Development of an inclusive-vireal (analogue and digitally accessible) space, providing an arena for encounters and counselling to all adults who have experienced sexualised violence since childhood (SHELTER).

Type of project: Transdisciplinary and joint project between the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences and Hochschule Mannheim - University of Applied Sciences

In the project (Development of an inclusive-vireal [analogue and digitally accessible] space, providing an arena for encounters and counseling to all adults who have experienced sexual violence since childhood) the HSRM and Mannheim aim to develop vireal digital communication spaces in collaboration with adults who have experienced sexual violence in their lives. The focus of these vireal spaces lies within the person’s bodily-spartial coping efforts and the fluidity of their interdependence. Vireal means that virtual and real worlds are connected in a digitalised society and not experienced separately. The project is led by Prof. Dr. Susanne Lang and Prof. Dr. Heidrun Schulze.

Starting point

For people with experience of sexual violence, there is often a lack of care and support structures, both in private and in the institutional environment. At the same time, there is the risk of pushing people who are affected, into a victim role and thus depriving them of the chance to overcome their experiences in their own way. 

The challenge in dealing with sexual violence therefore lies in recognizing the suffering experienced by those affected and yet to acknowledge their power to define their life experiences.

Objective and course of action 

In order to support people in regaining their power of defining their own narratives about their life experiences, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation or origin, the following steps will be taken:

Providing a locally accessible space as well as virtual communication spaces: Vireal spaces with different forms of access will be offered to life experienced persons, from which they can choose the ones best suited for their needs. 

Research and development of vireal spaces close to the life experiences and subjective needs of the users, aides in exploring their specific preferences, takes these preferences seriously and implements them in the process of participatory research.

Innovations and perspectives

SHELTER focuses on the aspect of social interaction of the users- in contrast to experienced exclusion and isolation. This offers an opportunity for experimental acting for the performative creation of a preferred self-identity and may enhance the personal well-being due to the framework of the users' own control over their own interpretations in the context of storytelling. 

The aim of the project is to provide a digital-inclusive and narrative-performative concept for professional counseling services. Additionally, the socio-political aspect of the research work is particularly important: The shift of perspective, which means a change in perception of people who have experienced sexual violence from passive victims to honor their personal agency. The aim is to make experiences of sexual violence visible in society and build awareness for and foster acknowledgement of the coping strategies of each individual in order to promote a change in society when dealing with sexual violence. 

Project budget: 950.596 Euro

Time frame: Juli 2019 - Juni 2023

Overall coordination and project lead Hochschule Mannheim – University of Applied Sciences: Prof. Dr. Susanne Lang, Hochschule Mannheim 

Project lead RheinMain University of Applied Sciences, Wiesbaden: Prof. Dr. Heidrun Schulze

Project team: Prof. Dr. Frank Dopotka; Prof. Dr. Peter Kaiser, 

Verena Roth (Dipl. Social Worker, Dipl. Social Therapist), 

Ann-Kathrin Storck (BA Social Work, MA Pedagogy and Management in Social Work)