Open Letter

// This letter was distributed in printed form to about 50 people in Birmingham in the summer of 2015.

// Trigger warning: the letter contains explicit references to sexualised violence.

Open letter from a victim of sexualized violence and her support group

We are writing this open letter to inform you about events of rape and sexual abuse that have taken place in the Birmingham political circles. Our aims with this are:

  • to empower the person who was raped to speak up,
  • to make these events known and talk about sexualized violence without taboo,
  • to initiate a process that discusses the structures that allowed this to happen, ways of responding to it and means of preventing it in future
  • create a supportive atmosphere for all victims and survivors of sexualized violence and
  • to force the perpetrator to take responsibility for what he has done and prevent future abuse.

We are a group of people who became active when the victim decided to share her experience with political and personal friends. This was after a case of sexual violence was made public in the left scene she is now part of and which gave her the confidence to be open about her experience. Together we decided to inform more people about what happened and this letter is the result of a process we have had with a smaller group of people in Birmingham and the perpetrator. Please read this letter, take your time to think about it, share it and discuss its content with other people from the political and social circle, but do not make this letter or its content public online nor share it with people outside the relevant circles or people you do not trust to act according to the aims of this letter. Our interest is a left scene in Birmingham that is able to engage in an emancipatory struggle with society, but also within itself. A general guideline for what we mean by relevant is: everyone who knows the perpetrator or the person he raped, people who are or were involved in the social and/or political circles or people who are interested in working towards the same goals as stated above. We cannot and do not want to decide this on an individual level from afar and hence will leave this up to you. We also want you to protect the privacy of the victim by not identifying her or the perpetrator publicly. Additionally we would ask you to refrain from putting this letter up on the Internet, as well as talking about the rape or the people involved on facebook.

A brief chronology

In the beginning of 2012, X, a central character in the Birmingham political circle, raped his then girlfriend and continuously violated her sexual self-determination over a period of several months. He exploited the situation of her being dependent on other people’s help after an accident that partly immobilized her at the time. To state clearly how we use the word rape: X ignored her explicit verbal rejection as well as her physical resistance to sex multiple times, while she was doing rehabilitation and when they lived together over the summer. He was confronted with this during the relationship, but the violence and abuse continued over the summer until she moved away from Birmingham in autumn 2012. The violence went unnoticed and unmentioned and part of why we are writing to you is to discuss what circumstances led to this.

Our approach

To us it is very important that X is not at the centre of the political process. There is a tendency in debates about sexualised violence to focus too much on the question of how to deal with the perpetrator. We think this can distract from looking after those who are directly or indirectly affected by his behaviour and organising support for each other in the process. Instead, we think a process about sexualised violence should take on the perspective of the victim. This means for us to understand that being raped is often an individualised experience of powerlessness. The taboo around the topic further makes it harder to deal with this experience as it suggests that it is something to be ashamed of or something too difficult to deal with. This is why we think encouraging victims to be open about their experience can be very empowering by making it clear that this is not an individual problem, that it is nothing to be ashamed of and that it is something people are willing and able to engage with. Empowering victims to talk about their experience also helps to share the responsibility of finding a response to these acts of violence instead of leaving victims alone in trying to find a way of dealing with it. Taking on the victim’s perspective for us also means to recognise that in this case, and also in many other cases, it is the victim who silently retreats from political activity while the perpetrator stays on. We see this as one of the reasons why people are much more concerned about the effect that an open debate will have on the perpetrator, instead of asking what support can be offered to the victim or other people affected by sexualised violence.

During the past months of the process, many people initially reacted by expressing their fears that there would be a witch hunt against the perpetrator, or that the process would become one of punishing or shaming him. While we share these concerns in general, we also see a problem in addressing them to a victim making her experience of rape public. Firstly, we think it is important to see this letter and the reactions to it as a reaction to the perpetrator’s violence and that the situation we have to deal with now has been created by him and not by the person speaking up. Secondly, we think it is extremely important that everyone who gets told about a case of sexualized violence takes responsibility for how they react to this information. The silence of a victim cannot be seen as the condition that people behave reasonably.

