Story Circle On Online Vaw

About this learning activity

This activity allows participants to reflect upon and share experiences of online GBV.

A safe space is the main pre-requisite for this activity, and some quiet time for the participants to reflect.

This activity happens in two stages:

  • Reflection Time when each participant is given time to articulate and write down their story by answering a series of guide questions.
  • Story Circle, where all the participants share their stories with each other.

It is important to note here that this Story Circle is not for the purposes of therapy. Being able to tell your story, even anonymised, has some therapeutic effects, but it should be made clear that is not the purpose of the Story Circle. If you are dealing with a group that you know has experienced online GBV, especially if there are people in the group who have very recent experiences, you can either make sure that there is someone in the facilitating team who can provide therapy, or skip this learning activity, if you don´t think you can handle your participants being triggered.

Learning objective this activity responds to

This responds to the following learning objectives:

  • an understanding of the forms of online gender-based violence (online GBV) and its impacts on the survivors and their communities
  • an understanding of the continuum of violence between the offline and the online spheres, and the power structures that allow it

Who is this activity for?

This activity can be applied with participants with different levels of understanding and experience of online GBV.

Time required

Assuming that each participant will need about 5 minutes to tell their stories, and about 30 minutes collectively to reflect, plus some leeway to give instructions, then with a standard workshop size of 12, you will need a minimum of 100 minutes for this activity.

Resources needed for this activity

  • Guide questions written down
  • Space for people to reflect
  • A big circle in the middle of the room for the participants to share


This activity has two stages:

  • Reflection Time when each participant is given time to articulate and write down their story by answering a series of guide questions.
  • Story Circle, where all the participants share their stories with each other.

During the Reflection Time stage, the participants are given 30 minutes to reflect upon a real-life example of online GBV. They can choose to tell their own experience or someone else´s. Even if they are telling their own story, everyone is encouraged to anonymise their story. They should tell one story.

In order to facilitate reflection, the participants may use the following guide questions to write down their story:

  • Who is the survivor? Who was her aggressor/s? Who else is involved in the story?
  • What happened? Where did the story happen? What kind of violence was committed?
  • What was the impact of the violence? How did the survivor react? What did she fear the most? Did the situation escalate or worsen? How?
  • What kind of support did the survivor get? Who were behind her?
  • What actions did the survivor and her supporters take? How was the case resolved?
  • How is the survivor doing now? How does she feel now about what had happened? What lessons has she learned from it?
  • What role did technology play in this story? How did it affect the impact of the violence? How did it help in addressing the violence?

Note: These are guide questions, participants don´t need to answer all of them. They are just there to help them articulate their stories.

Anonymising Stories

The trainer / facilitator should encourage the participants to anonymise their stories, even if the story is theirs:

  • Give the survivor a pseudonym that´s not close to her name.
  • Have the location of the survivor more general. If there are contextual issues that would identify where the survivor is coming from, then make make the location have bigger reach. It´s one thing to say that the survivor is from Petaling Jaya in Malaysia, than to say that she is in in Kuala Lumpur or even Malaysia.
  • Give vague details about the survivor (keep to general markers: gender, sexuality, country, religion, race, social class) but not her experience of online GBV (the platforms and spaces where the online GBV happened, what she experienced, how it escalated, the impact on her).

Once everyone has written down their stories, gather the participants in a circle.

Lay down the rules for this story circle:

  • What is said in the story circle does not leave the story circle without the express permission of everyone in the circle.
  • No one in the circle is allowed to invalidate the experiences being shared. The severity of the violence experienced is not a competition. Don´t ask about graphic details of the story.
  • Listeners can ask clarification questions but not questions that are invasive. Don't ask “why” questions, ask instead, “how” or “what” questions.
  • There will be no interruptions when a story is being told. Listen deeply.

Note: The point here is to create a safe space for people to share their stories.

Let everyone know that no one is being compelled to share their stories.

Open up the circle for stories.

Then close the circle once the stories have been told.

Then the trainer / facilitator summarises the stories based on the following themes:

  • What were the forms of online GBV that were shared?
  • Where did the violence occur? Through this, draw out the linkages between online and offline spaces – how did it affect each other?
  • Who were the usual aggressor/s?
  • What were the impact of the online GBV, especially in the offline sphere?
  • What were the issues that the survivors faced in resolving their cases?
  • How did intersectional issues affect the experience of the violence? Specific kinds of aggression targetted, the role of culture/religion and norms, invisibility, challenges in getting support/access to justice.

As you close the circle, do something fun and symbolic to acknowledge the bravery of the storytellers, and to shift mind-sets to the next activity.

  • Turn on the music and have people dance about.
  • If the group is close, have a hug fest.
  • Light incense and have the participants pass them around to thank each other for their stories and for listening.
  • Do breathing exercises.

Facilitator preparation notes

This is not an activity for every trainer / facilitator. If you don´t think you can handle this, then choose another Learning Activity. Being able to admit what you can and cannot handle as a trainer / facilitator will only make you a better one — and capable of creating safe spaces for training.

Some guidelines to follow, if you do choose to use this learning activity:

  • During the Story Circle, just allow each participant to tell their story in their own way. Don´t rush them. Don´t correct their grammar. Don´t interrupt them.
  • Do not force everyone to tell a story. Maybe, for some people, being able to write down their stories is good enough. Not everyone needs to tell a story, but encourage everyone to do so.
  • If a participant is triggered, take a break. Don´t force them to continue their story.

Read the section on handling emotional situations in in the Holistic Security Training Guide.

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