Anonymised incident reporting – a way forward for our disciplinary processes

Last Spring, I spoke against our party’s disciplinary motion. “Our party aims to be agents of change and we do so by producing progressive policy’, I nervously spluttered, my first ever time speaking in that bright-lit yet mustardy stage-space. So it is a natural progression then, that this Autumn conference I have submitted my first ever amendment. Heart palpitations aside, I am hoping to positively reform the Party’s disciplinary procedures, so that we can take an innovative and user-led approach to tackling the scourge of sexual harassment and assault.

My proposed system, Anonymised Incident Reporting (AIR) maximizes complainant control when reporting or logging an offence, offering victims a variety of ways to anonymously detail what has happened to them or what they have been witness to. 

To summarise, AIR allows survivors of sexual assault to securely create encrypted, time-stamped records of their assault, and to only formally hand their report to the party as a full complaint when they’re ready to take action. It encrypts all information on both the complainant and assailant, and offers victims multiple options in how they handle their report and whether to turn it into a formal complaint. 

Callisto describes itself as “a non profit organisation that develops tech to combat sexual assault and harassment.”

A year after deciding to report my assault, I ended up finding the process of reporting to be more traumatic than the event itself. Feeling not believed by the people who I thought were there to project me was incredibly destabilizing.

said its creator Jessica Ladd.

An AIR system would allow the party to offer some initial support and advice to anonymous victims both about how they move forward with their report and what other support they can seek.

I, along with others, have developed these ideas along similar lines to the Callisto system used on US college campuses – the technology is now available and using encryption we can give more and better options to survivors. This amendment is nonetheless intentionally open-ended about some of the precise details of the system, in order that we can move towards an AIR system that is well researched and workable for all those concerned. It therefore offers the party scope to see what they are able to adopt, whilst pushing for a radical new approach that puts victims’ agency and their choices at the heart of our disciplinary procedures.

This matching AIR software allows to track patterns of behavior and easily identifies repeat offenders. 

Anonymity is important for the simple reason that it keeps victims of violent and/or sexual crimes safe from their attackers. We do not have the resources available to protect them ourselves should the accused be made aware of who made the complaint so we must do all we can to protect them in other ways. This is why this amendment speaks to me.

– Becca Plenderleith (Holyrood and West Dunbartonshire 2017 PPC, Chair of the Scottish Young Liberals)

It is from my personal experience that I believe these provisions would help members stay in the party; it could provide significantly improved support for those who end up becoming less engaged, or those unable to attend events, meetings or action days in fear of seeing their assailant. On US campuses, survivors who visited Callisto were five times more likely to report than those who did not, a huge increase in the effectiveness of the system.

Speaking against the amendment last year, Sarah Brown, Manchester Central, Gorton and Blackley Membership Development officer said:

I’m tired, not just tired, I’m exhausted, being a women in our party […] A procedure is only as good as the least person using it and its only as quick as the person drawing their feet.

We should see this, too, along with the ongoing problem of gender equality and representation in our party. This issue disproportionally affects women, a group in society who we have been unable to get better involved. I know three women who have moved onto to other parties citing the previous handling of complaints for their defection. This is not something we can ignore.

We have a long tradition of backing technological and innovative approaches to enhance policy and its implementation. It is in that tradition that we should take this opportunity, embrace a radical approach to combat sexual assault, and be the first party to lead the way on such horrendous crimes.  Let’s use tech to be tough with those who drag our party down – please help me pass Amendment One to motion F11 on Saturday afternoon at 5pm.

Further reading:

Project Callisto’s two year report: white paper

You can read a longer version of this article at the Radical Association’s website here.

* April Preston is the Director of the Radical Association and candidate for Withington Ward in Manchester

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