National Federation of the Blind code of conduct complaints describing sexual abuse or misconduct is reviewed by an external party. The current external review firm is Tonya Baña LLC, which is based out of Baltimore, Maryland. On June 6, the survivor-led task force hosted an open call with Tonya Baña to answer questions from the community. Access the recording: June 6, 2021 Open Call with Tonya Baña Audio
Below is a real time transcript of the open call with Tonya Baña
June 6, 2021
8:00 p.m. – 9:45 p.m. EST
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Welcome we're going to give a few minutes to get signed into the webinar. I have a few housekeeping things I want to do. First, I want to turn it over to Daniel Martinez to make an announcement.
DANIEL MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish)
Hello, everyone. This is Daniel Martinez, and my announcement was regarding interpreting services. Just asking Spanish speakers to raise their hand to check if they're interpreting. Thank you. Can I be made interpreter, please?
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Yes, just give us one moment and you'll be made interpreter. Great. And so, Daniel, can you just verify, or can someone just verify for me that Daniel is interpreting?
STEPHANIE CACONE: Yes.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: The closed captioning will be available in the 1CapApp. We're still waiting on the captioner, it looks like. The participation list is not available on the recording. Since it is recording, if you could be mindful to ask your questions when that question of the program comes around to not include questions that include identifiable information. So as soon as we have word that our captioner is here, we're going to get started, and that is when we're going to start. And then also, the chat should be disabled for this meeting. However, you can post questions in the Q&A. So the Q&A is activated. If you don't have access to a keyboard, you can also call the survivor task force voice mailbox, which at 410 659 9314, and we'll be monitoring that avenue for you to leave questions during the call as well. So as soon as we have word from Stephanie that the captioner is here, we'll get started and thank you for your patience in the interim.
STEPHANIE CACONE: Thank you. We have a captioner. The captions will be available on Zoom and also the 1CapApp. We will include that link in the chat if you would like to access. Thank you, Daphne.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: I just disabled chat.
STEPHANIE CACONE: We are recording.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Welcome to tonight's open call with the organization's external investigator. One second, Tonya Bana. And Tonya investigates code of conduct reports that are related to sexual misconduct incidences. We want to make sure that everyone's access needs are met. If you need Espanol or closed captioning to fully participate in the call, please raise your hand or send a message through the Q&A and someone will assist you to connect with those appropriate communication channels.
The Survivor Task Force extends their gratitude to our panelists, Daniel Martinez, captioner Liane Tomlinson, Tonya Bana, of course, and also the Survivor Task Force members. And all of these folks are going to contribute to making tonight's meeting a success.
The subject matter discussed tonight's call will involve language and topics about sexual violence and other forms of misconduct. Please practice interventions practices to maintain your safety. Portions of tonight's call are being recorded to offer an avenue. All interested federationists to learn about Ms. Bana's report to investigating reports. And now I'll turn it over to Kathryn Webster for a few more announcements.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you. I want to thank you for being here tonight. I also want to extend a huge thank you to President Mark Riccobono and our board. The drive forward in a lot of our efforts would not be where we are progressing without the national board's direction and President Mark Riccobono's passion towards what we're doing.
I also wanted to give everyone a quick overview of our programs tonight. So we are going to hear from our national President Mark Riccobono with a brief message. And proceeding that, one of our task force members, Marcy Carpenter will be having a Q&A session with Tonya with what the task force has put together.
Proceeding that segment is when we will open it up to everyone to ask questions through the Q&A. We've got a few questions that were submitted prior to this evening's meeting, and we also will allow for folks to chime in via the Q&A. Again, please do not share any personal, identifiable information during these questions. And also just be conscious of confidentiality and all of the shared agreements that we continue to discuss around consent, confidentiality, safe spaces, and making it a welcoming environment for all. I will now, Stephanie, if you don't mind, playing our opening message from President Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you for being here to talk about safety and support within the National Federation of the Blind. I want to begin by showing great appreciation for our Survivors Task Force in the National Federation of the Blind for putting together this meeting to talk about our efforts under our Code of Conduct, and really to celebrate their work since the beginning of this year to improve safety and support within the National Federation of the Blind.
