Principles at Stake
Our socialist and feminist politics dictate that we take an unwavering, principled stand against patriarchal behavior and gendered violence in our movement and that we make our organizational spaces safer and empowering for survivors and people who are disproportionately impacted by gendered violence, including women and LGBTQ people.
At the same time, our socialist and feminist politics dictate that we treat everyone involved in a case with these intensely, emotionally charged issues with humanity and dignity. We acknowledge that some individuals who commit gendered violence may be capable of making reparations and transforming their behavior. We understand that our organization may not be in a position to provide the resources to enable this, given our primary commitment to survivors and limited capacity.
We believe that bringing these principles into balance means managing a certain tension between them. This document seeks to expand and codify the assumptions and procedures that govern our democratic norms of membership and our socialist-feminist internal culture.
Outline of this document:
I. Language and Working Definitions
II.Kansas City DSA Process and Other Processes
III. Outline of Our Process
Guiding Precepts for Our Response
Supporting the Survivor
Begin by Listening
The Aggressor’s Status in the Organization during the Investigation
IV. Confidentiality of the Proceedings
During the Investigation Period
Keeping Confidentiality in the Accountability Plan
V. Providing Resources and Ensuring Uniformity across the Organization
A. History of the document and the Grievance Officer
I. Language and Working Definitions
When someone brings forward a case of gendered violence, they are nearly always a survivor in some sense of the word. It is extremely rare for someone to fabricate a incident of abuse. Therefore, for the purposes of this document, even when we are discussing processes happening before an official determination has been made on a case, we will use the terms survivor (or occasionally victim) and aggressor, rather than terms such as accused, accuser, or alleged. At the same time, we are committed to ensuring, as best we can, that the process is fair for all involved and that all parties have the opportunity to share their accounts.
We will refer to the individual or individuals investigating these cases as “Grievance Officer.” Here are some working definitions and concepts useful in understanding these issues, which may be overlapping, and should not be considered exclusive.
Sexual Abuse of Power: The essence of rape is the sexual abuse of power: an aggressor’s exploitation of dominance, influence, and control over a person in a subordinate position. This way of understanding sexual assault recognizes that, particularly in acquaintance rape, physical coercion can be non-existent or secondary to the aggressor’s ability to exploit their power, authority, or trust to obtain sex by intimidating the victim. When sexual abuse of power is central to the situation, the person often feels that there are no meaningful choices available, given their dependent position, other than to submit to unwanted sex. It is incumbent upon all members to be aware of imbalances of power that are generated by differences in gender, race, experience, age, sexuality, access to support networks and other resources, political experience and expertise, etc., and to ensure that these imbalances of power are not exploited in ways that lead to gendered abuse/violence.
Consent: Consent is another concept that can be useful in understanding sexual assault. Consent occurs when one person agrees to an act of sexual behavior. Consensual sexual activity occurs when all parties involved have actively communicated their agreement to an act of sexual behavior. Consent must be given for each new level of sexual activity–kissing, touching, penetration, etc. In order to be able to give consent, a person must have the option and ability to refuse consent without fearing consequences. Thus, a person who is severely intoxicated or unconscious cannot give consent. Pre-existing differences in power or authority between individuals can limit a person’s ability to provide consent. For example, a young, new activist may feel as though there is not an option to refuse sex with the leader of a social movement organization.
Many of us have been educated in the mainstream culture which tells us that rape only happens after one person says “no” and the other person uses force or coercion to continue sexual activity. Feminist activists are working to change this narrow definition. We believe that rape can occur when partners do not actively communicate consent for each new level of sexual activity. We also respect the victim’s or survivor’s right to name rape, based on their experience.
One situation in which violation of consent can occur is when a partner in consensual sexual relations is deliberately kept in the dark regarding risks of sexual activity, for example, when one partner is aware of an STI (sexually transmitted infection) and fails to inform the other partner of that fact. In such a case, fully informed consent is not possible. Members are responsible for becoming informed about the risks to partners of sexual activity when one has, or may have, an STI.
Sexual harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile environment. This can include, but is not limited to:
Pressure for a dating, romantic or intimate relationship, sometimes coupled with threat for refusing.
Unwelcome touching, kissing, hugging or massaging.
Pressure for sexual activity.
Unnecessary and unwelcome references to various parts of the body.
