Why can’t UNISON believe women?
Posted on June 11, 2014
Some of you may remember last year’s disastrous decision by UNISON’s National Delegate Conference (NDC) to reject an amendment in support of believing women who report male violence perpetrated against them: here’s a link to the piece I wrote at the time – UNISON Conference and the vote against women.
As you can see from that piece, a number of us who’d been involved in crafting the amendment went away from last year’s conference deflated but determined to bring the issue back this year. Indeed, the piece I’ve linked to ends:
“But rest assured, all of us who were involved in pushing for the amendment are conscious of how we fucked up, and we’re already making plans for how we get it back to next year’s conference. We know there’s work we need to do in the interim to raise levels of political awareness of the specificity of violence against women and girls, and we’re ready for and committed to doing that.”
And that’s exactly what we have been doing.
For this year’s UNISON National Women’s Conference for example, a number of motions were submitted on the issue of male violence against women. By the time conference came round in February several of these motions had been joined together to form what then became known as Composite C.
Comp C was heard on the Saturday morning of conference as part of a grouped debate with other violence against women motions, and anyone who was there will testify that it was by far the most popular and important debate at women’s conference. Speaker after speaker went up to the rostrum to talk, sometimes for the very first time, about the male violence they’d experienced. Over 30 women spoke in that debate, and when conference ended UNISON women delegates, representing over a million women members, voted overwhelmingly for Comp C to be the motion from Women’s Conference to go forward to this year’s National Delegate Conference.
Women’s Conference also passed a motion entitled End Violence against Black Women – Motion 33 – and we also held a workshop on violence against women where Holly Dustin from EVAW spoke about why violence against women is absolutely a trade union issue.
At UNISON’s National Black Members Conference in January another motion on ending violence against black women was passed – Motion 23 – and at UNISON’s National LGBT Conference last November motion 7 – Domestic abuse, male violence and the role of UNISON – was also passed.
So with all that in mind, and with the 2014 National Conference only a week away, where are we now…..
Two motions on male violence against women were submitted to this year’s NDC: you can read the text of those motions here – Violence Against Women on UNISON Prelim Agenda.
Sadly however, these motions have not been accepted on to the conference agenda, and so as things stand at the moment they will therefore not be debated at this year’s UNISON National Delegate Conference.
According to UNISON’s Standing Orders Committee (SOC), which is a committee made up of UNISON members and which is responsible for all decisions regarding the conference agenda, this is because the two motions on male violence against women risk placing the union in ‘legal jeopardy’.
Apparently, and I’m paraphrasing all the different conversations and emails that have been exchanged on the issue so far, the problem they have is with this:
“Conference therefore believes that, when women complain of male violence within our movement, our trade union should start from a position of believing women. This must of course be without prejudice to a fair and impartial investigation, which protects the rights of all parties.”
Because apparently, and again I’m paraphrasing, it’s all well and good for organisations in the women’s sector to make such statements and have as policy a starting point of believing women who complain of male violence against women, but trade unions can’t do the same because, what about the men?
The argument/legal advice is that as UNISON may end up having to represent the alleged perpetrator in any dispute as well as the victim, the alleged perpetrator could claim he was disadvantaged in the process because UNISON policy, if these motions were heard and passed at conference, would state that we believe the woman.
And yes, as far as I’m aware the SOC did read the next bit “This must of course be without prejudice to a fair and impartial investigation, which protects the rights of all parties.” but seemingly didn’t realise that one sentence follows on from the other.
Bizarrely, the exact same wording was deemed acceptable and legal when the motions were submitted to, and passed at, all of our other conferences. The wording was also accepted onto last year’s National Conference agenda when it was included in the text of our lost amendment (8.1). Pointing that all out to the Standing Orders Committee though, has so far got us absolutely nowhere.
Those of us involved in these motions will of course continue our fight to get them accepted onto the Conference agenda, and we’re currently making arrangements to meet with the SOC to continue with our appeals when we get to Brighton at the weekend.