It's been an honor to be led by the experience and commitment of these six ladies. And I know they're going to put on a great gathering this evening for all of you. We're here tonight to talk about our Code of Conduct, which we established in 2018, in January of 2018 and have been socializing throughout the organization.
Since that time, we've been making ongoing efforts to improve that Code of can have conduct process, and we've relied on the engagement of members across the country to help make that happen. In January of this year, one of the changes that we made to our Code of Conduct process was to onboard Tonya Bana, who you will have the pleasure of hearing from this evening and engaging with. Tonya, we asked to be our external investigator for all reports of sexual misconduct within the National Federation of the Blind.
Now, that was an important step for us to take as an organization. Our goal in doing so was to ensure that we were doing all that we could to remove bias and conflict of interest into our from our investigations, and that we were applying the highest standards to our investigatory work to make sure that it was objective as possible.
Tonya came highly recommended to us, and I was responsible for signing her up, let's say, getting her agreement in place, and it's a simple agreement. Tonya is charged with taking the complaints that come, that fall into the bucket of things she is supposed to investigate, and she is authorized to go investigate. She asks the federation for information when she needs it. Otherwise, we get out of the way. Her job is to find whatever truth she can find, and she provides to the federation a report of her independent findings.
It's a significant part of our commitment to safety and support that we brought Tonya onboard. And I want to say a few things about having her with us. One is that it's a leap of faith for us in the Federation, right? Because we're used to taking care of our own business. And to some extent, Tonya is doing that for us. She's carrying a growing understanding of who we are as a movement, but she's investigating these most important complaints of misconduct from her objective seat as an external investigator.
And I can say that her reports are extremely thorough, they're fair, balanced, and they're tough. And that is the experience we have asked her for. She's doing a great job for the Federation. She's also doing a great job learning about our organization, the capacity of blind people, and internalizing our understanding that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future.
She's only been with us a short time, but I think she's quickly showing that she truly is blind at heart, but not blind to justice. And I really appreciate that she has made the commitment to work with the Federation, because she believes in what we are doing as an organization. So I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Tonya for our outstanding work, and I look forward to much longer relationship with her as we continue to increase our safety and support efforts within the Federation.
Final point, Federation members are essential to our continued work in this area, advising, guiding, helping to continue to improve what we do. That happens from the ground up, from the engagement of individual members. So thank you for being here tonight. Thanks again to our task force for continuing to lead the way and create spaces and opportunities like this for Federation members to be part of this important work. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.
MARCI CARPENTER: Good evening, everyone. My name is Marci Carpenter. I'm a member of the Survivor Led Task Force. Good evening, Tonya.
TONYA BANA: Good evening.
MARCI CARPENTER: I'm going to be asking Tonya some questions, so let's get started with it. Tonya, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are as a person.
TONYA BANA: Sure. So I am an attorney. Obviously I'm not functioning as an attorney in this context, doing this work, but I am by vocation an attorney. I am a woman of color. I come from a multiracial family. My mom's white, my dad's Black. I consider myself Black, and I grew up on the east coast. I went to Harvard undergrad, Stanford Law School. I'm a first generation college student in my family.
I worked after graduating from law school with big firms for the first decade of my career as an attorney. And about seven, I guess almost eight years now ago, I start mid own practice to report individuals whose rights had been violated, primarily in the workplace, but in other contexts as well. Because I was troubled by the disparity I saw in the quality of representation available to individuals as compared to the quality of representation available to big organizations. And so I've had my own practice now for several years, and that's what's brought me here with you all this evening.
MARCI CARPENTER: Great, thank you. And it seems like you covered your legal expertise and the kind of law you practiced. Anything you want to add about that?
TONYA BANA: Well, I would add that my area my primary area of practice is workplace rights, and so in that context, I routinely represent people whose rights had been violated in the workplace as a result of discrimination, discrimination on any number of improper bases including race, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and I have also most of my work, as I mentioned in the last several years, since starting my own practice, has been representing individual clients, employees.
I do have a handful of a couple of corporate clients, and in both contexts, I have a lot of experience going back now about 20 years doing internal investigations, external investigations into allegations of impropriety and misconduct, particularly sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct.
