Conflict resolution

Processes for Conflict Resolution and Survivor-led Transformative Justice,

with guidance on implementation.

 

Definitions and goals relating to the processes

Community Accountability

The processes in this document are part of a strategy of community accountability.

We aim to be accountable to one another in our behaviour, support one another to resolve our conflicts, protect one another from violence, address conflicts through transformative justice processes and maintain a saferspace that respects the self-determination of survivors of sexual abuse.

We enact our processes with careful consideration of the potential consequences, and with a view to safeguarding our spacesand supporting those who use them to work together constructively towards our common goals. We aim to be clear and specific when communicating with people about their accountability, including our reasoning as well as our conditions or demands. When these may be difficult to hear or difficult to meet, we try to ensure that those involved are able to seek help from people close to them, or offer support ourselves if appropriate. We recognise that processes may be lengthy, and that engaging in them is a commitment for the long haul.

We also provide ways for everyone in the collective to increase their skills and knowledge by hosting skill-share/training sessions and making available relevant books. Learning about and practising community accountability processes should be a shared responsibility across the collective and an integral part of how we work alongside each other. Not only are conflict resolution skills useful to us in other areas of our lives, they are also useful tools for helping to bring about and live in the non-hierarchical, co-operative society that we are aiming for, where there is no appeal to authority to make a decision for or against us or to tell us what to do, and where the aim is not to “win” a conflict but to address and solve the problems from which it arises.

For more information on Community Accountability, see this Community Accountability Factsheet (http://www.transformativejustice.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/6685_toolkitrev-cmtyacc.pdf) from Incite! http://www.incite-national.org, a US radical organisation of women of colour against violence.

Transformative Justice

Our processes aim for Transformative Justice, rather than authoritarian judgement and sentencing. Transformative justice means addressing conflict and violence in ways that bring about change, not just in those directly involved but the community that holds them accountable. Instead of relying on outside authorities, such as police and prison systems, we put the power in the hands of survivors and aim to transform the systems that perpetuate violence and oppression, and so the way we relate to one another.

Unintentionally oppressive actions, resulting from attitudes learnt or adopted from growing up in an oppressive society, are just as harmful as intentional ones. When individuals and groups take responsibility for re-educating ourselves and each other based on our lived experiences of oppression, we can bring about much more meaningful change than when we merely defer to authority to issue punishment or defend our intent.

For more information on Transformative Justice, see Towards Transformative Justice (http://www.transformativejustice.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/G5_Toward_Transformative_Justice.pdf), from Generation 5 (http://www.generationfive.org/) a San Francisco non-profit working to end child abuse.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is the process we use for dealing with most personal or political grievances that don’t involve violence or sexual abuse. It can take place in whatever way is best for the participants, including face to face, via mediators or in writing.

The aim of conflict resolution is that all parties concerned can speak freely about behaviours that have made them feel upset or unsafe, and identify what will help them to feel safe and to be listened to. This means acknowledging that the way we feel, while being perfectly valid, is not necessarily the same as what we think, and is not necessarily the responsibility of someone else, as we all bring a personal history of experience and feelings to the collective.

We acknowledge that when someone is on the receiving end of oppression it is likely to bring up similar experiences from the past, thereby making a conflict involving oppression feel doubly unsafe, and that this may affect the way a conflict resolution needs to be arranged or mediated.

This process aims not only to resolve disputes but to foster an environment that does not tolerate emotional and psychological abuses. We recognise that, left unchecked, these can impact seriously on mental health. We have separate processes for physical and non-physical abuse, not because we see a hierarchy between these abuses but because of the different ways in which we need to deal with them.

Everyone in a grievance or conflict situation deserves and needs support in order to progress. If it helps, they can each speak to mediators separately before attempting to explain their perspectives to each other. They can each nominate different mediators or have the same ones. The process is adaptable to the needs of the individuals concerned.

