Some thoughts I wrote last year, after the hearing in Parliament on the undercover officers who had longterm relationships with women as part of operations to undermine activist groups.
Does it make things worse, a weird question that comes to mind, that sex was involved? The only sensible thing to say about this, is that the aspect of intimate involvement provides an opportunity – or at least makes it less difficult – to take legal steps at all. It remains next to impossible to estimate the damage, should it become clear which rules have been violated.
The betrayal is not just on the personal level, although it is the intimate and sexual part that seems to be the most shocking to satisfy the sensation-sensitive parts of the public. The double-life let by some of the police men involved, married with children while having moved in with their activist partners as well.
For the women here, or for most of them, I would think from my own experience, it’s not just about the sexual involvement. Devoting your life to protest, the relationship with a fellow activist fits the larger context of being part of a movement, wherein overall, there is less of a boundary between the working and the private life. Being part of a movement means the sharing of ideas, ideals, the risks of activism, the scary things at night, the confrontations with the authorities, the arrests maybe, the interrogations, prison for some, the pub afterwards, the long nights. Emily Apple wrote about this impressively beautiful.
The sharing of all this, means people are sharing their entire life, working hard to make this world a better place – to use a common phrase. Hence, the betrayal is not just in the relationship, not just in the private – as if that would not be enough – it’s also in the political, in the beliefs, and the practical every-day life.
With the betrayal on so many levels, one can only begin to understand the trauma caused. Trauma not restricted to those who have had the intimate relationships. Their cases, in a way, represent the damage done to a larger part of the movements involved, all those people who thought they had friends and mates – only to find out they were betrayed by the state.
Still that’s not all, though this is where it links to the need for further research.
From the chronology of the stories that have come out to date and the police men involved, we know that it continued for years – several decades in fact. We know of undercover officers that moved on to become supervisors of a next generation that did exactly the same. It makes you wonder whether the intimate relationships and sexual involvement was not just accepted practice, but in fact part of the strategy to get ‘deeply penetrated’ (No pun intended, Gary T. Marx pointed at the loaded language surrounding infiltration, as I discussed here).
The research needs to get beyond the rules or the lack thereof. We are only beginning to understand how big this is, and what was behind it.
For context, the final part of my report on the Parliamentary Hearing, full blog here Reclaiming Rights Rather than Rules & Regulations
Apart from the fact that no one in his or her normal mind would think of using sex to test potential spies and uncover their true if they would refuse, the question is – once again – completely beside the point. As Jules Carey, the lawyer of four more women pointed out, we are talking about people with high moral standards, who dedicate their lives to make this world a better place. Likewise, the mother of one of the women spoke of her daughter as a principled person, devoted to political activism and direct action. She also said that it was not just about the sexual relationship, Mark Kennedy was welcomed into her family as a friend, attending the 90th birthday of her mother for instance, and she really liked him. She was devastated to hear that he was in fact a police spy, and angry for what has happened.
My problem with the meeting in Parliament was that the main focus was on the lack of authorisation, oversight and accountability. Such might give the impression that would proper control be in place, everything would be OK and none of this would have happened.
To reduce the issue to rules & regulations, the lack thereof or the need therefore, might be necessary to frame the debate in Parliament or the get the cause into Court, but it is not enough.
If anything, these discussions, the search for the right wording, the quest for framing if you wish, remind me most of all of the time and effort it took to get the sexual abuse of women on the agenda as an official crime of war.
Launching legal action is a first step, not just because of the difficulty of finding the laws or legal terms that have been violated. It is largely a symbolic action. No outcome, no financial compensation or public excuse will be sufficient to heal the harm that has been done. Likewise, the Committee meeting in Parliament served as a way to bring the issue to the attention of the government and the wider public (although the concurrency with American Elections did not really help, media-wise).
Which is good, don’t get me wrong, it’s great that it is being done. The nagging feeling that remained afterwards, though, is that not everything was addressed – not properly. So much more to say, and to think about.
In fact, of course, this is about women reclaiming their rights, the autonomy over their bodies and their lives. And their right to speak up, as activists and as women or vise versa – without being denigrated in the most horrible way.
This case – in the end – is about how we, as a democracy – deal with dissent.