This performer is using circus tricks to teach children about boundaries and consent
A Tasmanian performer teaches students about consent, drawing on circus tricks
Posted April 12, 2020 08:02:10
Tasmanian circus performer Adie Delaney has spent a decade hula hooping and roller skating her way across the globe — from outback Australia to India and Europe.
- A Tasmanian circus performer is calling for a "complete overhaul" of how we think about consent in order to prevent sexual violence
- The messages some school students receive about consent are "outdated", leaving students "confused"
- Tasmania’s sexual assault support service has reported a 54-per-cent spike in referrals over five years from people seeking support following sexual violence
After running away to join the circus at the age of 21, the aerialist and trapeze artist has returned home to Hobart on a mission.
She’s determined to use the art form to redefine the conversation around bodies, boundaries and consent.
After retiring from touring, Delaney opened a circus school in Kingston and took up a role as a primary prevention educator, teaching school students the importance of consent.
It was then that it dawned on her that her two passions — circus and consent — were inextricably linked.
"Teaching circus, I realised we already have this amazing platform where we’re already talking about bodies, movement and touch, so I just found I was framing conversations differently," she said.
"I realised what I was teaching in theory, I had the opportunity to do in practice," she said.
The performance art involves a lot of danger and hands-on contact, meaning trust and open communication are crucial to avoiding injuries or falling from heights.
"Instead of saying [to circus students] ‘put your legs here and I’ll help you up there’, I was saying something like, ‘how do you feel about putting your legs there and is it OK if I help you while you get up there?’."
‘Consent is a life skill’
The benefits of the art form are not lost on Bendigo woman Lisa Honeychurch who said Delaney’s "incredibly empowering" circus classes had made her more in tune with her body and "a far better communicator".
She said circus put the concept and conversation of consent into action.
"Say someone’s spotting you on a trapeze or you’re doing a manoeuvre with someone else, you need to trust that other person and you need to build that trust in a really clear and connected way. If you don’t then it doesn’t work," she said.
"Circus is really good at practically stepping through those things by saying, ‘are you OK with that?’, and being upfront about it.
"Consent is a life skill, just like doing your washing or doing the dishes, and circus teaches it really naturally."
Students ‘confused’ by ‘outdated’ education around consent
Delaney teaches a primary prevention program that explores consent in four Tasmanian schools each year to students, teachers and parents.
The program, run by Tasmania’s Sexual Assault Support Service (SASS), is in high demand across the state as students and teachers are "clamouring for this kind of education".
Outside of those four schools, education on the topic is predominantly left to sports teachers and parents.
"Some of [the messages about consent] are really outdated and most [students] are very confused about what the law says," she said.
"We really need to get away from this oversimplified ‘no means no’ message. More accurate is ‘only yes means yes’.
"What we see missing in schools is missing in our culture and it’s a big systemic change that needs to happen."
An ‘overhaul of understanding’ needed
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one-in-five Australian women reported experiencing sexual violence from the age of 15.
Delaney said the high rates of sexual harm were a result of our cultural and societal inability to have open and honest conversations about our bodies.
She said to combat sexual abuse, we needed to normalise discussions about consent from an earlier age and have "a complete overhaul of understanding" of the topic.
"Communication is our biggest, most powerful weapon in the fight against sexual harm," she said.
It comes as SASS reported a 54-per-cent increase in referrals over the past five years of people seeking help after experiencing sexual violence.
"We don’t know what this year’s going to tell us but up until the pandemic it looked like we were going to continue on that trajectory," CEO Jill Maxwell said.
"People are understanding there’s help out there for them after a sexual trauma. The very fact that they’re seeking out support is a good thing."
She said the trial of convicted rapist and disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the subsequent Me Too movement had "a big effect", sparking a growth in website hits and referrals to their service.
April represents Sexual Assault Awareness month — a prevention campaign that is the first of its kind in Tasmania, which aims to eradicate sexual violence.
"If we normalise consent and practice it, we will eliminate sexual violence," Ms Maxwell said.
Practicing consent from an early age
The organisation called on all adults to role model consent with their children from an early age.
"It could be as simple as, ‘can I give you a hug?’ No? OK’," Ms Maxwell said.
"Respect people’s answers, don’t expect an answer that you want, respect the answer that’s been given to you.
"And challenge demeaning jokes, don’t let them go past without saying something, but above all just treat others with respect."
In a statement, the Department of Education said sexual health and healthy relationships were built into the Australian curriculum and helped students develop positive practices.
"From Years 3 to 10 they learn to establish and manage changing relationships, develop strategies for dealing with an imbalance of power if it exists in a relationship, and consent is a key concept in this work," it said.
The department said teachers were supported in their work "by a wide range of evidence-based programs, resources and external providers" such as SASS, as well as by primary and secondary school health nurses.
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April 12, 2020 at 08:38AM