I have primarily represented in that context individuals who have been discriminated against and whose rights have been violated. But I went back and looked at my records, two occasions, representing individuals who in my view had been either falsely accused of misconduct or had been overpenalized for misconduct. So I have a variety of experience that I think I rely on in informing my work for the NFB.
MARCI CARPENTER: Thanks. So how did you become the external investigator for the NFB? What motivated you to agree to take on this challenging role?
TONYA BANA: So I was recommended for this role by a colleague of mine who has worked with the NFB. I have not worked with the NFB before. I was somewhat familiar with the NFB, but not very familiar with the NFB prior to the recommendation. And when I think, I believe, that the reason that Sharon recommended me for this work is because you know, the NFB is at a crossroads right now. It is not an overstatement to say that for President Riccobono to bring in someone who never worked with the organization before is a very unusual thing for an organization to do in such a position as the NFB is at this time.
I spent the first decade of my career working with big firms where I was representing companies in employment related matters and other disputes. Companies bring in known entities with whom they have a longstanding working relationship, because they know the results are going to be predictable and they know the outcome is one that they are going to be comfortable with. That is not the case here obviously, and it was very important to me, and I was very transparent about the fact that my own integrity and my own values are the primary drivers of what I do in any situation, and I was very up front about that from the beginning.
But, you know, when I look at what the issues that have come to light in the last several months, and the change that the NFB is going through, it's hard. I know from my own experience working with organizations as a member and as counsel and in a variety of other contexts, that organizational change is a very difficult thing to do. And when I look at the work the NFB does, and when I have read and of course, now I know better than ever what it's meant to people and the role it's played in their live, I think it's incredibly important for that work to continue. I know this is a challenging time and I would like to be part of that.
But I would also like to be part of helping the survivors and victims of sexual misconduct who come forward, be able to participate in a process that is a safe one for them and one that allows them to be heard in a way that is protective of them. There's a lot of ways in which I do my work that are very different than most independent investigators. And quite frankly, I think that you need that if you're going to get through this and come out the other side better and a safer organization for all of your members.
So I quite frankly did not have a lot of availability, probably none. I've had to clear some other things off my plate as I it turned out to be able to do this work and to do it the right way. But it's something that I think is really, really important, and I would like to be part of it.
MARCI CARPENTER: Thanks. I'm so glad you are. So you mentioned some values. What are other guiding principles and values do you have as a lawyer, particularly around dealing with matters of confidentiality?
TONYA BANA: Well, I always say that I'm sure there's people participating this evening who have heard me say that equality and justice are really my core values, and fundamental fairness. With respect to confidentiality, and particularly dealing with the issue of confidentiality in a setting like this, you know, I would say there's probably three guiding principles that are important and directly relevant to my work as the independent investigator, external investigator for the NFB.
First, honesty and transparency from the beginning of this process and this work, I have made a concerted effort to be clear with people about who I am and what this process involves from explaining their options to the participants in the process, their options for confidentiality and anonymity and the limits on the representations that I make from the possibility that my records could be subpoenaed to mandatory reporting to who gets reports.
I have always made a concerted effort about what the process entails and how it's going to work. Because, you know, the information that people share with me every day, in my work here and more generally, more broadly, is information that is personal, it's potentially harmful and hurtful to the people who talk with me and to others. And it is a responsibility that I take very seriously to guard that information. And to make sure people understand what's going to happen and what they're getting themselves into when they participate in the process.
So I make sure I'm completely honest and transparent about how the process works. What I can do, what I can recommend, what I can't do. I think that's really important because a lot of the people involved in the process have not gotten that, and they deserve to get it. And that's one first step to making people feel comfortable and rebuilding trust is to be clear about how things are going to work.
Also accountability. You know, they are times when I tell people, I'm putting my pen down, I'm taking my hands away from the keyboard. I'm not putting this information anywhere, because it is information that is, in my view, so sensitive that I don't want to ever be in a position where I have to turn that information over and reveal that information that person has shared with me in confidence.
When I say that to people, I mean it. That information is not in my files. If I tell a participant in the investigation that the information is not going to go in my report, it doesn't go in my report. If I tell a person that conversely, if I've gotten information from multiple different sources, I tell people, I have gotten this from multiple sources. I can reveal it in the report in a way that you should know this is not pointing the finger at you. I am very careful to make sure that people know what they are committing to, and they know that I am going to stand behind what I tell them with respect to what I'm going to do with that information and what I won't do.
