by Cunt Incognita, FOTZE in Berlin — she=he
I participated in two workshops at FAQ Infoladen (infoshop) in Berlin, February this year. The first was on Perpetration of sexual assault, the second on Community accountability.
There was plenty of material presented and questions raised on these two occasions. I will give a comprised, neglectful-selective-subjective, brilliant-in-its-own-way, non-chronological version of what we discussed.
We were about 15 – 18 persons meeting at FAQ. On the wall was a piece of paper:
- Perpetrator + behavior
- Consequences for perpetrators
- How can perpetrators change?
- What does this mean for our own lives / communities?
- Discussion agreements
We started with a round, everybody sitting in a circle, taking turns saying Name, Something about ourselves, and Why we had come to the workshop, what our expectations were. Someone was there because of dealing with a current case of sexualized assault within their community, some others were there with their Wendo group.
The workshop was held in English. Spoons had been put on the small table in the middle of the circle and people were encouraged to grab a spoon and raise it in the air to indicate that they would like to have help with translation or have a word explained to them. During the time of the workshop, some persons started saying “spoon” instead of showing a spoon in the air.
After the round, the workshop leader presented the structure of the workshop, and we moved on to the last point on the paper: Discussion agreements.
We talked about what to do in case of “triggers” (words, actions, topics that cause upset or initiate a negative emotional, psychological response in someone.)
The workshop initiator warned ahead that one of the sections could be triggering, and that persons could choose to step out during the whole section, and come back later.
We agreed on checking the mood in the group every once in a while by using hand signals:
One method to check the mood in a group is to have green, yellow, and red cards for everyone, and when asked, people hold up a card that corresponds to how they are feeling at the moment. Green is to show that everything is okay, and that the workshop can continue as it is. Yellow is to show that you are not feeling okay – if someone shows yellow then they could be asked if they care to share what’s going on with them. There’s no need to say anything if you don’t feel like it. Yellow could be that you are very tired, or stressed, or that you had a fight with someone before coming to the workshop. It can also mean that you are unhappy with how the workshop is going, and that you would like to change something in it – for instance get into smaller groups, or play a game to change the atmosphere. Showing red means that everybody takes 5-10 minutes break. Persons holding red cards are also asked if they would like to share what is going on with the rest of the group.
In this specific group we decided, in case of triggers, and somebody feeling like stepping out of the workshop, but not wanting to interrupt it, that we could go to the kitchen to chill out and make tea.
We also agreed on, if we would feel able to, to communicate if we were leaving for the whole section, and would like to be called back at the end of it. And also to express if we would like some company.
One person asked to see how many would feel capable of giving support. Some persons raised their hands.
It would be good to check this at the beginning of every section, or several times, since our energy levels change throughout the day. Persons who say they feel up to it at the beginning of the workshop might not feel the same some hour later on.
One person said that she’s a survivor, and that she would feel safer knowing that she wasn’t the only one in the room. In response to this some persons raised their hands or said out loud that they had faced sexualized violence as well.
The Perpetrator, sometimes known as the “perp”.
Someone wanted to share that she laughs when she gets nervous, so she might do that at an inappropriate moment, when someone is sharing something personal, for instance saying that someone close to them has died.
Another person expressed that they wished to have a balance between personal and theoretical. If there were too many personal stories shared, there would not be enough time for theory, and if it is too theoretical, the discussion might get too abstract, making it difficult to understand and connect with the topics.
There was a suggestion on protecting identities when telling personal stories, and also that what’s said in the workshop would stay in the workshop. It was also suggested to let persons share their personal stories and not use these stories to get into arguments over how things should be or, how things should have been dealt with.
It was also said that we shouldn’t interrupt one another, and speak from our own experience, speak from the self, using sentences with “I”.
The last thing brought up was to make a commitment to stick with the time frame set for the workshop. The workshop initiator said that she was willing to stay an hour longer if anybody would be interested in continuing a discussion or would have a need to talk about something after.
What is consent?
The workshop leader gave a short definition on what consent is: Two or more persons deciding together to engage in the same activity, at the same time in the same way.
We all participated in giving ideas on how and what the conditions for consent could look like.
Some keywords written down during this talk:
The workshop leader was talking of how sometimes sex is seen as a “train” – once you decide to get on you can’t stop.. She was emphasizing that consent to one activity does not equal consent to everything. And also pointing out that it’s like a gliding scale, where some things might start feel more, or less, okay, while you’re trying it out.
What is not consent?
Aggressiveness was a mishearing, but still ended up on the list 🙂
Some might give consent, but it can’t be seen as valid:
Also something to be conscious of:
Awareness of power asymmetries in human relations makes it easier to stay out of trouble. Here are some of the power relations that could come in the way of equally enjoyable sex: Student < > Teacher; Boss < > Employee; Age; Gender; Race; Ability; Location (somebody’s house); Class; Size.
Also not a condition for consent:
The workshop leader drew a graph of a scale from consent to coercion, and with this visualizing the difference between a consent based definition for punishment (response ) and the legal definition for punishment. The legal being based on how much resistance the affected person has been putting up – a sardonic comment was, that in order to prove something has happened within the legal definition you basically need to have “skin under your nails”. The consent based definition for sexualized violence comes a lot earlier, and is based on if the person has the power and awareness to give consent. Was there mere co-operation, or was there consensual sex?