We decided to write the letter with an ‘X’ instead of the perpetrator’s name, since we want to protect the victim’s as well as the perpetrator’s identity from the public sphere, the internet and hostile groups. Nevertheless, we also think that there are good reasons to name and identify a rapist in discussions and want to encourage you to do so. This is not to punish or shame him but because we think that making rape and sexualised violence an unsayable thing is part of the structures that make it impossible for victims to talk about it, seek help, and break out of their situation. What’s relevant for victims is also for rapists: as, if they can be relatively sure that their actions can never be talked about publicly, they can feel safe and unquestioned. To change this seems more important to us than to fully protect the perpetrator’s identity. It is up to you to use the information about the perpetrator’s violence responsibly, so that other victims will feel encouraged to talk about their experience in the future.

While we see the responsibility for the acts of violence to lie with the perpetrator, we think a political process around rape should focus on structures that enable it rather than on the perpetrator as an individual to be punished and/or rehabilitated. For us this means to see his acts of violence not as individual acts but linked to his behaviour more generally and understand them in the context of the political group he and the victim were involved in, and society more broadly. We feel that his central position in the group gave him the chance to remain unchallenged and unquestioned and thereby normalised his abusive behaviour. We see internal hierarchies, authority and dependencies as relevant factors of abusive behaviour both in this case and in political groups more generally; and think there needs to be a broad discussion that also reaches those people at the “loose ends” of our communities and groups.

From our perspective, X was further able to exploit a culture of keeping the political and the private separate, and one where asking for help and taking care of each other was unusual and hard. It was seen to be a distraction from the political fight of the group and rather being delegated to private relationships. Statements by the perpetrator that sex with his girlfriend boosted his self-esteem or made him “feel more manly” and his suggestions that keeping him well could be her “new role” in the movement after her accident, bring up issues of sexism in our relationships and political organizing.

In the case we are writing about, the victim felt isolated and dependent on the perpetrator due to the long hospitalization, rehabilitation and limited mobility while staying in Birmingham. We decided to tell you this in order to show how other dimensions of oppression, such as ableism, should not be ignored when discussing sexualised violence as well as access and self-determined behaviour in our political and social contexts. However, despite the importance of structural oppression we do not want to encourage the profiling of victims: A victim becomes a victim, because there is a perpetrator.

The perpetrator

We have included a large section of the letter discussing how we think the perpetrator should be dealt with; however this does not mean that we intend this to be a focus for discussions. Rather we have included this here because we hope that it will answer some of the questions people may have, and so reduce the amount of time that is spent on this topic during meetings.

X was confronted with his behaviour during the relationship, as well as afterwards but he was reluctant to recall his acts of sexualised violence. He further did not seek help to deal with what he had done. He continued to be involved in politics and also entered a new sexual relationship, which increased the isolation and fear of his victim to tell others about her experience. For the past 4 months we have been in contact with the perpetrator via Email to ask him what he understands about his actions and what steps he has taken in order to change. We formulated some demands towards him that we see necessary in order for him to take responsibility for what he has done;

1. Seek critical help to recall and understand what he has done in order to change

We believe that taking responsibility for his actions must involve him recalling and understanding his acts of violence. This is why we demanded of him – and provided him with some contact information – to seek competent and critical help to do perpetrator work with him. At the time of writing this, he still claims to not recall his acts of violence. Considering his actions and the verbal and physical resistance of the victim, we think this is very unlikely and otherwise a serious problem.

2. Inform any new political environment and sexual partners about his abusive behaviour

We also believe that a perpetrator has the responsibility to make his past transparent to the people around him. This for us concerns any future sexual partners, but also people he works with politically. This is not to punish him but so that they can – on the basis of that information and his way of dealing with it – decide for themselves in what ways they trust him. As we see his acts of violence not as single events but also linked to abusive tendencies in the way he does politics and further believe that it was his powerful position within political groups that allowed him to get away with it, we think it is important that if he wants to continue doing politics, the people around him are informed. This includes not just the leaders of political groups, but especially those who are not in the center of decisions, in less central and powerful positions.

3. Stay accountable to us and a contact group

We think it is important that X cannot run away from his responsibilities by changing political group, city or friends. For the moment being, we are in contact with him and will continue to do so over the next few months in order to allow the discussions in Birmingham to not focus on this task. In the future, we hope to establish a contact group in England to take over and discuss with him the steps he is taking in response to our demands and beyond. We think this group should be formed by people who are no close friends of X but willing to be part of this process.

