Evaluating Christian Agencies for Investigation,
Public Relations, Crisis Management, Legal Aid,
Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation
In recent years, we’ve seen an increased number of abuse survivors refuse offers of involvement in investigations or negotiations with reportedly abusive individuals and institutions. Typically, these processes have required private, partial, or internal investigations; and/or arbitration, conciliation, mediation services as a gateway to “reconciliation.” How do we evaluate whether they are trustworthy and the process is just?
Part 7A lays out frameworks for evaluating the inputs and impact of these various approaches to “making things right.” It lists questions to use for analyzing: (1) the ethical environment in which proposed resolutions are offered, (2) the infrastructures for interaction, and (3) resolution arrangements. Part 7B applies these three frameworks (ethics, infrastructures, and resolutions), plus resonance with core values of abuse survivor communities, to major Christian agencies involved in victim situations.
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Dealing with Systemic Abuse:
Doing It Wrong, Doing It Right
Did Part 6 help with understanding why survivors say such tactics are revictimization?
Some Basic Issues of Wrong and Right
An individual’s or institution’s reputation understandably gets depleted when there are multiple failures in dealing with interlinking layers in the system. A good reputation relies on trust. From the perspective of survivors, for a credibly accused person or organization to establish, repair, or restore trust requires flipping the script on traumatization and lies, and promoting justice through truth-telling and other corrective steps.
Interpersonal dimensions. This is a relational dispute, and individuals have been harmed.
Social dimensions. Typically, other people are informed or otherwise find out, so harm has been done in the public eye. When public accusations or misinformation are involved, this cannot be fully resolved privately, and non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements block correction of misperceptions of the public.
Organizational dimensions. The actions typically involve an institution, so there may have been failures in corporate governance, transparency, and self-dealing/self-benefit by directors, employees, and/or volunteers.
Legal dimensions. Some actions taken by individuals and on behalf of related institutions may potentially constitute misconduct, malfeasance/malpractice, or negligence – or other issues that could end up in as criminal cases, civil litigation, or actions by regulatory agencies.
Ideological/theological dimensions. There are likely a range of issues to address, from general brokenness to specific sins, leadership disqualifying actions and character disorders, and even the promotion of evil.
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Basic Questions for Evaluating Partial Investigations
and Alternative Dispute Resolution Proposals
These were the basic questions I posed in Part 6C for thinking about core issues when considering Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which often include some kind of investigation process.
We need to understand the essence of what arbitration, conciliation, and mediation mean so we can answer the questions that regularly get raised when they’re offered to survivors by offending individuals and institutions. Questions like:
- What is the main focus of the type of ADR being proposed?
- Are there issues that will affect the process, based on the jurisdiction where the ADR will happen?
- Who facilitates the process, who chooses that person or group or agency, and who pays?
- How do the parties involved present or represent themselves – documents only, in person, with lawyer, other methods?
- Once parties agree to a specific ADR process, is it possible to back out at any time, or is it required to pursue the process all the way to resolution?
- Are the findings, results, and/or awards legally binding; or is acceptance of them voluntary?
- What happens if we cannot come to a mutual agreement?
Those are basic questions that I will leave for your own research – though we will take a look at some angles and implications in a later article in the series.
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Expanded Question List for Evaluating
Alternative Dispute Resolution Proposals
There are other specific issues and questions about ADR. I needed to put them into some kind of organizing system to grasp the flow of process and possibilities, a framework of questions and indicators to evaluate specific situations. After weeks of mulling over how best to make these issues accessible, this is what emerged.
I designed this system primarily based on knowledge of survivor cases that emerged in 2018 from the theologically conservative/evangelical stream in the Church. We’ll look at some of those in Part 7B. If you are aware of these cases, it will probably make sense that I’m asking these kinds of questions. These issues actually came up, though not all in any one particular case.
What constitutes negotiating in “good faith”? What is “poisoning the well”? Is this just? Success depends on establishing trustworthiness. If there is already a “DNA of deflection/bad faith,” the process and results are doomed.
- What if there have been criminal issues involved? Have they been reported? Have statutes of limitation run out? Will any binding agreement include reporting the crimes so the criminal complaints are on the record – even if the statute of limitations has run out – to contribute to establishing a track record of filings on the perpetrator? Or is there any item that precludes any party from filing criminal reports, regardless of when the crime happened?
- Have “weasel words” or weak acknowledgments been used to minimize the level of crime, damage, and/or responsibility? (Pseudo-apologies equal “Acknowledge everything but take responsibility for fixing nothing.”)
- Have parties impugned the veracity of others without evidence, for instance, calling them liars, labeling their reports as false allegations? Is the overall atmosphere amiable, or hostile?
- Any “moral equivalency” statements made that poison the well? (For instance, “Well, we’re all sinners.” Or, “What were you wearing when you say you were sexually assaulted? Did you invite it?”)
- Are parties in the dispute resolution process viewed as peers? Treated as peers? Or is there an inherent power differential that skews the process and/or results in someone’s favor?
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How does the proposed formal framework for interacting facilitate or impede the process and achieving hoped-for outcomes?
- Who facilitates the investigation and/or resolution proceedings – an individual or a group? What kind(s) of professions or certifications do they have? Is the facilitator “neutral” – no conflicts of interest with the hiring organization and/or those reported as offenders?
- Who chooses the arbitrator(s), conciliator(s), mediator(s)? Who pays for the process? Do either of these elements – selection or payment – create an inherent ethical problem, slanting the process and/or outcomes in favor of a particular party?
- Are there any current or historical background issues that taint the proposed facilitator? For instance, does the facilitating agency have former clients and/or current recommenders who are not trusted (or even who are reviled) within survivor communities? Have they made contemptuous statements about survivors before, in news articles or social media?
- If the facilitator uses a specified set of principles, is that ideology relatively neutral toward all parties? Is it pro- or anti- any category of participant: pro-survivor, pro-authority figures, pro-institution, etc.?
- Who represents the parties in conflict? Themselves? Lawyers? Other? And are the parties in conflict present during the process, or do they just submit documents?
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What are the formal structures for reaching problem resolution or process conclusion, and for what happens after that?
- Can parties opt-out after initially agreeing to enter the process, or back out after already being involved in it?
- Does the set of principles used for the particular process – investigation, arbitration, conciliation, mediation – require binding agreements? Are parties required to accept in advance whatever will turn out to be the “verdict,” once they’ve entered into the process? Or is acceptance of proposed resolutions voluntary/non-binding?
- Are there elements that significantly change the course of the future, such as non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, binding terms to forego any future litigation, etc.? If so, how do these affect justice in the current situation, and prevention of further abuse in the future?
- What happens if no resolution is reached? Are the doors to additional resolution processes still open? Is litigation still an option if all other approaches fail?
- What happens if there is a resolution agreement, but then one or more parties violate any of the binding terms? For instance, has anyone apparently violated a non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreement by speaking about the process, parties involved, outcomes, etc.? Has the accused individual or institution released statements or given interviews to the press that revealed their side of the situation? Are the other parties then free to speak openly?