Also said, while speaking of consent, was that there is no hierarchy in trauma. The gravity of the harm done can not be measured on a scale, and can only be decided by the person who experienced it.
PERPETRATOR + BEHAVIOR
In this section we had a look at a heteronormative study of male college students and perpetration of sexual assault. A lot of these guys had admitted to committing non-consensual sexual acts. The figures were something around 5 – 14 %.
Some workshop participants expressed that they felt uncomfortable with, and did not understand the purpose of the survey in the workshop. Weird wordings, weird numbers, weird focus.
Someone appreciated the information, presented in the study, on males who have committed repeated sexualized assault. It was stated that the men who coerce are also the men who are most sexually active.
There was also astonishment expressed over the amount of sexualized violence – repeated rape; child sexual abuse – and the low age of these men.
We talked of stereotypes of “the perpetrator”.
::: In the second workshop on community accountability there was a person who felt uncomfortable with mentioning the stereotypes, saying that repeating them would reinforce them. She agreed with first having some of the stereotypes listed and then have it contrasted with reality.
Anyone can be a perpetrator but mostly it’s men – there’s a clear gender imbalance.
A stereotype of “the perpetrator” would be: big, stranger, sociopath, non-white.
The reality of perpetration is that it’s a behavior and not an identity, but since the images and myths are so strong in our mind (used by the dominant mainstream culture to target for instance non-white and queer communities as deviant and abnormal) most of us don’t want to believe that we or someone we know could be the “Dirty, evil, bad, crazy, monster”.
In order to transform the behavior we need to understand how powerful these images are. We need to see us all in the role of the perpetrator, capable of committing non-consensual harming acts. Rejection of the image as “perpetrator”, leads to a rejection of discussing and negotiating the behavior that is harmful. If we start looking at it as a behavior instead of a fix identity – we understand that it’s possible to heal and transform the behavior, and that ‘perpetration’ doesn’t mean that you-we-I are ‘it’ for the rest of our lives.
One way of healing and transforming the behavior is to work on prevention. In a sexist society this responsibility is put on women with good clubing advice such as: “Check if somebody puts something in your drink”. Or: “Don’t get drunk”.
Pushing some responsibility over to men would be to educate them on having better consensual sex. The more towards the consent side you are, the less risk you have of finding out that you’ve done something unpleasant.
A guy called Berkowitz was mentioned. Apparently categorizing perpetration into three sorts:
Unintentional .. They genuinely feel sorry, and feel empathy when they find out they have done something [this is NOT the same as acting that they feel sorry.. as many perpetrators do.]
Opportunistic .. If they’re provided with the possibility, and they can get away with it, they go for it
Predatory .. Plans; for instance, gets the person drunk
::: At the second workshop, this material was presented again, during which the workshop initiator said that the predatory perpetrators were the “scariest” ones. One person inquired why she was saying that, and the response was, that it was from her own personal point of view, after which the person who had asked the question said that there is a difference. There is a difference in what we as individuals find scary.
At this moment in time I see no use for Berkowitz’s categories, since they easily re-create a scale of “good” and “bad” perpetrators, as in the “unintentional” ones who ‘didn’t mean it’, and the “predatory” ‘sick, and evil beasts’.
The previous mention of punishment as a response to violence within the community, is not seen as an effective way for perpetrators to transform the harmful behavior that we wish to rid ourselves of in our communities. So the following section came with the encouragement to think about what perpetrators need to change.
CONSEQUENCES FOR PERPETRATORS
It was suggested that we would get into three working groups:
- what are the needs of the survivor (example: safe space, not seeing the perp)
- needs of the community (school, work place, political group)
- what do perpetrators need to change
The workshop participants seemed to agree on staying in a larger group, and the workshop leader took a big paper and asked us for the needs of the affected person, the community and the consequences for the perpetrator and the community in relation to the needs, drawing connecting lines between the needs and the consequences.
I don’t have all the arrows in my replica.. But it looked something like this:
Some thoughts brought up was that there could be conflicting needs (for instance, talking / not talking) between multiple survivors, as well as between survivors and community.
HOW CAN PERPETRATORS CHANGE?
At this point we had run out of time for the workshop. I asked the workshop initiator to say a few sentences about the last points of the agenda, which she agreed to, after having a finishing feedback round for the ones who wanted to leave.
So this is what was said in a few short notes.
Unintentional – counselling, political education, education on consent etc
Opportunistic – professional therapy & help
Predatory – professional therapy & help
for perpetrators depends on >>
characteristics of the assault
The likelihood of repeating-offending
the willingness to accept responsibility
reliability + consistency
lack of consent – how it was expressed (for instance, was there a verbal “no” ignored?)
role of culture / identity
Most programs in the US are made for relationship violence, and do not deal with friends having occasional sex. The programs with most success look something like this:
- consent / feminist / gender education, anger management
- long term, they must stick with the program
- accountability to survivors
- make the men pay for the program
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR LIVES / COMMUNITIES?
Well. There was no time to get into this question. Workshop finito
Soon coming up — Workshop part 2: Community accountability.
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