Originally, resilience is a scientific term describing a metal’s capacity to resist under pressure and return to its initial shape after having been deformed. In psychology, resilience is the ability to live, to succeed, to develop and the thrive in the face of adversity.
The term was coined in 1982 by Emmy Werner, an American psychologist who studied 700 street children in Hawaï who had no families, did not attend school and who became victims of physical or sexual aggression. Thirty years later, most of them were broken adults while 28% of the subjects had learned a craft, started a family and suffered from not apparent major psychological disorder. She concluded that children have a particular capacity to overcome early life trauma, she defined the children in her study who exhibited this capacity as “resilient” . (Werner, E.E & Smith R.S, Vulnerable but invicible : a longitudinal study of resilient children and youth, New York, McGraw Hill, 1982)
The story behind the Innocence in Danger retreats happened in 2002, when the mother of a young girl who had been brutally raped approached Homayra Sellier, the founder of the Innocence in Danger movement, to ask her for her help. Since the assault, the child had refused to speak.
Upon learning that the girl loved horses, Mrs Sellier invited the child to spend a few days in a nearby equestrian center. Thanks to this experience and through ontact with animals, the girl would eventually overcome her trauma. With the further support of a therapist, she found her voice again as well as the strength to testify against her aggressors in court.
Since 2002, Innocence in Danger has welcomed children and adolescents (along with an adult guardian) to their resilience retreats. The participants are children whose cases were brought to the attention of the organisation after they revealed that they had suffered from rape, incest, molestation or other forms of violence. These retreats, which are similar to a summer camp, are based on the principals of art therapy. The children participate in artist, athletic and cultural activities.
A team of professionals; art therapists, psychologists, child psychiatrists, doctors, artists and performers create a supportive environment and run various fun-filled workshops to help the kids come out of their shell through creative expression, music or sports.
The programme includes a number of activities with a therapeutic goal: equine therapy, sculpting, film editing, hiking, painting, cooking, rock climbing, rafting, swimming, theatre, photography, calligraphy, nature walks, music, dance, tai-chi and yoga
“Paint to become conscious of one’s contradictions, dance to soothe one’s wounds… Artistic creation along with art therapy gives one access to buried feelings” (Torre, Stéphanie, http://www.psychologies.com/Therapies/Toutes-les-therapies/Therapies-breves/Articles-et-Dossiers/L-art-therapie)
These are new horizons for children who have been the victims of abuse and sexual violence. In an idyllic setting, children who have suffered serious physical, emotional and psychological trauma begin to rebuild their personalities.
“Art therapy is a diversion strategy, a ruse that allows one to manoeuvre around suffering, to use artistic creation to penetrate unconscious problems of an individual and to lead that individual to a positive transformation of the self. The point is to start from one’s pains, one’s violences… to make the fodder for personal growth. From the worst a construction, an artistic product that leans towards listening.” Dr Jean Klein (Dr Klein, Jean Pierre, L’Art-thérapie, Puf, collection Que sais-je, 1997)
During the course of the workshops, the children bond while overcoming difficulties they face together as they work towards personal goals or goals common to the group. By facing individual or common challenges, they build their self-confidence little by little, learning to trust themselves and others. Depending on the situation, one or both of the child’s parents are invited to accompany him or her during their stay. The reassuring role of the parent are fundamental to a child’s well-being and the retreats aim to strengthen that trust.
The Innocence in Danger Retreats are planned with two perspectives in mind:
Children slowly begin to regain trust in themselves and in adults by getting touch with another part of themselves, by discovering and developing their own talents.
Their smiles, words, drawings and joyful participation, despite their long years in court, evaluations, hurt, anguish and incertitude are testimonies of their courage.
The team becomes the privileged witness to moments of joy and happiness that they build with the children. These moments become cushions, invisible nets made of hope that will become the bedrock the children will use to explore their interests, talents, passions and potential.
The children develop a powerful energy and a taste for life.