Finally, we do not want to take any position or make judgments regarding your personal relationship with X. From our side we don’t see the necessity of anyone cutting ties with him politically or personally. However, we do understand that some people will have their own good reasons for this. We also want to make explicit at this point that we respect his current girlfriend’s decision to stay in a relationship with him and have also been in contact with her over the past months. While their positions within this political process are of course not unquestionable, we think that his friends and especially his girlfriend should not be criticized for their relationship with X. We think it is good if people who decide to stay in contact with the perpetrator confront him with his actions and do not spare out the topic. At the same time we ask you, when you talk to X, to always consider that what you hear is only his perspective and to respect the privacy of the person he raped by not allowing him to talk about her, but to focus on him instead.

Ideas for the process in Birmingham

As we said above, we think a process in Birmingham would ideally not focus on X, but instead take on the perspective of the victim, support the people affected and focus on the structural conditions that allowed this to happen. We wish to see an open, supportive and reflective process about the rape and abuse that took place, about violence-supporting structures and about how they can be overcome. We wish to change the situation in Birmingham such that the victim can feel comfortable to visit Birmingham, talk with others freely about what happened and find support instead of isolation. Beyond this, we also hope that the process around this particular case can help more generally to detect and prevent future patterns of abuse and sexualized violence; and create a culture of awareness and structures of support and empowerment for victims and survivors of sexual abuse, instead of taboo, silence and the expectation to deal with these problems individually instead of collectively.

To achieve these aims, we think it is important to focus on organizing a collective process in Birmingham that does not leave individuals feeling helpless, frustrated or overburdened with finding a response to all of this. Such a process could take on many forms to be sure. As a first step we encourage you to hold a meeting in order to talk through the letter in detail, clarify or raise questions, and agree on further meetings and steps that you want to take.

Regarding the long-term aims of this process, we think there are (at least) three central questions to be discussed in Birmingham;

1. What factors in the social and political context support abusive and exploitive behaviour?

2. What factors prevent victims from sharing their experience, asking for support, or leaving the threatening situation they are in?

3. What structures need to be built up in order to prevent future incidents of sexualised violence and to support and empower people who were sexually violated?

We think it would be very helpful to offer a framework in which people who want to further engage with the topic can do that in order to sustainably raise awareness in the Birmingham political group. In terms of questions of power, violence and dependency structures and how these can be countered collectively. The debate could for example encompass how to create a support group that victims can turn to, what dynamics victims are confronted with when they start talking about their experiences of sexualised violence, how hierarchical structures in the group can be made transparent and eased out, how dependencies can be dealt with collectively, or what could help people to see violence and start asking about it. This is however only a list of topics we came up with without knowing the current situation in Birmingham, so we hope you adjust and add to it from your own perspective and experience. We are aware that this is a very challenging topic for many and want to point out that often it can be useful to get external support (e.g. in form of workshops or training) from people who have more experience with this.

While we ourselves do not wish to become major actors in the process in Birmingham, we would like to be kept updated about what is going on. We would appreciate if you could send us a brief summary of your meeting(s). Our group is going to meet regularly (every 2-3 weeks) until the end of the year and we are happy to answer questions or try to give advice in that time. While after 2015 we might not be able to respond to emails anymore, we will still read them and maybe will write up a summary about how we experienced the reactions. You can contact us via this email address: against_rape@riseup.net. We can also forward private messages to the victim if you indicate this in your email.


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Naming the perpetrator            

In the original letter we decided against naming the perpetrator because we feared that people would attack us for naming him and take his side because they would judge it as an act of punishment. Thus, we decided to not name him not only to protect the well-being of the victim, but also because we didn’t want a potential controversy around naming him to divert attention away from constituting a community accountability process in Birmingham. Finally, we believed that by informing his social environment, demanding him to inform any future partners and comrades himself as well as establishing a contact group to hold him accountable, we had provided enough information to prevent future abuse.

Now, five years later the attempt to hold him accountable has failed. Whilst we initially believed that despite him moving to London just after some of the people close to him in Birmingham were informed about him having comitted sexual violence, there would be enough structures to hold him accountable, this is now not longer the case. Whilst never meaningfully committing to a process of accountability, he has now stopped engaging in any way.

