May I Kiss You?

Post by Hannah Barath, Access & Diversity Co-op Student Assistant

It’s strange to be in Totem Park Ballroom for the first time in over two years. The reason I’m back is to see a presentation called “Can I Kiss You?” byMike Dormitz. Travelling all across North America, he has done this presentation for audiences in middle schools to universities, and even in the US Military. The overarching theme of this presentation is consent, which is discussed alongside bystander intervention techniques, sexual assault awareness and personal responsibility.

The presentation starts by exploring why it is important that consent, which is the voluntary and enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity of any kind, is verbal. As Dormitz says, in intimate (and other) situations we often rely on body language and other nonverbal cues to be trustworthy indicators of what other people are thinking. Although this mode of communication is one that we use a lot, it is also very often misinterpreted. Any sexual activity, from kissing to intercourse and everything in between, that is not consented between partners classifies as sexual assault. Since body language is so often misinterpreted, communicating verbally is the best way to ensure that consent is present.

Throughout the “Can I Kiss You?” presentation it was emphasized that people of any gender and sexual orientation can be sexually assaulted. Although it could happen to anyone, I think it is important to recognize that the vast majority of people who experience sexualized violence are women and LGBTTQI folks. In a society where shaming, victim-blaming and silencing are common responses to survivors of sexual assault, it is great to see that the focus of this presentation is on the responsibility and accountability of perpetrators and bystanders is emphasized and addressed. By using humor to dismantle ingrained notions of why we rarely get consent verbally, or intervene in situations where we see someone being “taken advantage of,” everyone in the room realized that we have been socialized to not react in these particular situations. As Domitz explores, it is always the responsibility of the person initiating intimacy or any sexual activity to check that consent is present. By practicing consent in our everyday life, and intervening if we see a nonconsensual sexual situation, we can impact both individual lives and the culture around these issues.

Although people who are intoxicated or otherwise unable to make informed decisions cannot give consent, it is common to see people “hooking up” at parties. If someone who is less or not at all influenced takes advantage of the fact that another person’s judgment is clouded, they are sexually assaulting that person. This is a fairly common scenario, and it can be difficult to know how to intervene or realizing that we have a responsibility to do so. In response to this Dormitz shared some concrete steps and actions to use when intervening, the first being to identify the situation. Once you’ve done this, check in on the person, by yourself or with a group of friends. When intervening, stay calm and focus on preventing a potential sexual assault in a manner that is safe for everyone involved. By giving people clear guidelines on what to do it becomes easier as a bystander to recognize and do something next time one sees a similar situation.

Mike Dormitz’s “Can I Kiss You?” is an engaging and informative presentation that opens up really important conversations around consent, sexual assault, and personal responsibility. Hopefully it will spur more individuals to think more about what they can do to reduce sexualized violence and learn more about consent, and that those in attendance will pass on what they learnt to their peers. If you missed out on this event you can get Dormitz’s book “May I Kiss You?” There are also many local resources, you can attend a Really? workshop or find lots of resources for survivors, those supporting a survivor or those who are just interested in learning more at the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre.

2 thoughts on “May I Kiss You?

  1. *Trigger warning, discussion of sexual assault statistics*

    “Although it could happen to anyone, I think it is important to recognize that the vast majority of people who experience sexualized violence are women and LGBTTQI folks. In a society where shaming, victim-blaming and silencing are common responses to survivors of sexual assault, it is great to see that the focus of this presentation is on the responsibility and accountability of perpetrators and bystanders is emphasized and addressed.”

    It feels as though the later of the actions outline in the second sentence are being done in the first sentence; as far as male victims go for a few reasons. According to Stats Canada(link provided below), 81% of all sell-reported sexual assaults incidents took the form of ‘level 1’ which indicates unwanted sexual touching or ‘groping’ in laymen terms. Police data shows 84%(very similar to self reported data’s 81%) are of this type of ‘groping’ violence.

    While it is ONLY my personal view and I wish to emphatically emphasis it’s my personal view only, as a male, I feel press from cultural norms of masculinity to not report if a girl is touching me inappropriately for fear of reprisal from both my male peers. I would forsee such reprisal as statements like, “(What are you, gay?’)”, “That’s so weak dude. If a girl is touching you, just put up with it. Don’t whine or complain. It happens.”, or shunning for not wanting, accepting or actively seeking female attention. Of course, there becomes the question of whether I would be believed male who says he’s been raped in the form due to generalizations about male sexual desire or expression of desire.

    Therefore, I don’t mean to ‘mansplain’, but wonder if we encourage women more to report groping and minor sexual fractions more than men are encouraged to do so whom may only report more serious sexual attacks. The rates of serious sexual assault may be closer to parity. 16%, according to Canadian Police data of women’s reported sexual assault, is of the more serious ‘sexual attacks’.

    I’m attempting to use Stat Canada’s wording here and hope no term I have used is vulgar or offensive. Men only report sexual assaults 1/5th as much as women. I wonder, what percentage of the male sexual assaults are of the groping nature and which are of the ‘more serious sexual attack’ nature? The level 3 sexual assault ratio, for example, is much more favorable in terms of men. Is this because men are much more likely to report a level 3(1:4 ratio) and have less willingness to report groping(1:6) or an actual reflection in the number of incidents?

    I wish I could find some statistics or studies done with regards to under reporting of male sexual assault. I was able to find via google and journal article searching, information on the under reporting of female sexual assault. It seems as though this topic of study has not been researched very thoroughly on male victims of sexual assault.

    Just my opinion, wondering and pondering.


    • Dear Wes,
      Thank you for your comments. I’d like to draw out a couple of themes from post to address here.

      The first salient concern I hear you rising is that men might under report their experiences of sexual assault. One of the factors behind this under reporting might be because they feel pressure from cultural norms of what it means to be a man in Canadian/North American society. I think your point holds some real validity. I’d like to draw your attention to the work of Dr. Jackson Katz. While his focus is on working with men to end violence against women he does address some of the concerns you’ve raised in his work. For example, his educational video “Tough Guise” addressed what it means for men to be a part of “male culture” in North America. In this work, he talks about the emotional costs of taking on the “tough guise” and how this turn towards being tough risks the emotional lives of the men who engage with this behaviour. I would like to encourage you to do some more explorations here.

      Secondly, I find your argument around the lack of statistics on sexual assault and male survivors to be particularly interesting. In fact, I would expand that to say that we could do much better at collecting data on the experiences of sexual assault on men, women and transgendered/transsexual individuals. I did a little digging to see what I could find when it came to the experiences of male survivors of sexual assault and found this report from the Department of Justice Canada titled “Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Assault: Their Experience“. The statistics listed in this research study mirrors many of the current statistical findings in Canada. What your concern has raised is an interesting question. Might you be looking for a research project?

      A third piece I wanted to address, though it didn’t come up in your post was a piece that responds to the fact that men do experience sexual assault and do need to have access to supports and services. At UBC any person, regardless of their gender/gender identity, can access support services through UBC’s Counselling Services and the AMS Sexual Assault Support Services.

      Thanks for engaging in this conversation.

      CJ Rowe
      Diversity Advisor, Women
      Access & Diversity

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