A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Part 6A: Introducing a Range of Institutional Responses Designed to Shut Down Survivors

Part 6. Legal-System Tools and Resolution Processes

That Prioritize Institutions Over Individuals

Having looked at different ways people integrate their beliefs and actions about abuse, we will now focus in on specific means that promote institutions instead of protect individuals. We need to do this because not all facets of so-called “investigations” or “reconciliations” are geared to serve survivors and the vulnerable by: (1) finding the truth, (2) rectifying the sources of abuse, and (3) dealing justly with the consequences.

Some tactics actually silence victims. Others effectively limit liability to individuals and organizations involved with abuse. Some purported resolution processes ultimately fail to prevent future abuse because they do not dismantle current systemic abuse.

This post describes common legal-system tools and resolution processes encountered by abuse survivors, and analyzes how these favor institutions instead of individuals. It offers frameworks, short examples, and case studies for evaluating the destructive net impact of these methods on survivors in recovery. It also lays out  a better way forward with an alternative path of “truth-finding before reconciliation.”

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Why do so many abuse survivors and front line advocates respond with vehemence when offending institutions supposedly want to “reconcile” – but to do so, they require victims to sign away their legal rights and agree to processes that protect the institution?

In the four posts of Part 6, we’ll look at some of the means that Christian institutions use against individuals victimized in/by toxic organizations. These methods may achieve the institution’s integrating goal of self-protection. However, they typically leverage flawed theological points to manipulate survivors. Ultimately, giving in to these tools and theologies comes at a cost of legal and ethical consequences for survivors.

Part 6A. Introduction to legal-system tools and investigation/negotiation/resolution processes that benefit institutions over survivors.

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

Part 6C. Three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

Part 6D. Analysis of key problems in these legal tools and resolution processes and their impacts, how these have affected (and disaffected) survivor communities, and the better way of truth-finding before reconciliation.

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PART 6A. Introduction

Introducing a Range of Institutional Responses

Designed to Shut Down Survivors

Part 6A. Introduction to legal-system tools and investigation / negotiation / resolution processes that benefit institutions over survivors.

When I sat down to develop the opening to this introductory post for Part 6, it took less than three minutes to generate a list of seven ways we’ve seen toxic individuals and institutions use in the past few years, to deflect or defame victims, or delay substantive actions to bring justice. I posted an initial version of this list on Twitter, and edited it for here, plus added links for the examples.

I note the time it took just to illustrate how common these have become in survivor circles, that they came to mind that quickly. This is the order they just happened to emerge, along with the first examples I thought of for each.

1. DIY crisis management – use media and your own platform to berate accusers publicly. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Elders.

2. Hire a professional crisis manager/PR agent who manages public statements. Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church). Tullian Tchividjian (see the section on What ways have you seen national organizations and media keep Tullian Tchividjian “in control” of the narrative?).

3. Hire a legal firm that investigates and reports to/for the institution. Highpoint Church Memphis, with their Andy Savage situation.

4. Hire a conciliation firm as an institutional bridge to work with victims. Willow Creek Community Church Elders.

5. Give a preemptive media interview or statement to lay out your position and mea culpas (Ravi Zacharias + RZIM/Christianity Today) or write a (pseudo-)apology post (Tullian Tchividjian/ExPastors.com).

6. Create a study group, advisory group, or commission. J.D. Greer, new president for the Southern Baptist Convention. (Although the group got underway several months later, there have been no progress reports in the three months since it started.)

7. Sue the whistleblowers, advocates, bloggers/reporters for defamation, and potentially include their spouses or others who aren’t really involved, but it increases the pressure. Charles O’Neal (micro-church leader/Beaverton Grace Bible Church). James MacDonald (mega-church leader/Harvest Bible Chapel).

Interwoven with these actions may be:

  • Disinformation, partial information, and highly slanted information.
  • Brute displays of power.
  • Use of tools that are legal but not necessarily ethical.
  • Misinterpreted or misapplied Scripture used as ideological leverage to send survivors into silence through guilt, shame, and fear.

Let’s take a look at some details about such actions, so we can think through the dynamics that draw forth the strong reactions we witness from survivor communities. Here’s the plan for the rest of Part 6, which focuses in on tools and processes that prioritize the protecting of institutions over individuals.

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

Part 6C. Three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

Part 6D. Analysis of key problems in these legal tools and resolution processes, how these have affected survivor communities, and the better way of truth-finding before reconciliation.

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