These are staff notes for instructors and other staff members at a club, to provide help and advice for implementing the AHA Code of Conduct when someone reports a major problem.
Fundamental rule 1: do not dismiss any complaints out of hand. Give support and compassion to anyone who feels affected enough to come to you with a problem.
Fundamental rule 2: Default to believing the victim, because it is more likely that someone has genuinely suffered than it is that someone is trying to destroy someone else’s reputation without justification.
Fundamental rule 3: all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Therefore, do something. If the accused is innocent, then this will become apparent to an enquiry. Otherwise, it is imperative that you act to prevent the bad behaviour from becoming any worse and/or causing problems for anyone else.
This does not mean an immediate treatment of the accused party as “proven guilty”, but it does mean that you should treat any complaint as valid and reasonable. Someone who cares enough to come to you with a complaint probably has a good reason to do so, and so they deserve your support and compassion.
It is right and proper to talk to other instructors and/or staff members in the organisation when someone approaches you with a major issue. You do not have to handle it all by yourself.
If you are the sole instructor within a club, then seek advice from peers from other organisations, redacting details (such as names) where necessary to comply with data privacy regulations.
An enquiry may be appropriate to establish the facts and to come to an official resolution. It is important that during the enquiry, you continue to give support and compassion to the person who raised the complaint (or to the person who is the victim in the situation, if that is not the person who complained).
To reiterate and rephrase the fundamental rule: if someone feels affected enough by an issue to raise a complaint, then something has gone wrong, and they deserve your support and compassion during this time. For someone to raise the courage to come forward with a complaint is no small thing, and that should show you that it is important to this person that their complaint is heard and treated as credible.
You should establish quickly if the matter is clear-cut or if an enquiry or investigation is required.
You should seek advice from fellow instructors and / or staff members, and make sure that everyone on the team is aware that there is an on-going issue requiring attention.
You should treat the person who raised the complaint (or the victim, if someone else raised the complaint on their behalf) with support and compassion. This does not necessarily mean treating the accused as “proven guilty”, until you have established all the facts and have concluded that they are guilty; but it does mean treating the complaint seriously and not dismissing it.
You should document in writing everything: every discussion, each piece of evidence or each witness statement, along with dates and times. Nothing should happen informally or behind closed doors; an enquiry should be formal, and there should be a paper trail to show how the conclusion was reached.
If necessary, suspend the accused from attending sessions until the enquiry reaches its conclusions.
When you reach your conclusions, it is time to act. No matter how tough or undesirable the solution to the problem, you must act in the best interests of your members, and you must solve the problem. Seek support from your peers, recruit witnesses to the discussion, and say what must be said. You have a duty of care to your members that must supersede friendships or other situational factors.
A woman in your club reports that someone has harassed her sexually with either words or actions.
Someone in your club reports that someone else persists and delights in using explicit, derogatory, or otherwise problematic language to cause discomfort in others.
Someone in your club reports that someone else is wilfully or maliciously hitting too hard or attempting to cause physical or mental pain.
A younger and more vulnerable member of your club reports that an older member of the club is consistently making them feel small, in danger, objectified, or otherwise singled out.
You do not dismiss the report; you offer your support and compassion. You find out if there are any witnesses or any further evidence. You seek the support and advice of your peers, and you alert all other relevant team members to the fact that this complaint has been raised and that an investigation is now ongoing.
Default to believing the victim unless there is evidence to the contrary.
Blaming the victim for it being their own fault is not the solution. Statements such as “you shouldn’t have worn such a low-cut top to training” or “well, you did look a bit goofy that day” or “why did you provoke him like that?” are quite simply not acceptable.
You do not need to carry the weight of the situation entirely on your own shoulders. Seek advice from and involve the rest of your team. If you don’t have a team, then redact identifiable personal details (as appropriate under the GDPR) and seek advice from peers in other related organisations. There are many people who will be able to help.
If the accused is in fact innocent, then a reasonably competent enquiry or investigation should be able to establish this. You do not have to treat the accused as “proven guilty” from the very beginning, but you should be willing to believe the victim until proven otherwise.
Documentation and paper trails are your friends. It is better to have witnesses present and to document everything than it is to do things behind closed doors and without any records.
Imagine that it was your significant other, or your 17 year old child, or your best friend, who came to you with the complaint. How much courage would they have needed to bring this complaint to your attention? What would you do in these circumstances? Extend the same courtesy, sympathy, support, and compassion to whoever mustered the courage to come to you about it.
All that evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Stand up and do what must be done. This is your responsibility and your duty – even if your part is just to inform the other instructors in the organisation so that someone more senior can take the responsibility of dealing with the situation.