Ask First Pt. 1

On the 14th and 15th of October I had the most wonderful opportunity to attend a symposium at the University of Calgary called “Ask First: Creating a Campus Culture of Consent”. At this symposium I heard the research and experience of students and professionals all working towards the common goal of ending sexual violence.

A recurring point throughout was the need for early education on not only consent, phthisiatrician but also sexuality. In Canadian curricula, cheap ideas around consent are mentioned vastly less than ideas around abstinence. A question was asked to how we can expect our children to understand what is and is not consent when much of the time their own body parts are taboo. What we need is to teach affirmative sexuality before teaching affirmative consent. Affirmative sexuality means to have more comprehensive sexual education early on, teaching positive sexuality and sexual exploration. Now in no way does this mean we should be teaching children to be aggressively sexual at an early age, no, this means to teach them the difference between good touch and bad touch, and that it is okay to know their own bodies. The fact of the matter is that when I was growing up and my body was changing, nine times out of ten I had no idea what was going on and neither did my peers. Of course I was taught the basics, how my breasts would grow — but not about how it would hurt like hell when they did, how I would bleed at some point — but not how it was not just blood but also clots and tissue. The first time I experienced vaginal lubrication I was terrified because I had no idea what was going on. Affirmative sexuality means not separating classrooms by sex when we talk about menstruation.

A lot of people have no idea what rape is. The myth still perpetuates that the typical rapist is someone you don’t know, jumping out at you from a dark alleyway; this is not the truth. Statistically the majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the victim — a friend, family member, acquaintance, coworker, etc. Many people believe that if you are in a conjugal relationship with someone that is you giving consent 100% of the time. The fact of the matter is that consent is an ongoing conversation. Some key points about consent:

  • Consent is freely given
  • Consent cannot be given past a certain point of intoxication
  • Consent is not consent if it is given under duress
  • Consent is not consent if it is given from feelings of guilt

There is, of course, some difficulty around obtaining comprehensive statistics around sexual violence. The main issue is that the majority of sexual violence crimes go unreported. Why exactly is it that the reporting rate is so low? Well there are multiple different tiers to this. Firstly, the victim may not understand what has gone on for days/weeks/months/years. I know for me I was always uncomfortable with certain events in my sex life but it took years for me to actually label them as sexual violence. The second issue is that if you do report you are committing to tell your story over and over and over again. Added to that, a victim then has to face a whole variety of reactions from the people they tell. There are two reactions to a victim which are either acceptance, care, belief and empathy or questioning, blaming the victim, disbelief and brushing off the incident. This last, in my experience, is the main reason why so few people report. A major change we need to make in our society is to shift the blame. Consistently victims — who either report to authorities or not — are asked what they were wearing, were they intoxicated, were they out late, did they know the people around them etc. This is ridiculous because rape is never the victim’s fault, though many people in our society believe that it is. Added to that if the rapist was a sexual partner of the victim then it is often brushed off because many seem to think that being in a relationship implies continuous consent, which it does not.

To be continued in Pt. 2!

~ Madison

Ask First Pt. 2

A plethora of individuals participating in activism and advocacy around sexual violence have made videos, vitamin charts, health etc about what is and is not consent. My all-time favorite is the video below which compares the experience of sexual consent with the experience of making someone tea and all the nuances involved with consent-based interaction.

A huge part of sexual violence change/awareness campaigns, ambulance as we know, is social media. There has been an explosion of “hashtag campaigns” some good examples of which are:

  • #BeenRapedNeverReported
  • #IBelieveYou
  • #redmylips
  • #YesAllWomen

What makes these so wonderful and powerful is the vastness and accessibility of the internet. Hashtag campaigns often go viral and we see a huge surge of people using these campaigns to tell their stories and give visibility to social causes. Visibility is incredibly important to social justice campaigns because often the populous at large does not know the full extent of these issues. Something I find myself forgetting rather often is this lack of knowledge. Because I work extensively on the topic of sexual violence, I am hyper aware of the statistics while many are not. Well then, why aren’t activists shouting the statistics from the rooftops? Unfortunately just spouting statistics is not a good tactic to spread messages of activism because it is hard for people to connect to those numbers. The beauty of hashtag campaigns is they make these messages very personal. There is a colossal difference in the impact of a message when it is a single statement of a statistic versus an actual example of a statistic. Much of this hashtag activism is to say “yes this is a massive problem, I have experienced it and so have all of these other people”. As we have seen time and time again is when one person stands up to tell their story, it creates a trickle that turns into a waterfall over time of others standing up and sharing their similar narratives.

