Nova Scotia

Halifax-based group champions consent at festivals, events

A group of volunteers are prowling Halifax's nightlife in an effort to promote consent and respect at parties, festivals and dance floors.

Consent Kitties working ‘to make the scene healthier’

The Consent Kitties are a team of about 20 people working to promote consent on the dance floor and elsewhere. (Geena Morse/Grim Photography)

As festival season ramps up, a group of volunteers is working to make Nova Scotia's music and dancing scene safer.

They're called Consent Kitties. Their slogan is simple: "Just Ask."

"Prevention of sexual harassment, assault and abuse is incredibly needed," said Katrina Enserink, a Consent Kitty and a bachelor of social work student at Dalhousie University. 

"We recognized a need for it, and a need for there to be more of a prioritization of sending out a message about consent and respecting each other."

Consent Kitties act as a safe presence in settings where music is playing, people are dancing and liquor is flowing, like at outdoor festivals or dance parties at clubs.

The group consists of about 20 core members who don fuzzy cat-ear headbands, show up to events and raise awareness for the importance of consent on the dance floor — and everywhere else.

If someone feels unsafe or intruded upon while they're at an event, they can approach a Consent Kitty and let them know. 

The team also keeps an eye out for situations that seem non-consensual so they can intervene if necessary.

Consent Kitties are a presence for people who may feel unsafe at events. (Sean Snow/Snowfall Media)

'The first step is education'

While the group does keep an eye on what transpires on the dance floor, Peter Nicholson, a fellow Consent Kitty, said their role isn't to police events.

"If something happened [and] we just kick someone out every single time, that will solve it for tonight but doesn't solve the problem tomorrow or the next day," he said. 

"Ideally, we want to have an interaction with someone where it never happens again and they're becoming an ally in what we're trying to do."

Usually, he said a conversation is enough to curb bad behaviour. If it escalates, the Consent Kitties would communicate with event security to take further action.

"The first step is education. That's always our primary goal ... to make the scene healthier, not smaller," said Nicholson.

Before the party starts, the Consent Kitties will often advertise that they will be attending so attendees know that it will be a consent-aware event.

And as people start arriving, the Consent Kitties distribute little cards that say, "Can I dance with you?," or, "Can I kiss you?," so people can use them to ask for consent on the dance floor.

Consent Kitties offer sexual violence prevention education and counselling. (Submitted by Peter Nicholson)

It's all about communication, said Nicholson.

"We want people to dance together and get weird and have fun," he said. "We just want them to do that in a consensual way and respect each other."

Enserink added that public response to their work so far has been "incredible."

"A lot of people have expressed that they now feel safe coming to certain events or certain spaces that they wouldn't have otherwise," she said.

Future Forest

At the end of July, a team of Consent Kitties will head to Future Forest, an electronic music and arts festival in Fredericton, N.B.

Katerina Stein, the festival's harm-reduction co-ordinator, said this will be the third year the Consent Kitties will be attending.

"Unfortunately, things like rape culture and lack of understanding consent exist in the world," she said.

"Consent Kitties can be both a presence — like a physical presence — but also, they have a bunch of resources that allow for people to read up on what consent is and then to ask questions."

She said the group also offers prevention education and counselling.

Stein said festivals can also help prevent sexual assault and harassment at their events by taking a zero-tolerance approach to bad behaviour, and continuing the ongoing conversation about respect and consent.

"In environments like this where people are coming together to celebrate, to dance, to move ... consent has become a huge topic, and a really important one."

A larger conversation

Consent Kitties started about three years ago. It's just one of several groups emerging across Canada to create more conversation and awareness around consent and nightlife.

In Montreal, some bars and clubs are hiring or training special staff to prevent sexual harassment and assault at their venues.

And last year, a Victoria, B.C., nightclub hired a "consent captain" to help prevent sexual violence at events.

Enserink, who joined Consent Kitties shortly after the organization began, said she's glad to see more awareness being raised for consent and sexual violence prevention.

"I know when I was a teenager, I hadn't even heard of the word consent. It certainly wasn't mentioned in our sex-ed curriculum," said Enserink.

"But now, people are having this opportunity to think about it and to change and to be better."

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About the Author

Alex Cooke

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Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca

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