Respect, Consent and Boundaries Workshop: An Apology

(The following content discusses issues around organising and promoting events on the topic of consent and the triggering and traumatic impacts this can/did have)

A message from the organisers of the workshop:

On 6th May, ‘friends’ of the LaDIYfest Sheffield Facebook account were invited to an event which we now realise had the potential to cause a triggering and traumatic impact. The event has been cancelled following valid and understandable concerns raised by an individual who received the invite, relating to the triggering impact of the event’s content and the manner in which it was advertised. It was never our intention to cause distress to anyone through this event, therefore this blog post is intended as both an apology for any triggering impacts instigated by the invitation to the event, and an explanation of the circumstances leading up to the event itself.

The event was called “Blurred Lines? Discussions on respect, consent and boundaries” and was intended to target people with concerns about their past, present or potential sexual practice. It was designed in the form of a workshop which would focus strongly on discussing (in)appropriate sexual behaviour with a view to recognising and respecting consent and sexual boundaries. We chose the title ‘Blurred Lines’ specifically because the workshop was based on the problems that song raises, fails to address, and glosses over as being inconsequential. Indeed, the belittling of the dis-/non-respect of sexual boundaries as ‘blurred lines’ or misinterpretation was one of the core focuses planned for the workshop.

The event was developed in response to queries from a small number of people citing concerns about their own or others’ sexual behaviour and seeking assistance with addressing these at a community / informal level. As a result of these requests, the idea of facilitating a workshop was taken up by a group of us who have previous experience of teaching and overseeing workshops which deal with issues of a sensitive nature. Our idea received support from various people who were consulted or became aware of the event during the planning stages.

During the several hours of planning meetings which took place in preparation for the workshop, we consulted ethics protocols, sourced relevant / appropriate materials and outlined the perimeters of the event. We took particular care over the wording of the event information to indicate exactly what and who it was aimed at. We had hoped to make it clear that the workshop was for those concerned about their own ability to recognise and respect consent and practise other positive sexual behaviour. The exercises developed for the event sought to engage with attendees in a non-judgemental, but accountable, manner. We were /are acutely aware of the need for sensitivity in this area, given the topics being discussed. However, we recognise that despite this, the event was indeed triggering for some who were sent the invitation.

Due to the widespread nature of this issue, we wanted to advertise the workshop to as broad an audience as possible, so thought that setting up an event on Facebook would be the easiest way to do this. However, this also means that we ‘invited’ people to this event. Once we had been made aware of the triggering potential of the event invitation, the event was immediately cancelled and deleted to ensure that no one else receiving the invitation would be affected. However, ‘friends’ of the LaDIYfest Sheffield Facebook account who received an invitation to the event before it was deleted may have inferred that we were suggesting that they themselves were being targeted as participants. In hindsight, and with the benefit of having had feedback about the proposed event, we recognise that the negative impacts of our choice of advertising route were not fully considered prior to sending out the invitation. We would like to apologise wholeheartedly for the trauma or distress caused by our invitation and offer our assurance that this was not our intention whatsoever.

We also wish to stress that in no way did we intend to make anyone – especially survivors – feel compelled to attend the workshop, or feel they must come and sit in a workshop with those who may not respect consent. One of the aims of this workshop was to prevent this clash in participants occurring at other consent-themed workshops. We never intended to accuse anyone, particularly all ‘friends’ of the LaDIYfest Sheffield Facebook account, of being disrespectful of others’ consent.

The event information indicated that although the event was free, donations would be sought for SRASACS. We would like to make it clear that SRASACS were in no way involved with the event at any time, nor had they any knowledge of it.

We also realise that the problems affiliated with this event may have impacted negatively on LaDIYfest Sheffield, who although were not behind the workshop or the Facebook event, had after discussion, agreed to provide the room costs and advertising route at our request.

This is a learning curve for us and we welcome further discussion, contributions and feedback on how to raise these issues in the future in a way that is as respectful of others as possible, and minimises trauma, offense and discomfort for survivors. Please email Marian on m.duggan@shu.ac.uk (you will get my out-of-office but I’ll do my best to respond as promptly as possible).

Marian, Charlotte and Alex

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