Case Studies on Identifying and Dealing with Systemic Abuse

SUMMARY: This page (and its subpages) present a series of brief case studies for exploring the contours of four levels of increasing severity of relational damage and organizational corrosion. It starts with relatively simple situations and moves to more complex cases — with suggestions for implementing solutions appropriate to the level of repair required. It also offers resources that highlight constructive and destructive approaches to four key forms of systemic remediation (repair) work:

  • Independent investigations into alleged situations of abuse and systemic problems.
  • Apologies directed to abuse survivors and people in their support network.
  • Transparency in informing a congregation or non-profit staff about issues of abuse and steps to be taken.
  • System-wide repair work in larger organizations where infrastructures and everyday processes have been compromised by long-term abuse and enablement.

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SOURCE NOTES: The following introductory material and the first four subpages with Stages of Problem Severity for Organizational Repair come from a section on my Field Guides blog: 4 SYSTEM SOLUTION FRAMEWORKS Examples of Damage and/or Remediation (Repair).

The fifth subpage introduces contrasting case studies of constructive versus destructive actions that I’ve gathered from many sources. I’ve selected the cases for how they illustrate what I’ve come to believe are key concerns abuse survivor communities are looking for, when it comes to errant organizations establishing credibility with them and earning their entrustment.

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This page reviews key contours of what systems and systemic abuse are. The first four subpages in this section give examples of dealing with particular degrees of difficult systemic problems. The last five subpages give examples for problems in specific elements of a system (such as in its products) or in the extent of the problem in a specific domain (such as smaller scale in an organization, to far larger scale in an entire society or even a transnational paradigm).

One purpose for doing comparative case studies is to find and/or apply sets of indicators that help us identify problems and work toward practical solutions. So, depending on the topic, I may provide cases that embody the destructive side of the issue, cases that embody (re)constructive ways of addressing that stage of needed repair work or specific problem to address, or both kinds.

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Introducing Systems and Solution Frameworks

Several years ago I wrote an extensive case study. The overall focus was a particular Christian celebrity pastor whose actions, sadly, embodied multiple forms of accountability avoidance and subverting the very systems that were designed to help him in a repentance/rehabilitation process. The majority of that case study remains unpublished, but I published its opening section — “Systems, Systemic Abuse, and Repentance as a Systems Transformation Process” — as two posts on my Futuristguy’s Field Guides blog:

Systems, Systemic Abuse, and Transforming Corrupted Systems ~ Part 1. Includes my definitions of systems and systemic abuse, and covers basics of systems and how to transform a corrupted system. It uses the movie Spotlight as an example of research for identifying system problems needing repair.

Systems, Systemic Abuse, and Transforming Corrupted Systems ~ Part 2. Concludes the introductory exploration of how to transform a corrupted system, and summarizes three examples of dealing constructively with specific elements or scales of systemic problems. (Those examples are expanded upon in this section’s subpages.)

Please read those two posts before digging into the subpages with case studies.

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For Your Reference: Definitions of “Systems” and “Systemic Abuse”

Systems are a specific set of seven parts—people, principles (beliefs), practices (values and actions), partnerships, processes, products (tangible items or intangible goals), and impacts (personal, social, organizational)—that are all interconnected and function as a unit within some kind of boundaries (one organization, or an entire industry, as examples).

Systems are about how the parts in a set interconnect and make the whole more than the sum of those parts. And systemic abuse happens when people with self-serving motives or otherwise malignant intentions (1) use their power, prestige, relationships, and/or money to manipulate parts to take over the whole and (2) manipulate connections among parts to keep the whole under control.

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About the Case Studies

Many of the examples I present in this section come from faith-based situations and settings, such as Christian publishers, churches, and non-profits. This is because most of my non-profit work since the 1970s has been in various kinds of faith-based organizations. The examples I write about are usually from personal experience or from interviews with people I know. In such cases, I had access to direct observations of what happened and could supplement and confirm details through other forms of research.

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Four Stages of Remediation (c) Brad Sargent.

Stages of Problem Severity for Organizational Repair

I’d recommend that you go through these first five subpages in order after finishing this introductory page, then look at the other subpages for sets of compare/contrast case studies on major issues

1. Stage 1: Repair – Sustaining Hope and Help.

2. Stage 2: Renovate – Hope is on the Line.

3. Stage 3. Reclaim – Hope in Definite Jeopardy.

4. Stage 4. Raze – When Hope Fades or Fails.

5. Introduction to Contrasting Case Studies in Doing Organizational Repairs Wisely or Poorly.

6. Contrasting Cases: Independent versus Internal Investigation.

7. Contrasting Cases: Genuine Apologies Versus Deflections.

8. Contrasting Cases: Transparency Versus Secrecy.

9. Contrasting Cases: System-Wide Repairs Versus No Substantive Repairs.

The series of brief case studies in first four subpages focus on exploring the landscape contours of Stages 1 through 4, in groups or organizations that need to deal with toxic systems. They also illustrate issues at the borders between Stages, especially when it comes to hope. That is because:

Hope is an indicator of our orientation toward the future.

False hope keeps us in orbit around the ways things have been, often based on people’s unsubstantiated promises of change.

True hope motivates us onward in a trajectory of transformation — at least personal and perhaps societal.

We can always adjust our own sense of soul/spiritual freedom, even if our personal circumstances and surrounding society hold us back in many ways.

Some of these cases ended well, with positive movement in rebuilding. Others just ended – generally badly and leaving the damages unaddressed. A few of these are situations I myself was involved with, while others are ones I know of from research and interviews. I selected a range of situations and variety of outcomes, and told these tales as accurately as I can recall them, plus in some instances altered a few details to protect the identities of those involved. The key thing is this:

I purposely selected this set and the specific order in which they appear, to create a series that starts relatively simple and gets increasingly more complex. Hopefully that helps you work your way up gradually to whatever level of complicated systemic situation you find yourself in.

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