By Genevieve Kent, TIFD Safety Committee Chair
On September 9th seventeen people from eleven different dance groups (including TIFD affiliates) came together for a training at SAFE in Austin. The theme was sexual harassment and how to respond to reports of it in a dance group. The training was part of a pilot program to help various groups around Austin learn how to recognize and address instances of harassment within their organization. The training was free of charge and was referred to me by Austin Swing Syndicate, who previously attended the training.
We started off by talking about the continuum of sexual violence in society, from social norms of entitlement to invasion of personal space and unwanted sexual touch, all the way up to egregious acts of violence. The continuum was presented as a pyramid, with the most common and insidious forms of violence at the bottom, and the worst and least common forms at the top. This lead into a conversation about how these different forms can present themselves in the context of social dance.
The next big topic that we covered was consent. We were shown a video about how to obtain consent ethically and about respecting boundaries. The trainers explained that when someone experiences an uncomfortable situation, they are most likely to report it to a friend. They also noted that cases of false reporting are extremely rare (about two reports out of a thousand) and that the rate of false reporting was the same across different types of crime (for example, burglary).
We then learned some communication skills to use when someone reports to us. On this topic we discussed “counterintuitive” responses to trauma, namely different ways that a victim might react which do not fit the conventional expectations and demands of the public, law enforcement, and the judicial system. Common unexpected behaviors include: the victim not fighting back; showing no emotion when s/he talked about the incident; seeming angry with the first responders; not being able to remember details about what happened; story changing as they remember more; laughing it off or displaying other emotions which seem counterintuitive based on what they experienced.
One of the most important skills we learned was how to respond empathetically to a victim of harassment who reports to us. Namely:
- Acknowledging their experience: “I’m sorry this happened.”
- Reminding them that they are not to blame: “It’s not your fault.”
- Showing your trust and support, and validating their experience: “I believe you.”
- Reminding them that they are surrounded by people who care: “You are not alone.”
- If the assault was physically violent: “Are you open to seeking medical attention?”
- Reassuring that you will respect their choice about the next steps to take, and will not gossip about their experience: “You can trust me.”
- Reassuring that they have not changed in your eyes: “This doesn’t change how I think of you.”
We also watched a video about the important distinction between sympathy and empathy, and how NOT to respond, such as starting sentences with “At least…” and regaling stories from one’s own past. The trainers mentioned that it can be helpful to connect by sharing past experiences with the victim later on if they want to talk more about the incident, but that the first response to a report of harassment should always be to listen.
At this point in the training we came to real life examples of tricky situations that come up at dancing, and brainstormed ways that we could respond to them using the tools that we had learned. We had a lot of good dialogue from every attendee, and came away with some new strategies to make it easier for people to report harassment, and for how to address those reports when we receive them.
One strategy for encouraging people to report is to utilize a Code of Conduct, which states the types of behavior that are not tolerated in a group and details how to report those behaviors. A Code of Conduct provides transparency about the different forms of support that the group offers to its participants, as well as some of the possible outcomes for someone who violates the Code of Conduct. (For an example of a Code of Conduct that is available for your use, click here.)
In addition to having a Code of Conduct, it’s important to make it visible by posting it at the sign-in table and on the group’s website. Another great idea that members of our training group came up with is to make a short announcement along with the other announcements of the evening. For example: “This is a harassment-free zone. If anyone does something that makes you uncomfortable, you can report it to _________.”
Some groups are set up so that their members can report harassment to any one of the group’s Board members. TIFD is now set up so that we will have a dedicated Safety Team for Texas Camp who will be available to respond to reports of harassment, as well as instances of accidental injury. Our Safety Team members will be attending training this month for Adult and Pediatric CPR, AED, and First Aid so that we can provide the best possible assistance should our camp participants need our attention.
If you are interested in adopting TIFD’s Safety Team model, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to meet with your Board to go over our response procedures which have been vetted by an attorney as well as the trainers at SAFE.