From “Rashomon” to “IRT” to “Consent.rocks”
One of the foundational precepts of the process is the use of the word “incident” when something happens involving consent. We take an attitude based around the sociological phenomenon known as “The Rashomon Effect.”
“The Rashomon effect is contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people.”
The Consent Incident Response method is so named because we acknowledge, with all seriousness, that something happened. There is an incident that took place, and it affected people enough that they wanted, at the very least, to contact someone for support. We do our best to listen to them, and also gather whatever information from others that might strengthen that support. The final goal is try to help the various people involved understand better the contributing factors and feelings around the incident, with the hope that that will lead to constructive resolutions.
The only way this can work is with the optimistic idea that serial predators are the exception in the community, not the rule. We trust the intent of everyone involved, until it becomes clear that we cannot.
“So many consent issues stem from misunderstandings and miscommunication along with inadequate negotiating…”
– Loni Angel, one of the original Incident Response Team
There is a clear understanding that as a community we have a responsibility to police our own. With all respect to legal structures in place, the experiences of many people who have gone to these resources have shown that they are often inadequate or even destructive. While professional experience in therapy, rape crisis, and sexual trauma counseling can be useful, it’s important to understand that most of the circumstances around a “consent violation” at an event do not fall into that realm. If one does, then the IRT immediately draws upon the professional resources available in a given community.
Does it make a difference?
In our experience, it did. Click on the video link above to hear the full outline, but meanwhile, here are the basics:
At any given time during “open” convention hours (8am-2am) there was an “On-Duty” Consent Incident Responder (ODR) and an additional one “On-Call” Responder (OCR). The ODR was a physical presence at the help desk (or easily reachable via radio). The OCR was there in case the ODR needed assistance or in case two separate consent incidents happened at the same time. The other two Consent Incident Response staff members were also aware that in case of emergency they might be called in, and were willing to be in reserve as needed.
Security and other staff were informed of the Consent Incident Response team, but this is one area at ROPECRAFT where I did not do an adequate job of conveying that information. In the future I will be much more active in making sure security understands exactly how and when the Consent Incident Responder should be called.
The Consent Incident Responders were chosen for their background in working with consent issues and conflict response. We also tried to make the staff relatively diverse, and spent several hours pre-convention in meetings (via slack) discussing and creating the policies and procedures we hoped would work.
Here’s what we ended up with as our guidelines:
RULE ONE: We trust everyone’s intent until it is clear that we cannot.
(kudos to IronTempleDog for coming up with a concise way to phrase the concept).
It is entirely possible for two people to be telling totally different stories and yet also be completely honest. In any incident, our policy was to believe that the person we were talking to – whether the accuser or the accused – believes they are telling the truth.
That means we assume the best intentions until given reason not to. There can be a lot of indications of someone avoiding the truth – various kinds of emotional manipulation, for example, may cast a person’s story into being less credible if they are the accused. Our Consent Incident Responders were all very familiar with these kinds of behaviors from training separate from ROPECRAFT, as well as familiar with the methods of non-violent communication.
With that principle in mind, we set up a three-step plan for responding to any consent incident.
Typical of usual consent incident response plans: offer the party or parties an area where they can feel safer and supported, physically and psychologically. We had several rooms set aside for this purpose, as well as the cooperation of our security staff for keeping people in/out. It’s important to note that the policy is “offer”, not “move” – consent is an ongoing thing, and if someone felt safer in the corner of the dungeon alone we were not going to insist they leave. It also meant that if the accused party refused to cooperate we could not make them go somewhere else – but we could insist that they not start a scene until the situation was resolved, as well as assigning volunteers/security to keep eyes on them.
If it was a situation that called for medical resources, professional trauma counseling, or law enforcement, they would be notified immediately – but those kinds of incidents are easier to deal with from an event level because it’s very clear what kind of response is needed. The purpose of creating a supportive space was to enable the more complicated situations a constructive environment to come to an informed and appropriate decision.
This is where the trust until given reason not to and the active listening skills of the Consent Incident Responder came into play. We started by acknowledging that something happened. We didn’t use the words “violation” or other pre-judging or loaded phrases – we simply would ask each person involved (when they were ready), in a supportive and non-confrontational way, “What happened?”
We also made sure that we did not phrase it in any way that would imply doubt (“What do you think happened?“). A good example of how we developed this policy comes from this excerpt from our Slack channel:
heather: Yes, I’ve dealt with a lot of consent conflict, it is very important to remain diplomatic in spite of your own opinions of the situation.
irontempledog: So we make everyone who needs to be as safe as we can, then we listen to one side, and after that we listen to the other side. No plans, no judgements, no preconcieved notions.
3. Understanding –
Once all parties have their say, it is the Consent Incident Responder’s job to offer the opportunity for both parties to understand the point of view of the people involved. This is not to gaslight or try to instill doubt – in fact, we absolutely did not want to argue at all:
graydancer: We have to be careful not to contradict, but only to offer new information or alternative viewpoints. So not “No he didn’t!” But more “From his perspective, he felt that what happened was…”
And if they say “But he’s wrong!” then agree that is possible – and that’s why we’re talking.
We recognized that it was entirely possible, in any given situation, that the parties would not want to understand – and that was just something that we’d have to live with. After all, if your purpose is to improve consent, you can’t force people to do anything. That’s why these things were prioritized the way they were – safety first, then communication, then understanding. If, at any point, the parties involved didn’t want to be part of the process, then at least the minimum needed was done – they were safe, or they were heard.
Understanding was not considered a resolution or solution.
If that’s what the parties wanted, then fine – but another key phrase we included was “What would you like to have happen now?” The answer could be “nothing“, it could be “I want an apology“, it could be “I need to talk to the police“. The purpose of understanding was to provide a framework towards a more constructive solution.
Like the medical teams or the DMs, one hopes that the Consent Incident Responders spend most of their time on-duty bored and unused (though we had hopes that someone would use them as negotiation go-betweens, no one did – not even people who had been very vocal in the past about the value of negotiation go-betweens!). For most of ROPECRAFT, that was the case – right up until Sunday night. I will not go into any details of the incident at this time as the parties involved have not consented (as yet) to having their situation used as an example.
I am not happy that it happened, but I can say with some authority born out of the experience that the Consent Incident Responder team and policies definitely worked in this case. A situation that could have been disastrous and traumatic to many people was avoided and resolved thanks to the prompt and competent action of @EternalAngel and @IronTempleDog, implementing the polices that they’d created months before with the help of @LoniAngel.
Does that prove that the Consent Incident Responders work, and should be implemented at every event? Not at all, and I’m not expecting you to believe me just because I say so. I’m just telling you what our experience was – you can take or leave it as you like. I know that it proved its value to me, and that we will be using that position in as many future events as I can manage.
Other resources we used in developing the first Consent Incident Responder procedures included:
- Negotiation notes from @perfectlybound
- @JakeWing’s contacts with Austin PD
- The MINKY Consent Policy Thanks, @Lqqkout!
- Clover’s Rope Bottom Guide
- The Negotiation Checklist by Tormenta & Robot Hugs
We also had a “code” for the radios for when an incident would occur that would let the other staff know whether or not their presence was needed. This was similar to the policy of hospitals with ‘Dr Allcome!”, a way for us to communicate the relative urgency of a situation without causing undue alarm.