Unfortunately there are certain drawbacks to social marketing. At Ask First one of my favorite presenters was Jennifer Dooley who works in social marketing. Her presentation spoke to the theories and methodologies behind social marketing and what makes successful and unsuccessful social marketing campaigns. Something she highlighted was the Stages of Change model which is broken into three parts:

  1. Core: immediate benefits
  2. Actual: behavior promoted
  3. Augmented: tangible objects/services

The average human attention span is about 7 seconds, so social marketing campaigns have to hit the mark very hard and very quickly in order to reach their targets. In the future I hope to deeply explore social marketing and merge some strategies with my art to have more of an impact on my own audience.

~ Madison

17 Minutes


Since very few of you have actually seen my work I felt that it might be a good idea to show you some of what I have done in the past. The project that essentially started it all is entitled “17 Minutes” (pictures at the end!), buy which, vitamin 3 years ago, was statistically how often a woman in Canada was subjected to sexual assault. I found out this statistic shortly after I started working on this project, Laura Vickerson left an incredibly informative (and horrifying) article on my desk about sexual violence in Canada. Did you know that in legal terms in Canada we do not label unwanted sex as “rape”? In Canada we have “sexual assault” which is broken into 3 levels:

  1. Sexual assault level 1 is committed in a sexual situation and compromises the sexual integrity of the victim. The victim is subject to minor or no physical injury.
  2. Sexual assault level 2 involves weapons, threats or bodily harm
  3. Sexual assault level 3 involves permanent and/or life-threatening injury to the victim

In Canada 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, the number in Alberta is even more frightening at just over 1 in 2 women. 17 Minutes is my own stories about my experiences as a victim of multiple instances of sexual violence. From speaking with several activists working to end sexual violence I’ve discovered that these definitions are rarely even discussed in courtrooms, often the conversation just revolves around blaming the victim. Discussing victim blaming, and why the discourse around sexual violence rarely centers around perpetrators, is the next step for my future work.

~ Madison

Navigating the Research Ethics Board Pt. 2

Haven’t read Pt. 1 yet? Click Here

On November 10th the REB reviewed my proposal and subsequently denied it, neurologist emailing me a list of 22 points that needed revision in my proposal before acceptance could be considered. After getting over my initial outrage, information pills Mackenzie and I went over the points and realized that there really wasn’t much to change, neurologist the REB just wanted certain points to be explicitly clear. At this point I am about to request more information on a few points, upon clarification I will hopefully proceed with tweaking my application so that I can actually embark on this project next semester. If you are considering a project that may require REB approval below is my list of recommendations to help you have the smoothest possible process:

  • Complete the REB Self Assessment Form
  • If you will need to do a full-blown REB proposal, go ahead and do CORE because you’ll have to do it anyway and it’s nice to get it out of the way early
  • At this point, since ACAD doesn’t have our own, take a look through Dalhousie University’s Researcher Checklist (linked above) as it is super helpful. Some of the things you will be asked to do seem mind-numbingly redundant, but it is important to be thorough and your future self with thank you, trust me.
  • When you write your submission be as thorough as possible in all areas, but especially around mitigating risks to participants, the REB will want to see this information all over the place in your submission (did I mention things getting redundant?)
  • If you need to create some sort of informed consent waiver or a waiver of any sort the readability should be between a Grade 8 and Grade 9 reading level. This one is particularly difficult given that you are used to writing at a University level. Since your participants may not have that reading level however, any forms and documents shared with participants need to be readable by a majority
  • Your informed consent document will also need to be abundantly clear on absolutely every point. You must leave nothing up for questioning, and yes it will be repetitive.
  • Be prepared to be disappointed. No seriously, prepare for your proposal to be rejected the first time. The REB exists to make sure your proposal is airtight and that any risks are mitigated, so the first time around you will probably be rejected and asked to submit more information. Speaking as someone who wasn’t really prepared for a refusal, it is a good thing to prepare for.
  • Don’t compromise your or the project’s integrity for the sake of getting approved. This sounds like a strange thing to advise people, but I mean it. The REB has asked that I include my personal phone number on certain documents and while I can understand why, this is not okay with me for a variety of reasons. Just like the REB has dealbreakers for approval, so should you. If the REB rejects your proposal and advises you to do things that you aren’t okay with doing, I would strongly recommend trying to find some middle ground and expressing to them what your dealbreakers are. As disappointing as it would be to not embark on a proposal, it is better in my estimation to not compromise yourself or your project because the REB wants you to do something that you are not comfortable with doing.

If you have any questions about this process or my proposal, let me know!