Survivor-led process

This is a process for dealing with all kinds of physical violence and genuine threat of physical violence, and with incidents involving rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. We recognise the damage done to survivors of sexual violence by conventional justice systems, and the realities that:

  1. Sexual violence and harassment are extremely common and very often go unreported.
  2. False and malicious reporting of sexual abuse is extremely rare but is often assumed to be likely, and this assumption skews conventional justice systems in favour of perpetrators.
  3. Survivors very often face a terrible ordeal when they report sexual violence, in which their testimony and character are examined, doubted and judged at every stage by authorities who hold power over the process.
  4. Due to the often impossible burden of proof being placed on the survivor, perpetrators are very rarely convicted or held to account in any meaningful way.
  5. Those perpetrators who are convicted and jailed are exposed to an environment in which violence and disregard for personal autonomy are commonplace, and so their attitudes towards consent are only reinforced. They rarely find any impetus to examine or change their own behaviour from this experience.

We aim to restore power to survivors of physical and sexual abuse by providing a space in which it is safe for them to come forward, where their confidentiality will be respected and they will have control of the process. We ensure that those facilitating and participating in survivor-led processes have a good understanding of the political analysis of sexual violence, so that we do not put survivors in a situation in which they are made to feel powerless, or where they are judged or blamed for what has happened to them.

A survivor-led process is approached with the aim of restoring the safety of the space, primarily to the survivor, and then to the collective and other users of the space. The aim of the process is not to establish guilt or an objective narrative of what happened, but if possible to restore safety and trust. The exclusion of those named as perpetrators during this process is a safeguarding measure, and it should be obvious why this is necessary. It is far better to temporarily exclude somebody from the centre unnecessarily than to allow somebody access when there’s a good chance they may be a danger to the space.

When people are put on trial and presented with evidence, they tend to become defensive and look for ways to refute that evidence. When they are approached for assurances that they will not compromise others’ safety, it is much rarer that they will respond with outright denial of responsibility, and more likely they will engage in Transformative Justice. This is why we do not ask either person to present a testimony or provide evidence, but for the one who did harm (regardless of the extent or intent of that harm) to recognise the effect their actions had and take responsibility for them, in whatever way will restore power and safety to those harmed.

Initiating a Process

 

A: Person or group (A) experiences or witnesses abusive behaviour from person or group (B)

B: Does (A) feel confident and safe to speak to (B) alone?

C: (A) speaks privately to (B) about their behaviour, focussing on resolving the problem.

D: Has a satisfactory resolution been met?

E: Conflict resolved to satisfaction of both parties – no process necessary.

F: (A) contacts a member of the social centre collective to initiate the process. This person can act as facilitator or arrange for another mutually agreeable member of the collective to do so.

G: Facilitator and A go through flowchart ‘Determining the Nature of the conflict process’ on page 3. This determines how much to include when informing (B) that a process is being sought with them, who else to contact and what process is to follow.

H: Does (B) Agree to participate?

I: Was the processes determined in step G for Conflict Resolution or for Restorative Justice?

J: Go to the process determined in step G

K: If one party is unwilling to participate, then conflict resolution can be considered to have failed. Go to “Failed Processes”.

L: By dismissing (A)’s and/or the collective’s concerns, (B) is refusing to give assurances that allow the collective to safeguard their spaces, and cannot be allowed to return to the group. (B) has effectively excluded themselves. The facilitator should inform the collective that B has been excluded for safeguarding reasons, giving explanations that respect the survivor’s privacy.

Determining the Nature of the Process

A: Does (A) wants anonymity from (B) or any other members of the group?

B: All facilitators and participants will be requested to keep (A)’s identity confidential.

C: (B) may be told who has called a process with them, but it is still best practice for facilitators to not give det ails of the process or participants to anybody outside the facilitation team without participants’ express permission.

D: Does the abusive behaviour reported involve rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or a physical attack?

E: (A) should nominate people to be involved in the mediation process. If (A) doesn’t know many members of the Social Centre collective, the facilitator can make suggestions and contact these people with (A)’s permission.

F: The facilitator should now inform (B) of the behaviour that has been reported and that a process is being sought with them. (B) should only be told who made the complaint with (A)’s permission. (B) should be told who has been nominated to mediate, and given the opportunity to nominate additional mediators if they wish.

