We were honored to have Roisin, the founder of the CAIM Project. She really took the time to educate us on what refugees experience if they have been through any form of abuse. Roisin was kind enough to answer some questions for our blog, but you can also check her corresponding podcast here. On the podcast she was able to walk us through the challenge refugees have when facing trauma and what the CAIM Project hopes to do to help them.
Why did you start your organization?
I started the Caim Project to address a need for sexual and/or domestic violence support for refugee survivors. Caim facilitates educational sessions for frontline workers who support refugees on a day-to-day basis. We educate frontline workers on how to respond to sexual and domestic violence. I understand ‘domestic’ in refugee terms: despite a transient sense of home, refugees can travel with their abusers, have a ‘past’ of domestic/sexual abuse that travels with their consciousness, and have experienced such violence in transit.
Hopefully, our outreaches allow refugees to feel appropriately supported and enables frontline workers to use a trauma-informed response when speaking to survivors. Optimally, this will enable the survivor to start their healing journey - wherever they are in the world!
Many refugee survivors feel as if they cannot speak out about their sexual/domestic violence trauma because other priorities such as the scrabble for shelter and food are at the forefront. And, ironically, domestic violence can be left behind or can travel with you. Nevertheless, I wanted to find a way of validating that abuse that happened/is happening to them still matters. Refugees should feel empowered to seek appropriate, targeted support regarding an assault. By setting up the Caim Project, I really hope to highlight the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence refugees face whilst also providing training and resources to address this.
What would be the best way one could find out more information about your organization?
Please visit our website – caimproject.org or check out our Instagram page @caimproject
Out of everything that you do with your organization, what would be the first area you would recommend a survivor to turn to?
I would definitely recommend survivors to go to the resources page on our website. We have downloadable, free materials on coping methods for survivors in numerous languages – thanks to our brilliant, voluntary translators, we have these currently in English, Arabic, French, German, Spanish and Greek! We’d love to widen the languages we can offer, please get in contact if you can help. These documents address many of the possible impacts of sexual and domestic violence such as flashbacks, dissociation and self-harm.
What impact do you hope to make?
We want to make survivors feel safer. If the first person they speak to on a camp, squat or support centre responds in an empathetic and safety-conscious way, informed by our safety planning documents and, when possible, training, this may help the survivor feel able to voice their experience in the future, begin to address and eventually heal from the abuse but also, crucially, help prevent further abuse towards the survivor and others.
We also focus on vicarious trauma as part of our training sessions and have a self-care resource on our website for frontline staff. I believe a key issue that isn’t addressed for frontline workers is how the experience of others’ traumatic experiences can affect frontline workers. It can be very tough. Many colleagues and friends of mine have had to leave jobs they were incredible at because of burn out or compassionate fatigue. Vicarious trauma needs to be addressed so it can be prevented, and so that the sector doesn’t lose or damage so many committed and hard-working frontline workers.
I guess the overall aim is to raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence refugees may face, educate workers to respond appropriately and understand the impacts the survivor could face - whilst also helping incredible support workers to look after themselves in the process of supporting a survivor.
What advice do you have for survivors?
That they HAVE survived. I make sure the survivors I work with feel believed, listened to and informed of their choices and options, empowering a survivor is the most important support you can give.
Journeys often have extra meaning to refugees. I sometimes use the idea of a car with a survivor, they were in the car with a driver who made them feel unsafe, not in control and that they did not know if they would survive. Nevertheless, they did survive and now they can have control of the steering wheel.
Lastly, I always address the idea of power and control with survivors, whether what happened to them was sexual or domestic violence, there was always an element of power and control in that situation that impacted on their reactions or ability to speak out.
How important do you think it is to establish a support system?
Extremely important - many survivors feel unable to speak to specialist support services or ever disclose the abuse they experienced to anyone. Having ‘safe’ people to confide in, lean on and trust is vital in any form of a healing process but also in everyday life. In domestically abusive relationships, often survivors feel unable to leave as the abuser has isolated them from their friends and family. Of course, this can happen when there is no traditional ‘home’. I think having a strong support system allows us to thrive, be confident and tackle what life throws at us.
It’s also important to recognize the strength in survivors who have no support systems that involve other people beyond themselves and their own physical/sensory/mental processes. Many survivors I’ve supported have lost their entire family or had their friend networks swept away because of abuse so it’s vital we also think of a support system as separate from just people, just humans. Support systems can be the special things that surround us: pets, cooking, reading, meditating, daily affirmations or even writing a to-do list that motivates the survivor to leave the house or their closed space that day.
What do you do when you’re not running your organization?
When I’m not running the Caim project, I work full-time with an organisation tackling domestic and sexual abuse in London. I support 25 survivors of abuse whilst line-managing a lovely, dedicated team – all the women and one man I work with keep me committed to ending violence against women and girls. I have learned so much from them and from the survivors I support. I am soon leaving my job to take some time out and self-care to replenish – so that I can return to the sector full of energy and drive!
What inspires you to keep going?
Hearing survivors’ stories and the injustices they face daily, as an aftermath of abuse, is probably my driving force. From going to court and witnessing the brutal cross-examinations survivors have to go through, to the stories I’ve heard in refugee camps of rape used as a weapon of warfare … these all stay with me and keep me motivated to fight for survivors.
