Trade Union Votes Against Supporting Abuse Survivors
Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, has today voted against believing women who report violence or abuse from men within the trade union movement.
The union’s national delegate conference was asked to vote on a motion stating that when a female trade unionist reports abuse from a male colleague, Unison should assume that she is telling the truth.
Writer Cath Elliot reported the incident on Twitter, where she shared the text of the motion:
We believe that our trade union has the potential to transform society for the better. Therefore we have a particular responsibility to confront and challenge male violence against women within our movement. Male violence against women is not acceptable in any case. It must not be tolerated from those who hold office or power in our movement.
We recognise the enormous challenges faced by women victims of male violence, and the pressures which women face, including from abusive men, not to complain about violence and abuse. We therefore believe that, when women complain of male violence within our movement, our trade union should start from a position of believing women. We believe that all women who complain of male violence have the right to be listened to and supported.
Believing the survivors of abuse is an important step towards making activist movements, and society in general, safer for women. We live in a culture which routinely disbelieves women who report physical and/or sexual violence, or blames them for provoking their abuser. These attitudes allow a minority of men to continue abusing women over years or even decades, and we will only be able to start addressing the huge issue of violence against women when every report is taken seriously.
Unison have been contacted for comment, but have so far failed to respond.
Steff, where an allegation of rape or sexual abuse is made and then proven, the only protection that should be in place is the normal and usual human rights protection afforded to any proven perpetrator.
Until the point of an allegation being proven, then no matter what the allegation is, then I am suggesting that both the complainant and the alleged perpetrator be afforded dignity and respect within an unbiased, speedy and fair investigative process where both should be supported through the process. I repeatedly made this point.
Steff, are you arguing that normal legal due process, human rights gained through trades union struggle, legal protections given to all accused be abandoned? That’s the position you appear to advocate. Are you saying that those accused of certain crimes should not have legal representation, that they should not have a fair trial, that an allegation means that they are automatically huilty without an impartial hearing?
The reality is that you have ignored my other points which makes me think that no indiidual, no matter how innocent, would receive anything approaching a fair hearing from you.
I also said
“Absolutely people making allegations should have the utmost support of their union. Absolutely, any person making an allegation should be treated seriously and with respect. On each occassion where this type of allegation is made then there should be applied a fair, speedy and impartial investigation and hearing. Irrespective of the result of that hearing then the person making the allegation should receive considerate and professional support.”
I am advocating treating allegations with the utmost seriousness, with respect to the complainant and offering full professional support to them. What you are offering is a free ride to any rapist or sexual abuser by allowing their convictions to be overturned on appeal because of an entirely unfair process.
‘…simply do not see the absolutely massive personal and professional damage thatan allegation such as this being made and automatically believed, prior to any investigation, would cause. We are talking about automatic dismissal, potentially not being able to gain another job, potential criminal prosecution…’
Obviously protecting rapists and sexual abusers is much more important than believing the victim right?
I have a difficulty with the tenor of the discussion beginning with the title which Bright Green gave the article “Trade Union Votes Against Supporting Abuse Survivors”. That title undermines the seriousness of the debate itslef and does a disservice to victims of gender based violence. The union did no such thing. The article title is a half truth coupled with direct misrepresentation.
I seriously doubt whether a single individual in that conference hall, posed with a simple question regarding their support for victims or survivors would vote against it. The reason why the motion was voted down was considerably more to do with the rejection of due process rather than anything else.
Alyson and Alasdair both supported the ideas behind the motion but again, the debate is lowered and victims/survivors are short changed by some of what they are saying. For example, Alyson confuses the right for an allegation to be taken seriously with the assertion that an allegation should automatically be believed. I honestly have never met anyone who would disagree with the first element of Alyson’s position. It is absolutely the case the every allegation of this nature should be taken with the utmost seriousness. However, it is for that reason that to conflate “seriousness” with “belief” I believe undermines the position. Taking a stance on believing the allegation, prior to any investigation, means that the other party is automatically disbelieved.
Alyson and Alasdair simply do not see the absolutely massive personal and professional damage thatan allegation such as this being made and automatically believed, prior to any investigation, would cause. We are talking about automatic dismissal, potentially not being able to gain another job, potential criminal prosection…
Alasdair talks about a restorative approach, with which I agree but then entirely undermines his argument by saying “talking to the perpetrator to explain their actions have caused harm, asking them to apologise”. The reality of Alasdair position of automatic belief of the allegation means that he automatically assumes that there is a “perpetrator”.
This whole student, sectarian approach to an extremely serious matter undermines it importance. Absolutely people making allegations should have the utmost support of their union. Absolutely, any person making an allegation should be treated seriously and with respect. On each occassion where this type of allegation is made then there should be applied a fair, speedy and impartial investigation and hearing. Irrespective of the result of that hearing then the person making the allegation should receive considerate and professional support.
