Ethics and Ethos

At the core of Art of Consent is a vision of co-creating a collective culture of consent, in which fully authentic consent is understood to be embodied, trauma-aware, has a social justice perspective, and is sensitive to all kinds of power dynamics, both healthy and toxic.
 

We therefore hold an intention to be clear about our own ethics and our accountability as an organisation.  In the Art of Consent, all our work takes place in group-based workshops, both in person and online (we do not currently offer one-to-one training or coaching).

 

There is an inherent power imbalance in any workshop situation.  Facilitators usually have the most power, assistants and organisers less power, and participants the least power of all.  This is true even if the people in the room are not aware of a power imbalance.  We have all been conditioned into non-consensual power dynamics, beginning when we were children.  Care-givers and teachers exercise a great deal of power, sometimes clearly and cleanly, other times much less so.  It is widely recognised that in any teaching environment, transference is common - that is, the projection by participants of past dynamics of 'power under' in relation to those in a teaching role.  Counter-transference can also happen - that is, a 'power over' projection of those in teaching roles onto their participants.  Mutual awareness and understanding of these kinds of projections to create a 'power with' consent culture is seen as core to the ethos of the Art of Consent.

 

Cultural factors can also bring a pre-existing power imbalance into the room.  Many of us have been socially conditioned to accord more status to some people than others.  Examples include: according more status to white people than to people of colour, to men rather than to women or non-binary people, to heterosexuals rather than to people of other sexualities, to cisgender people rather than transgender people, to middle class rather than to working class people, and to able-bodied people rather than people living with disabilities.

 

Some of the Art of Consent team move within GSRD communities (Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diversity).  These communities are small and overlapping, and so it is almost inevitable that some of our friends, partners and lovers will at some point attend our workshops as participants – just as we may also attend theirs.  This stepping into and out of different roles with others makes for additional complexities in maintaining clear and ethical boundaries in our work.

Rupert James Alison, the director of the Art of Consent, has over the last twenty-five years trained with a wide variety of teachers of different embodiment practices: some were brilliant and highly ethical, others were brilliant and unethical; some had integrity in some areas but not in others, and almost none of them had any kind of stated ethical position to which they could be held accountable.  Going forward, we want and need to do much better - and this 'Ethics and Ethos' document is a step towards that.

All the above points raise important issues around ethics and professional boundaries related to workshop participation - in four broad categories:

  1. Participant empowerment and choice in the workshop space

  2. Inclusivity and diversity

  3. Sexual and romantic relationships and connections

  4. Accountability – who to speak to if something doesn’t feel right

1. PARTICIPANT EMPOWERMENT AND CHOICE IN THE WORKSHOP SPACE

  • Many of our in-person workshops include the opportunity to share simple, non-sexual clothed touch, mostly limited to the hand and fore-arm, in order to have an embodied experience of the Wheel of Consent.  Participants are informed that everything is an invitation, and any shared touch is completely optional.  Alternatives to shared touch will always be providedHere are some examples:  Trying a modified version of the paired exercise which doesn't involve touch; trying a solo exercise instead; journaling; meditating; moving and stretching; resting.

  • We will always demonstrate a shared touch exercise (and most other exercises), giving space for questions, before asking participants whether they want to try it or not. 

  • We invite participants to 'opt in' to an exercise if they'd like to do it, rather than 'opt out' if they don't.

  • In paired exercises which might include shared touch, we emphasise that choosing to pair up with someone does not imply or guarantee that any touch will happen.  We remind people that consent is always reversible.

  • Similarly, in any paired exercises after any touch has been completed in one direction, we don’t assume both partners will be up for switching roles.  There may be an opportunity to switch roles, but no guarantee or expectation of it.

  • No participant is expected to serve anyone else by being a 'learning tool' for them, or doing something they are not themselves comfortable with. 

  • We use a 'trauma-informed' approach to the Wheel of Consent as much as we can.  This includes supporting participants to distinguish and acknowledge:  'Want To' / 'Willing To' / 'Not Willing To' / 'Don't Know' / 'Don't Have A Choice'.  However we make it clear that Wheel of Consent workshops are not a replacement for medical or psychological trauma therapy.

  • We use invitational language throughout the workshop, gently reminding people to listen to and trust their own body and responses, rather than interpreting any of our invitations as commands.

  • At online workshops, we invite people to pause or take a break whenever they need to.  At in-person workshops, we set up at least one 'sanctuary space' where participants can go to sit out off any ongoing group activities.

  • We remind everyone in our workshops that they are a confidential space.  No one is to share outside the workshop about anyone else’s experiences or disclosures within it, or who attended the workshop, without their explicit permission.

  • Similarly, we clarify that no one is there to ‘fix’ anyone else, including the facilitators.  Whilst our workshops may sometimes have therapeutic effects, they are not ‘therapy’ sessions, but rather are opportunities for education, sharing, group learning and discussion.

