The importance of consent is often overlooked in queer spaces. John Voutos spoke with the organiser of the upcoming Consent Festival to find out how he’s championing safety, boundaries, and respect.

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Sex-on-premises venues, queer clubs, and queer spaces. The rise of online dating. The non-verbal, semi-ambiguous communication of the hanky code. Cruising.

At times, these sites pose difficulties when it comes to communicating consent.

It doesn’t help that the legal age of consent was only equalised in all states and territories two years ago, or that the LGBTIQA+ community has long been pinned with ‘promiscuous’ and ‘debaucherous’ suppositions by the broader public.

Organiser of this year’s inaugural Consent Festival, Brodie Turner, explains the issue of consent as being part of a long history of LGBTIQA+ silencing.

“I think consent is a right often withheld from LGBTIQA+ people. We’re often excluded from sexual education or media depictions of healthy relationships,” he says.

“Being dismissed, erased, and disregarded… it impacts the way we behave, trust, and interact.”

Consent Festival will open Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival this year, looking at consent as it applies to LGBTIQ+ communities in a variety of spaces.

Discussions – such as Consent in Health, Consent in Relationships, and Consent in Workplaces – will help guide the day and the themes explored, moderated by a range of community leaders and advocates.

Hosted at the Melba Spiegeltent, Consent Festival will explore consent in relationships, workplaces, health, and art through panel discussions, life drawing, workshops, and performances.

Turner says the unique day will provide attendees with an accessible and fun insight into the topic of consent, and how it impacts the personal and professional lives of people in the LGBTIQ+ community.

“Consent Festival and the amazing people on board to program, promote, and encourage us to push it forward have all taught me a great deal,” he says.  

Turner adds that Consent Fest will help to continue a much-needed discussion around consent, and help to empower members of the LGBTIQ+ community in their everyday lives. 

“It’s about empowering people to feel safe to declare and maintain their boundaries, and queer spaces clearly delivering these messages about respecting consent,” he says.

“Communicating consent means being vulnerable, which is why it’s a challenge for so many.”

Consent Festival

Consent Festival 2019 Program.

Turner says his independent, one-man show Burlesque by Force, and his more recent research thesis into consent and sexual harassment as a workplace safety issue, has allowed him to connect with teams with diverse stories.

“With the incredible mix of voices at Consent Festival, audiences can expect to broaden their scope of what consent means and how it impacts their lives.”

“Consent Festival discovers how consent is applied not defined.”

When it comes to consent and sexual assault in queer spaces, Victoria Police say incidents are underreported.

Sergeant Dean Raab, from Victoria Police’s Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team, says there is no right or wrong response to being sexually assaulted.

“There is no excuse for [predatory] behaviour and the victim is never to blame,” he says. “It’s never too late to report a sexual assault, regardless of when or where it has occurred.”

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) research from June last year found that the reported number of sexual assault victims reached an eight-year high, increasing for the sixth consecutive year.

Increasing eight per cent from 23,040 victims in 2016 to 24,957 victims in 2017, this was the highest number recorded since the beginning of the series in 2010.

The victimisation rate has increased from 86 victims of sexual assault per 100,000 persons in 2010 to 102 victims of Sexual assault per 100,000 persons in 2017.

Raab says sex-on-premises (SoP) venues raise particular concerns for assault incidences, stressing that “law is law” and consent always needs to be given regardless.

“Anecdotally, a door is left ajar… and that’s seen as consent. Even though the person in the room may be unconscious…” adding, “we work with the stakeholders of licensed venues to ensure they’re raising awareness of consent on their premises, providing training for employees…

“The rule of law doesn’t stop as soon as you enter a premise.”

Raab mentions Victoria Police’s recent Don’t Brush Off Sexual Assault campaign, which ran in December to raise awareness of their online Challenging Misconceptions about Sexual Offending resource.

Along with this, the objectives of the campaign were to “build confidence in” and “raise awareness of the support available to victims”.

Raab says victims are able to contact any of the 320 Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLLO) across the Victorian state or call 000 in immediate danger.

“All we say is be safe and conscious of your surroundings and know who you are meeting up with.”

Consent Festival runs as an all-day event on January 19 as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival 2019. For more information visit: midsumma.org.au/program/consen19.

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