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Preventing and responding to peer-to-peer violence is a crucial aspect of safeguarding children's well-being and ensuring their rights are protected.

Side-by-Side, an ESN-led project aims at identifying good practice in preventing Violence Against Children (VAC) and assessing the training needs of child protection professionals to align with international and EU standards. To this end, four study visits took place where the host partners presented their innovative national practices and systems to fight VAC. A standout initiative in preventing and responding to peer-to-peer violence, the “Applying Safe Behaviours” project presented by SOS Children’s Villages Italy, was highlighted during the project’s recent study visit on 22-23 May.

What is peer-to-peer violence?

As mentioned during the study visit, there is no universal definition of peer-to-peer violence. Trainers at the ‘Applying Safe Behaviours’ programme define it as “an intentional and repeated aggressive behaviour that can occur through physical, verbal, and relational forms in situations.”

With this in mind, it was emphasised the importance of including peer-to-peer violence among children and young people in safeguarding policies and practices of all the organisations working on preventing violence against children and promoting children’s rights. 

Recognise, Reflect, Prevent, and Respond

A holistic training on peer-to-peer violence was offered to attendees following four steps. 

Starting with recognition of peer-to-peer violence, participants engaged in a brainstorming session about the definition and its contents, while they were called to share and identify some examples. National delegates, bringing their expertise on the matter, shared their insight on what can be considered peer-to-peer violence, while they debated on whether repeated behaviour or direct contact between the initiator and the receiver are elements connected with it.

Moving on to reflection stage, a set of guiding principles were discussed to support children and young people affected by peer-to-peer violence. These principles highlighted that an intervention should promote and protect human rights, taking into consideration childrens’ best interests, and building caring relationships based on trust and respect. In the group discussions, participants shared their own experiences and stressed the importance of active listening and communication.

In the prevention and response sessions, participants learned to recognise signs of unsafe places and how to have stimulating conversations. They drew scenarios of public spaces like playgrounds, identifying what makes them safe or unsafe. The importance of confidentiality was equally highlighted, as well as restorative interventions that refrained from punitive measures, focusing instead on helping people change their behaviour positively. 

Key takeaways 

Together, participants went through recognition, reflection, prevention, and response phases, gaining valuable insights on how to address peer-to-peer violence. Although challenges were recognised, such as the lack of structure to implement these learnings or lack of training, participants were positive that techniques such as active listening and restorative conversations could be applied to their daily work. Alfonso Lara Montero, CEO of ESN, highlighted the importance of identifying best practices in preventing VAC: “Only by collaborating and working together, we can truly make a difference in fostering safer environments for young people”.