A Safe Space for Everyone

“The Safe Person Committee will aim to create a safe space for participants and combat sexual harassment, through the use of education, awareness, and maintaining a pool of Safe Persons to send to events.” One year has passed since the S.M.A.S.H project was founded by members with the aid of the Council of Europe. Now time is up for AEGEE to get in charge of the project and help combat sexual harassment! Enter The Safe Person Committee! 

The Safe Person Project or S.M.A.S.H (Structural Measures Against Sexual Harassment) started this past 2019. For the readers who may have never heard about it or are not really sure what it is about, how would you describe it?

The Safe Person Project started from an initiative to combat sexual harassment in AEGEE, while the S.M.A.S.H. project was an inter-organizational project funded by the European Youth Foundation. The aim of S.M.A.S.H. was to create a system to prevent and tackle the problem of sexual harassment in (youth) organisations, using AEGEE as a pilot but ensuring the replicability, scalability and dissemination to other organisations. So, the Safe Person Project was the initial internal project aimed at tackling sexual harassment in AEGEE. S.M.A.S.H. was about developing a system for (youth) organisations to implement. 

The Safe Person Committee will aim to create a safe space for participants and combat sexual harassment, through the use of education, awareness, and maintaining a pool of Safe Persons to send to events. We are now using the knowledge we gained and implementing the system developed during S.M.A.S.H. in AEGEE. 

You mentioned a Pool of Safe Persons, what is it? 

The Safe Person Pool is the group of volunteers that are trained on how to act as Safe Persons during events in AEGEE. This means they have been educated on sexual harassment in all its forms, know how to prevent, detect and react to sexual harassment, as well as how to respond in a supportive and safe manner to victims. The Pool of Safe Persons is not actually a part of the committee per see, rather the Safe Person Committee is responsible for the management of the Pool of Safe Persons, including recruitment and training.

The Safe Person Committee of AEGEE-Europe (SPC) just got ratified last Agora, meaning that it has practically started and has just one member -which is you [Diederik de Wit], the CD Responsible. We suppose that is meant to change. What would a “finished version” of the Committee be like?

Yes, that should absolutely change, so we are hoping for a lot of applications in the Open Call. For anyone reading this, the extended Open Call is still out and the deadline is the 9th of September at 23:59 CEST. The Safe Person Committee (SPC) should consist of up to 5 members, an appointed CD member, and an appointed MedCom member. 

For the first generation of members for the SPC the decision will be made by the CD, since there are no existing members to work with. In the future, an Open Call will be issued upon internal need by the Speaker Team (consisting of a Speaker, a Vice-Speaker, and the appointed CD-member). The Speaker Team will evaluate the applications and send their decision to the CD for approval. 

Which would be the functions of this Committee once it is elected?

The SPC will have a number of goals, all of which have as aim to bringing Safe Persons to the network and thereby tackling sexual harassment in all its forms. Safe Persons are people trained in sexual harassment prevention and victim response, but the SPC will be responsible for bringing these people and this knowledge to AEGEE. It is a small, but vital difference! 

To sum up their goals a bit less abstract; They are responsible for sending Safe Persons to events whenever that is possible and wanted, providing the network with the knowledge on how to prevent sexual harassment, managing the Pool of Safe Persons, and training new Safe Persons. 

With the S.M.A.S.H Project, AEGEE aims to “create a sustainable system to prevent and tackle the problem of sexual harassment in (youth) organisations, as well as other events and activities involving youth”. That is an incredibly ambitious goal, which would need incredibly ambitious people to carry it out. How would you describe that people aka an ideal member of the Committee?

That is indeed a very ambitious goal, and the S.M.A.S.H. Project taught us a lot on how we can and should approach this. The SPC will be responsible for implementing what we, and other (youth) organisations, learned from the S.M.A.S.H. Project. So, one advantage for the SPC, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel and they can use all the knowledge we gained over the last few years.

One requirement for members of the SPC is that they have attended an official AEGEE Safe Person Training, as the knowledge is essential to have for the task. Other than this, I believe that motivation, a strong sense of empathy, and willingness to engage in a sensitive topic, would be very useful. 

Let’s aim high… what would be the ultimate goal you envision for this Committee?

The ultimate goal would be that we no longer need to have a seperate body to have people informed about sexual harassment, because the knowledge about sexual harassment and the task of the Safe Persons has become part of the culture of AEGEE. 

But, before we would be able to reach that ideal situation, there are a few goals which would be amazing to reach: 

We would like to have a sufficient amount of Safe Persons to send out to (at least) every statutory event. We would like to have a sustainable Pool of Safe Persons, where outgoing generations are replaced by incoming generations and experience is passed down to new members. Next, we would like to be able to send out Safe Persons to other events, such as SU’s and local events. Finally, have a way of being able to offer a (partial) reimbursement to the Safe Persons who go out to events on behalf of the SPC. 

How do you think the COVID-19 situation would affect the actions of the Committee? Is it possible for the Safe Person Committee to suffer in any way?

There is a positive side, a negative side, and a hopeful thought to this question. Let’s start with the positive.

There is a bit more time and resources to dedicate on the development of the committee and the Pool of Safe Persons instead of going to international events and responding to cases. Besides that, awareness needs to be spread throughout the network, and future generations of Safe Persons need to be trained. 

On the other hand, the global situation, the pandemic, and its effects on AEGEE are very demotivating for the entire network. I am afraid that it might be more difficult to find interested and motivated people for the Pool of Safe Persons and the SPC. 

I hope that the future SPC will try to turn this threat into an opportunity to build a solid foundation for when all of our lives return to normal. Motivation is to be found in the fact that the current work is essential for the proper working of the committee and the future of Safe Persons in the network.

We would like to thank the people who made this interview possible, who gifted us with some of their time. Diederik de Wit – president of AEGEE Europe and CD-Responsible for the Safe Person Committee – and Marlijn Mulder, thank you! Not only for being there, but also for making sure the questions and answers were as accurate as possible.