Consent is everything: that’s the message being spread at the Dawson City Music Festival and other events this summer by women’s groups as part of a campaign against sexual violence.
Sexual assault rates in the Yukon are four times higher than the Canadian average, so it’s important to mobilize men and boys, says campaign coordinator Alexandra Mauger.
“We believe that the majority of men are not abusers, and that they’re allies to our cause,” she said.
The campaign also encourages bystanders to intervene if they see something that’s not right, Mauger said.
That could mean stepping in if you see someone taking advantage of an extremely intoxicated person – who, by law, can’t consent. You should intervene whether or not you are friends with either person, said Mauger.
On top of setting up an information booth at festivals, consent crew volunteers will also engage people through games and discussions.
The booth will have its own button-making machine, so people print their own slogans. “The idea is to bring about a conversation about consent,” said Mauger.
The consent crew started in 2011 in the Yukon when a staff member from Les EssentiElles had leftover stickers from another event about sexual assault prevention and started handing them out at the Dawson City Music Festival.
“People really liked them and we thought, ‘how do we capture this audience in a place where there is a lot of alcohol and people?’” said Hillary Aitken, program coordinator at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.
She points out that while only a small number of sexual assaults are reported after the festival each year, the actual number is likely higher, as it’s estimated that only one in 10 sexual assaults is reported.
Consent crews have been to several major events in the territory, including the Teslin Hand Games that happened mid-July.
Most people have been receptive, Mauger said. The message is aimed at everyone, she said, adding they also talk to parents about how to teach consent to their children.
“They don’t always know how to tackle the question without talking about sex,” she said.
For younger children, consent is about emphasizing empathy and respect of others when playing.
“Encourage children to read facial expressions and other body language: Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more,” reads a pamphlet that volunteers are handing out.
“It’s about planting the seed for those concepts in kids’ minds,” Aitken said.
While there have been cases in recent years of women having their drinks drugged at music festivals, it’s important to remember alcohol is the most commonly used rape drug, said Aitken.
Consent can’t be obtained when a person is intoxicated, she added.
The consent crews have heard they’re having an impact. “We’ve heard anecdotally from the Dawson women’s shelter that it made a difference,” said Aitken.
In the Yukon, as across Canada, First Nation women are more likely to experience violence. And in the overwhelming majority of cases, the aggressor is known to the victim. “It isn’t about a stranger jumping out of an alley,” she said.
Since the consent crews have been established, the Yukon chapter of White Ribbon, a volunteer-run association urging men to do their part to end violence against women, started.
White Ribbon was born after the 1989 Montreal massacre, when Marc Lepine killed 14 women, claiming he was “fighting feminism.”
“Men have a unique opportunity to speak to their peers and call out inappropriate behaviour,” Aitken said, calling White Ribbon a “major partner.”
“It’s been heartwarming to see men coming to our events and speaking out about these things,” she said.
The consent crews will also be at the Paradise Electronic Music Festival in late August and at Yukon College orientations.
The teams will also be handing out condoms to show the sex-positive approach they’re taking.
The consent crews are not there to condemn or put pressure on people, Mauger said.
“What we promote is healthy and consensual relations,” she said.
“We wish people to have a fulfilling sexual life,” she said. “Live your life, but do it in the respect of each other.”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at