« The taste for life is not hereditary. But we can pass this skill on to our children through love, learning and mindfulness » – Jean-Paul Dubois, Une vie française, SEUIL, 2005
Experts, pedo-psychiatrists et psychologists unanimously believe that this love of life comes about through learning to experiment with happiness.
The Innocence en Danger Summer Camps in Switzerland are about resilience, the potential for life that resides in each of us even in those whose life and innocence has been broken, those for whom an event might have come like an earthquake to shake a child’s beliefs, confidence and love…
The children learn about empathy as defined by neurobiologist Jean Decety : «the capacity to feel the appropriate emotional response to a feeling expressed by another, to distinguish between yourself and that other and to regulate ones own emotional response». http://www.leblogdesrapportshumains.fr/quest-ce-que-lempathie/, 2013
It is said that the lack of empathy is what could enable a human to hurt, to kill and to abuse others without feeling bad or guilty – this is a character trait of many predators.
The children learn to live alongside people from different origins, religions and cultures. People with different traditions and their world, their spirit and their hearts are opened to these.
Above all, they learn hope. We re-create a secure and constructive family dynamic. They feel welcomed into this and from there they can go beyond their victimhood. They leave with joy and love in their hearts and thanks to the activities, they also leave with a new found self-confidence. The discovery and development of their own talents becomes their strength.
Smiles, words, drawings all become small traces of their courage despite years of hurt and incertitude.
The children have been heard and respected in their rights, their integrity and their dignity. They often leave behind a part of their trauma and go into the future looking ahead.
Not only have a lot of the children discovered talents at the Summer Camps but some have gone on to pursue careers in these creative endeavours. All found a new confidence and strength for what lay ahead. They feel less alone in their trials and tribulations, be they judicial or medical. We catch up with and follow all the children that join the Swiss Summer Camp to see how they are doing and offer any support we can.
Innocence in Danger is a voice for children. All children are the hope and promise of tomorrow, they are the ones who will lead and shape our societies, our countries, our world. Our goal is to set them on this path, a path of possibility.
Innocence in Danger Summer Camps are in operation today in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Colombia, and the USA.
 Werner, E.E & Smith R.S, Vulnerable but invicible : a longitudinal study of resilient children and youth, New York, McGraw Hill, 1982
 Torre, Stéphanie, http://www.psychologies.com/Therapies/Toutes-les-therapies/Therapies-breves/Articles-et-Dossiers/L-art-therapie
 Dr Klein, Jean Pierre, L’Art-thérapie, Puf, collection Que sais-je, 1997
 Bohler, Sébastien, « Pourquoi la pédophilie est un crime ». http://www.pourlascience.fr/ewb_pages/a/actualite-pourquoi-la-pedophilie-est-un-crime-20695.php
 Dubois, J.P, Une vie française, SEUIL, 2005
Studies show that a child can do well when well surrounded and guided.
Testimonials from children and parents, alongside observations made by experts asked by Innocence in Danger both show a positive growth in the participants.
In 2013 a study carried out by the University of Koblenz measured the impact of the Innocence in Danger Resilience Summer Camps. The results showed the significant improvements – all the children benefitted from their stay.
Beyond each stay Innocence in Danger follows and keeps up with each child and family in their day -to-day. Innocence in Danger helps them with the steps they take in the criminal justice system, and in their medical and psychological follow ups. The objective is to create positive conditions for the children’s post-traumatic reconstruction.
According to Sébastien Bohler, Doctor in neurobiology : «The most important thing to remember about childhood trauma […] is that in a positive and safe environment in which the child’s fundamental needs (physical and emotional) are met, the damage caused by trauma and abuse can be mitigated and reduced.»[i]
The participants of the Resilience Summer Camps begin to understand, feel and know that they will not remain victims for the rest of their lives. Reliable and safe relationships are an essential part of the road to overcoming the effects of trauma from childhood to adulthood and create an space in which the brain can safely begin to heal.
[I] Bohler, Sébastien, « Pourquoi la pédophilie est un crime ». http://www.pourlascience.fr/ewb_pages/a/actualite-pourquoi-la-pedophilie-est-un-crime-20695.php