Remarks about clothing, body, or activities that could be construed as sexual, either in appreciation or as a put-down.
Belittling remarks about a person’s gender, appearance, or sexual orientation.
Offensive sexual graffiti, pictures, or posters.
Sexually explicit profanity.
Sexual assault: Sexual assault takes many forms including attacks such as rape or attempted rape, as well as any unwanted sexual contact or threats. A sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person’s body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person’s consent.
Pattern: We recognize that trauma may occur as a result of both a pattern and a single incident of abuse. This shall apply to both.
Physical Abuse: pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Physical abuse generally includes psychological or emotional abuse.
Psychological/Emotional Abuse: Ongoing systematic pattern of psychological or emotional violence designed to control and subjugate an individual by destroying their sense of self-worth. This can include a pattern of damaging verbal abuse, harassment, excessive possessiveness, isolating the person from friends and family, deprivation of physical and economic resources, and destruction of personal property. In cases of psychological/emotional abuse, incidents of this behavior can sometimes be directly observed by members in the public formal and informal spaces of our group. Continuing education and discussion about the issue of emotional/psychological abuse is important. Education is needed to raise awareness of emotional/psychological abuse along a comprehensive continuum ranging from isolated incidents that are common in all relationships to more serious and chronic patterns of emotional abuse, e.g. patterns of ongoing “gaslighting” (see description in Category 2, below).
It is the intent of the organization that this policy reflects a clear prohibition on psychological/emotional abuse, and that complaints regarding offenses in this category may be brought to the Grievance Officer and are to be responded to in accordance with the processes outlined below.
II. Kansas City DSA Process and Other Processes
What is our attitude toward the criminal justice system? DSA members share critiques of the criminal justice system, particularly with regard to its destructive impact on communities of color and working people.
Survivors may want to press legal charges against rapists and abusers. They may also, for various reasons (for example: immigration status, the role of police in communities of color, the terrible track record of the criminal justice system in dealing with rape and domestic violence, or concern for an aggressor) not want to press charges. We also recognize that there will be instances where it is not possible for the survivor to avoid calling on the police.
Organizationally, we take no position on whether a survivor should or should not press charges. We empower the decisions survivors make, with the advice and solidarity of their friends, family, loved ones, allies, and comrades. We also recognize that the forms of accountability a survivor may need can change overtime. Sexual assault and other forms of gendered violence fundamentally take away a person’s power. It is important that the process following sexual assault restores the survivor’s agency and allows them to take responsibility for decisions like whether or not to go to the police. In addition, policies discouraging survivors to go to the police have a history on the left of being used to demean survivors, reinforce patriarchal norms, and cover up instances of sexual assault.
Whatever the survivor’s decision, Kansas City DSA needs an internal process for dealing with sexual violence and abuse. Especially given our critique of the criminal justice system, we believe it is imperative to have an alternative process that supports survivors and holds aggressors accountable. Gendered and sexual violence is part of a continuum of sexist aggression and patriarchal behaviors which not only harm individual survivors but which can create an organizational atmosphere which isolates and devalues oppressed persons, and hampers our collective political participation. When such an atmosphere goes unchallenged or tacitly supported by members and leaders in an organization, it creates a situation where oppressed persons are functionally second-class citizens and the organization as a whole rightly stands to lose legitimacy in the eyes of feminist and movement activists.
We also recognize that Kansas City DSA may not have the resources or expertise to handle serious cases. But radical women of color organizations such as INCITE have been at the forefront of developing community-based accountability processes as an alternative to the police and courts. While recognizing that implementing alternatives is difficult and time-consuming, they also argue that alternatives are imperative. We are also of varying opinions about to what extent Kansas City DSA, as a small, voluntary organization can be thought of in terms parallel to these communities.
III. Outline of Our Process
Guiding Precepts for Our Response:
Support for the Survivor — supporting the survivor should be a priority in this process. (See below section on supporting survivors.)
Speed — we commit ourselves to responding immediately to an accusation and to dealing with it as quickly as possible. Dragging this out only re-victimizes the survivor. Our investigative process will be completed within a month whenever possible, with the caveat that there are factors that may extend the time required for a full and fair investigation. Promptness is valuable but thoroughness and fairness ought to be prioritized over promptness when necessary.
Transparency — the person bringing an accusation (non-members as well as members) and their supporters should know exactly what process will be implemented and should be kept informed as the process moves forward.
