A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Part 7B1: Understand Community Values for Insights Into Response Patterns

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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Introductory Review/Preview:

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

I recently posted a Twitter thread on the question posed in this article: Why Do Survivors Often Reject “Reconciliation” Offers from Reportedly Offending Individuals/Institutions? I’ve edited it slightly.

Why do survivors often reject “reconciliation” offers from reportedly offending individuals and institutions?

I can’t think of a single situation among Christian abuse survivors where reported victims asked for an internal investigation, arbitration, conciliation, mediation, NDAs. Can you?

If anything, they ask for, even push for, negotiations that use an independent investigation/truth-finding-then-reconciliation process. In these approaches to repairing the damages done, the reportedly offending individuals and institutions are NOT in control of the investigator, process, findings, or final report.

With few exceptions, reportedly offending individuals and/or institutions have only offered to undergo a partial investigation or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes such as arbitration, conciliation, and mediation. Or, they may already require a form of ADR in their church membership contract.

GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is the only site I know of where reports for a few cases of independent investigations have been posted. See this link for background information on independent investigations, and this link to access the public report archives.

If these observations are close to reasonably full and accurate assessment, it seems to me a compelling case for understanding why victims of abuse in Christian settings avoid (and should avoid) automatic acceptance of whatever reconciliation processes offending parties offer. The weight of evidence from news reports and social media records of Christian abuse victimization cases indicates a significant level of “buyer’s remorse” among those who went with partial investigation and/or ADR. The end results? Bad binding terms that stymied both justice for abuse victims and prevention/protection practices to guard the vulnerable.

Sadly, the history of behavior by individuals/institutions alleged to have permitted or protected abusers recommends itself to skepticism by survivors and advocates. Many investigation and reconciliation alternatives look open, transparent, and conciliatory – but turn out closed, leaving things hidden, and binding.

Here is a listing of some frameworks I’ve presented in Part 6 and 7A. These helped me organize my thoughts so I could write about specific situations and organizations. Hopefully they’ll help you do your own research into situations where someone or some organization is calling for resolution to reported abuse/violence.

Different integration points, and how they can be misused to the advantage of undeserving individuals, institutions, and ideologies.

Legal tools and tactics that end up silencing victims through fear and intimidation, or with victims signing away rights to disclose the process and rights to future litigation.

Differences between independent investigations versus partial institutional investigations.

Distinguishing features of arbitration, conciliation, and mediation and their potential misuses as alternative dispute resolution processes.

How alternative dispute resolution falls short of the goals that restorative justice seeks.

These frameworks give a base for comparing and contrasting agencies that promote investigation and reconciliation processes that fail to dismantle systemic abuse. I believe it is this last issue – failing to dismantle systemic abuse – that lies at the center of strong reactions from abuse survivors against most. It is not mere reactive, emotional response; it is a reasonable, rational response because proposed resolution actions violate core community values – providing neither justice nor prevention.

Justice for victims and protection for the vulnerable are keys to dismantling systemic abuse. Any proposal that fails to do just that will – and should – receive a “No.” They prioritize preserving the institution and ideology over protecting people.

With those frameworks in place for evaluating how independent an investigative method is, it makes sense to apply this to some of the more prominent Christian organizations and networks that purport to conduct investigations into abuse, and/or facilitate “peacemaking.” (We’ll get to that shortly, in a section dedicated to that topic.) This should help people understand why so many in survivor communities have seen GRACE as setting the high bar for all truly independent investigative agencies – and why they reject attempts to use other processes and organizations that serve the hiring institutions instead of find justice for abuse victims and protect the vulnerable.

I am dividing Part 7B into three sections:

  • Part 7B1. Understand Community Values for Insights Into Response Patterns.
  • Part 7B2. Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against.
  • Part 7B3. Researching Key Concerns About Major Christian Investigation/Resolution Agencies.

This is to facilitate readers who want to spend time reflecting after reading, or to do some research on their own. Otherwise, the combination of three sections has far too much information to absorb, all in one sitting.

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Part 7B1. Understand Community Values

for Insights Into Response Patterns

Reactions to situations of abuse/violence do not come out of a vacuum. The reason we see patterns of similar responses by survivors and advocates against certain kinds of proposals for “resolution” and “reconciliation” is that they violate a common set of values – even if those values are never stated formally. How else can you get similar responses from Christians representing a wide diversity of demographic backgrounds, from different theological streams, over multiple decades? So … what are those values?

As the pool grows of abuse/violence survivors who have gone public with their accounts of individuals and institutions that harmed them, I suspect patterns of resistance to pseudo-reconciliation will manifest even more strongly. In my recent reflections on the reasons for this, it boils down to two key issues:

  1. Institution-favoring processes violate core beliefs and values typical in abuse survivor communities.
  2. Actual situations keep proving how these processes prove unjust and retraumatizing for victims – regardless of presumable sincerity and good-faith image presented by the offending individuals and institutions.

The institutions always seem to the ones who win, and victims end up losing.  I recently posted something about this on Twitter, asking whether anyone could show contrary cases. It was in response to a notice of a Harvest Bible Chapel announcement about “peacemaking.” Here are the original tweet plus some comments on it:

Check out the whole comment thread after The Elephant Debt’s initial tweet, if you want to sample the kinds of responses that such announcements now draw out of abuse survivors and advocates. Be sure to follow the threads of comments that branch off of each main comment. I think you’ll find it enlightening.

