Open Meetings

With the distribution of the open letter people were invited to an initial open meeting. Everyone was allowed to come and there was no specific agenda; factual questions were answered, issues raised that people found relevant to discuss and next steps were agreed on. Since both the victim and the perpetrator had moved to different cities, our work supporting the victim was limited to what could be called a theoretical role because the need to provide immediate emotional support for the victim was not necessary. Our contribution to their welfare was instead bound up in creating an environment in which they could be satisfied that their story was believed and that the incidences were taken seriously by the community. In order to create this environment, we decided to meet regularly to discuss the history of our student group and how its structures had facilitated sexual violence. And with the continuing relationship to the affected person, many felt like achieving this trust was something worth celebrating.

In efforts to limit the formation of informal hierarchies, the meetings were organised in the following way: A coordination group was set up only to coordinate the email and ensure the bi-monthly meetings were well advertised, agendas were sent out at least 4 days in advance, allowing for any amendments and additions to the existing agenda, and minutes were sent to all on the email list, as well as the victim and her support group straight after the meeting. This group consisted of 5 volunteers and was meant to rotate every six months. An agenda group was formed after each meeting and had the task of meeting up to set agendas and questions for discussions at the next meeting. This rotating agenda group allowed members to autonomously decide what they wanted to discuss. Each meeting also had a wellbeing go-around at the beginning and end of each meeting. It was decided to incorporate discussions around the mental health of the members into the meeting rather than have separate well-being meetings as many saw the separation arbitrary and there were fears that separate wellbeing meetings would not carry as much importance/value to members and reproduce a division of labour in this process.

After initial discussions, we decided to draw up a list of questions which we aimed to tease out factors that contributed to the incident. These meetings went on over the course of around three years with some spells of inactivity and stagnation and were attended by approximately 10-15 people. People often were confused about or disagreed on what we should be doing going forward, how far we should be focusing on perpetrator work and how far the contact group should be feeding back to us, for example. However, many stated that these discussions had made them think about their own behaviour as well as providing a space to share experiences of rape and abuse.