And lastly, compassion. You know, I treat people in all roles in this process the way I would want to be treated. I lose sleep over the decisions that I have to make with respect to recommendations, because I know those recommendations are taken very seriously and may very well guide what the NFB does. And I know that the decisions have significant impact on all participants in the process. And so I you know, for example, there's information I make a concerted effort not to include in my report information that is needlessly embarrassing to survivors.
I also do that with respect to the respondent. And I tell people that in the process. Because I don't want to make the process any more painful or triggering or for anyone involved in the process than it needs to be. So those are some of the I would say, the kind of main principles that inform how I do my work.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay, thanks. Can you walk us through kind of end to end process of what it's like when you conduct a Code of Conduct investigation?
TONYA BANA: Yeah. So early on in this work, the NFB set up a process so that when Code of Conduct complaints are received by the NFB, they are automatically routed to me and also to the share of the special committee. And usually within 24 hours, but sometimes immediately, we will confer with each other to make sure that we are in agreement as to whether or not a complaint is within my jurisdiction and is one that should be assigned to me to investigate. I don't think that we've ever disagreed, and I know that we both we err on the side of, if there's 10 issues raised or five issued raised and there's one that appears to raise a sexual misconduct allegation, then that would come can to me.
I have emails that I send out with the person in connection to the reports. There are more reports being made by mandatory reporters, not only by survivors. And so there are different forms that go out, depending on the person's role. But I will reach out to that person and let them know that the complaint has been received. I try to coordinate a mutually convenient time for us to talk and I also will, with, you know, immediately upon getting the complaint do kind of a plan of action that is just sort of an initial kind of road map for what I plan to do in that particular investigation.
All investigations are different in how extensive or limited they need to be or should be, depends on the nature of the allegations and the people involved and the issues. But I will come up with that plan and identify who I expect to interview, besides the person who made the report and the respondent. Usually if there's witnesses, I will plan to interview those witnesses, but I don't always interview there are times when I don't need to interview the witnesses.
And then ultimately, the investigation, all the information that I gather, which would also include a request for any documents or information that I need that's in the hands of the NFB or the training centers, that would be policies, procedures, it could be personnel files, it could be student files. But that initial plan for the investigation will identify the various things various types of information I believe that need to be reviewed to be able to assess whether the sexual misconduct occurred.
And then after I review that information, I conduct the interviews, I will prepare a written report. And my written report goes to the NFB.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay, thanks. And has your process evolved any since you began to work with the NFB Code of Conduct? If so, how.
TONYA BANA: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I think it's likely it to continue to evolve in some respects because new issues surface and reveal places where the process needs to change and be better.
Early on, the reports were being forwarded to me and were not coming directly to me. At first I thought I could issue witness statement, but that's not workable, just given the volume of people I need to talk to. It just was not manageable. And so now what I found actually as a practical matter is the information that I rely on and that's central in my findings comes from multiple sources. If there's facts that only comes from one source, ensuring that those facts are verified. I'll reach out to the individual witness or witnesses from whom I gathered that information to verify that that information is correct.
I had started out planning to interview all witnesses identified by the survivor or the respondent. It's become clear that isn't always necessary, and so in cases where there are witnesses who would likely provide information that is just duplicative of information I've already received, in case where is the respondent has admitted to the misconduct alleged, I will not identify additional witnesses who would simply verify facts, unless the exception being where there are witnesses who are also survivors who expressed an interest in talking with me, in which case, I will always make sure I speak to those witnesses to give them an opportunity to be heard as part of this process.
I've gotten the recommendation that participants be given invited to have a representative participate with them if they were interested. And so that is now something that I've been including in my initial correspondent with the participants to let them know that is an option. To let them know that we're willing to make accommodations, any accommodations that are needed to help them participate in the process.
Let's see, I think that's I mean, that's a pretty good kind of list, or sample, of the ways in which the process has evolved. And really, the goal has been to make the process one that has been safer and more comfortable for all participants, but especially for survivors.
MARCI CARPENTER: Thanks, appreciate that. Are reporting parties allowed to withdraw their consent to participate in the investigatory process? Sorry, tripping on my words. And if so, how?