G: The process will be a ‘Mediated Process for Conflict Resolution’. Return to H in ‘Initiating a Conflict Process’.

H: The facilitator must tell (B) not to use the collective’s spaces until the process is concluded. The process should be determined by the survivor(s), and no further action taken or information given to other parties without the survivor(s)’ explicit consent.

I: Is (A) the survivor?

J: The process will be survivor-led. Go to H in ‘Initiating a Conflict Process’.

K: If the survivor(s) are not yet involved in the process, but are known to people involved, the facilitator(s) should look into the feasibility and appropriateness of contacting them offering the collective’s support in a survivor-led process.

L: The survivor(s) are contactable and wish to be involved in the process.

M: The survivor(s) cannot be contacted, or it would be inappropriate to contact them, or they do not wish to be involved.

N:The survivor is now (A), and the person who reported the incident should only remain involved at their request.

O: A meeting of the Social Centre collective should be called to decide whether to seek a process with (B) as an organisation or to permanently ban them. The facilitator should balance the confidentiality of the survivor(s) with the need to safeguard users of the space and give only the minimum necessary information, and never the survivor(s) identity. If the collective decides to seek a process, the collective is now (A). From here, the survivor-led process can be used as a guide, but as the survivor(s) are not involved it is not for the collective to make judgements on the incident that was reported to them, only on what actions (B) can take to assure the collective that their presence does not compromise the safety of the space.

Mediated Process for Conflict Resolution

 

A: Do (A) and (B) both feel safe and confident to meet together with mediator(s) present?

B: (A) and (B) meet with mediators, using Guidance for Mediators below to try to resolve the issue.

C: Mediators meet with (A) and (B) separately, allowing each to talk freely and clarify what they wish to gain from the process.

D: Satisfactory resolution?

E: Conflict resolved.

F: Do all feel that a meeting could now be productive?

G: Go to Failed processes

Guidance for Mediators:

 

The mediators’ role is not to take sides or to decide what (A) and (B) should do, but to facilitate the meeting and maintain it as a safespace where (A) and (B) may each talk and be listened to by the other, and to help (A) and (B) together create solutions to the conflict. Mediators can, if requested, be assigned to separate parties to support in private as well as at a meeting. Again, recognising that ‘support’ does not mean taking sides, but enabling each person to feel safe enough to express themselves and not be isolated while listening to opinions which may be critical. Any specific next steps arising from the meeting should be recorded in a written agreement by the facilitators.

 

If the collective has been informed of the process, the facilitators and/or (A) and (B) should report back to the next monthly collective meeting on progress.

 

Mediators can support communication between (A) and (B) in the following ways:

 

  • Listening uncritically to the problem as perceived by (A) or (B), taking the problem seriously.
  • Encouraging (A) and (B) to express their concerns in terms of the behaviours and actions that have been problematic, not the personal attributes of the other party.
  • Preparing (A) and (B) to be able to express themselves when they meet.
  • Identifying some action to be taken by (A) or (B) to change a particular behaviour or educate themselves on a particular issue.
  • Suggesting a helpful setting, agenda or structure for a meeting, especially for a second meeting to be different if the first has failed.
  • Arranging to have a particular subgroup or allies’ meeting within the collective. A report-back to the collective may be agreed to inform the others of the grievance/conflict and the steps taken to make progress on it.
  • Suggest a change of mediator if you feel you are unable to take the process further.
  • With the agreement of (A) and (B), suggest bringing the grievance/conflict to the collective monthly meeting (either in person or in writing) and there ask the collective for assistance in resolving the problem.

Example of a Survivor-led Process for Restorative Justice

(The survivor may make changes – this is a guide for ideas and good practice)

A: Is there anything (B) could do to restore (A)’s trust and make them feel safe in (B)’s presence again?

B: (A) Outlines conditions that should be met by (B) in order for basic trust to be restored (see guidelines below for ideas). (B) remains banned from the centre until such time as these conditions are met.

C: (A)’s decisions and conditions are communicated to (B) in a statement that (A) has either written or approved.

