by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Capitol Hill resident Aten Pharaoh first moved to the neighborhood in 1987. For more than two decades of going to local nightclubs on Capitol Hill he says he's seen a few things. Some of those things he did not like, such as the predators who prey on somebody's weaknesses. The obvious things that many of us have seen but aside from complaining about, haven't bothered to really address the problem or do anything about.
Representing the organization Our Hill, Our Home, which Pharaoh says he created to help educate his community about what's been happening to Capitol Hill as far as crime is concerned. 'I got tired of seeing reports of violence and knew I had to do something to help,' he told Seattle Gay News. 'I created #CONSENT because somebody needed to do something to help the most vulnerable among us.'
Our Hill, Our Home seeks to express a positive message of ownership. 'I refuse to believe we have lost anything and therefore do not need to take anything back,' says Pharaoh. 'Capitol Hill is already ours.'
Through this group the community members who join stay connected, exchange ideas, discover events, and learn what each of them can do to help end intolerance on the Hill. Our Hill, Our Home, cooperates and works with the Seattle Police Department on their efforts to reform as well as anti-crime initiatives they have such as the SPD SAFE PLACE program.
'Our Hill, Our Home continues to extend our hand out to all our many allies who want a safer and diverse community,' said Pharaoh, who thinks that the most vulnerable people in our community could be considered, but is not limited to, people who are out at night without any friends, anyone who is in a nightclub and unknowingly has been drugged, and other similar folks and situations. By his estimation, if we, as a community, look after each other, then the people who prey on the vulnerable won't get the chance to ultimately commit the crimes they resign to commit.
#CONSENT, as in giving consent for sexual activity, is not an anti-drug or alcohol campaign. 'If two consenting adults want to get high and or drunk and have sex nobody should have a problem,' he says with emphasis on the words 'consenting adults.'
But when predators use mind-altering substances to take advantage of others, that's when Pharoah says that he, and he would hope, others take issue. The intentional predator is the worst he says. But Pharaoh says that it is important to educate the public that sometimes this can be done out of ignorance, such as buying someone too many drinks and then thinking that because the liquor may have loosened them up means it is a good idea to take them home.
'How many twenty somethings really know that an intoxicated person cannot actually give consent,' he asks.
Ultimately Pharoah says, 'I want this conversation to protect vulnerable individuals from predators. Predators want the silence, it makes their efforts easier. And I also want to educate those who might otherwise be good people but are simply unaware of what exactly is and is not proper consent.'
The program consists of informative posters that venue owners can post for people to read with factual information such as 'Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault or rape' or 'Consent is voluntary, sober, desired, honest, and mutually agreed on.'
#CONESENT also prints palm cards with the same information printed on them, including the phone number for the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
For years, Aten Pharaoh has been a fixture amongst Seattle's Goth elite. He is widely known in the scene and enjoys a good reputation. Pharaoh works at Spooked in Seattle (www.SpookedinSeattle.com) which helps educate the public about hauntings, and offers its participants the real stories based on research and personal encounters. They provide customers with the chance to join them on ghost tours at various places throughout Seattle, including the Seattle Underground, as well as, give private tours, classes, and more.
Before #CONSENT was launched Pharaoh says he spent hours on end talking with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), The King County Sexual Assault Research Center, sexual assault victims, nightclub managers and security personnel.
'It was important to me not to create a panic,' he says, meaning that although there are incidents of rape and sexual assault on Capitol Hill, #CONSENT in no way means that there is some kind of immediate danger to anyone going out to have a good time more so today than yesterday.
He also told Seattle Gay News that language such as 'most incidents of feeling drugged are actually the result of over consumption' and 'If you feel you've been drugged, please contact a hospital immediately, as your life could be in danger' to get people to think about drinking too much and then not being able to say what, if anything, has happened to you and contradictory to that, that anyone who feels they may have been drugged should not be made to think they should stay silent and not report anything out of fear of being shamed.
'Seeing people go on social media the next day talking about how they were drugged the night before, with no proof, no toxicology report, doesn't actually help anyone,' he said. 'In fact it creates a panic and I would argue it also helps future predators when people claim to have been drugged without presenting any proof because now a predator doesn't have to worry too much about people going to the hospital or others believing their victim(s).'
Pharaoh says he hopes that #CONSENT helps create an environment in every community where predators are the ones who are scared (to act) instead of those they would seek to prey on.
Our Hill, Our Home, which refers to all communities that call Capitol Hill home, felt it was necessary to conduct outreach specifically to the LGBTQ community because through his experience, Pharaoh says that most of the LGBTQ people he knows look at #CONSENT and sexual assault and rape as a straight issues.
'Sexual predators affect both the straight and LGBTQ communities,' he reminds. 'My efforts are meant to open up that conversation and end the silence,' he told SGN. 'So victims don't feel alone and can speak of their experiences.'
