Open Letter from BCA Leaders – John Simpson, President and Emma Bennison, CEO
Dear members, colleagues and friends. Firstly, a content warning that this letter contains discussion of sexual misconduct, bullying and abuse. If you find this subject matter distressing and wish to speak to someone about it, we encourage you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, or Men’s Line on 1300 78 99 78. Each of these services can provide you with confidential counselling, support, information, and referral.
In recent years, we have strengthened our commitment to providing a safe and respectful environment for anyone involved with BCA, that is free from violence, abuse, bullying and harassment. Specifically, we have convened conversations about boundaries and consent for our organisation’s leaders and at our national and state conventions. Our board and staff have also undergone training in relation to sexual harassment and bullying and on dealing with the impacts of trauma. In addition, we have actively advocated for a Disability Royal Commission that is trauma-informed and accessible and have assisted people who are blind or vision impaired to make submissions. A trauma-informed approach recognises the need to create a safe and trusting environment because a significant number of people have experienced trauma in their lives which may have a long-term impact on their relationships, emotions and behaviour.
Now, we believe we need to do more. In part, this is because of recent happenings within the National Federation of the Blind in the USA. As some of you may be aware, late last year, numerous people who are blind or vision impaired came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and physical and emotional abuse against leaders, staff and members at all levels of the NFB and its affiliated training centres. While BCA is not aware of any current allegations of this nature within our own organisation, our leaders have been closely following the NFB situation. This is because both organisations undertake similar activities and have similar missions and membership profiles. We also recognise that NFB leaders visit Australia from time to time, sometimes at our invitation to contribute to BCA events such as conventions.
There is no doubt that the NFB experience reflects an increased awareness, both here in Australia and elsewhere, of the impact of violence and abuse on survivors. We also know that people with disability are at higher risk of violence and abuse than the general population and our organisation has adopted a zero-tolerance policy in relation to this behaviour, whether at a branch meeting, a national convention or in the context of any other BCA event, whether online or face-to-face. That said, we appreciate that it takes enormous courage to come forward to report this kind of behaviour. And we are aware that over time, expectations about what behaviours are considered inappropriate have changed.
So, we want to ensure that if you have experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct, bullying or abuse of any kind during your involvement with BCA you can report it safely and confidentially if you choose to do so and have the confidence it will be fully investigated by professionals who are independent of our organisation. On that basis, we are currently working to establish an independent complaints and investigation hotline. We will provide details regarding how you can make a complaint and about the investigation process as soon as possible through all our regular communications channels.
We are also keen to continue our work to arm our whole community with a shared understanding of our expectations in terms of acceptable behaviour, consent and boundary-setting; to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all. Over the coming months we will be updating relevant internal policies and procedures, to ensure they reflect our expectations. During this time, mandatory training will be rolled out for leaders at all levels of our organisation on sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment, which will also cover boundary-setting and consent. This training will also be provided to members regularly as part of BCA’s face-to-face and online events. We will keep you updated on our progress and welcome your feedback on any additional actions you think we could take to ensure our organisation is safe and welcoming to all.