berthevansoest (berthevansoest) wrote,
berthevansoest
berthevansoest

Five Points for a Safe Group

Content waarschuwing: seksueel geweld
CW: Sexual assault/violence

This blog is an adaptation of a piece I wrote for the circle Regenerative Culture in Extinction Rebellion, when we were were confronted with a case of sexual harrasment for the first time. The five point for a safe group (or movement) are:

1. Create an inviting environment for people to come forward
2. Take the experience of the victim seriously, and put that before everything, thus not the interests of the group
3. Know and be clear about the boundaries of what you can offer as person or group / movement
4. Know the interests, powers and mechanisms that occur in groups around this subject
5. Connect objectifiable consequences to your attitude, more than beautiful words

The five points were mentioned by victims of sexual abuse in a survey of "Safe Church" in the Protestant Church.


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1. Create an inviting environment for people to come forward

An inviting environment is a environment in which people feel invited to tell that they feel unsafe and/or are victims of sexual violence or intimidation.

Challenges
To create an inviting environment it is important to be aware of values an the culture of the group, which make it hard to come forward, and what to do about it. I name some points here, but each context has its own challenges.
- There is power, but you do not know where, and you do not know who they are, and what they will do if you come forward as a victim.
- An atmosphere of constant high tension and stress in which there is no place for personal experiences.
- High morals: ‘this cannot be happening here’. ‘I defile or betray the group with my experience’.
- A culture of nagging (due to the high standards) results in fear.
- A culture of: ‘be brave, don’t whine’ in which feelings are not important.
- A culture where there is only attention for the goal of the group and not for interpersonal relations.


2. Take the experience of the victim seriously, and put that before everything, thus not the interests of the group, or the assaulter

Follow always the lead of the person whom the assault happened to. Things can be more complicated for them than you are aware off.

When you talk to a victim, you give them all your attention: ask them how they feel, what happened, what they need.
You believe her/him/they unconditionally. You do not in any way question their experience.

Pitfalls
Often the experiences of victims are trivialised: “It is not as bad as you say”. “Maybe you have misunderstood.”
Or they are not believed: “We need to hear the other side too.” (there are almost never witnesses)
Or group members put it on the victim to deal with it: ‘adjust’, ‘be strong’, ‘we are around you’.

Some reasons for these pitfalls
No one wants this to happen in their group. It hurts too much. Members of the group often cannot believe that such a thing happens in their group, for instance because of the high moral standarts. An organisation or group can be compared to a body. When sexual abuse happens the body feels not ‘whole’ anymore. It is in the interest of the group to keep it ‘whole’ and seemingly ‘safe’ and thus to ignore sexual violence, make it go away, as quickly as possible, even ridicule and blame the victim (strange and cruel as it is).


3. Know and be clear about the boundaries of what you can offer as person or group / movement

Sometimes the trauma of the victim is so severe you cannot help. Be clear about that. But this is not all. When she/they/he has other help, keep contact. This is very important. Victims feel abandoned, if you end the connection.


4. Know the interests, powers and mechanisms that occur in groups around this subject

Mechanism: Not acknowledging there is power inequality involved between aggressor and victim. Or even, not seeing sexual violence as an act of aggression and violation. “Just two people who need to talk and make up”.

Fear: Being afraid of taking responsibility to really do something about the abuse, for example, proposing to throw the offender out. One reason not to speak up as a group member is fear of what will happen to yourself when you take action. What will the powers that be do to you? Seeking support before taking action is a sign of not daring to take responsibility.

Interests: feeling that the goal, the cause, or the ‘wholeness of the group’ is more important than the needs and the wounds of the victim.

Mechanism: The following is very painful, but happens. People sometimes do not speak anymore to the person to whom the assault has happened. She/he/they get isolated.

Mechanism/interests: When the victim comes forward, wanting to exclude her/he/them, trivialize them/he/she, because the group is more important than the hurt of one person, often someone already in a minority position.

Mechanism: coming from a big heart, wanting to do the ‘good’ thing: “We do not exclude people from our group, exclusion is a bad thing. We are inclusive.'' Not knowing or realizing that this hurts the victim, that he/she/it carries the burden of feeling unsafe and vulnerable in the group, and maybe will leave.

Mechanism: trivialising, not believing the victim, wanting to hear the 'other side’, or every detail, what has happened.


5. Connect objectifiable consequences to your attitude, more than beautiful words

Make it known what will happen to the agressor in case there is sexual abuse and what the help will be for victims.
If the group rule is: ‘zero tolerance’, then follow up with deeds.
Have a 'vertrouwenspersoon' and make that known.
Tags: seksueel misbruik, sexual abuse
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