What do you think is going on, in terms of values that are being violated, and goals that are being blocked by such peacemaking enterprises?

Here is a chain of three graphics on What Unifies Survivor Communities? I developed these almost six weeks ago, a week after I began posting segments in this cultural geography series. I was attempting to capture the essence of what typically motivates survivors in their interactions with offending institutions, and what is on their radar as issues to be aware of. See what you think …

In mulling over how best to present the values set that motivates similar responses to offers of negotiation and reconciliation, it occurred to me to use a very different angle:

If survivor communities were a non-profit agency instead of a social movement, what would be on its “About” webpage?

I have been involved with five kinds of organizational start-ups: social service and social change enterprises, a grassroots political campaign, informal networks for people with common interests/goals, church plants, and non-profit corporations. A fivefold framework I’ve found useful for organizing key information to make it more accessible is: purpose, mission, values, vision, and goals/activities.

Purpose – What drives our decision to organize?

Mission – Who do we want to make a difference for, and how?

Values – What are the way things should be (end-state values), and how should we treat one another on the pathway in getting there (instrumental values)?

Vision – If we make the impact we hope for, what would our preferred future look like?

Goals/Activities – What specific tasks keep us focused on transforming the present to create that future?

I applied this framework to what I’ve experienced, observed, and researched in/about abuse survivor communities. Here is how I’d put together those core essentials if I were developing an “About” page for them as a new non-profit agency. Some of the elements get interwoven, such as where general values and vision drive specific goals and activities. Still, the distinctions can be helpful for thinking through interconnections among our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and actions.

About Survivor Communities:

Our Principles and Practices

Purpose. (What drives our decision to organize?) – To make a difference in eradicating all forms of abuse/violence.

Mission. (Who do we want to make a difference for, and how?) – Justice and recovery for victims, protection for the vulnerable, abuse awareness and taking action by/for all.

Vision. (If we make the impact we hope for, what would our preferred future look like?) – As this is accomplished, toxic systems get dismantled; malignant individuals are curbed from roles of influence, access, and power; there is far less abuse/violence, and far greater healthiness and kindness.

Values, Goals/Activities:

Key values:

  • Truth/integrity
  • Justice
  • Prevention = disempowering perpetrators and perpetuators

… which require …

  • Transparency – openness, letting the light in so the darkness can be chased out.
  • Humility – admit something went wrong.
  • Accountability – taking constructive action to repair the damage.

… and aren’t seen when there is …

  • Hiding – restricting testimony, covering up the truth about damage done, the damagers, and those who covered it up.
  • Arrogance – misuse of abilities, positions, and power for benefit of self and other preferred insiders.
  • Deflection – use own status and/or institutional means to waylay discovery of truth and repair of damages done.

Those call forth:

  • Discovery and calling out
  • Removal from position of power
  • Dismantling toxic infrastructure

Mottoes. (How do we communicate essential elements about our organizations philosophy and goals?) – No one deserves abuse or violence. Every victim deserves advocacy. Do good plus do no harm.

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Preview and Homework for Part 7B2: Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against.

Here are the short-form and long-form versions of the three-part framework of ethics, infrastructures, and resolutions. Review them, along with considering elements in the above “Non-Profit Profile,” and then answer these questions:

What positive and negative examples of these can you cite that illustrate what survivors of sexual abuse, harassment, sexual assault, spiritual abuse, domestic violence, or other forms of abuse/violence have had to deal with in getting the damage repaired?

Why might survivors consider independent investigations and restorative justice processes to be infinitely superior to the alternatives?

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The Short Form of the Threefold Framework

ETHICAL ENVIRONMENT

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.

  • Issues of crime.
  • Vague wording that can be manipulated for misinterpretation.
  • Labeling victims.
  • Moral equivalency.
  • Power differentials / power dynamics.

INTERACTION INFRASTRUCTURE

How does the proposed formal framework for interacting facilitate or impede the process and achieving hoped-for outcomes?

  • Facilitators and their qualifications: professionalism, neutrality/bias, integration: hirer or survivors.
  • Selection and payment, and how that affects process and outcomes.
  • Agency’s past clients and whether this earns a trustworthy reputation among survivors. LITMUS
  • Agency’s required rules for the process.
  • Representation/assistance during process. (Can lead to problems with power dynamics.)

RESOLUTION ARRANGEMENTS

What are the formal structures for reaching problem resolution or process conclusion, and for what happens after that?

  • Opportunities to change participation by leaving before/during process.
  • Binding agreements of any kind re: findings, awards, resolutions.
  • Binding agreements affecting future rights: NDAs, litigation.
  • Impasse.
  • Violations of agreements, and consequences.

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The Long Form of the Threefold Framework

Expanded Question List for Evaluating

Alternative Dispute Resolution Proposals

ETHICAL ENVIRONMENT

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.”)
  3. 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?
  4. 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?”)
  5. 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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INTERACTION INFRASTRUCTURE

How does the proposed formal framework for interacting facilitate or impede the process and achieving hoped-for outcomes?

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.?
  5. 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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RESOLUTION ARRANGEMENTS

What are the formal structures for reaching problem resolution or process conclusion, and for what happens after that?

  1. Can parties opt-out after initially agreeing to enter the process, or back out after already being involved in it?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?

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Next: Part 7B2. Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against.

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