One of the things that enables much abuse to continue is shame and secrecy. We shouldn’t enable that.
Much of the confidentiality and privacy surrounding the handling of sexual abuse, intimate partner violence and sex crimes does not serve victims well. For the few victims who are valuing confidentiality at the time they are seeking help, it is good to protect their anonymity. However, by the time most victims are seeking assistance, they are looking for open community support and safety. They are wanting to tell their stories, and have control over their own stories. This is part of healing: the naming of the experiences, and the recovery of one’s own voice.
In contrast, I have seen women harmed again and again by men who expect secrets to be kept. Often this is the abuser himself but it can also be men (and women) who want to maintain the status quo, who are afraid of the repercussions against them for speaking out, or are afraid of scrutiny of their roles in the response to disclosures, etc. When its the convicted and not the victim who is seeking publication bans on the victim’s name, this echoes the abuse itself and enables further abuses, as in the recent case involving the ban on the use of Rehtaeh Parsons’ name. Attempts to silence and induce women to stop talking about our abuse or the abuse of our sisters and friends is not healthy for communities.
Mediation/negotiation oriented approaches place a high value on “confidentiality.” This is a notion imported primarily from the business world from which such mediation approaches evolved. “Getting to yes” in the business world requires negotiation to be without prejudice, and thus it was important for conversations to be free and “confidential.” As I have written about elsewhere, I do not believe these models are good solutions to problems of woman abuse in communities.
There is much value in women talking to each other, although that can be mischaracterized and diminished as “gossip” or “negativity.” In fact, it is one of the main things that is effective for re-empowerment.
Is the so-called “confidentiality” of mediation and restorative justice processes, imposed on victims and their supporters, continuing to disempower women, in women’s own view? If so, what is the value of it?
Personally, I tend not to respect processes that require women’s silence about misogynist abuses. In fact, disrupting silence on the abuse of women is some communities leaders’ whole career, for which they are valued and trusted (by women).
We need to support women talking to each other, caring about each other, and creating community together. We are going to have a much more powerful, saner and brighter community because of it.
Photo: Veriana Ribeiro Alves