D: Does (B) agree to take these conditions on board and work towards restoring trust?

E: (B) remains banned from the social centre.

F: (A) Sets review date. It is for (B) to contact the facilitator or collective at this time and demonstrate that conditions have been met.

G: On review date, does (A) consider (B)’s progress satisfactory?

H: the social centre collective meet to decide whether all are prepared to let (B) back into the space.

I: (B) is allowed to return to the social centre and rejoin the collective, possibly on conditions set by (A) and/or collective

J: Social Centre Collective is now (A). This part of the process is an extra safeguard. The collective has no business forgiving (B) when the survivor has not, but it can continue to mistrust (B) and demand further assurance after a survivor is satisfied. The survivor comes first, but (B) only returns when everybody can feel the space will be safe.

K: Is it possible that this decision will change in time?

L: (B) remains banned from the social centre, with a date set by (A) to review the decision, possibly giving a set of conditions to be met for review (see below for ideas), or possibly merely deferring the possibility of Restorative Justice until (A) feels better able to consider such conditions.

M: (B) is banned from the social centre indefinitely. Facilitator informs (B) and Social Centre Collective, taking care to give only necessary details and respect (A)’s confidentiality if requested.

Ideas for conditions that perpetrators could be required to meet in order to restore trust:

  • Take a course in anger management.
  • Seek counselling/therapy.
  • Admit to having a problem and speak to friends or members of the collective about it.
  • Admit responsibility and apologise for harm caused.
  • Give up drinking/drugs/other addictive behaviour that has been connected with violent episodes.
  • Make other changes to lifestyle/attitude to improve.
  • Avoid bad influences or company.
  • Read certain books/watch documentaries/attend meetings to improve understanding of an issue.
  • Write a statement explaining why the incident occurred and how the perpetrator intends to avoid behaving the same way in future.

 

This is not an exhaustive list – survivors should be free to think of their own ideas, and remember that they are not obliged to give the perpetrator a way out. In fact, one condition could be that the perpetrator has thought hard enough about how to restore trust that they come up with some ideas of their own.

Failed Conflict Resolution Processes

 

A: Are (A) and (B) willing to have the collective resolve the matter for them?

B: Will the disagreement affect the collective?

C: (A) and (B) must work it out or the collective will decide.

D: (A) and (B) reach a satisfactory resolution?

E: Conflict resolved.

F: (A) and (B) continue to use the centre on the condition they don’t let their conflict affect other members of the collective. If they do, follow arrow for next step.

G: the collective meeting suggests actions that (A) and (B) should take in order to work together, and may feel it necessary to exclude one, other or both from the space, or forbid them from coming to the same events, if they do not resolve their conflict. See guidance below.

H: Do (A) and (B) agree to the suggested actions?

I: (A) and (B) continue to use the centre on conditions set out by collective.

J: (B), (A) or both are excluded from certain events or from the centre entirely until willing to compromise (see guidance below).

Guidance for groups/collectives on dealing with failed processes:

This process is a last resort, in which authority passes to the social centre collective to find solutions that will enable (A) and (B) to make progress towards working constructively together. This could involve, for example, relationship counselling, time-out from the collective, or asking an external independent person from another co-op/collective to facilitate a meeting.

If all practical possibilities have been exhausted, the collective may find it is necessary to impose some form of sanction to prevent (A) and (B) from meeting. This might be decided in a group meeting with (A) and (B) present, or meetings with each of them separately, or a meeting in their absence at which their written statements are read aloud. The outcome of this meeting might be include banning one or both parties, either from all or some group events, or deciding they must take turns in having access to such events.

These decisions are bound to be difficult, and influenced by judgements about who is in the right, or who is most deserving of sympathy. Though this may be unavoidable, we should be wary of making decisions purely on this basis, as personal friendships and prior commitments to the collective are bound to influence such decisions. We should try, instead, to take into account factors such as the extent to which each person has made the space unsafe for the other, or for other users, and willingness to engage with conflict resolution in good faith.

Any suggestions/decisions should be communicated in writing from the collective to the individuals involved, as soon as possible.

 

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