The Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) team sponsors CARE at the University of Amsterdam. As this project is expanding, the CDO team interviewed the two therapists leading the support group sessions.
CARE is a support group for victims-survivors of sexual violence. It aims to create a safe space and a community for the people involved.
CARE was co-developed by Stichting Our Bodies Our Voice and the Safo Space project. It is led by therapists Angela Cáceres and Anesteia Tsagkalidou, who are interviewed below.
If you are interested in joining the support group for UvA students, or the one for UvA staff, please e-mail Angela and Anesteia on firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is behind CARE?
Angela Cáceres, CARE co-founder, co-therapist and organizer:
Angela is the founder of ‘The Safo Space’, a project that aims to bring together psychology and a gender perspective.
Her specializations are in gender, understood as an intersectional approach to psychology, and ACT. She is very passionate about the power of the collective and is immersed in the becoming of a feminist psychologist.
Anesteia Tsagkalidou, CARE cofounder, co-therapist and organizer:
Anesteia is a psychologist specializing in Gestalt therapy, while being in the process of merging two specializations in Clinical Psychology and Gender Studies. In her practice, she tries to insert intersectional feminist theory and practice in the mainstream psychological field by paying particular attention to positionality (regarding one’s socio-political position in the world) and power.
Stichting Our Bodies Our Voice, co-founder and organizer:
Stichting Our Bodies Our Voice is a non-profit organization that aims to prevent sexual violence and transform consent cultures in universities in the Netherlands.
Why did you, Angela and Anesteia, decide to set up CARE?
In the summer of 2019, we met with Stitching Our Bodies Our Voice (Gabriella Thompson and Agathe Cherbit-Langer), and we decided to set up CARE. When we realized that the four of us share the same goals and values, and that there were no accessible, feminist, safe spaces for victims-survivors of sexual violence operating in the Netherlands, we decided to develop the project. As therapists, we share the same values of feminist therapy and community care and building, so we founded the support group on those values. Agathe and Gabriella shared their expertise on prevention of sexual violence and on working with victims-survivors within the university context, as well as project building and management.
What is your vision of prevention and support with regard to sexual violence?
Our vision is that sexual violence can be prevented, addressed and healed in the context of the university. At CARE, we combine healing (through the support group), with prevention, as OBOV is a founding party of CARE. OBOV offers workshops that educate about issues of consent, and sexual violence, while offering to teach skills aimed at preventing and combating sexual violence. That is why we always recommend to our collaborating universities that they include the OBOV workshops as part of their prevention strategy.
At least 53% of women and 19% of men have been sexually assaulted, ranging from unwanted kissing to rape (De Graaf & Wijsen, 2017). Some students enter universities already with an experience of sexual violence, but some also experience it (for the first time or another time) while at university. Students are at a high risk of experiencing sexual violence while at university. This means that universities have a responsibility to address sexual violence through prevention, reporting and support. We see CARE, and OBOV’s workshops, as being part of the toolkit universities can use to fight sexual violence.
Current support group pilot
You piloted the support group in Amsterdam starting in December 2019, with sessions starting near the beginning of 2020. We’re now more than half a year later, in September 2020. How did this pilot go? Are participants satisfied with it? Does it correspond to what you imagined before launching it?
It has been a long journey since our first meeting in the summer of 2019. After many conversations about the project’s values and setting, we finally launched the first pilot in Amsterdam near the beginning of 2020. We knew we were creating a safe space attuned to our values, but we did not know how it was going to be perceived by participants.
Shortly after the launch of the pilot, we realized how important and valuable this space had become for the participants and for us. At this point we started receiving support and recognition from the Chief Diversity Officer at the UvA.
While we feared that the coronavirus would halt the progress of the group, we were positively surprised to see that the digital format worked for members, and they seemed to feel supported during the pandemic. So far, we have been receiving very positive feedback. All in all, the project has exceeded anything we imagined before launching the project.