I’ll let you know how it all goes.
keep the fight going…. It will be won eventually
Sometimes the language activists use prevents anything getting done. I think there is a problem with the terminology being used here – and I’m aware of the #ibelieveher hashtag which was widely used a little while ago. To say you “believe” somebody is to take sides, in this case, before any evidence is brought. It’s difficult for a union or any other public body to say this prior to an investigation. It goes against the ancient principle of “innocent until proven guilty. If I were Unison I couldn’t say it either.
But if you were to ask them to always take accusations seriously, to recognise that very few accusations of this sort are false and mischievous, and to always investigate in good faith, then you might get unions to agree.
Anyone we can write to/shout at?
What you are actually attacking is fairness. Unison wants to reserve judgement until accusations can be proved. You can’t seriously make a rational case for any other approach.
Hi Chris, no of course no one’s trying to make a case for UNISON to take anything other than a fair approach, that’s exactly why the qualifying sentence “This must of course be without prejudice to a fair and impartial investigation, which protects the rights of all parties” was included.
They are right in not believing women automatically. Women are human and humans lie. They should believe in only the facts and evidence. Innocent until proven guilty and not guilty until proven innocent.
The problem with this is the only way UNISON can be non prejudiced in its mediation is if does not automatically believe one party. Automatically believing the women at the start of the preceding means it cannot be non prejudicial. The second sentence cannot follow from the first.
Their counterpoint is completely fair. If you start out by declaring affirmative belief in one parties story you necessarily have to believe any negation of that story to be false. The pretense of fairness must be discarded by accepting that the accuser is always telling the truth and the defendant is lying. Even if your second sentence demands such fairness your first sentence makes that impossible.
I think Judi Sutherland’s reply is the most sensible. It seems that you haven’t looked at what you’ve actually said. If you automatically believe an accusation, how can you be fair to the accused? ‘I believe you’re guilty but don’t worry, I’m totally fair and impartial.’ Sounds Orwellian to me.
The two statements are pretty much mutually exclusive. If you ‘believe the woman’ and the man involved is saying something different, you have to ‘not believe the man’.
What you actually want is neutrality. The default position is not that the ‘woman should be believed’ or ‘the man should be believed’ but that ‘both sides views and statements should be taken equally seriously and no prejudicial prejudgement should be made regarding the complaints truth or falsity’.
It is entirely reasonable to demand claims of violence be taken seriously. It is fatuous to claim they should be taken as a de facto truth.
Sentence two is a copout to excuse sentence one. Would you accept this statement:
“Conference therefore believes that, when women complain of male violence within our movement, our trade union should start from a position of believing men. This must of course be without prejudice to a fair and impartial investigation, which protects the rights of all parties.”
If not, why not ? I mean doesn’t the ‘qualifying sentence’ protect it ?
I am aware that in the past, and now indeed, that many complaints were not taken seriously. That is not a reason to assume every complaint is believed, which simply creates an opposite injustice.
Nor is past injustice a reason to create an opposite current injustice, as some apparently think.
Motions to end violence against black women, end violence against women, or indeed end violence against hamsters are equally asinine. What you want to do is end violence. Full stop.
Actually, the issue I see here is that UNISON accepts the presumption of guilt until proven innocent. Is that what we want ? When the tables get turned (as they ultimately will be if history teaches us anything) then the union has got it right and UNISON has no real interest in seeking justice.
This would be an unjust amendment. When it comes to determining whether or a not a crime has been committed, you don’t believe either party until the evidence has been examined and a rational verdict is produced.
You are trying to support a sexist and unfair legal proceeding and disingenuously trying to portray disagreement with your amendment as some sort of “attack/prejudice” against women. Nice try but not everyone will fall for that.
If you start from a position of believing women, you are by logic disbelieving men complained against, which is prejudicial. I bet if you changed the language to ‘not disbelieving’ or ‘not discounting the possibility of their being true’ you’d get through.
The people speaking here against the proposals seem to be operating on the assumption that women lie about sexual assault, when actually all the evidence shows that the vast majority of women reporting assaults are telling the truth.