Uniformity across the organization — our organizational process should ensure that all incidents are treated according to our defined processes, regardless of where they occur and who is involved. (See below section on organizational structure for responding to gendered violence.)
Accountability — once the investigation is completed and if gendered violence is found to have taken place, we will hold the aggressor accountable for the harm caused to the survivor and our organization. We will also hold our organization accountable for meeting the needs of the survivor, to the best of our ability. Accountability plans can include suspension or termination of an aggressor’s membership. We recognize that the organization’s capacity to monitor and work with aggressors is limited and accountability plans will have to take this capacity into account. (See below section on accountability plans.)
Supporting the Survivor:
As soon as a case of gendered violence is brought forward, our first concern is providing safety and support to the survivor. Through the entire process of investigation and accountability supporting the survivor must remain a priority. Too often, organizations focus all of their energy on responding to the aggressor while failing to offer meaningful support to the survivor.
Address immediate health and safety concerns. Offer to accompany the survivor to a clinic or hospital if the survivor deems it necessary.
Validate the survivor’s experience:
Use the tools of active listening.
Try not to react with extremely strong emotions that could make the survivor feel guilty for upsetting you. Remain calm, and say something like “I am sad and angry that you were hurt.”
Allow the survivor time to ‘name’ what happened. Use the same words that the survivor uses to describe what happened: rape, sexual assault, etc.
Do not ask repeated questions about the details of what happened. Your job is to support, not act as a prosecutor. At the same time, allow them to go into as much detail as they want.
Do not question or judge the survivor’s actions during the assault. Questions like, “why didn’t you fight back?” will only serve to make the survivor feel shamed or judged.
An important aspect of supporting a survivor is restoring agency and control. At the same time, recognize that survivors may be uncertain how to proceed, or unsure what they want from the accountability process. Supporters need to seek out the survivors’ requests without pressuring them for immediate answers in a way that could negatively impact their healing process. One way to do this is by providing a series of suggestions that they can choose from.
Ask before giving the survivor a hug or holding their hand. Do not assume that physical intimacy will always be helpful for a survivor.
The survivor should not be forced to share spaces with the aggressor - the aggressor must be asked to leave spaces that the survivor has chosen to be in.
Help the survivor to identify a group of supporters. Respect their wishes about whom to include or not include.
Explain the procedures developed within Kansas City DSA to handle cases of interpersonal violence.
Emphasize that whether or not to involve the police is a decision entirely within the control of the survivor.
It is important for the survivor to direct the healing process and to be make decisions and mistakes along the way. Attempting to prevent the survivor from making what you perceive to be a bad decision encroaches on their rights and will likely impede the healing process.
Begin by Listening
The Grievance Officer will investigate an accusation through a process of careful listening in order to determine what has occurred. It is true that Kansas City DSA does not have the time or expertise to carry out a criminal investigation. Still, we have a responsibility to survivors to determine, as best we can, what has happened so that we can craft a response that promotes the survivor’s healing, holds aggressors accountable and ensures due process.
In evaluating claims of rape, other forms of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and partner violence, we start with the survivor’s statement about what happened. The dominant society (from legal institutions to the media to many strands of popular culture) tends to ignore or trivialize survivors’ accounts and it is important for a feminist organization to push back against that and maintain a presumption that survivors tell the truth. The notion of fabricated stories of rape / false accusations as a widespread phenomenon is a patriarchal myth.
In addition to listening to what happened, the Grievance Officer should check in at several points during the process about what they want to see happen. In some cases, particularly given the effects of trauma and the pressure of speaking out in an emotionally charged, high-stakes political situation, a survivor’s memory, interpretations, and/or wishes may vary over time.
We also ask the aggressor to provide a description of the situation and events, not to evaluate the “truthfulness” of the survivor’s account but to gain a better understanding of what happened. Sometimes the same event can be experienced or interpreted differently by two different people, and both interpretations are necessary to understand the roots of the violence, determine how to hold the aggressor accountable and best support the survivor, and identify aspects of our organization that need to change in order to prevent future violence.
If there are other people whose interpretations may shed light on the events in question, we should listen to their accounts too. The goal here is not quasi-legal, but to listen to the accounts and see where they are the same and where they vary, either in terms of facts or interpretations.