However, the subject of those allegations should receive exactly the same support until the point where the allegations are found to be proved.
I can’t help but think that anyone having allegations proved against them in a situation starting from the standpoint of disbelieving them would be able to have the process entirely overturned by using reourse to Human Rights legislation.
Lets get something clear. The vote against this amendment had nothing to do with the Socialist Party. We are aware of a recent incident concerning the SWP but we certainly haven’t been working with them on this issue. Our party did actually support this amendment as we recognise this was a motion on domestic violence from a women’s perspective and of course we are aware that many women are not listened to when reporting abuse from men. Two of our members did speak in favour of the amendment, but did express concern that the wording about the woman should be believed could potentially be misused by someone wishing to make a false allegation. Personally I would always want to work from the position of the bwoman being believbed in the first instance prior to a full and unbiast investigation taking place. It’s a shame that the debate decended into men and women’s violence and whether women should be believed more than men. Clearly, whilst domestic abuse does also happen to men, there are very specific issues for women which is what this motion and amendment were trying to address. Maybe in order to try and avoid this happening again if the issue is presented to Conference again next yeear there should be some acknowledgement that domestic abuse does happen by women to men as well but male violence towards women is much more common and there are specific issues for women which need to be taken into consideration in order for Unison to enable women to have the confidence to report it. I would also prefer the term “taken seriously” to “believed” but if “believed” is to stay then perhaps something about prior to a full investigation being taken place was added it would also alleviate concerns about presumed guilt.
Important to remember that the text of the motion was an indirect attack upon the SWP and SP. As a result, it was their activists that led the opposition, using dodgy stats and strawman arguments. Hope it comes back to Conference next year.
Well said Alyson. I think it’s important we move beyond this identification of justice with revenge and punishment. This naturally leads people to fetishise the idea of a presumption of innocence, and the associated implication that the accuser is confused or lying, at all costs lest we accidentally punish someone who didn’t deserve it.
We should, instead, be approaching the problem from the standpoint of restoration; how do we make the survivor safe and comfortable again? how do we prevent future problems? This doesn’t have to involve any ‘punishment’ per se, but as Alyson says could simply involved talking to the perpetrator to explain their actions have caused harm, asking them to apologise, putting in place mediation or any number of other actions which don’t cause a survivor further distress but also don’t have to involve locking someone up.
And of course it’s worth noting that false accusations are actually very rare (and in a more transformative/restorative justice setting would likely be rarer still), while harassment, abuse and violence are endemic and widely officially unreported.
Okay, a few points in response to the comments.
First of all, it can be very difficult for a woman to report harassment, violence or sexual abuse because the automatic first reaction of many people is that she is either lying or that it was her fault. It would be great if every woman who reports abuse could have her case investigated, but in reality that isn’t always the case. Why? Because her accusation isn’t taken seriously and no one thinks it’s worth carrying out any further investigation.
Secondly, the response that individuals or organisations make to a report of abuse can be entirely separate from any criminal prosecution. It’s entirely possible for a woman to be believed without it leading to her alleged attacker being convicted, and even if there is a conviction it still doesn’t mean that the woman will be believed (see the Ched Evans case).
The level of proof required for any legal process is incredibly high, and just because it cannot be proven, doesn’t mean that the (alleged) incident of abuse took place. In some cases it may be appropriate for an organisation to take action even if there is no concrete proof. Say, for example, a female union member alleges that a male colleague groped her while drunk at a branch social – if there is no absolute proof, it doesn’t mean that nobody should have a word about his (alleged) behaviour, maybe suggesting that he keeps his distance from the woman who says he groped her, or that he doesn’t drink at future socials.
When women aren’t believed and accusations are swept under the carpet, it makes it easy for their attacker to go on to abuse more women. Believing reports of abuse is not just about obtaining retributive justice for the victim, but about reducing the risk that the perpetrator will do the same thing to someone else.
Important that this motion was defeated. I don’t want to live in a society where people are assumed guilty until proved innocent. and this motion would have been a step in that direction.
“We therefore believe that, when women complain of male violence within our movement, our trade union should start from a position of believing women. We believe that all women who complain of male violence have the right to be listened to and supported.”
There are two very different issues at play here:
1) Women have the right to be listened to and supported
2) There should be a presumption of guilt against the accused.
I would be surprised if anyone at all could disagree with the first statement. However, presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of any legitimate quasi-legal process. Unison did absolutely the correct thing in rejecting this motion. It would entirely undermine any fair hearing for an accused and be entiely prejudicial. A reasonable position would be to support both the accuser and the the accused whilst undertaking a fair, unbiased and impartial investigation.