In May 2014 I was thrilled to be accepted into a summer school in Kosovo, a country I had longed to visit and see how it was overcoming the effects of conflict. Unfortunately this experience became overshadowed by two incidents of sexual violence towards participants on the programme.
Half way through the programme it came to my knowledge that one of the female participants had been an alleged victim of sexual assault by a perpetrator who was also a programme worker. Days later a second female participant was an alleged victim of sexual assault as she returned to the programme hotel.
When I asked the programme organiser to have a copy of their health and safety policies and challenged them on the handling of the situations I was accused by them of being hostile and aggressive.
Aside from witnessing the trauma experienced by these two victims what was strikingly shocking to me was the lack of due care and support given to these victims (although the programme organisers may dispute this!).
I subsequently decided to leave the summer school early and on my return home myself and a number of other participants wrote a letter to funders and programme guest speakers advising them of our experience and to make them aware to the fact that the programme did not seem to have any health and safety policies for the protection of its participants.
Today I was shocked and disgusted to have received an email from this very same (so called) organisation advising me of their new 2015 programmes. Going from only running 2 programmes in 2014 to 17 in 2015! I can only pray that they have learnt from their omissions and now have H&S Polices in place and that their staff are skilled and professionally trained on handling potential incidents such as the one that arose during my programme.
So now I write this post because I want to share with others some of the biggest lessons I have learnt from this experience both in terms of selecting exchange learning programme’s and on the issue of sexual violence:
- Always research an organisation offering summer schools abroad, ask them about their organisational code of conduct and health and safety policies before you apply and especially if this is a fee based programme do not give them any money before you have made checks.
- Reach out to former participants and inquire about their experience don’t always rely solely on what the organisation says for-example their social media pages and the organisations website.
- Sexual violence is facilitated through the social attitudes and omissions of both male and female. Therefore the turning of a blind eye to the issue of sexual violence only serves to facilitate its continuation.
- We need to start challenging social views and start better supporting victims of this crime. Please read my blog piece entitled “Sexual Violence the Unconformable Truth” about the issue of sexual violence following this experience.
Please also feel free to send in any questions you may have on this experience.