Consent a Festival Must-Have

It’s a far cry from the party-all-weekend festivals in other parts of the country, but the Atlin Arts and Music Festival in northern B.C. still sees its fair share of crowds and lowered inhibitions.

Atlin festival-goers can and should have a good time, and doing so with full knowledge of consent only makes it more likely that they will.

At least that’s what the festival’s Consent Crew was hoping to teach.

“It’s a big problem in festivals, sexualized violence, sexual assault,” said the Crew’s director Anne-Marie Leblanc. “We’re just promoting consent and healthy relationships.”

The Consent Crew is a joint project of the Yukon’s Les EssentiElles — a francophone women’s organization — and the Whitehorse-based Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.

The Crew has spent the last seven years on the festival circuit, teaching the hows and whys of consensual encounters — sexual or otherwise. Festivals bring large groups of people of all ages together and even children need to understand that they have the right to say no to contact they’re uncomfortable with.

“If someone wants to give a hug to a kid and a kid doesn’t want it, it’s ok,” Leblanc explained. “It has to start really early, it’s something that we don’t talk enough [about].”

For the 19-plus crowd, the close relationship between festivals and drinking presents its own set of safety concerns.

In a 2014 study by Ottawa physician Kari Sampsel, more than a quarter of reported sexual assaults occurred at large parties or festivals. Many of the assault victims at these events had also consumed drugs or alcohol.

These factors were top of mind for RCMP working the Atlin festival, according to one officer on site who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

“In any event where there’s alcohol or large groups of people like this in confined spaces, we’re always vigilant for sexual assault,” he said.

The officer also said that education is the best way to prevent such an incident from occurring.

“Let people know that they can say no, that consent is not implied at any time.”

For those wondering what consent is and how to know when they’re seeing it, Leblanc suggested a Planned Parenthood acronym: FRIES, or freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific.

As for someone who’s had a few drinks? An intoxicated person cannot consent to engaging in sexual activity. How to define intoxication, however, is a more difficult question.

“It’s a question that even now we still discuss, because it’s different depending on the person. It’s a judgment thing,” Leblanc said. “And what we say is if you’re not sure, just don’t do it. There’s no grey area regarding consent.”

First published on storiesnorth.com

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