In terms of the practice of those involved in the process, the main way in which the learning could reasonably be implemented on a wider level is through the political organisations we went on to be involved in. This includes extra-parliamentary left wing groups, campaigns, smaller base unions and other forms of organising. In many ways it is simpler to adopt and influence policies within democratic and left-oriented organisations which are relatively small rather than within larger structures such as larger trade unions, the university itself, workplace, Labour Party etc. where there is less political unity and commitment to non-state-led interventions into sexual violence. This is partially due to less legal constraints but is also an issue of the politics of these institutions.
There’s a case to be made for campaigns regarding changing current state practice around sexualised violence and abuse or changing institutional practice around these issues. These efforts are not without merit and would certainly have a positive effect on the immediate lives of survivors. However, they are limited in scope by the myriad of other societal factors which contribute to sexualised violence and abuse discussed in this article. There would need to be an overall societal shift, an overthrow of the current political regime, for there to be any meaningful progress on this level beyond simple reformism of a broken institution. This, of course, is what we are more generally fighting for.
For some of us we believe this can and should begin within our own spheres of influence i.e. the political organisations in which we are able to make democratic contributions and shift the culture on a smaller scale. They are, of course, also subject to the overall negative effects and barriers of wider society but there is also more capacity for autonomous action and implementation of a more experimental and liberatory process which may not rely on things like incarceration, corrupt legal systems and other disciplinary forces which do not center a restorative approach or focus on survivors wishes (and, in fact, often worsen the experiences of survivors).
This is a somewhat idealised view – in practice there are always mixed results. Some of us have used our experiences in this particular accountability process to bring thoughts to a wider discussion of accountability in left organisations. Within our own organisations we have played a role in influencing how other situations were dealt with based on what we found in this process. We have been keen to start a debate in our organisations about what should happen when our members or those we come into contact with politically are harmed in some way by others in or outside of our organisation.
Part of the issue we had was indeed that our group was not a membership organisation and functioned on a voluntary basis. For these types of groups or campaigns it becomes more difficult to develop a predetermined process for how to deal with issues of abuse. The structure is overall less rigid, the group itself often in flux as to who is and is not involved with membership becomes less formal and more based on social ties. It is, however, not impossible for an unconstituted group or non-membership organisation to have some sort of processes in place should they have a mind to create them. It requires certain members to commit to their implementation in a more solid way and an ongoing discussion with people in the group to make them aware of the processes that have previously been agreed. It would require the group to be committed to the idea of community accountability within their group despite its relative informality or seemingly singular focus. This could be challenging for very focused campaigns, as we found, due to it not seeming an obvious thing to implement and have in place especially for those with less experience in organising.
In terms of membership organisations, there are often some differences depending on whether or not the people involved in each scenario were members or non-members of the organisation as this can affect ability to hold certain people accountable or for survivors to seek help from us in the first place. A survivor or victim outside of the organisation should, theoretically, be able to seek help from those within it if they are harmed by a member of said organisation. In these cases it is more likely to go ahead if the person in question is aware that some sort of structure existing within the organisation which is designed to help them and also to be impartial i.e. not biased in favour of their own members. The organisation must project, somehow, an outward facing image of this process in some respect – that is, non-members should know that it exists and how to access it.
In this case there is scope for the organisation to take some level of ‘disciplinary’ or punitive measure against their own member or place conditions upon their membership which are contingent on their engagement with an accountability process. The organisation may also decide to expel that member on the basis of the survivor’s wishes. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach depending on how committed and involved the member is or was. If the member was not very engaged with the organisation then expulsion or conditional membership will have little impact. They may also decide to leave the organisation voluntarily to avoid dealing with the accusations.
Some groups have used the tactic of asking the person accused of abuse not to attend certain events or meetings that they know the survivor will be attending. They are asked to avoid the survivor to ensure their continued engagement in the political scene whilst limiting their own. In some ways this is a practical step towards enabling survivors to feel comfortable continuing to participate in politics, although needs a level of engagement and good will to be effective – or else, a number of people with a will to enforce the ban. On a long-term basis this can be difficult to maintain and should therefore be seen as a fairly temporary measure pending some sort of resolution or process.