There was one person, though, whose story I listened to in Bangladesh. I was volunteering in Kutupalong refugee camp, working with Rohingya refugees. I met a 22-year-old mother who had been gang-raped by the military in front of her husband – then they shot him. With her two children, she fled Myanmar and made it to the camp in Bangladesh. But without her husband in the camp, she felt unsafe; the walk to collect aid was frightening and for a woman alone it took deep courage – but she did it for her children. I remember I felt humbled by how strong she was, she was a year younger than me but was fighting hard to be a provider in the best way: love drove her to survive as a mother to her children even after experiencing these terrible violations and losses. She told her story. And I have never forgotten her voice.
What advice do you have for someone that wants to start their own non-profit or business?
Make sure you pre-plan your aims and research similar organisations. Learn from their profiles. When you are active, keep listening, I learn something new every training session I facilitate. After every training I always end up adapting our guidelines and PowerPoints. The feedback we receive is very insightful and we get more informed with every new cohort we educate (who educate us!).
With the #MeToo movement and more attention given to sexual abuse, harassment, and assault, what messages do you hope will rise to the surface? What are the most important takeaway?
I hope to progress the #MeToo movement by raising issues that highlight the intersectionality of the movement and the importance of this - and what barriers to speaking out this might cause. #MeToo must adapt to be a voice for all survivors that have been violated. It needs to widen though: consider the different branches of this that are possible and should be explored: for instance, how does someone’s immigration status affect their ability to speak about the abuse they experienced? If your abuser is also your ‘safe person’ you fled state persecution from how does this impact you disclosing abuse? Will it impact your asylum claim negatively if you disclose now?
The most important take away is that every survivors’ experience is unique and therefore their support, story and healing journey will be personal to them and their experiences and the services they can access.
I think the #MeToo movement has progressed knowledge around sexual abuse - but this hasn’t (within the UK) changed much in terms of funding for support services, funding for specialised police officers (SOIT officers) or convictions in court.
Do you think is mental health is being addressed, in relation to rape survivors and in general, effectively in the UK? Where do you think there's still room for improvement?
There is a BIG room for improvement in the UK for the mental health of survivors of sexual abuse. Firstly, in terms of reporting, survivors’ case notes from counselling sessions can used against them in court. This is bad news and I’ve seen it happen. It means many survivors do not attempt to access counselling until post-trail or after their case is ‘no-further’ actioned. As an extra, we often see up to a two-year wait to go to court for survivors: this leaves them without counselling or therapy for a long period of time after the abuse. Survivors often have to rely on their own coping methods until they are able to access support.
Additionally, the entire process can be extremely traumatising for survivors. I’ve supported many survivors through the entire process and most cases I’ve supported that have gone to court resulted in a non-guilty verdict. This means the survivor, after deciding to report and going through a gruelling and long wait for court, is left with no legal justice. I remember one brave woman I supported who went to court found the system of reporting made her feel raped all over again. Additionally, say that a survivor decides to report the incident and needs to access mental health support then, sadly, waiting lists can be up to a year and some waiting lists are too often even closed for referrals.
So many things need to be changed and addressed like mental health support during reporting to court, access to specialist mental health support for survivors, more funding for the charity sector who support survivors – the list is endless.
Both have had an amazing impact and the community they have built for survivors is incredible. Many survivors use this as a trusted support network. More survivors feel able to speak about and seek support or report; however, the justice system is not prepared – even though more people are reporting, less convictions are happening.
Figures from early 2019 - published earlier this year showed there were a record 58,657 allegations of rape in 2019 up to March, but only 1,925 successful prosecutions. This is sadly astounding. While movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp shift attitudes, make some places safer and are built by survivors speaking out, there is still a lot of work to do.
How have they impacted on me personally? I probably feel more comfortable to have conversations about sexual violence with people I wouldn’t usually. This media-based, transatlantic consciousness is in the mainstream news. Maybe it’s also helped me feel some additional validation about the work I do. But will it touch the life of the Rohingya woman I met? We have such an intersectional struggle as feminists: we need to use our consciousness to look beyond our cultural boundaries to make gains for all survivors. We should never imagine that our successes, compromised as they are, are automatically shared by other women.
One of Voices of Hope's campaign is called #BeAVoice. How can you be a voice for those that feel they are silenced?
Violence is a tool used by perpetrators to silence their victims. A rapist silences their victim through fear. A husband can silence his wife through a punch and a burn or through threatening her children. A stalker can silence their obsession by threatening to expose a video. A smuggler can silence a refugee by threatening to throw them off their boat. A father can silence his son by shaming his sexuality.
Breaking silence and being invited into a network through solidarity with others is vital for all survivors. I hope Caim can be a voice for those that feel silenced by creating safe spaces, educating others, and helping survivors amplify their voices. Our voices are amplified when we speak together.
What is exciting and upcoming for your organization?
We do outreaches when we’ve raised enough money for them - so we are going to Paris next week to train an organisation called Utopia56 who support refugees there by running food distributions, social information groups and solidarity accommodation. We are also currently fundraising (I’m about to run a half marathon with some lovely fundraisers) for a 2 month summer outreach!
What are your social media handles? What is the best way to get in touch with you?
@caimproject on Instagram
@thecaimproject on facebook
Bio of Roisin Ross:
Roisin Ross is the founder of Caim Project. She has 5 years of diverse experience in the charity sector such as supporting survivors of sexual and domestic violence, distributing aid to refugees in Greece and Bangladesh and volunteering as a helpline Childline Counsellor. Roisin established Caim Project to bridge the gap in support for refugee survivors of sexual and/or domestic violence. Caim provides free resources for survivors and facilitates training sessions to frontline professionals and volunteers who work with refugees in camps, squats and drop-in’s globally on how to effectively, safely and empathetically respond to sexual violence and/or domestic violence.