Gendered violence occurs in different forms and at different levels of force/coercion/ intimidation—for example, sexual harassment and sexual assault both are expressions of our society’s rape culture but the level of violation and the harm experienced by the survivor is different. Experiences of abuse also run a gamut in terms of frequency, intensity of threat, and bodily and/or emotional and psychological harm. For this reason we have developed descriptions of 3 groups of behaviors and some of the possible consequences for them. These descriptions are intended as a general guide to the Grievance Officer as they deal with and seek resolution of reported incidents of gendered violence on a case by case basis.
Guidelines for Responding to Gendered Harassment and Violence
All of the behaviors listed on these guidelines are completely unacceptable in our organization and we commit to responding promptly to support survivors and hold aggressors accountable. The specific behaviors listed below in all categories are examples, and do not constitute an inclusive list. We recognize that there is a continuum between aspects of rape culture which are disgustingly ubiquitous in our society and on the left, and forms of sexual assault which constitute more severe violations of consent and/or abusive power relations. The intent of category 1 responses is to make our organizational spaces safer and to intervene in the everyday instances of rape culture in order to create an environment that helps prevent rape and sexual assault.
On Unwanted Touching: There is a spectrum of unwanted touching, from aggressive, persistent, or invasive actions that belong in category 3, to an unwanted attempt to escalate a mutually agreed to sexual situation which might belong in category 1 or 2, depending on the situation, to possibly incidental or flirtatious but unwanted light touching, which fits with category 1. We include a few brief descriptions of these behaviors in the categories below, but they are only examples of a much broader range of behavior that could be described as unwanted touch or groping. Rather than to spell out every possible context in advance, we leave it to the Grievance Officer to examine the context of the incident and make a determination as to which category it best fits.
Verbal (written or spoken) harassment
Unwelcome pressure for sexual activity
Unwelcome sexual advance
Unwanted touching: possibly incidental or flirtatious but unwanted light touching over clothing
Behaviors may include elements of emotional abuse.
Response (and and/or all of the responses below may be considered in each situation):
Sanctions on participation in Kansas City DSA events (such as: cannot attend Kansas City DSA parties/socials, can only attend Kansas City DSA social events with a designated check-in person/buddy, cannot drink at Kansas City DSA events)
Survivor has the option to request that aggressor must avoid activities that would bring them into contact with the survivor for up to 6 months
Suggestion to seek counseling for repeat or more severe incidents
Reparations and behavior change: victim impact panels, formal apologies, victim-offender mediation, accountability circles
Suspension of up to 2 months may be considered depending on the severity
Category 2 offenses do not involve physical force
May involve a failure to get continuous active consent during all sexual activity, and before initiating each new level of sexual activity.
Aggressor may take advantage of different levels of experience or social/organizational status, through dishonesty or disingenuous behavior, or other means
Repeated or escalated incidents from category #1
Behaviors may show elements of stalking
Unwanted touching: brief but assertive unwanted touching of a sexual nature which end ends upon request
Emotional/psychological abuse are found in an ongoing systematic pattern of behavior designed to control and subjugate a person by destroying her/his sense of self-worth. These patterns are characterized by consistent and frequent emotionally manipulative behavior in which, in an effort to seek and exploit a power imbalance within a relationship, sometimes through chipping away at a victim’s self-esteem and sense of personal power, an aggressor:
conveys to victim that their perceptions, responses, feelings, opinions and/or behaviors are irrational and invalid, sometimes to the point of conveying that the victim is “crazy” (this set of behaviors is frequently considered “gaslighting”)
denigrates, insults, verbally abuses, and/or demeans victim
seeks to exert an extreme degree of control of victim, through emotional and/or other types of threats, erratic behavior and marked swings of engagement and disengagement, destruction of personal property, invasion of personal space without permission, etc.
harasses victim – defined as engaging in repeated hostile remarks, actions, or demands, intended to pressure or intimidate
engages in extreme possessiveness, including isolating the victim from friends and family, and/or depriving the victim of physical, economic, or other resources
Response (and and/or all of the responses below may be considered in each situation):
Suspension of up to one year should be considered, and expulsion may be appropriate for the more severe cases in this category
Aggressor must avoid events and activities that would bring them into contact with the survivor (if so desired by the survivor)
Sanctions in participation in Kansas City DSA events (such as; cannot attend Kansas City DSA socials, can only attend Kansas City DSA social events with a designated check-in person, cannot drink at Kansas City DSA events)
Suggestion to seek counseling
The Grievance Officer may request one or more meetings to discuss progress and lessons learned, may ask that the aggressor read material; may request phone and/or in-person meetings with the Grievance Officer to discuss and reflect upon behavior; may be asked to read selected material to inform discussions and process
Reparations and behavior change: victim impact panels, victim-offender mediation, accountability circles
Aggressor may place the victim in fear of social, economic, or professional harm
Aggressor exploits a situation in which the victim is under the influence of drugs / alcohol.
