires. The foundation of true caring for others starts with caring about ourselves – recognizing our own blindspots, weaknesses, desires and motivations as much as we can.
The second C is communication. Ideally, the communication is verbal. We ask directly and clearly for what we want, with transparency. We actively invite contributions from those we wish to engage and seek to understand their desires and their limits. Communication is also on-going. Consent can be revoked at any time. Past consent is not an indication of future consent. Nudity or sexy dress is not consent. Being present in a sexually charged environment is not consent. Good communication is fundamental to taking good care of ourselves and each other.
The third C is caution. Caution means remaining flexible and aware of changes throughout our interactions with each other. It means reading people's body language and checking in if something seems to have changed. Caution means waiting to make sure your gift, physical touch or presence is welcome before engaging someone else. It means being alert to the context and making sure everyone is cool. Caution enables us to remain curious about the experience of the other person, rather than focusing only on our own. It also reminds us to remain in communication with others and aware of their well-being.
The fourth C is consent. Consent is simple, but not easy. At a surface level, yes means yes and no means no. Ideally consent is verbal and fully informed about the situation. Yet often that ideal isn't met or perhaps is ambiguous. True consent is freely given – without pressure, without threat, without being convinced, without any doubt. Waiting for Hell Yes and enthusiastic consent is the absolute best approach. Consent also means being aware of the many ways someone's consent might be compromised. Examples of compromise include being altered or sober, social pressure from being in front of a group, power dynamics, and other individual characteristics. The complexity and ambiguity of human communication requires caring and caution to be done right.
Becoming a Community of Consent
As a community, we become excellent at consent by setting expectations and holding each other accountable. Our expectation is that every burner will use the 4 Cs framework and get verbal Hell Yes consent before taking someone's picture, touching someone's body, using someone's property or giving a gift. Consent also relates to harassment and stalking.
As a community, we will offer education about consent and opportunities to have conversations about how to do it well. These opportunities will officially be available as we enter the event at Greeters, at the Volunteer Hub, and as part of the on-site Ranger Training. Each Theme Camp will also be invited to support and educate their participants about consent as well. There will be 125 copies of Not On My Watch: The Bystanders Handbook for the Prevention of Sexual Violence given away.
In order to facilitate education and accountability, Mosaic Experiment has a new department, the Consent Team. The purpose of the Consent Team is to offer education about consent and provide resources when there's a problem. The Consent Team will collect information about boundary crossings and consent violations, maintain records of all reports, and respond appropriately to each incident.
The Consent Team: Education and Accountability in Action
The Consent Team consists of five individuals, nominated by the Leads and assented to by the community. There will also be an alternate identified as well, to accommodate situations where a Consent Team member must abstain from being involved due to conflicts of interest. Being part of the team requires the ability to maintain confidentiality, to model good consent behavior, to exercise wisdom in addressing any incidents, and a willingness to work closely with the team for at least two years. We aim to continually rotate members on and off the team without ever having all new members.
The Consent Team will take reports of boundary crossings and violations from anyone, at any time (except for the two weeks just prior to the event). During the event, there will always be a member of the Consent Team "on call" - 24/7. Team members will also be available for casual conversation about consent. You can recognize Team members at the event by looking for someone wearing a bright beaded necklace and a Consent Team lanyard or asking a Ranger to speak to the Consent Team.
We strongly encourage all of you to report anything you think might be worth reporting. We want to know what's going on so we can respond, and that only works if we all remain attentive to problems and report anything we're concerned about. When you make a report, the Team member you speak with will become your liaison to the rest of the Consent Team. Anonymous reports will also be taken at the Volunteer Hub or via the online Report Form.
After a report is made, we will prioritize the needs of the person making the report and act only with that person's consent. If that consent is given, a pair of Investigators from the Consent Team will speak with everyone who was involved in the situation. Once the investigation is complete, the entire Team will come together to decide what, if any, intervention should occur. Again, we will prioritize the desires of the person who made the initial complaint.
Second hand reports from observers or others who are concerned are valuable. Those reports will be kept on file and could lead to an intervention if there's a pattern. If a first-hand report is filed, existing second hand reports will also inform how the Team proceeds. In general, second hand reports or reports about incidents that did not occur at Mosaic Experiment will not be investigated unless there is an extreme safety concern involved.
The goal of the reporting process is to create an opportunity for the community to respond and hold each other accountable. By reporting even the smallest incident, the Team will be able to identify who the broken stairs are in our community and see if it's possible to repair them. Our intention is to avoid public shaming or punishment, like banning someone from the event. Instead, interventions will be aimed towards education and helping those who have erred understand their mistakes. Possible outcomes include no action, education, mediation, follow up contact and recommendations to pursue therapy at home, stipulations (e.g. cannot be altered at the event), temporary bans and indefinite bans. Any recommendations to ban a participant will be made to the Event Leads, as they have the authority to implement a ban.
We ask that once you have made a report to the Consent Team that you avoid speaking publicly about the situation. Rumors and the court of public opinion undermine the value of the process. Please seek support from those you trust and otherwise trust the process to resolve the situation to your satisfaction. If you have questions or concerns after you have made your report, please speak to the Consent Team member who took your initial report or their investigation partner. We desire to protect the privacy of all involved, except for the rare occasions we determine there's a threat that the entire community needs to know about. We welcome on-going feedback about how your situation is being handled. Dealing with boundary crossings and consent violations is an on-going process.
Consent matters. Becoming a consent-based community will improve everyone's sense of safety and ability to enjoy Mosaic Experiment to the fullest. It will also take time to change away from our "normal" way of operating. The Consent Team is here to help. We encourage each of you to use radical self-reliance to protect yourselves and others. We empower you to speak up by describing your perception of what you observed from a place of assuming good intentions. A great comment is "I want to assume positive intent but this seems like…"
Through the use of the 4 Cs – caring, communication, caution and consent – we can all be excellent to each other and truly create a radical change in our burn community and the world at large.