• Creating a safe space: ideas for the development of participatory group work to address sexual violence with young people

      Warrington, Camille; Our Voices Too; University of Bedfordshire (University of Bedfordshire, 2020-05-31)
      Working in groups challenges the individualisation of problems and solutions. It ensures ‘public’ issues rooted in structural injustice and oppression are not solely considered as personal or solely private problems. In the context of sexual violence group work may have an important role for challenging individual narratives that foster self-blame and shame. Group work also has a role in approaches which seek to empower individuals – enabling collective action to create change and challenge injustice. Participatory practice, community development and rights based approaches often work with and through groups, seeking to shift relationships of power and enabling participants to take on leadership roles. Group work and peer support are also well recognised components of trauma informed practice with adults – responding to the recognised benefits of those affected by trauma of connecting with others impacted by similar experiences (SAMSHA, 2014). However, to our knowledge, it is less well developed practice with children and young people affected by trauma – particularly in the context of sexual violence (Brodie, 2017). There are good reasons for this – mostly rooted in concerns about exposing young people to additional risks through contact with other potentially traumatised young people. However it is our experience at the International Centre that there are ways of working in groups with young people affected by sexual violence that can be both safe and beneficial if appropriately planned and supported. For the last decade aspects of the International Centre’s research addressing sexual violence towards children have explored the role of group work with young people in participatory research practice and through learning about the contribution of group work in therapeutic or support work. This work has included both UK based projects (including ‘Be Healthy’; ‘One of the Gang’; ‘Making Justice Work’; ‘Learning from the Experts’ and the Young Researchers Advisory Panel) and a number of pieces of work with young people across Europe and beyond (including ‘Our Voices Too’, SVRI conference 2017, ‘LEAP’, ‘Our Voices’, ‘CATS conference 2013/14, Eurochild Conference). 1 For details of these projects see reference list 2 As above As part of the Our Voices Too project (funded by the Oak Foundation) we worked with three partners to develop group work based advocacy projects with young people affected by sexual violence. Our partners were: Different & Equal in Albania; the National Center for Child Abuse Prevention (NCCAP) in Moldova and ATINA in Serbia . At the outset each partner had different levels of experience and confidence working in groups. As part of this project we were asked to support the partners by developing a four part toolkit for the group work4 . Given that many barriers to group work in this field centre around ‘risk and vulnerability’ of participants, the first part of the toolkit was about ‘creating safe spaces’. This focuses on supporting facilitators and participants to think about how they could undertake participatory group work addressing sexual violence safely. The document that follows is part one of the toolkit and it builds on work from the earlier LEAP project (Billinghurst, 2016) – part of the Our Voices programme of work. This attempts to capture our own, and partners, learning about promoting safety and managing risk when undertaking group work in this field. We consider it a working document and recognise that it will benefit from revision and refinement in the future. However, we are sharing this resource to both document elements of the Our Voices Too project and to support wider learning and feedback on this topic.