Aggressor may use or threaten to use physical force, or otherwise causes the victim to fear for their safety
Abuse of power or violation of consent; this would also include gender violence against someone whose mental state or intellectual ability to make informed consent possible
Stalking which causes the victim to feel unsafe
Any unwanted touching which is persistent, aggressive, or invasive
When the victim names the assault as rape it will generally fall into this category
Emotional abuse including severe instances of emotional/psychological abuse as defined above; e.g., isolating people, depriving them of economic resources; persistent use of ugly misogynist language; extreme and persistent exercising of control of another
Response (and and/or all of the responses below may be considered in each situation):
Expulsion may occur.*
Aggressor must avoid Kansas City DSA events and activities, including public events for a time specified by the victim or permanently.
Aggressor is strongly urged to seek counseling/treatment
*Kansas City DSA Bylaws rules regarding expulsion will be followed in all situations where expulsion is recommended or requested.
The Aggressor’s Status in the Organization During the Investigation
During the investigation, the aggressor may be suspended if the issue in question is sexual assault /rape OR if the aggressor is an imminent danger to the survivor or others; for other issues this will be at the discretion of the Grievance Officer and the survivor. In all cases, the aggressor is required to avoid contact with the survivor during the investigation, with rare exceptions in order to accommodate a desire by the survivor for contact based on practical or other considerations, e.g. the need to communicate re: shared personal business, etc.
In starting from the point of view of the survivor, we recognize that many may very well wish not to be around the person who has harmed them. Therefore we believe the aggressor should be asked to step back from activities that would put them in the same space as the survivor – both within the organization as well as in any other organizations – pending investigation. If not suspended, the aggressor’s task is to remain part of the organization, participate in the investigation process and, if harm has occurred, to engage in the accountability plan that is created. Failure to participate in any aspect of this process will lead to expulsion.
In the investigative phase of the process, the Grievance Officer listens to the accounts provided by the survivor and aggressor. The next step in the process involves determining how the aggressor will be held accountable for his behavior and the harm done to the survivor, to Kansas City DSA, and potentially to other social movement communities. It is also possible that during the investigation the Grievance Officer may determine that Kansas City DSA as an organization needs to take responsibility for in some way ignoring or tolerating violence, or the conditions that led to violence. In the following, we focus on how Kansas City DSA could organize accountability processes; many of these same guidelines could be implemented within social movement organizations as well.
We are using the concept of accountability as developed by INCITE Women of Color Against Violence. Accountability processes include a range of possible strategies and tools to achieve the goals below. These goals represent the ideals that we orient ourselves to, but we understand that what we can realistically achieve in each situation may be more limited.
Create and affirm organizational VALUES AND PRACTICES that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, accountability, and empowerment of survivors, women, and LGBTQ people.
Provide SAFETY AND SUPPORT to members who are violently targeted that RESPECTS THEIR SELF-DETERMINATION.
Develop sustainable strategies to ADDRESS MEMBERS/SYMPATHIZERS’ ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior.
Commit to ongoing feminist education and development of all of our members, and the organization itself, to TRANSFORM THE POLITICAL CONDITIONS that reinforce oppression and violence.
Accountability plans should be tailored to fit specific situations, reflecting the nature of the offense, the needs and wishes of the survivor, practical constraints for a successful strategy, and other relevant factors. There is no “one-size-fits-all” model. On the other hand, we need to have some guidelines that maximize the safety and integrity of everyone involved.
While most of the accountability process will depend on the specific facts of the case and the requests of the survivor, we have also determined a few automatic consequences that should be implemented. Category 3 offenses may involve expulsion. Non-cooperation with an accountability process will result in expulsion proceedings. Otherwise, the consequences are up to the Grievance Officer , following the guidelines stated herein.