Pharaoh says that he has noticed how violence on the Hill is reported by the mainstream media and that although there are many different types of violence, which includes sexual assault and rape, it is not something that is widely addressed. 'I feel that sexual assaults are another example of violence that needs to be addressed though has taken a back seat to other legitimately terrible concerns,' he said.
According to www.areavibes.com, a website that tracks crime statistics in major cities across the country, the overall crime rate on Capitol Hill is 8% higher than the national average and there is an average of 8 crimes that occur a day. The site also says that you have a 1 in 32 chance of becoming a victim of any crime on Capitol Hill. Seattle Police Department's East Precinct reports that so far, in 2016, there has been one reported rape (which occurred in January) of the 16 total citywide. But it is important to keep in mind that sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes in America, with 68% left unreported. According to the RAINN, out of every 100 rapes 32 get reported to police, 7 lead to an arrest, 3 are referred to a prosecutor, 2 lead to a felony conviction, and just 2 rapists will spend a single day in jail. The other 98 walk free.
Pharaoh has seen the impact that these types of crimes can have on the victim. He told SGN that his mother was a victim of sexual abuse from the time she was in second grade until she moved away from home at 18. That coupled with the friends that have come forward over the years to explain their history of trauma due to similar situations, Pharaoh said he began to see that these crimes can negatively impact all communities, everywhere, and therefore warrants at minimum, a discussion about what we can all do to possibly stop these terrible things from happening.
Overall, he says, response to #CONSENT has been great. 'Ever since I began sounding the horn over a year ago this has been a topic of discussion so much greater than it had ever been before,' he says, at least in the circles of people he knows anyway. And that is something and many applaud his efforts to continue. 'I am so thankful that this has been taking place. The Monkey Loft in downtown Seattle and Castle Megastore on Capitol Hill are both early and enthusiastic supporters.'
'The LGBTQ Community has been amazing,' he says. 'I've never had to ask twice of any establishment to put up a poster or allow us to leave information palm cards at their door for people to take with them on their way home.'
So far Pharaoh reports that Neighbours Nightclub, The Wild Rose and recently The Cuff have pledged their support for #CONSENT.
'I am eternally grateful for the support of Social Outreach Seattle,' he said.
Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) is a social justice nonprofit that is working on an information booklet for LGBTQ people that will include things like, what to do if you are the victim of a hate crime, self-defense tips and will also include information about #CONSENT. The booklet will be available in June, which is when crimes against people on Capitol Hill historically begin to rise.
'But I've also had some disappointments,' he said. 'I get the feeling that some people might think that #CONSENT might be bad for business if it is displayed at some nightclubs. Though I might have been turned down by an establishment in the past it is not in me to walk away and I will try again and remain confident that I will win them over.'
The challenge has been, with some venues, is that they think that by having this type of literature around their might be an issue of liability. In other words if they have a poster that explains they don't want people to overdrink because that can lead to putting yourself in a bad situation, because if they do overserve and then something happens to that person later, they feel they might be held responsible. Nightlife can be a strange and bizarre world sometimes. Most people might look at that statement and scoff but whether you agree or not, some venues refuse to have anything to do with the program.
'I continue to meet new supporters all the time and it is my goal to have every establishment on Capitol Hill and throughout our city supporting this,' said Pharaoh. 'We are one big community, we are all one family and we can and must all strengthen our commitment to creating a safe environment for everyone.'
If you want to learn more about the project, you can join the discussion on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/OURHILLOURHOME. And if you'd like to see how you can help, Pharaoh says you can do so by asking your favorite establishment if they support #CONSENT. If they do, he says you should thank them. If they don't, then contact Pharaoh at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for #CONSENT postcards or posters and he will provide them to you free of charge.
#CONSENT has been privately funded by its creator but Pharaoh maintains that he has been approached regarding corporate sponsorship. If that does not work out, he says, if it becomes necessary he will create a gofundme.com campaign in the future to help pay for the cost of printing as the program takes on more establishments.
'Sexual Assault. Rape. These crimes poison our communities,' he concludes. 'There's no reason for this to continue. There's no reason for the silence. There's no reason for predators to feel they can get away with it.'
'And while there are times when an innocent person is accused, perhaps by a jealous former lover or somebody seeking attention for personal gain (which I believe are terrible crimes as well) we must support those who say they have been the victim of violence of any type,' said Pharaoh. 'Anyone willing to lie about being the victim of a sex crime is no better than an actual rapist.'
Pharaoh says that supporting the victim could mean any number of things such as helping them get the evidence to prove their case, getting them to the hospital, helping them seek legal counsel, recommending they talk to the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE (4673); https://ohl.rainn.org/online/) and hopefully finding a road map for them to move forward.
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