A case arose between a tenured male professor at a local university and a “mature” (40-something) female student. The professor served as this student’s primary academic advisor in a graduate program, a relationship which required a great deal of one-to-one contact. She accused him of trying to take advantage of his status and power for personal, perhaps sexual, favours. She said that he had touched her in ways not appropriate to their relationship and had tried to take her out to dinner several times, among other things. She believed that his efforts compromised her personally and academically, but that even mentioning these complaints to the university placed her in peril of being “blackballed,” and losing the years of study she had put in toward her advanced degree.
So it was with great trepidation that she petitioned the university for help. The Vice President for Student Affairs agreed to request that both parties sit down with a mediator to resolve their issues. It was understood that participation was voluntary and confidential, and that if their meeting did not produce agreement, both parties retained all rights to pursue other avenues to get satisfaction.
These two persons were able to reach a complete agreement in a single mediation session lasting less than two hours. This was possible largely because of one aspect of mediation that makes it so different from other forms of conflict resolution. The purpose of mediation was not to identify the guilty party and punish him or her. Nor was it to “prove” whose side of the story was the “right” one. Because of this the two parties were not obligated to agree about exactly what had happened before (who did what to whom?). Although we hoped that the professor would become somewhat more “socially conscious,” and rethink his attitudes towards women, the success of the mediation did not depend on that.
Rather, this mediation can be said to have resulted in “complete agreement” because all they were asked to agree on was a workable course of action for the future.
She didn’t want him convicted or punished, which might have been satisfying but would have come with the side effect of making the conflict public and jeopardizing her own future in the university. The university certainly did not want this issue to become public, as it would have done if mediation had failed and she pursued the matter in court.
All she wanted was an acknowledgement from him that his behaviour had violated her boundaries (whether intentionally or not) and an agreement to abide by a mutually-established set of rules of conduct between them in all future academic contact. All he wanted was to be secure against what he perceived as unfounded accusations, so that his job and livelihood would not be threatened and his reputation would not be tarnished. The university, meanwhile, wanted both of these people to be satisfied so that this case would “go away” without cost or other damage to the university.
When they reached agreement, the only thing that was reported to the university V.P. was that the student and professor had reached an agreement. The terms remained private. As long as both parties abided by the terms of the agreement, the entire process, the contents of the complaint, and the specifics of the agreement remained confidential. If either party violated the agreement, the other could feel free to return to mediation or to pursue other avenues, such as litigation.
In fact, both parties abided by the few common-sense terms and respected the other’s rights. As a result the student was able to complete her graduate degree and the professor’s position in the university was undamaged.
Family – parents and two children
Anna and Tom were married for seven years before their separation and had two children: Milly aged 4 and Sam 18 months. Anna and Tom both agreed the marriage was over but neither was willing to move out of the family home. Tom had received legal advice but Anna hadn’t taken that step yet. When they came to mediation it was clear both parents were confused and angry but they were also concerned about their two children.
After the pre-mediation sessions with HSM Anna and Tom had a framework to prepare for their joint mediation session together. They spent time individually listing what they wanted to achieve from the mediation and considering what their best and worst case scenarios were. HSM provided Anna with several recommendations for family lawyers so that each parent was armed with some legal advice and well informed before they came to their joint mediation session.
Tom and Anna found the mediation process challenging but in two sessions they were able to come to a number of agreements which addressed their issues in the short term and provided their children with time with their mum and their dad. By looking at how the ongoing conflict in the house was affecting Milly and Sam, Tom and Anna came to the understanding that one of them needed to move out and that as Tom’s parents lived two suburbs away in a big home that it made sense for him to move there in the interim until they decided whether the family home would be put up for sale.
Anna gave Tom reassurance about how important he was in the children’s lives and they discussed how to talk to Milly about the separation and age appropriate language and likely reactions to the news. An interim parenting plan was drawn up with times, changeover locations ensuring Tom was spending significant time with both kids several times a week including a weekly sleep over for Milly with her dad. As part of the mediation some guidelines around communication between Anna and Tom were put in place, first and foremost the agreement was around committing to keeping any ongoing conflict away from their children and acknowledging that while their marriage was now over they needed to find a way to co parent into the future.
Why mediation worked
While Anna and Tom weren’t able to communicate amongst themselves at this stage, they were able to use the mediation process as a safe place to express their needs and wants. The mediation process helped both of them focus on their children and some practical and immediate decisions that needed to be made.
After some coaching from HSM in the pre mediation sessions, Anna and Tom each came to the mediation with several options for each topic they wanted to discuss rather than having a fixed approach. Through the pre mediation sessions both Tom and Anna gained an understanding of the benefits of mediation versus a Court case and this helped each of them stay committed to the process and coming to a negotiated agreement with some compromise from both sides.
See the article on HSM's website.
Bryony and Tom
Things came to a head when 37 year-old Tom Jarvis moved out of the family home and into his new girlfriend’s flat. Tom and his wife Bryony, 35, both acknowledged that their relationship was over but arguments about contact with the children escalated to a point where both 7 year-old Declan and Luci-Anne, 5, were clearly being affected by the conflict.
Declan’s teacher had noticed he was being unusually disruptive and sullen at school, whilst Luci-Anne was having difficulty sleeping at night.
As part of his bid to ensure continuing contact with the children, Tom had approached a solicitor and it was she who had suggested mediation at their local NFM service as a possible way ahead.
Although Bryony admitted that she had been sceptical about the idea of mediation at first, she and Tom agreed to try it as a means of breaking the deadlock.
