The Shift from Rape Culture to Consent Culture

This chart, “The Shift from Rape Culture to Consent Culture,” lays out five possible states that groups might exhibit in how they handle sexual violence and other types of harm. The chart depicts two phases of rape culture and three phases of consent culture. The phases of rape culture—ignoring and reacting— support individual freedom, and the phases of consent culture—planning, creating, and sustaining—support safer brave space. The phases of consent culture are additive.

The chart is useful in helping groups identify where they are: in rape culture or consent culture. The chart is descriptive, not prescriptive.

Groups may not progress neatly through the phases. In fact, the best way to create a culture of consent is to begin with the values expressed in the furthest right column. The phases in the chart are approximations: groups may be in multiple columns of the chart at the same time because they are in different phases in different aspects of group functioning.

Whether groups can make the transition from a rape culture with a primary value of individual freedom to developing safer brave spaces in a culture of consent comes down to the age-old question: Is reform possible or is revolution necessary?

The chart is a companion to the Beaulieu Tools; the questions in the Beaulieu Assessment are embedded in the chart. This chart adapts, with permission, “The Stages of Consent Culture for Dance Communities” chart created by Megan Emerson and the Portland Country Dance Community. I adapted the chart specifically for contact improvisation groups, but the concepts apply to other groups in which people voluntarily participate, especially those in which people risk vulnerability.

In what developmental stage is your group?

The main difference between rape culture and consent culture is a pivot from prioritizing individual freedom to prioritizing community care in safer brave space: a question that the Beaulieu Test is designed to address.

Individual freedom

Groups in the first two stages—ignoring and reacting—value individual freedom first and foremost. They are in rape culture.

In the ignoring stage, people are ignorant of or ignoring the fact that boundary violations are problems. They see no need for rules. They are leaderless, welcoming everyone. In such a climate of denial, people with less privilege may not feel welcome. Whisper networks are the source of warning. Violators are excused and victims blamed.

Contact improvisation groups relying on the first rule—”take care of yourself”—are in the reacting stage. They are typically informally organized. They have no formal tracking, institutional memory, or procedures for handling sexual violence incidents: their response depends on to whom you talk. The organizers respond to problems on an ad hoc basis. It takes a concerted effort for the community to address even a serial violator. Multiple well-substantiated reports of egregious behavior may eventually result in a ban. Participants are coached in how to say “no” rather than in how to assure consent.

Safer Brave Space

The next three stages—planning, creating, and sustaining—represent stages of safer brave space. They are creating consent culture. The stages are additive: subsequent columns build on and include previous ones. The three stages start with the basics and build to the ideal. The order is not prescriptive. In reality, the best way to get to the sustaining stage may be to begin with the values expressed in that column: including marginalized people in decision-making.

CI groups in the planning stage have shared and/or rotating leadership. They welcome people who follow their code of conduct. Organizers set expectations and make sure that opening and closing circles are well-facilitated. Their focus is preventing violations in the first place, not reducing individuals’ risk of being violated. They prioritize listening for “yes” over saying “no.” They acknowledge that violations, including micro-aggressions, do happen, and they deal with them in a reliable and systematic way. They solicit, value, and track reports. They listen to people who report boundary violations, and they start by believing them.

The creating stage includes the elements of the planning stage. In it, organizers actively seek feedback from and involve (or include perspectives of) less privileged people in decision-making processes. The group leaders are accountable to the group and can be removed. Before being allowed to participate, participants must agree to follow the publicly available code of conduct, which asks that they be upstanders and active group citizens. Groups provide multiple communication avenues for participants to report violations. The group’s proactive mindset is that violations don’t have to happen. But when they do, the group provides proportional consequences with opportunities to learn and repair harm. 

The sustaining stage of creating safer brave space includes the elements of the planning and creating stages. In the sustaining stage, the vision is that everyone feels safe enough to dance bravely, if they so choose. Leaders plan for the continuing evolution of consent culture, making sure that the entire community understands and values it. The group is as egalitarian as possible: resources, information, and authority are diffused throughout the group. Decision-making is transparent. Participants are expected to be upstanders and active citizens. In fact, the group depends on active participation in order to function. Group citizens reach out to participants who don’t feel welcome and consult with other groups about people from whom those groups have separated. Boundary violations are less frequent but the group recognizes that they do occur and when they do, the groups’ priority is the safe and comfortable participation of those who have been violated over the participation of those who have violated.

This chartlike me and everything on this websiteis a work in progress. Feedback is welcome.

© 2021-2022 Michele Beaulieux … “The Shift from Rape Culture to Consent Culture” chart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). That means you are free to share it and adapt it for your purposes as long as you attribute it to Michele Beaulieux and Megan Emerson and the Portland Country Dance Community, don’t use it for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! 7.30.2022

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