TONYA BANA: Yeah . so, we've kind of been using the term reporters, or reporting parties to generally typically, when I use that, that language is in reference specifically to people who are not victims of the misconduct alleged themselves, but are reporting something that happened to someone else. And so when I so reporters, you know, there really isn't once they report what they know, that's pretty much the end of their involvement unless they are also victims of the misconduct alleged.
And so in that case those individuals are always told at the beginning of the process that reporting the misconduct does not require they don't have to participate in the process to report it. Their involvement can start and end with the report that they make at the beginning of the process. And when people are not responsive to me, I will let them know that I will infer from their lack of response to me that they don't want to be involved in the process and that they don't have to be.
I will also let them know that if they prefer not to be directly involved in the process but would like to get the outcome that that is an option for them. But to answer the question about withdrawal, certainly survivors who make reports through the Code of Conduct process can elect to withdraw their report, but that doesn't necessarily mean the investigation would end. Ultimately, the process is designed to protect all members.
Once information has been reported that requires action on the part of NFB, that would still be acted on. The person who made the report, again, would not need to participate in the process if they chose not to.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay. And as far as the survivor, are they allowed to change their mind about remaining anonymous? And how do they do that?
TONYA BANA: They certainly can. I as a matter of kind of standard practice make it a point in my like the written report to keep most people anonymous as much as possible. I make an effort to avoid attributing information gathered in the investigation to any particular person. Survivors can certainly elect to be anonymous or not to be anonymous up to the time when I submit my report to the NFB. At that point, it would be too late.
But from the time that I first contact them and they first submit their report up until the time when the actual report is sent to the NFB, they can change their mind.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay. And what types of recommendations do you provide for final resolutions to investigations? And what factors contribute to your recommendations?
TONYA BANA: So the recommendations that I make have to be understood against the backdrop of this process. The Code of Conduct process through the NFB provides a certain range of potential recommendations or disciplinary actions and other types of remedial action that can be recommended, which would include expulsion of the offender, suspension of the offender. If that person happened to be an employee, termination of employment, permanent ban on employment of the organization, a ban on employment with minors in particular.
It could include a recommendation that the offender get harassment training. It could be a recommendation for mental health counseling. It could be a warning, a reprimand, a letter of apology from the offender, providing information about support services in the victim's local community. Those are the kind of corrective actions I've recommended.
And then the factors I look at making those recommendations include looking at the nature and severity and pervasiveness of the offender's conduct, whether it was sexual harassment or abuse, whether it was merely verbal or if it was also physical, involved physical abuse. If there are clear violations of professional or ethical standards and whether it was consensual or nonconsensual, whether it was exploitive, whether the survivor, the victim was a minor or an adult in the offender's care.
Whether there's evidence of that there's some kind of fiduciary expectation that was violated. The person's overall record of employment or membership in the NFB, whether there were applicable policies with their conduct and whether they are aware, if there was prior discipline with similar violations, whether the offender was cooperative, honest and candid in the investigation and remorseful.
The harm and the impact that their conduct had on the survivor or survivors, whether it was a single incident or part of a larger pattern that occurred over the course of time, the number of victims, the impact to the NFB, risk of future harm. Whether there had been prior efforts at rehabilitations or warnings. I think that covers everything.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay, thanks. Are you involved in the appeals process at all?
TONYA BANA: Not really. The appeal as I understand it is ultimately handled by a panel, and so I have you know, I make an effort in my written report to include all of the information gathered in the investigation that I think would help the NFB understand my findings and my recommendations. Of course, I always make judgment calls. You know, it is not uncommon for my interview notes with from interviewing a witness to be 10 pages of information. So I'm always making judgment calls about how much information to include and what to exclude.
And so my goal is to include all the information that would help the reader understand the findings and recommendations. Of course, there's always more information, and so I have made the NFB aware that I'm willing to answer questions, or if there's specific information that would be helpful to give context to the findings and recommendations as part of the appeals process, I would be happy to provide that information. But to date, I have not had any involvement in any appeals.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay. You've spoken quite a bit about your approach to witnesses, interviewing them. Do you have anything else you would like to add about how you approach those conversations and interviews? And you've already kind of talked about if you do interviews and the variations and that.