Guidelines for Developing and Implementing an Accountability Process
1. Prioritize the self-determination of the survivor.
In deciding when, why, where, and how the aggressor will be held accountable, it is critical to take into account the survivor’s vision. Survivors may want to lead and convey the plan to the aggressor, participate but not lead, or not be part of the process at all. For example, in some instances a survivor may want an apology from the aggressor and to have an opportunity for the aggressor to listen to and acknowledge the harm that was caused. In other instances, the survivor may not want to have any interaction with the aggressor. In that case, some other strategy would be used to confront the aggressor—for example, the aggressor might be required to meet with and listen to a group of survivors describe the consequences of the kind of violation that the aggressor has done. The aggressor might be asked to make an apology to that group or to write an apology to the survivor. In an abuse situation, the survivor may ask that the aggressor leave their home, but continue paying their share of the rent or mortgage, so that the survivor can remain there. Whether or not they continue to be involved personally and in what way depend on the survivor’s wishes.
2. Recognize the humanity of everyone involved, including the survivor(s), the aggressor(s) and the community.
It is common to feel rage at the aggressor for assaulting another person and the accountability process should provide a space for the survivor and their supporters to express these emotions without judgment. At the same time, we should also keep in mind that treating an aggressor as a monster can foster responses, such as physical violence against the aggressor, that are ultimately not helpful to the organization or to the people in it. While holding aggressors accountable, we need to be aware of problematic dynamics where the inevitable tensions of group life are temporarily overcome through uniting around punishing an offender, while failing to challenge the roots of violence within our organization and broader society.
Survivors should be allowed to be complex people. Many survivors feel mixed emotions about what happened and wonder about the part they played in the incident: they should be able to express these emotions and desires without judgment. At the same time, as a feminist organization, we want to help the survivor to stand up to the victim-blaming messages that are fundamentally part of rape culture. Responsibility lies with the aggressor.
3. Be clear and specific about accountability.
We believe that aggressors need to be held accountable for their acts and take responsibility for repairing the harm done in order for them to transform their behavior. The strategies we adopt will be shaped by what we understand about the incident, the survivor’s needs, and the aggressor.
4. Set realistic and achievable goals.
One of the critiques that feminists have raised about accountability processes is that the organization ends up spending more time and energy on supporting the aggressor to change than in supporting the survivor. Although we are committed to holding ourselves and our members accountable, we also need to be practical and work within the limits of what we can reasonably do. For example, we may decide that we cannot sufficiently monitor and support an aggressor’s engagement in our organization and its activities. In this case, a suspension may be the most appropriate and realistic response. We might ask that during that suspension, the aggressor meet regularly with some group of members to discuss how they are working toward self-change.
Wherever possible, it can be useful to enlist the aggressor’s friends and/or family in carrying out the accountability strategies. They may be more motivated to invest time and effort supporting the aggressor to change and can lighten the burden of members who are working with the aggressor.
5. At the outset, establish consequences for an aggressor’s failure to stay with the mandated accountability strategy.
Part of the accountability process includes an explicit stipulation of the consequences for not following up on what has been agreed to. The consequences for the aggressor will depend on the nature of the offense and on the assessment/recommendation of those responsible for supporting and monitoring the aggressor, but may include termination of membership. Refusal to cooperate with the accountability plan will result in automatic expulsion.
6. Use the accountability process to strengthen feminist praxis in our organization.
Throughout the accountability process, we will reflect on changes that can be made to strengthen the feminist culture within our organization and prevent future incidents of violence. We will look for the ways in which our organization and broader community may have ignored or permitted the conditions that led to the violence.
In the accountability plan, the aggressor will be asked to take steps to repair the damage done to both the survivor and the organization. For example, the aggressor might write a letter of apology to the organization, or help organize educationals for members on intervening in sexual harassment. As we understand more about how men who are members of an organization that asserts a socialist-feminist politics can nonetheless engage in gendered violence, we learn more about how to prevent such behavior in the future. This will strengthen our entire group.
IV. Confidentiality of the Proceedings
The Grievance Officer overseeing the process will need to determine whether other Kansas City DSA members or contacts will be informed that an investigation is taking place, and if so, how much information will be given out and at what time. After the investigation, the Grievance Officer will need to decide who will be informed when a determination of harm has been made and when the aggressor enters an accountability process (which may or may not include termination of membership).