We Have therefore decided to name Edward Bauer so people around him can make informed decisions with regards to him. 

How to use the name

We want to stress that this webpage is created in order to make available resources that show some different ways for people and groups that are affected by the direct and indirect impacts of sexual violence. Sadly, in the course of this and other experiences with perpetrators of sexual violence, we have to recognise that it is very difficult to get commitment from a perpetrator to work towards a stance of accepting the violence they have committed and the harm they have done. We do not want Edd’s name to be spread around as gossip in isolation from the perspective that is put forward on this website. We want everyone who knows about the abuse to have read the victim’s perspective that is set out in these letters, so if you are sharing this information we ask you to share it together with this website and to encourage a critical engagement with the content and process around the sexual violence he committed and sexual violence in general. We do not demand that people who have a relationship with Edd cut off all contact with him, but we do think the social and political environment around perpetrators have a responsibility to hold them accountable. 

We have the following aims for adding Edd’s name to this website and we want people to use the information for these reasons:

Prevent future abuse

Since the perpetrator has not met any of the demands and is unwilling to do so, we have no trust that we can rely on him or his social environment to prevent future abuse. Knowing about the fact that he has raped someone and failed to even recognise – let alone take responsibility for – his acts of violence, we did not want to take any risk that he would do this again to anyone. Surely we will not reach everyone with this website, but it is the most we can do.

We considered leaving this website anonymous and only naming him in emails that we send out to groups and organisations in the left scene. However we feared that we would thereby reproduce informal hierarchies by providing this information to the ‘inner circles” of the left wing scene and leaving those in the ‘outer circles’ or anyone joining new, in a vulnerable position. We publish his name here to allow as many people as possible to reflect on and make an informed decision about their relationship with him.

Stop the silencing

Speaking up about sexualised violence is a big part of the battle against this form of abuse. We believe that victims have a right (but not a duty!) to name their abusers and should not face repercussions if they do so.

We also feel that speaking about sexualised violence in an abstract and impersonal way often contributes to making all the cases invisible that happen in our peer-groups and political organisations. In theory many people would agree with a victim centred approach that aims to empower those who have been abused. But we have learned in this process that when it comes to the point where a friend or comrade has committed rape, too many people fail to apply such a feminist perspective and instead often take the perpetrator’s side. The reasons for this vary from not wanting to admit this due to a feeling of guilt, to the fear of losing an important friend, to preserving stability and one’s own position of power within groups. We hope that naming Edd will help to confront the reality that rapists are not only strangers and to encourage the uncomfortable debates about how we deal with cases of sexualised violence in our own social and political circles.

Demands

As is set out in the report from the contact group, Edd did not do any of the three demands that were requested of him by the victim (set out in the letter above). In our view these demands are a very small thing to ask of someone who has perpetrated such an extreme harm, and yet Edd has up till now refused to do any of them. We don’t think that people need to cut off contact with Edd, but that anyone who does maintain contact with perpetrators of sexual violence has a responsibility to the victim.  

We still think that the demands of the original open letter are all still relevant and that those around Edd can and should make him do them.  In the current context we ask those around Edd to make sure that:

1. Edd goes to a perpetrator programme – the demand from the original letter is still valid and Edd should attend a perpetrator group. This was discussed with Edd extensively and a suitable programme was identified. However, Edd refused because he felt he was somehow different to the other men in the programme.

2.  Edd takes responsibility for what he has done – this means to hold up the victim’s perspective and to challenge him on what he has done. Throughout the contact with Edd he never took responsibility for his actions but always portrayed himself as a victim of his circumstances. Until perpetrators recognise their choice and responsibility for their actions they cannot truly change. 

3. We still think that Edd has a responsibility to inform his sexual partners and his political environment about what he has done by providing them with the information from and a link to this website. This website will not reach everyone and people have a right to make an informed decision about how they relate to him. 

4. Edd stays accountable to the victim or their representatives if required. The contact group will no longer be working, however Edd still has an ongoing responsibility to reply to contact from the victim or their representatives in the future. 

Finally, we want to stress that any victim has the right to protect their identity and want you to support their will of remaining anonymous.

*Here you find the conclusion of the perpetrator contact group: https://commacct.uber.space/?p=59