TONYA BANA: The only thing I might add that I don't believe I said earlier is that one way that my approach to the investigation is probably different than what's more common is that I don't make an effort to be impartial and to keep my thoughts and impressions of the information provided to myself during process. I believe that it's important to be advocative for survivors, because the reality is that there are so many factors that weigh against survivors ever getting to a place where they're talking to me, and so I know that I've told the task force before, I believe it's important to kind of put your thumb on the scale on behalf of survivors to get to the truth. It's not to taint the result. It is to get to the truth, and I believe that's necessary because of the sort of societal influences that are a barrier to supporting victims.
So when I conduct interview, I treat survivors and respondents the way I would want to be treated. And so if I listen to people share with me their own feelings of guilt and their feelings of shame, and I tell them I will tell witnesses, I will tell survivors when the respondent has already admitted to what they are telling me. I want them to know that. I want them you know, if the evidence has shown that in person has the offender has abused a dozen people, I will share that you are not alone. And that is an unconventional way to approach investigations, but it does not it doesn't impact the results, but I do think it makes the process a more humane experience for the people involved.
And so when I do the interviews, I approach them with the goal of being compassionate and being supportive of people as they in many instances reexperience a traumatic event or events. And so I do that, I'm being compassionate by being supportive. There have been times when I have shared with people that what they have shared with me that they think has only happened to them has happened in many other instances. I want them to know that. And I've heard when I listened to people share with me that they believe something was their fault and I tell them it's not their fault. This is not a process about their culpability, it's about what someone else did.
So yeah, I think it's important for people to know I will also when people have reservations about participating in the process, I'm happy to speak with them before they even file a complaint to talk with them about the process, to make sure they understand what's involved, to make sure that they're comfortable with it. I will invite them to ask any questions, hear about the process, and ask questions, and sleep on it. If they want to sleep on the process and deciding whether or not they're willing to speak with me. So those are some things that I do in the interview process to try to make that process more comfortable for participants.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay, thanks. And what happens if a survivor or a reporting party doesn't respond to your outreach to them? Do you treat that as an anonymous investigation?
TONYA BANA: So reporters, again, when I use that term, I'm typically referring to the leaders who have an obligation to report something that's brought to their attention. I never had the occasion to have a reporter not be responsive. But with respect to people who are reporting misconduct that happened to them, I will if the person is not responsive, I think if the person is not responsive, I don't want to not talk to them because they for whatever reason didn't get my initial communication, or maybe they overlooked it, or maybe I had a bad contact information for them.
So I will follow up, but I will explain to them in that follow up, that if I don't hear from them, that I will infer from that that they don't want to directly participate in the process and that I will leave them alone. Because as I have experienced sexual misconduct myself, and I understand the many reasons why a person would report but not necessarily be interested in actively participating in the investigation.
And throughout the process, I always want to make sure that I'm doing anything and everything I can to respect the agency of survivors.
MARCI CARPENTER: Sure. And then does that investigation then go on as an anonymous investigation?
TONYA BANA: Unless a participant as affirmatively given me content to disclose their information I keep them confidential, keep them anonymous, correct.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay. What happens if you get additional information or evidence after you submitted your report?
TONYA BANA: So that's an interesting question. I've actually I've never had that happen. I think it would what would happen would depend on the nature of the information received. Certainly, if it was duplicative of information I already had and didn't have any impact on my analysis and findings and recommendations, I suppose I would make the NFB aware of it, if appropriate. But maybe not.
On the other hand, if it somehow called into question my findings, or if it changed the recommendations, then I would certainly reach out to the NFB and make them aware of that, and I would certainly advocate for a revision to the report and the findings and recommendations.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay, thanks. Okay, so last couple of questions are a little bit different. You mentioned earlier about losing sleep over when you have to make a decision. That's the hardest part of this role?
TONYA BANA: You know, losing sleep is certainly not fun. The hardest part is the pain that so many people are in and are still in, as a result of the experiences they've had. And of course, the experiences that have led to them being involved in this process. You know, I am a very empathetic person, and I think it makes me well suited to do the work that I do, but it's hard. And it can sometimes cause you to question humanity. So that's hard.
