"My dress does not equal yes"

Addressing consent: Why it’s an important topic for Halloween costumes and cosplay

One of the best parts about Halloween is dressing up in costume. However, like any time of year, there is a misconception that just because someone is dressed in a certain way, that it means consent.

“What someone wears is never consent,” said Leah Marshall, the sexual violence prevention advisor at Fanshawe.

Marshall said that explaining what consent is helps people know what it looks like. She said consent is an enthusiastic, voluntary, continual and sober exchange. “Consent is necessary because without consent, it’s sexual assault.”

Talking about consent on campus

Marshall brings two awareness initiatives to Fanshawe’s campus each month. She will be part of a group handing out buttons, condoms, water bottles and stickers addressing that costumes do not mean consent at the Halloween Pub at the Out Back Shack on Oct. 27.

The gear will also be distributed on Halloween day in Forwell hall, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sexual Assault Centre London (SACL) will also be handing out the materials on both days.

Marshall added that she, along with the Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) and campus life facilitator, had a similar outreach initiative for St. Patrick’s Day in the spring of 2016.

“We are working and striving towards having a culture of consent and part of that is allowing individuals to feel safe, to come dressed in whatever they choose to school, or during specific events.”

Western University’s Women’s Issues Network (WIN) had a similar event in the University Community Centre (UCC) on Oct. 19. The group handed out candy and talked about consent at their “My Costume is Not Consent” awareness event.

“At the end of the day, wearing a costume has absolutely nothing to do with a girl wanting to kiss you,” said Katherine Boyce, the WIN co-ordinator. “I am humbled to be part of a small but important event on campus to get the message across to students.”

Consent and cosplay

Events such as the London Comic Con and Forest City Comicon are also addressing the importance of consent. At London Comic Con 2016, guests saw a sign that reminded people that a costume does not equal consent, and that you should always ask permission before taking pictures of cosplayers at the event.

Amanda Bennett, owner of Amaleigh Photography, has also cosplayed for 12 years and recognized the issue for both Halloween and comic cons.

“A lot of people equate revealing costumes to consent, as if that person is inviting unwanted behaviour. Many times you’ll hear or see revealing costumes being referred to as slutty versions of a character. Clothes do not determine consent. Women are most at risk for this sort of assumption as well,” she said.

The photographer and cosplayer added that she and her friends have either been harassed or felt that “no was not enough to communicate the lack of consent” when she would attend some of these events.

“There have been many instances of convention attendees asking for photos and then getting uncomfortably close or touching inappropriately,” Bennett said, adding that there have been “too many instances of having photos taken without permission which results in awkward photos”.

Bennett first noticed such a sign at Hamilton’s ConBravo!, and said that the cosplay community is calling people out on their behaviour at such events.

“I recently read a story where someone’s friend was inappropriately touched at a convention and they began to yell out about it, drawing attention to the person who had molested them, followed then by telling con security about the incident.”

Marshall also noticed the cosplay is not consent sign at London Comic Con this year, and is pleased that the issue is being addressed.

“We should be allowed to attend things wearing whatever we choose, and be able to be safe and be respected,” she said.

She also acknowledged that at comic cons “sometimes, people have really awesome costumes”, and that “people will want to take photos of people in their costumes”, but “it’s important to ask permission”.

Raising awareness

Boyce said that awareness is important, and felt that bringing the topic of consent to elementary school classrooms was a big step.

“Even though consent is a simple concept, it is continuously broken and women’s rights are violated. This needs to be stopped.”

Bennett said there needs to be harsher consequences for those who dismiss an absence of consent.

“At a party if someone is too forceful, they should be kicked out. If a guy at a con is taking photos up someone’s skirt, they should be banned from the con,” she said. “If we all work together to call out this kind of behaviour with stricter consequences, I believe we will see a change.”

Marshall said that it’s important to spread messages such as “my dress does not equal yes” to keep the conversation about consent going. “These myths about sexual violence are really prevalent and saturated in our society,” she said. “By continuing these alternative media stories that really put forward the messages about consent culture, it allows these conversations to keep happening throughout the year and allow people to have a better understanding about what consent is and what it isn’t.”

Marshall added that if students experience sexual assault or have a friend who has been sexually assaulted, at any time of the year, including Halloween, they can contact her by either emailing lkmarshall@fanshawec.ca or calling 519-452-4465 or 1-844-666-SVPA (7872) to book an appointment.

“It’s important for students to know that there are supports available for them on campus,” Marshall said.