These questions require consideration of several factors including:
the safety of the survivor and others
the survivor’s wishes regarding confidentiality
the degree of harm involved
the due process rights of the aggressor
the willingness of the aggressor to participate in the process
the feasibility of maintaining confidentiality
the age of those involved
Confidentiality during the investigation period
The Survivor’s Identity
In all cases, the name of the survivor will not be shared by the Grievance Officer with members or contacts unless specifically requested by the survivor. The survivor has control over how, when, and if they share experiences with others outside of the Grievance Officer, although there may be rare exceptions in which, in extreme cases, the Grievance Officer may find it necessary to alert the membership regarding a dangerous person. In such cases, the Grievance Officer may determine that it must share some aspects of the incident, and, in doing so, the Grievance Officer will make every effort to protect the survivor’s identity. The survivor, if available, will be kept informed of any such steps.
The Grievance Officer will also get consent from the survivor before sharing the complaint with the aggressor, since the complaint may identify the survivor, even if their name is not included. In some cases, the survivor may not want to share the details of a complaint with the aggressor for this or other reasons. In this situation, a possible approach is to write a condensed and anonymous version of the complaint and, with the survivor’s approval, then share it with the aggressor.
The Aggressor’s Identity
During the investigatory period before a determination of harm has been made, only the Grievance Officer, and Executive Committee should be informed. On a case-by-case basis, the Grievance Officer may decide to inform people who are interacting with the aggressor in social spaces. There may be cases in which other concerns make confidentiality unfeasible. For example, an aggressor may refuse to participate in the process and leave the organization. In this and similar situations, the Grievance Officer may determine that the risk to others is such that members and/or contacts need to be informed.
The Grievance Officer must weigh the right to privacy for an aggressor vs. the rights of members to know who’s been found to be an aggressor – sometimes the members’ rights to know, so that they can protect themselves and others, will supercede an aggressor’s right to privacy.
If the Grievance Officer asks the aggressor to step back from certain activities / or suspends the aggressor during the investigatory period, other comrades may have questions about the sudden absence. In this instance, it may be necessary for the Grievance Officer to release a statement such as “Comrade X has temporarily taken a step back from organizational activities for confidential reasons,” or with more details depending on the situation.
Keeping confidentiality in the accountability plan.
After a determination of harm has been made about a case, the process then moves on to the accountability plan, which may or may not include suspension or termination of membership. In all cases, at minimum, the Grievance Officer and EC will be informed of the situation and the identity of the aggressor. As part of the accountability process, on a case-by-case basis, the Grievance Officer may inform others who interact with the aggressor (such as those involved in holding the aggressor accountable to agreed-upon sanctions and processes).
Specific to category 2 cases, as part of the accountability process, where requested by the Grievance Officer, the aggressor should write a letter informing the rest of the branch (excluding the survivor’s identity).
Specific to category 3 cases, individuals who might be interacting with the aggressor in social spaces and local movement organizations with which the aggressor works should be informed of the situation and the aggressor’s identity, by the Grievance Officer. The Grievance Officer shall notify the EC of its decision and the EC should inform the entire Kansas City DSA membership of the identity of the former member being expelled. There are several reasons for this policy. They include: 1) protecting future victims, 2) providing space for additional survivors to come forward, and 3) transparency.
Beyond the above guidelines, whether or not the incident and the aggressor’s identity are shared to members and contacts will depend on a number of factors, including the level of violence and harm as well as the ability of the group to protect others from victimization by this individual. Confidentiality may not be realistic if we want to create safer more empowering spaces for the survivor and for people who are disproportionately affected by gendered violence, including women and LGBTQ people. Safer spaces may require excluding the aggressor from events where the survivor will be present, disinviting the aggressor from social events involving alcohol, assigning a chaperon for such events, etc. Some of these strategies will require explanation and could inevitably lead to confidentiality being broken.
We also recognize that we lack the person power to fully monitor an aggressor. Furthermore, placing scarce resources of time and emotional energy into monitoring an aggressor inevitably takes time and emotional energy away from supporting the survivor and doing other work in the organization to make it a safer space for people affected by gendered violence.
There are a variety of ways to force the aggressor to confront the wrongs done that do not involve public shaming (e.g., “you can come to the parties, but you can’t drink,” “you have to take a step back from that project,” “you have to take a leave of absence,” and in some cases “your membership is terminated”).