Navigating the Research Ethics Board Pt. 1

As some of you know, stomach this semester I have been navigating ACAD’s fairly new Research Ethics Board and the process for submitting a project to them. The basis of my proposed work is to interview survivors of sexual violence and print their stories in small, hand-bound books. When I first embarked on this wild ride I had no idea how much work it would be. Let me tell you, it’s a lot. Here is a link to the REB Self Assessment Form, which is the first step in a submission to the REB. This is where you, your instructor and the head of the REB basically decide whether or not you need to do a full-on proposal to the board or not. Basically is your proposed project directly involves people or animals, you will likely have to do a full blown proposal to the whole board.

Something else I did was the Government of Canada’s Course on Research Ethics (CORE), which is an online ten-module course that gives an overview on how to conduct ethical and responsible research. The course is about 3 hours long, and definitely worth the time if you have any to spare (though if anyone goes on to do graduate degrees you will likely be required to go through it anyway). Overall this beginning process was helpful for me identifying problem areas with my proposed research and rectifying them. For example, confidentiality of participants and their information is absolutely paramount, especially around this subject matter. Mackenzie mentioned to me that were anyone, familiar with my work, to see me interviewing a participant they may guess as to what we are talking about, thus outting the interviewee as a survivor of sexual violence. Of course, this makes complete sense but I had not completely considered all the ways in which I will need to protect participants in my project. Having an individual go over absolutely every little detail of a proposed project is exactly the point of the REB, a fact which I am grateful for.

After this point things became a bit complex. Unlike many other post-secondary institutions, ACAD has not had a Research Ethics Board for decades, rather only a couple of years (chicken incident anyone?). Because our REB is relatively new and our population very small (the REB is not receiving hundreds of submissions thus forcing a streamlined process), there was a lot of waiting and a lot of re-doing the same information in a variety of different ways (so many emails). At this point ACAD does not have our own checklist of requirements for REB submissions, so I was given the Researcher Checklist from Dalhousie University and told to address from points 2.1 onward, which I then did.

Continued in Navigating the Research Ethics Board Pt. 2



Shari Pierce

In coming back to doing work about sexual violence after a 2 year hiatus, viagra 40mg I had struggled to remember other artists working with this subject matter. Thank goodness for facebook, pfizer google and my wonderful peers (looking at you Sara Mason) I was introduced and re-introduced to several artists who are as inspired in this subject area as I am. It is my belief that successful activist art causes the viewer to feel its message viscerally, tablets in that Shari Pierce’s work is beyond successful. Pierce is a mixed-media and installation artist born in the USA, who has done work all over the world. The focus of her artistic practice is around women’s issues, often specifically related to sexual violence and domesticity.

Shari Pierce. Agraphobia: 300 Sex Offenders Within a 5 Mile Radius. 2011. Mixed media installation.
Shari Pierce. Agraphobia: 300 Sex Offenders Within a 5 Mile Radius. 2011. Mixed media installation.

In the work above, Pierce uses pictures of registered sex offenders to create a literal necklace of rapists. On one hand, this image is absolutely vile and completely revolting because who in their right mind would wear a necklace made up of pictures of rapists? However, for survivors of sexual violence this is daily life, there is rarely a single day that goes by where someone who inflicted sexual violence upon me isn’t figuratively standing over my shoulder. It is my belief that Shari Pierce’s necklaces perform the role of reminding the viewer that victims of sexual violence cannot walk away from their memories; a role which my own work also aims to play.


Bookbinding scribbles

So because my project (gosh I really need to think of a name for this behemoth) involves small, adiposity handbound books containing survivor narratives, I started to do some scribbling of what I would like to do for stitching. I’m unsure, at this point, if any of these will actually work/look good/etc, but in the next week-two weeks here I will be doing some test samples! I have a few ideas about colour schemes, I could do the standard white paper/black font/black stitching but I’m also contemplating inverting that to black paper/white font/white stitching or even black paper/white font/red stitching.


That’s what I have so far, if anyone is particularly knowledgeable about bookbinding or has any suggestions of artists doing very intimate and delicate bookbinding please let me know!


How we survive

TW: sexual assault, unhealthy victim blaming

When I came to the understanding, advice years ago, that I had been the victim of sexual violence I decided that I needed to use my artistic voice to speak up about it for myself and others like me. Until recently I thought I could never return to speaking about assault, it is a truly exhausting and intense topic, yet here I am! In bumbling around trying to figure out exactly how I wanted to talk about it this time around, I stumbled across this most wonderful slam poem titled People You May Know, by Kevin Kantor. This poem is about Kantor’s experience with their rapist appearing in their “people you may know” section on Facebook. Upon watching it for the first time I immediately replayed it because I felt it was so powerful and spoke so strongly to the survivor experience of being confronted by trauma almost daily.



~ Madison