Their mediator, Elaine, helped them to understand each other’s position and their children’s needs, and after three meetings they managed to arrive at an amicable solution, which meant Declan and Luci-Anne were able to spend time with both mum and dad. Tom and Bryony also agreed to schedule a review of arrangements for six months later to see how things were going.
“The kids are definitely happier and more settled now that Tom and I aren’t at each other’s throats every time he rings” said Bryony. “Elaine helped us to get on with making things work on a practical level. To some extent we had to put aside the angry feelings we had towards each other. This wasn’t easy, but we both felt that doing so would be best for the children.”
“We are confident that mediation helped us move things on in a way that wouldn’t have really been possible if we had just carried on slugging it out.”
This is a real case study from our trained mediators, though names have been changed to protect identities (National Family Mediation UK)
Conflict in Aceh
Author: Patricia Stafford
In the province of Aceh, at the northernmost tip of Sumatra, the largest island in the republic of Indonesia’s vast archipelago, a civil war has simmered for over 25 years.
The conflict has pitted an army of local rebels, known as GAM, a small but determined force, against the might of the Indonesian military ( Republic of Indonesia Army). It is estimated that 10,000 people have died in the conflict, mostly civilians, victims of the slash and burn approach taken by the RI army.
The province of Aceh is populated by about 4M people, 98% of whom are Islamic. The history of Islam in the province goes back 800 years. North Sumatra is largely Christian.
The region is rich in resources and is historically significant to the Muslim population having been known as the “Porch of Mecca”.
The region was claimed by the Dutch in 1873, who valued it for its strategic location, and its resources. The Japanese occupied it during WW 2, but did not hand it back to the Dutch at the end of the war and thus created the opportunity for the Achenese to make the case for autonomy for the province.
The conflict was latent at this stage, awaiting a trigger.
In 1953 GAM rebels led a rebellion in an effort to have Indonesia established as an Islamic State. The conflict was now emerging. The Indonesian Government in Jakarta, did not wish to recognise the rebels and responded with force. However in 1959 the area was recognised as a Special Territory, with a degree of autonomy and 1963 a peace agreement was signed.
The resources of oil and gas then became the focus of the RI Government, who allowed Exon (US) oil company access to the area agreeing to share the profits with the province. However this was not done as promised and the conflict escalated once more.
In 1999, after the fall of Suharto, the brutal Nationalist leader of the RI Government there was an effort by the RI government to reform the manner in which they dealt with Aceh, they even issued an apology. Atrocities could now be talked about, mass graves were exhumed, and autonomy was on the cards.
President Wahid of RI, initially support this, but under pressure, withdrew his support and violence resumed.
A hurting stalemate has now been reached. The situation, politically, and from a human perspective was now in crises. There was no end in sight, the stalemate as described by Zartman was destined to continue, with dire consequences for all.
The Henry Dunant Centre, a newly established NGO humanitarian agency based in Geneva then offered to facilitate mediation, inviting both parties to the table. The RI government were reluctant to engage with the rebels, but the rebels, having never been acknowledged by any international body before, were anxious to proceed.
The negotiations were protracted and difficult but led eventually to an agreement known as a humanitarian pause. The conflict was de-escalating at this stage and there was some hope that it would lead to a final resolution it was nevertheless just a truce.
In 2001 RI took the promise of Autonomy off the table. The criminal elements both within the rebels and the RI army had vested interests in keeping the conflict going, and the HDC, who were acting as monitors as well as mediators had no support from the International community. The Humanitarian pause failed and hostilities resumed.
The December 2004 Tsunami devastated the province of Aceh and provided the trigger for the return to the negotiation table. The people were on their knees. 230,000 people died, 300,000 were homeless .There was a thirst for peace. The sociological implications were appalling. The rebel leaders, now in exile in Sweden contacted Martti Ahtisarri, ex president of Finland, who headed up CMI, Crises Management Institute. Ahtisarri was admired for his success in Kosovo, and the rebels asked for his intervention.
The negotiations lasted seven months. The rebels did not gain independence but did get autonomy, legal and political, and they also got 70% of the profits from the wealth generated by the gas and oil resources.
The settlement was monitored by the EU and ASEAN, who gradually withdrew after free elections were held, though they remain in touch with the new administration.
The mediation is regarded as a great success. The Mediator said that he had to be very tough with the parties, that he had reservations about the sped at which the monitors withdrew, but that the conflict had been finally ripe for resolution.
So what were the factors which caused the HDC mediation to fail and the CMI mediation to succeed?
1. HDC entered the fray with their own agenda. They were new to the game. Wished to be placed amongst the best peace negotiators in the world. They may have failed to recognise the cultural context of the conflict, and their style of mediation, based on humanitarian interests was experimental. Their neutrality was also in doubt, and the monitoring of the peace processes by an NGO may not have been appropriate, as history has taught us.
2. Control over resources and interests, or, who gets what, is always central to conflict. Scientists meeting in Seville in 1986 determined that “biology does not condemn humanity to war”, and people suffer, women and children suffer most and the Tsunami, which inflicted further human suffering finally triggered a desire for peace. The selection of Martti Ahtsarri was inspired. He was the ideal neutral, tough, firm and experienced in negotiating outside of his own cultural context.
3. The leadership of Aceh following the conflict is crucial. This is an Islamic State, the law is Sharia Law, the people follow the Civil code of Adat, which is an ancient form of mediation on a local level, so that disputes do not escalate. The future looks good.
4. Post Tsunami aid poured in from all around the world. The US are also heavily involved in aiding recovery in the region. The people are content.