Chapter IV, number 38, of the Autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola recounts his arrival in Gaeta from Barcelona in 1523. He was joined by a mother and daughter, who were also beggars. At midnight, in the farmhouse where they were staying, Ignatius heard loud cries coming from the area where the two women were resting. He got up to see what it was and saw the women in the courtyard crying, “lamenting that the men wanted to force them”. Ignatius did not remain the same: “He felt such a great impetus that he began to shout, saying: “Is this to be suffered?” Ignatius of Loyola acted in a way that he drove the harasser men away.

What St. Ignatius of Loyola did that night was to act as an “upstander”. This is how the international scientific literature would define it, which also points out that “bystander intervention” (supportive action by peers and the entire community) is the most effective strategy to end violence against girls and women. It is therefore central to protect those who support victims because without such support, the victim is left alone and with no chance of becoming a successful survivor. This is why, for those of us who do scientific research in the field of overcoming violence in human relationships, and for all of us who dream a world free of violence, this is a particularly important and beautiful moment. Just a few days ago, the SINC agency, the scientific news agency of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, published a news on the research recently published by Professor Ramon Flecha (Jesuitak Indautxu alumni) in the prestigious journal Violence Against Women, the world’s leading scientific journal on the subject. Ramon Flecha is the first author in the field of gender violence at international level (Google Scholar). Worldwide media, many of them academic, have echoed this news.

The published article is a pioneering research: it is the first one that analyzes in depth Second Order Sexual Harassment (SOSH). SOSH is the harassment suffered by people who take a stand with first-order victims and publicly support them. This second-order violence can be physical or psychological and aims to deactivate the support networks of first-order victims, sending the message to the rest of the community that anyone who dares to break the silence about sexual abuse by supporting girls and women victims will be publicly reprimanded. In this way, aggressors and their allies impose through violence and fear a law of silence that leaves victims alone, worsening the already very negative consequences of sexual violence on mental and physical health. This second-order sexual harassment of those who stand in solidarity with first order victims and do not abandon them, includes the dissemination of all kinds of slander about the professional and personal lives of those who help those who suffer and its repetition in the media to get the widest possible coverage. This second-order sexual harassment damages the health of the second-order victims, and even harms their sons, daughters and relatives.

But the legal helplessness of the excellent people who help victims is now coming to an end. Second order violence has been recently incorporated in the Catalan Law 17/2020, approved in the Catalan Parliament last December 22nd, being the first in the world to legislate on SOSH. The specific article on second order sexual violence included in the law has been based on the research reported by Flecha in the aforementioned scientific article and on other research carried out by the research center he founded. This approval means that what was not ethically acceptable before is now not legally acceptable either. This legal protection implies in practice that more people will dare to support girls and boys who are victims of childhood sexual abuse and women who are victims of gender violence. And that changes everything.

We now have one more key tool to advance the achievement of one of the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus 2019-2029: “(…) to help eliminate abuses inside and outside the Church, seeking to ensure that victims are heard and properly heard, that justice is done, and that harm is healed”. Protecting those who support victims allows us to advance that dream. The consequences of what this protection implies for victims of the first order is already reflected in the episode of the autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola with which we began this entry: “And all three began to walk thus by night”.

[Image by Harish Sharma from Pixabay]

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Associate Professor in UB. Double PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carries out scientific investigation in the field of social neuroscience with the aim of overcoming violence in human relationships. She is a member of the Jordan project (UNIJES) focused on abuse in the Church, and is coordinating a project on the prevention of violence against women in 6 Fe y Alegría schools in Nicaragua.
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