Chronology

Individual Confrontation

I had confronted my then boyfriend with his abusive behaviour during and after our relationship. I asked him to send me a letter in which he would admit what he did and apologise for it. I wanted him to realise what he had done and I hoped that this was a way for him to change and for me to forgive. It took him 2 years to do this and when I received his letter in 2014 I realised that he had written it solely out of the fear of facing consequences and that it was no expression of taking either me or his behaviour seriously.

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Forming a support group

In December 2014 a support group was set up in Berlin with two comrades of the victim’s political organisation (iL) and two of their flatmates. The aim of this support group was to discuss strategies and take collective responsibility for our actions, such as the publishing of the letter and all of the emails we sent, including those to the perpetrator. By doing this, we attempted to take responsibility from the shoulders of the victim into a collective process.

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Informing the perpetrator‘s close friends

In the support group we decided to inform the people closest to the perpetrator, including his partner, at an early stage in the process and assured them that no more people would be informed until a certain date. This was because we wanted to give them time without public pressure to process the information and find emotional/material support if needed. However, this selection of people, the openness about the next steps of the accountability process and the geographical distance between us supported the creation of a group trying to prevent more people from being told.

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Distributing the letter

Because so many concerns had been raised about a possible “witch hunt” (sadly, yes), we, the support group in Berlin, decided to keep the open letter off the internet and only distribute it in printed form. This was extremely time consuming and it was clear that we needed people in Birmingham to do this. Unfortunately, only two out of the nine people who had been given the open letter, were willing to shoulder this task. More people joined at this point, but still the work rested on very few people, which is another reason why it would have been important to include more supportive people earlier on in the process.

Open Meetings and Community Group

With the distribution of the open letter people were invited to an initial open meeting in Birmingham. Everyone was allowed to come and there was no specific agenda; factual questions were answered, issues raised that people found relevant to discuss and next steps were agreed on. Since both the victim and the perpetrator had moved to different cities, the work supporting the victim from Birmingham was limited to what could be called a theoretical role because the need to provide immediate emotional support for the victim was not necessary. Our contribution as ‘community process group’ in Birmingham to their welfare was instead bound up in creating an environment in which they could be satisfied that their story was believed and that the incidences were taken seriously by the community. In order to create this environment, we decided to meet regularly to discuss the history of our student group and how its structures had facilitated sexual violence. And with the continuing relationship to the affected person, many felt like achieving this trust was something worth celebrating.

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Perpetrator Contact Group

In December 2015, out of the Birmingham community process group we constituted a perpetrator contact group. The victim and their support group were handing over this task and had written a document about the aims, principles and tasks they saw for this group.* Five people living in different cities joined this group and have worked in changing composition since then to hold the perpetrator accountable according to the demands formulated in the open letter. At this point, five years later, he hasn‘t done any of these demands.

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Reading Group/Writing Group

After a couple of open meetings in Birmingham, some people decided that they wanted to progress by meeting among those who agreed with the principle aims of the letter. Two groups were formed; a reading group and a writing group. The reading group was set up as many felt out of their depth, creating a space for mutual learning and consciousness raising. Another attempt for consciousness raising concentrated on examining masculinity from a critical perspective and was far less successful. Following a relatively well-attended public event concentrating on the role of the military in constructing damaging forms of masculinity there was an attempt to begin a reading group which would focus on critically examining masculinity more generally. However, these meetings were very poorly attended and stopped after a few attempts. Some of the reasons for this are discussed in the section ‘Reflections – Limiting Factors’.

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What next?

Closing and evaluating the accountability process that took place in Birmingham doesn‘t mean we stop talking or thinking about it. But it means we stop working in the groups that have formed. Some of us may continue this work in other contexts, such as Plan C or the interventionist Left and other extra-parliamentary left wing groups, campaigns, smaller base unions and other forms of organising. But most of all we hope that others will feel encouraged by our experiences to debate and practice what we see as an essential anti-sexist agenda of left-wing politics. It may be hard to imagine a world without sexualised violence but in a world where victims would know that they would be listened to, believed and supported once they decide to speak about what happened to them, the perpetrators would lose a lot of their powers that partially made the violence possible in the first place.