2.  INCLUSIVITY AND DIVERSITY

  • We hold an intention to be inclusive and not to make assumptions about anyone's gender, sexual orientation or relationship status.  We use venues with gender neutral toilets wherever possible.  During workshop introductions we invite everyone to state their pronouns along with their name, if they would like to.  We acknowledge that people with different lived experiences bring different needs and insights into the space, and strive to be as welcoming as possible to all.  We also commit to the ongoing personal work of seeing and undoing our own blind-spots. 
  • We hold the intention to challenge language which feels discriminatory or prejudiced, including language which is racist, sexist, transphobic, ablist, fat-phobic etc.  We hold this with sensitivity and an awareness that different people may have different understandings of these words, as their meanings and definitions continue to evolve.
  • We strive to co-create a safer and more inclusive workshop environment by educating ourselves about trauma.  For example, in late 2019 Rupert took part in a full 5-day training in The Neurobiology of Trauma & Trauma Informed Yoga Practices with Alex Cat of the Yoga Clink UK.  In June 2020 he attended a 3-part workshop Trauma and Teaching Relationships by Theo Wildcroft.
  • We strive to ensure that our team for every workshop includes people of different genders, and at least one person who is not white/cisgender/heteronormative, to bring additional perspectives into the room, and in the hope of making the space feel more accessible to people of colour and queer people.
  • After lockdown ends, we commit to continue offering some of our workshops online.  One of the primary intentions of this is to make our work as accessible as possible.

 

3. SEXUAL AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTIONS

 

  • If any member of the team is in a sexual or romantic relationship with anyone else attending a workshop, we will disclose this to the whole group at the beginning of the workshop – unless there is a particular reason not to.  If this is not disclosed, then we request the people involved not to engage in intimate /flirtatious behaviour in front of other participants.

  • During workshops, facilitators and assistants will not be flirtatious or intimate towards any participants they are not in a pre-existing relationship with.  Nor will they invite them out on a date with any romantic or sexual intention during the workshop.

  • For a period of time after the workshop, facilitators will not initiate or respond to any intimate connections with participants they had not previously met.  The length of this period should depend on a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the age difference of those involved, their relative status and power outside the workshop space, and the opinion and advice of others who know them.  For example, if the facilitator and participant meet at a two hour workshop at a festival at which people are stepping into and out of facilitator/participant roles, a period of perhaps a few weeks might be expected.  If they meet at a 'one-off' weekend workshop where no switching of roles happens, then probably a few months would be required.  If a participant is engaged in a series of ongoing workshops with the facilitator, then intimate connection should probably be avoided for around a year - again, depending on the precise circumstances.

  • If a facilitator and participant already knew each other before the workshop, but not in a sexual or romantic way, facilitators should still wait some time after the end of the workshop before initiating or responding to any intimate connections.  The time-frame will depend on factors such as how long and deeply they already knew each other. 

  • No time limit applies if the people concerned had a sexual/romantic relationship prior to their facilitator/participant roles.  Nevertheless it may be appropriate for people with a previously existing sexual/romantic attraction to put that to one side for the duration of time they are in participant/facilitator roles with each other.

  • In all the above cases facilitators should be mindful of the potential power imbalance, and should speak about it, both with the ex-participant and with at least one other facilitator to inform them of the situation and ask their objective opinion about it.

  • We appreciate that human relationships and connections are rich and multiply complex and may not always fit neatly into the categories described above.  With that recognition, we strive to be as honest, transparent and informed as possible with ourselves and each other whenever there are any potential imbalances of power in the mix regarding sexual or romantic connections.

4. ACCOUNTABILITY – WHO TO SPEAK TO IF SOMETHING DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT

At the Art of Consent we strive to uphold best practice around our professional and personal ethics.  Nevertheless, human relationships are complex, and we all occasionally make mistakes.  If something happens at or in relation to one of our workshops which feels out of integrity to you, then these are the steps you can follow:

  • If it feels safe and appropriate to do so, you can raise your concerns directly with the person or people involved, either in person at the time, or in writing later.

  • We appreciate that the above may not always feel possible or desirable, in which case you can raise your concern with another facilitator or assistant, either in person at the time, or in writing later.

  • Occasionally, this may not feel possible or desirable either.  We are currently developing an agreement with other experienced and independent practitioners in related fields, who will act as 'Trusted Practitioners' who can be approached in these circumstances.  Your concerns will be treated with utmost confidence, and the Trusted Practitioner will discuss with you how you would like to proceed.  Until this system is up and running, we ask that you contact Betty Martin at the School of Consent (the School with whom Rupert James Alison is qualified as a Wheel of Consent teacher) to raise any such issues.  Betty can be contacted at betty [at] bettymartin.org.

  • You may also like to know that there is a website set up for anonymous reporting of sexual misconduct, at JDoe.  You can remain anonymous, but if several people report the same abuser or harasser, the abuser will be reported to local police – and you can also be connected to each other and to lawyers who can support you.  If anyone feels that they have had their legal or human rights violated, we encourage and support that individual to seek due legal process. 

Thank you for reading this statement.  If you have any questions, or feel there is something we have missed, or expressed clumsily or incompletely, then we would very much welcome your feedback.

Thank you.

Rupert James Alison

Director, Art of Consent

July 2020

Our workshops last anything from 1 hour to 3 days.  Please contact us to find out more

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