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Yes to consent, no to sexual violence: this is OBOV mission

Published Sun Apr 19 2020

At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, a lockdown seemed extreme. Yet, over 100 countries implemented either a full or partial lockdown by the end of March. With the quarantine lasting weeks, people all over the world are forced to cope with a disruptive shift in their lifestyle. Working from home, the lack of social interaction, and the distressing uncertainty about the future. Besides these consequences, cases of domestic violence have surged. This makes organizations like OBOV extremely important, but how are they adapting to this crisis? Our Bodies Our Voice” (OBOV) raises awareness about sexual violence and transforming the consent culture within universities. Now that the coronavirus pandemic has reached the Netherlands, universities all over the entire country are closed. Yet, the hardworking members of this OBOV are as active as ever, shifting their activities online. Before the coronavirus, the organization provided workshops and trainings to students, staff and student associations. It also offered policy advise to the universities to create a safer environment for students and the staff. “For many students, university is the first time to freely explore their identity, intimacy and a ‘post-high-school’ party culture”, so the focus on raising awareness about sexual violence and consent is crucial for students. Julia Nowicka, the external coordinator at OBOV UvA Student Board points out that young women aged 12-24 are the most exposed to the risk of sexual violence. In Amsterdam, approximately 8 out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 34 have experienced sexual harassment in the streets, according to the city’s research bureau. Although females comprise a large number of victims, men and marginalized groups also experience sexual violence. Gabriella Thompson, the representative of the Board of Directors claims that creating safe spaces where students can talk about their boundaries, practice compassion and reflection is essential to changing harmful and dismissive behavior. OBOV breaks the stigma around sexual violence, encouraging students to get involved and be aware about the forms in which they can help, and where to seek support if needed. With the current crisis, individuals are more vulnerable to domestic abuse during lockdown. The student board of OBOV plays a fundamental role in dragging attention to this increased vulnerability through social media. This has become the main form of communication of the organization, which keeps in contact through videocalls on Zoom and is working hard to launch virtual events for the foreseeable future. Social media helps OBOV keep the students engaged and aware about help-seeking options in Amsterdam regarding sexual abuse. Throughout this crisis, OBOV together with Safo Space continues to support survivors through an online non-therapeutic support group for victims of sexual violence named CARE. “Our first and foremost goal with CARE is to offer survivors of sexual violence support, a space to feel safe, and a community”. The support group is strict about confidentiality. Its rules are co-created by its participants to ensure that everyone has a voice on how to build a safe space for them. The focus is on validating and empowering victims, by establishing horizontal relationships. That means that the organizers do not impose their opinions or authority and instead share roles and responsibilities with group members. Participants also have the possibility of reaching out for individual support. In CARE validation, autonomy and self-determination are valued. In these hard times, OBOV in collaboration with Safo Space will continue the online group sessions to maintain consistency and support throughout self-isolation. It is a safe space where victims can share their struggles, stories and feel safe – a vital resource amidst the pandemic.

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