International youth work takes place in a wide variety of settings and involves very different organisational structures and cultures. And so the range of approaches and measures to prevent and protect against sexual violence is just as broad. In some international youth work organisations, the subject is already a fixed part of basic and continued training courses for full-time and volunteer staff. Others have drawn up practical manuals, concepts or guidelines. Either way, the topic is so significant that IJAB decided to organise an online conference in cooperation with German Sports Youth, the Federal Association of Cultural Youth Education (BKJ) and JUGEND für Europa.
A starting point
The 75-strong audience was highly diverse, comprising representatives of youth welfare offices and youth councils, youth and sports assocations, school exchange provides and volunteering organisations. The organisers of the IJAB conference – Christoph Bruners, Kerstin Giebel and Ulrike Werner – were delighted at the strong response to the subject matter. In her opening statement, Giebel pointed out that the event fit in with the current debates around, e.g., endangerment of child welfare. The participants’ expectations varied widely, stretching from knowledge and insights to networking, awareness-raising and dialogue, to name but a few.
In his welcoming address, Rolf Witte (BKJ/IJAB Chairman) emphasised how important it was to switch perspectives when considering this subject in the context of international exchanges. In particular, he pointed out the important role of the partner organisations. To kick off the discussion, he put forward a number of questions such as
How can I ensure that nothing untoward happens during my exchange?
How do we recognise that someone is threatened by sexual violence?
Has my foreign partner organisation considered this matter?
What can a centralised body do to encourage organisations to draw up protection concepts?
Research on implementing protection concepts
The presentation by Selina Kappler from the German Youth Institute (DJI) summarised the main results of the DJI research project entitled Monitoring the Status of Prevention Activities Concerning Sexual Violence against Children and Adolescents in Germany. Amongst other things, she spoke about what should go into a protection concept and made specific reference to the child and youth services field. The main aspects that should be considered are self-organisation, the legal framework, volunteering, and participants, she explained. However, the concepts ought to differentiate by frequency, structure, type of format and research on the subject.
For protection concepts to function effectively in international exchanges, too, researchers believe that organisations that already have experience in this area should share their knowledge in confidence with other organisations. Kappler also pointed to the role of umbrella associations and their structures in promoting a dialogue.
Examples of good practicee
The discussion then moved on from child and youth work in general to international youth work in particular. Dr Uta Wildfeuer presented the protection concept implemented by AJA, an association of non-profit volunteering organisations, for its school exchange programmes in over 50 countries. In 2006 AJA set up a network to prevent sexual violence. AJA seeks to protect all participants and make all parties aware that cultural differences call for different approaches. AJA has also developed a dedicated tool for evaluating the effectiveness of sexual violence prevention approaches. The subject of protection concepts is ever evolving, stated Dr Wildfeuer, and needs to be revisited on a continuous basis.
German Sports Youth (dsj), part of the German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB), has been active in the prevention of sexual violence for a number of years. Lisa Salditt and Ferdinand Rissom outlined the blueprint protection concept for international youth exchanges in the sports field that dsj has developed for use by its members. Salditt underlined the importance of having a set of guidelines on this subject and pointed out how important it was for an organisation to develop a position on the matter. The dsj’s materials can be adapted for use by other organisations.
After these hands-on examples had been presented, participants entered into a lively discussion on how to implement such a concept. In particular, there was a consensus that it was important to “make the issue an issue”.
Conclusions: Maintain a level playing field, train experts
Participants then joined workshops to debate a variety of issues such as
the specific requirements of different international youth work formats,
the role of foreign partners and the environment in which they operate,
consideration of different target groups when developing and implementing protection concepts, and
training and coaching opportunities.
The participants emphasised the key role of maintaining a level playing field between partners when talking about sexualised violence. As it is often still a taboo subject, they said, it is crucial to show sensitivity when dealing with the matter, also when broaching it with partners. Besides children and adolescents, parents, host families, counsellors and experts, further relevant target groups were identified such as representatives of volunteering organisations, staff at volunteers’ places of assignment and supervisors on the ground. As for training concepts with an international scope, the workshop participants agreed that while work on this has only just begun, the demand for it is there and more practical ideas are needed. There is no lack of training approaches, they concluded, but deciding what approach is best in which situation should be done on a case-by-base basis.
In a fifth workshop, representatives of the University of Kassel and International Youth Services (ijgd) presented the first interim results (PDF: 2.4 MB) of a research project on the opinions of young people concerning sexuality, violence and protection standards in child and youth work, with special reference to the implications for international youth work.
To close out the event, Rolf Witte thanked all participants for their valuable input – on the hottest day of the year so far – and briefly summarised his impression of the meeting. He pointed out that IJAB’s Management Board would be meeting to discuss how to take the work on this subject further, using the mindmap that will be drawn up during the follow-up to the conference as a basis. Among the main points to consider, he said, was the involvement of international partners and related issues such as training for experts and improving the dialogue with partners at a structural level. As he emphasised, “making the issue an issue” is a permanent task!
A documentation pack will be created after the conference. The Padlet on existing guidelines, protection concepts and handbooks on preventing sexual violence that was put together in advance of and used during the conference is available for use by an expert audience. All organisations are invited to contribute their own input to the online tool or to make use of the current content in order to drive ahead with the issue within their own organisations.