But what I try to focus on is the strength and courageousness and the resilience of the people who I'm talking with and, you know, what they've come through, and I try to focus on that, rather than the hurt and the harm and the sort of dark part of the process.
MARCI CARPENTER: Okay. This is hard work, and I know as a survivor, we emphasize to people we speak about all the time for self care. What do you do for self care?
TONYA BANA: I probably drink too much. I am fortunate that I am in business with my husband. My husband is an attorney and works with me. And he does some work to the extent that he can support my work in this role. And so he, of course, is bound by confidentiality, and so I spend time with my husband and I vent to him and share stories of courage with him. And I spend time with my dog, and I have my dog. And talk with like minded people about the work that people are doing to address these types of issues, not merely in this context, but in a variety of other contexts.
As a person who's been practicing law now for almost 20 years, the sea change that I have seen and witnessed with respect to sexual misconduct and race discrimination and a whole range of issues, the last few years, the progress that has been made is staggering.
I focus on that and I take stock of those successes. I take stock of that progress and it helps me immensely. With a glass of wine in my happened, I take stock of that process.
MARCI CARPENTER: Understood. Understood. So that concludes this round of questions, but I want to just give you the opportunity if there's anything else that you would like to add that we haven't covered before we move on to the next phase tonight.
TONYA BANA: I think I've said it, but it also bears emphasizing that I just feel humbled and inspired by the people that I'm working with in the course of doing this work every day. As I mentioned, I've had my own experiences with sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, and so the strength and the courage that people, that NFB members I talk to have and that I witness in their participation in this process is just humbling, and it's inspiring.
I hope to fulfill what you all want from me in doing this work. And I invite everyone who's involved in the process who participates in the process to share with me their feedback on how to make this process better. Many of the changes that have been made in how I do this work have come directly from you.
MARCI CARPENTER: Thanks so much. I really appreciate talking with you tonight and getting to know you a little better and helping our members to get to know you a little better. I really appreciate your time tonight. Now I'm going to turn it over to Kathryn and Daphne.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: We're going to pause the recording for just a moment to remind people that we're going to be moving to the audience offered questions to Tonya. And we received some questions and those questions have kept in mind that, please don't share any personally identifiable information in your questions, and we appreciate everybody's patience and attentiveness to this important topic. And so I'm going to restart the recording and Kathryn, if you want to kick off this segment, you can. So I'm going to click it and we should all hear that announcement.
>> SPEAKER: Recording in progress.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: I haven't been using the announcement, but do recognize that it's recording to the cloud. Just so everyone knows the recording has resumed. And the first question that we received is Tonya, do you mind elaborating a little bit on the difference between substantiated and unsubstantiated reports? And also to that end, if you're able to share any numbers of reports that go against substantiated ones and unsubstantiated ones?
TONYA BANA: Sure. So substantiated would just simply be the outcome when the misconduct that is described in the report is I've concluded based on the evidence gathered in the investigation that it occurred as reported. Unsubstantiated can mean a variety of things. It can mean that either the misconduct, as alleged did not occur, so there's no violation of the Code of Conduct because the misconduct reported didn't occur. It could also mean that, although what was reported did, in fact, occur, it doesn't constitute a violation of the Code of Conduct. And so, you know, unsubstantiated doesn't mean that what was reported doesn't happen. It can sometimes simply mean that it doesn't rise to the level of something that would be a violation of the Code of Conduct. And then what was the second part?
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you for that, Tonya. Are you able to share numbers of reports that were filed since you were brought on in the beginning of January?
TONYA BANA: I don't know. I will say that I have had people ask during the course of the process, you know, who have alluded to wanting to have transparency around the number of reports made and the outcomes, and I actually just don't know if that's something that the NFB is sharing. Because it's not strictly something that falls within my discretion to decide, I don't know that I feel comfortable saying. But I will share that I do think that transparency would be a good thing.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: That's helpful, thank you, Tonya.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Are reports available to everyone or only to NFB leadership?