Could you tell us a bit more about what participants think of it, if there are specific aspects that are particularly helpful to them?
CARE provides a community, nurturing feelings of belonging, being understood and supported. The participants form a judgement-free community with people that have been through similar experiences. They have their stories and their feelings validated, while sharing skills and coping mechanisms from one another. When we discuss in the group a certain issue, such as relationships, everyone does it from their particular point of view, but is shaped by their survivor experience.
There is mutual understanding, recognition and validation, so resilience tools can emerge in this space. The group is then able to function as a safety net, and a steady source of support.
When you first talked to victims-survivors interested in joining the group, did you encounter similar fears or misconceptions about joining a support group? If you could talk to victims-survivors who are hesitating about joining the support group, what would you tell them?
The concerns generally revolve around issues such as confidentiality, safety and asking for help.
All participants have to sign a confidentiality agreement, so participants’ confidentiality is protected and maintained. In terms of safety, we facilitate a safe space for all, but will create a separate group should cis-heterosexual, men victims-survivors of sexual violence wish to join.
Being vulnerable and asking for help can be some of the most difficult and most important steps in healing. We accompany the participants in any concerns that they might have, while safeguarding the group to make sure that it becomes a safe space for everyone.
If we could talk to survivors-victims who are hesitating to contact us, we would say: We can see and understand that fear, and you don’t need to overcome it on your own. We can carry that fear together.
In Care-Amsterdam there are still three spots available for UvA students. If you are interested, please email email@example.com (Angela and Anesteia) to ask any questions or to express concerns.
You piloted a group which is mainly for students at the University of Amsterdam, is there interest in opening one for staff ?
Yes, since the beginning of the CARE pilot, we realized the importance of creating a similar space for staff members of the university. This was because including them in the same group as students was not an option due to potential discrepancies in power dynamics (e.g. teacher-student), that could disrupt the safety of the group. Fortunately, we have just launched a new group dedicated to staff members of the UvA.
If you are interested in joining the CARE group for UvA staff, please email firstname.lastname@example.org (Angela and Anesteia).
What is your vision for CARE within the University of Amsterdam?
We envision CARE to become a permanent resource, a safe place that can support victims-survivors in their healing journey.
The professional psychologists that work at the university are usually specialized in working with students who are having difficulties with their studies. They are not necessarily equipped to address sexual trauma. CARE is pioneering this work. We hope CARE can serve as an example for other universities.
What would you need from the University of Amsterdam to accomplish this vision?
So far, we have been lucky to work with, and encounter people such as the CDO team, who support us and our vision and who push for our project to be more centrally implemented at the UvA. They are also committed to our values and principles of accessibility. For instance, we have the support now from the Chief Diversity Officer to create a self-organized separate branch of Care led by BIPOC therapists, which is great.
We would like to become a centralized resource, which would allow CARE to expand and to offer an open door to any victim-survivor to join our groups. We want to support them holistically, which means having the ability to offer individual support whenever it is needed.
We’ve only talked about CARE in Amsterdam, where you are sponsored by the Chief Diversity Officer team of the University of Amsterdam. You are also piloting a new group at Leiden University, after Leiden heard about your work at the UvA. What is your vision for CARE within the Netherlands?
We are happy to see that more universities are showing interest in implementing CARE. Our vision is that CARE manages to form support groups in as many universities in the Netherlands as possible. That way we can continue to offer accessible, steady support to victims-survivors at a very vulnerable time in their lives.
The group we launched at Leiden University was full as soon as we launched it on Instagram. We didn’t even have the time to print the posters! Our work is very limited if we do not have institutional support, so we intend to reach out to other universities and build a network of CARE groups throughout the Netherlands.
For any further information about CARE at the UvA, please e-mail Angela and Anesteia at email@example.com
 There are 100,000 victims of sexual violence each year in the Netherlands (CSG Fact Sheet). The risk of rape is four times greater for the 12 – 24 age group and alcohol consumption increases the risk of sexual violence (CSG Fact Sheet)