Mneera’s Action Project sought to explore how we might offer better personalized support to survivors of sexual violence on university campuses so they feel less isolated as they navigate their trauma and healing. This culminated in the It Happens Here Safe Spaces Project –a peer-led community healing project that provided survivors of sexual violence with the space to connect with one another and find community.
Inspiration behind Safe Spaces
The project is inspired by the idea of holistic and community-based healing and carries this out through the peer support model – the value and beauty of peer support is that helping others heal can help heal you too. While existing university and local resources offer important clinical, legal, and administrative support, there is a clear gap in the provision of emotional support that formal institutions cannot provide.
This is a form of support usually found in one’s direct community. “But if the community does not know how to support you – or if you’d like to receive this form of support from those who share your lived experiences – then where do you go?,” Mneera asked. This is where she hoped these safe spaces could come in – in providing survivors with informal and accessible wellbeing activities that can restore the sense of joy sometimes lost after experiences of sexual violence and show survivors that they are not alone.
About the Project
The project takes the form of weekly informal events that range from wellbeing events to social activities to survivor discussion groups. Survivors and allies can sign up to lead their own sessions; and to make sure that they feel supported doing so, session leads also receive training in signposting and trauma-informed care and communication.
The project was modeled in this centralized but non-hierarchical way as to delegate agency to survivors on what it means to build a safe space, and what that space looks like for them, while ensuring the well-being and safety of all participants.
“Recognize the boundaries of what you are capable of doing and try your best to build coalitions with other groups – there is so much strength in solidarity,” Mneera says about the lessons learned from the project implementation. “Know also that radical work will be met with resistance (it would not be radical otherwise!) so do not let that discourage you,” she adds.
Radical work will be met with resistance.
Additionally, for her work on the It Happens Here campaign and for building this project, Mneera was nominated by the Oxford student body for the Welfare Award and chosen by the Student Union as one of five finalists from 250+ nominations.
Read about the Project in this Oxford Blue article.
Project Development and Next Steps
The first step was to find a partner organization. To implement the project, Mneera successfully ran for the position of Welfare Officer at It Happens Here, which is a student campaign against sexual violence at the University of Oxford. In this role, she first put out a survey to survivors on campus to gauge interest in the project and hear directly from them on what they wanted this initiative to look like.
She then connected with several trauma-informed therapists and practitioners to help develop the project (shoutout to Irene Riad for her consistent support and kindness!). An especially moving opportunity was attending the Shameless! Festival of Activism Against Sexual Violence in London, which brought together activists, academics, psychotherapists, and artists from around the country to celebrate one another and re-imagine a world without sexual violence.
Mneera also met regularly with relevant organizations and parties in the city and the University to design the training program for session leads. Through It Happens Here, she was then able to secure the funding necessary for the training sessions and project costs.
The project will continue as an It Happens Here initiative.
Updated August 2022