Active Consent: The Galway based programme teaching consent through drama

Active Consent began in 2013 with a phone call from Dr Pádraig Mac Neela. A conversation followed between the University of Galway school of psychology lecturer and Dr Charlotte McIvor, a fellow lecturer in the drama department.

From small seeds big trees grow.

Dr Mac Neela had just completed research with the Rape Crisis Network Ireland about young people, consent, and the consumption of alcohol. He needed a way to share the research with a wider scope of people.

“(Dr. Mac Neela) picked up the phone and he called a stranger, and that stranger was me in the drama department. He asked me to collaborate with him on creating a play on the initial research he had completed,” Dr McIvor said.


Drama as a teaching tool

Since that initial call Active Consent have created a play for college students and secondary students about consent. They have completed various pieces of research, as well as developing workshops for young people and educators.

Among their initiatives is an online consent hub, an essential resource for young people, educators and parents.

The Kinds of Sex you Might Have at College is the name of their new play, and their secondary school version is titled How I Learnt About Consent.

“What has been really helpful to our audiences about this resource is that it combines a use of statistics.

“It is developed using data, but it also uses the different language of theatre ranging from comedy to movement to drama to take audiences through many different stories in the space of an hour,” Dr McIvor told Galway Pulse.

What is consent?

Consent can mean a lot of different things, so it is important to have a clear approach when educating people about the topic.

“We feel we need to be keeping in touch with people and giving them information that is clear, memorable and meets people at the level they’re at,” said Dr McIvor.

Active Consent use the OMFG model when explaining consent.

O stands for ongoing, M for mutual, F for freely given and G for great, as when all these things come together it is more likely to lead to positive sexual encounters.

“I think one of the things we talk a lot about in our work is that consent is negotiated both verbally, am I saying yes am I saying no, but it is also communicated non-verbally in whether or not we stop someone in a sexual behaviour.

“We need to be thinking about consent on these two levels and how these two levels are always interacting with each other,” explained Dr McIvor.

Research based approach

“All the time we’re taking what we think will work, asking people who are using if it does work, and then updating it based on new data and reflecting that back to our resources,” said Dr McIvor.

The group have conducted research into young people’s sexual experiences, attitudes towards consent and pornography. Their research has made many interesting discoveries, including into that of social norms and young people’s perception of consent.

“We find repeatedly in our research that there is a social norms gap in terms of how many people think that consent is important versus the number of young people that feel their peers feel the same way,” Dr McIvor said.

Their findings have also reported on gender and consent. The relationship between consent and how the online sphere has impacted this area.

In their two most recent national surveys they have found that, “with sexual harassment and sexual hostility, whether in real life or through electronic means, more than 50 per cent of female students are reporting having experienced that but also 50 per cent of men are reporting having experienced sexual harassment or sexual hostility in real life through electronic means,” Dr McIvor said.


Cultural influence

Working specifically in an Irish context, Active Consent have gained an important insight into the cultural influences that impact consent here.

“The legacy of the Catholic Church and the fact the most of us have been through Catholic education in Ireland, I’ve actually found it to be a way more open society in terms of gauging with these issues because of the fact we’ve gone through such large scale generational change in the last 20-30 years in terms of things like divorce, and abortion, and contraception.

“We’re actually able to have a research based open conversation here in ways I never thought possible to do in the States and I think certainly wouldn’t be possible now,” said Dr McIvor.

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