In some cases the survivor may feel that a public admission from the organization is necessary. Our commitment to putting the survivor’s needs first requires that we take such a request seriously.
Of course the survivor has the right to tell anybody about what happened at any time and so is not bound by organizational confidentiality. Another question to consider about confidentiality is: what information is the survivor comfortable having revealed and to whom? Though there might be exceptions, as a matter of policy, the Grievance Officer needs to respect the survivor’s wishes; the key is to ask. This is complicated to navigate, but it’s something the Grievance Officer will have to consider.
V. Providing Resources and Ensuring Uniformity Across the Organization
We have established a Grievance Officer; an individual who is knowledgeable about the issues of gendered violence, are familiar with accountability processes, and has skills relevant to conducting an investigation and developing an accountability plan in the specific context of our organization. The Grievance Officer will be elected annually by Kansas City DSA membership.
As soon as a case of gendered violence is brought forward at any level of the organization, members have the responsibility to notify the Grievance Officer once permission from the survivor has been obtained.
Electing a Grievance Officer to carry out the investigation works to ensure objectivity, lack of favoritism, and due process across the organization. If the Grievance Officer has a close, personal friendship or political relationship with the aggressor, that member shall be asked to recuse themselves and the Executive Committee (EC) may appoint a replacement. We’re a small organization, in which members are likely to have some relationship with each other, so members should exercise good judgment on this, in consultation with the EC.
A decision of the Grievance Officer may be appealed, to the EC or to convention. A 2/3 vote of the Executive Committee is required to override a Grievance Officer decision.
Constitution and Duties of a Grievance Officer
The Grievance Officer will be knowledgeable about issues of gendered violence and have skills relevant to conducting an investigation and developing an accountability plan. The Grievance Officer should also be familiar with LGBTQ concerns.
The Grievance Officer’s goals are:
When instances of gendered violence arise in Kansas City DSA, the Grievance Officer responds to support the right of the survivor to remain active as a political person. The Grievance Officer seeks to take action to support the survivor and hold the aggressor accountable for their actions.
To prevent instances of gendered violence in Kansas City DSA and on the left by educational work around the issues of power dynamics and what constitutes consent.
To enable Kansas City DSA, and social movements more broadly, to understand that gendered violence is rooted in a patriarchal system that has been woven into the fabric of capitalism.
The duties of the Grievance Officer are:
The Grievance Officer will be immediately notified when an accusation against a member or sympathizer is brought to the organization at any level. The Grievance Officer will conduct the investigation. This procedure is necessary to insure that incidents are treated consistently according to our defined processes across the organization. Where appropriate, the branch will be asked to support the survivor and participate in the accountability plan, if there is one. Regardless of who the aggressor is–that is, a member, sympathizer, or non-member–the Grievance Officer will provide whatever support possible to a member or sympathizer who is a survivor.
The Grievance Officer will make available to various units of resources on interpersonal violence and sexual consent.
The Grievance Officer will assist in organizing workshops, panels and educationals at Kansas City DSA-sponsored events.
The Grievance Officer will report to the Executive Committee as cases occur, will report disposition of cases that require an accountability process to the Executive Committee and issue a report on the cases it has handled prior to each Kansas City DSA Convention, which shall be anonymous, except in the case of members expelled.
The Grievance Officer will maintain long-term records of allegations, and outcomes of investigations or attempted investigations, so that these records can be accessed in the future if necessary.
Electing the Grievance Officer: The Grievance Officer shall be elected at Kansas City DSA Convention. If the Grievance Officer is unable to finish their term, the chapter shall elect a replacement until the next Convention.
Criteria for Grievance Officer being elected or appointed:
Agreement with the principles adopted in this document, and as revised at subsequent Conventions.
The Grievance Officer is expected to continue their education on issues surrounding sexual violence within the movement.
Relationship between and other leadership bodies:
The Grievance Officer is in charge of its own communications to national DSA, this chapter, and other chapters.
Appendix A: History of this Document and of the Grievance Officer
Initial Process of Creating the Document
Kansas City DSA began utilizing this document beginning in December 2018. The document was originally created by Solidarity in 2013. Kansas City DSA updated the document to meet the needs of our membership in order to ensure that survivors of gender violence are heard and lead the grievance process within our chapter.