Response to Community Report of Sexual Harassment

Recently Gender Justice League received a report of sexual harassment against a member of our board of directors.

This report comes at a time when there has been a powerful movement of people coming forward to confront sexual harassment and abuse by people in power throughout our country. As an organization founded by and for survivors of gender based violence we take claims of sexual harassment extremely seriously.  As an organization we deeply believe in a transparent community accountability process and we also believe in restorative justice as an approach to harms when possible. We have worked hard to protect the identity of the survivor, to listen with open hearts and willingness to learn and willingness to be wrong, but also to engage in a process that has sought truth through a transparent, collaborative, and open process.  We believe that to move towards healing, those who have done harm need to be held accountable while not being banished from our communities – that instances of harassment can point to organizational or cultural challenges that need to be addressed. As gender diverse, trans, and non-binary people – we know how deadly isolation can be and how it can itself reinforce the systems of power that often keep abusers in place, we also know that binary thinking doesn’t help us to hold the complexities that humans embody.

We have conducted an investigation of the claims that have been made and produced a report based on that investigation.

The Gender Justice League board member who has been accused of sexual harassment has been fully transparent in participating with our investigation. Our investigation was completed by our board treasurer, board secretary, and our Executive Director who has experience in investigating sexual harassment complaints. As part of our belief in community accountability – we have asked this person to allow us to share the 21 page investigative report that was produced by board officers and staff and presented to our board of directors and they have agreed we would urge you to read it.

How did we conduct our investigation?

We reviewed all communications through text message, email, Facebook messenger, along with the accused’s contact with all staff, volunteers, and board members through email and text message. We interviewed 9 volunteers who worked closely with the accused, all staff and board members in an attempt to discover a pattern or practice of sexual harassment.

We have not been able to contact the accuser who has made these accusations after making attempts to reach them both directly and indirectly. We are still trying and are open to communicating with them to find a resolution and healing if that is what is desired, but every attempt to contact this party has failed despite them reaching out to dozens of third parties.  Additionally this person has expressed unwillingness to participate in our community accountability process – while we believe that is unfortunate, we understand that all survivors deserve a right to their own process of healing.  We still felt a clear obligated to move forward with our investigation given the information that they have shared publicly with third parties regardless of their participation, our report concludes that investigation.

What did we find?

We found that a board member sent a flirtatious image and made a flirtatious comment on Facebook messenger that was in violation of our professional conduct policy and that may have violated our sexual harassment policy. We did not however find a pattern or practice by this individual, nor did we find there were any severe or serious events of sexual harassment conducted by this person. We also did not find evidence that this person used their position on our board to intimidate, coerce, or conceal any actions against the accuser. At the time of the event, the accuser and accused occupied the same position and held the same power within the organization and their relationship was one as peers.

We also found that the incident was never mentioned to other board members, staff, or volunteers after it happened.  The initial instance of the incident being reported was right after the accuser was asked to resign from the board due to well documented and repeated forms of anti-semitic and gender based harassment against volunteers, staff, and board members who were Jewish. Specifically, the accusation arose shortly after the accuser demanded monetary compensation for “mileage reimbursement” and offered to “go away quietly” if given that money.  The mileage was for volunteering (before becoming a board member), and not in keeping with our organizational policies. The accused expressed that such a “payout” would not be possible, given that no prior agreement had existed.

Additionally, this person made racist statements and created fake accounts using anti-Korean names such as “Cho-Kim” (choke him) to target the accused which causes us serious concern about this person’s intentions in raising these claims and demanding the resignation of a transgender person of color.

What was the sequence of events?

On October 31st we received a forwarded email from a trusted community partner that made a number of claims about a board member being a “sexual predator” and demanding that they resign.  Following this, we opened an investigation into the complaint as if we had received it through official channels. The accused party had already disclosed the interaction to our board of directors in August 2017 following the resignation from our board of the accuser. Staff and board members were already aware of the situation and the organization and board member had already taken steps to address it with the accused. However, we believed a more thorough investigation would help us better understand the sequence of events and circumstances that lead to this interaction. More importantly, it could help point to culture and policy changes within the organization that could helpful.  We asked the accused to allow us full access to their personal and GJL related emails, their Facebook account and messenger, text messages, and any other forms of contact with staff, volunteers, or board members. The board member fully and completely complied with our requests and made no attempts to conceal or deny the interaction.  

Recommendations:

Following the completion of our investigation we are recommended the following to our board of directors who adopted our recommendations:

  1. All board and staff undergo mandatory sexual harassment training in the next 90 days.
  2. The board of directors adopt a code of conduct for board members to clarify what the organization considers professional conduct.
  3. The board members undergo an anti-harassment training annually, and any new members undergo an anti-harassment training within 90 days

 

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