In Action

Mindful Institutions

Kirsten Heberer

Wherever children and young people are together, violence can be an issue. They may tell of experiencing violence, neglect, or abuse at home, or teachers may suspect it. Psychological violence and bullying among pupils can also be an issue. One of the most massive forms of abuse of power that a school may have to deal with is sexual violence or abuse against pupils by pupils or staff.

The basis for the prevention of sexual violence is sex education. If children grow up in a world where sexuality is not talked about, if they have no words and no persons to whom they can talk about this topic, they cannot report sexual violence.

In the meantime, a lot of preventive work is being done in the member institutions of the German Association of Waldorf Schools. Little by little, Waldorf schools are setting up points of contact and positions of trust, and many school social workers are being employed nationwide so that both pupils and staff and parents have someone to turn to.

The guide for teachers on preventive action to counter sexual violence against children and adolescents (published by Verein Selbstlaut 2014) states: «Effective prevention provides information about the different types of boundary violations and encourages children and adolescents to trust their feelings and seek help. They should know their rights and be informed about physical and sexual self-determination and be empowered in their critical thinking skills.»

Preventive work can be done at all year group levels on the various forms of violence, bullying, cyberbullying and more. In this way, year one pupils can learn the difference between nice and bad secrets in relation to the different feelings (for example, «What colour is anger?»). Year five students receive preventive training on the topic of bullying, deal with perpetrator-victim constellations and develop small role plays. Thus, there are topics in the area of violence prevention for each year group to work on. Adults usually want children to be able to set clear boundaries when it comes to touch. However, this is not easy even for adults. Talking to pupils about pleasant and unpleasant touching and situations in everyday life, and using concrete examples to discuss their own boundaries and work out solutions, can strengthen pupils' ability to recognise sexual assaults better, to put a stop to them or to get help.

Wrongly Suspected

There are also cases in which an accusation of violence can be dispelled beyond a reasonable doubt, or it turns out that it was not the person originally accused but someone else who committed the assault. In such a case, they are entitled to rehabilitation. Anyone aware of the suspicion must be informed that the accusation was false. False accusations usually occur for two reasons: either it is a substitute accusation, for example pupils name other persons as perpetrators because the true story is too difficult, too traumatic, or too hard to speak about. Or other crises and conflicts lie behind it and the accusation was used as a strategy. In both cases, intensive engagement with the affected child helps. It is advisable here to work with a specialised counselling centre that knows about the dynamics of accusations and false accusations.

Intervention – Blaming the Victim: Children and Adolescents Have no Complicity

The basic prerequisite for dealing with trauma that was caused many years ago, is that those affected have the will and the strength to genuinely look at the past with the school or institution. For this sensitive encounter, both sides need to prepare well in order to look reflectively at past situations. A tried and tested methodology is to enter into conversation with the staff and those affected with outside support. For a protective space in a circle, a fishbowl (circular seating arrangement of the group) is a suitable tool. In this way, an extremely stressful time can be looked back on together in a smaller setting. Often the possible perpetrators are no longer in the school or institution and people have to be found who know about these situations and are working with it. Alternatively, they can also be persons from bodies of the institutions and schools. It is about recognising the situations that the people concerned have experienced.

These offers to talk have to be made – for many of those affected this is very important. Regardless of the therapeutic support that the affected persons may need, a request for forgiveness, even after years and decades, is an indispensable, only seemingly small step and can help the affected persons to come to terms with the situation.


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