TONYA BANA: So the reports don't even go to all NFB leaders. The reports in most cases go to the president, and then there is a committee of three individuals who weigh in on the president's decision based on the report that I provide. But in most cases, the report would only be viewed by those individuals. And then there's a written determination that's issued by the president that would also include my a summary of my findings and my recommendations. And then whether or not the NFB is implementing and adopting the recommendations that I made or if they're deviating from those recommendations. And that would go to the people who are considered parties to that particular report, which in most cases would be the survivor or reporter, to the extent the reporter is a survivor of the misconduct alleged, and then the person who is the subject of the report.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Excellent. The next question is around submitting or filing, rather, reports to you directly instead of going through the NFB Code of Conduct process. So is there a possibility to email you Code of Conduct violations instead of going through are the five mechanisms of filing reports?
TONYA BANA: At this time, there is not. As I think I alluded to earlier or mentioned, there have been times when people have reached out independent of the Code of Conduct process because my information obviously is publicly available, and they had questions or concerns about the process. But as it exists right now, the process does not contemplate that people would make complaints through me without their being without the NFB being included in that process. That's not something I'm opposed to, but it would definitely require coordination or discussion with the NFB to, one, approve and then two, there would be some logistical issues that would have to be worked out to ensure that there's mechanisms in place to do that. But as of right now, there's not a process that contemplates that.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: The next question is what input do NFB leaders or members have sorry, let me scratch and come back. What input does NFB leaders or members who are not named in a complaint have prior to the final report being issued?
TONYA BANA: I'm not sure I understand the rest of the question. People who have an interest in it somehow but are not parties to the report?
DAPHNE MITCHELL: So they want to know individuals who aren't named, if they play a role in the investigation before you issue your report.
TONYA BANA: I see. Okay. The most common circumstance where someone would be involved in an investigation but not be an actual party is if they're a witness. And it could be someone who is a witness because they're a coworker. It could also be someone who is a survivor of the same conduct at issue.
So ordinarily, a person who is not a party to a report would not get the results, and they wouldn't be treated like the parties to the complaint. But if a person, a witness is a survivor, I will certainly they don't get a copy of the report, but I will ask them the same questions I would ask the survivor who made the report, and I will make sure that they know when the investigation has concluded, and I will make sure that they know the outcome, the final outcome of that investigation.
So one of the things that I always ask the person who makes the report and other people involved in the process is what outcome they would like to see, how they would like to see the report resolved. And so that is a way that the input from people who are not technically parties is taken into account in the process.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you, Tonya. The next question is and I'm going to read it directly so nothing is misconstrued. What would be an offense that warrants permanent expulsion, lifetime expulsion?
TONYA BANA: Well, certainly every situation is different. If you think about the list of factors that I mentioned that are taken into account, that I take into account in making recommendations as to discipline, if you're talking about something that was repeated misconduct that occurred over a course of time where a person has been disciplined and has continued to offend. But that's not necessarily required, because certainly there could be single incidents that were sufficiently severe and traumatic that they would warrant expulsion.
So it really is a case by case determination that takes into account all of the factors, all of those various factors that I mentioned. But certainly the most common thing that would be, in my view, warrant a permanent expulsion would be repeated conduct after warnings and discipline and continued dishonesty in this process about what happened, victim blaming, denial, responsibility, those kinds of factors would be the ones that would in my view would typically warrant an expulsion.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: The next question is, what is your standard of evidence? For example, is it preponderance of evidence?
TONYA BANA: It is. For those who don't know what that means, it essentially means just more likely than not. If you imagine a scale, enough evidence to tip that scale ever so slightly in favor of one version of events over the other. Obviously nothing like beyond a reasonable doubt standard that you would see in a criminal context. It's really just more likely not.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: What would be your answer to the common charge of an external investigator is a hired lawyer representing the interests of the NFB?
TONYA BANA: I would say in the vast majority of cases that's true, and a reason to be skeptical of the person's ability to be objective. In my case, I have lots of work, and taking on this assignment with the NFB was something that I did not automatically say yes to. It's something that I had to seriously ponder and sleep on because of and ultimately decided to do because of the reasons I already mentioned. But I'm a very successful lawyer. I have lots of work and I make a good living doing what I do.
And so, I don't need to remain in the NFB's good graces to continue to earn an income. As I mentioned, I have taken some things off of my plate to be able to do this work. And to President Riccobono's credit, when I agreed to do this, as he alluded to at the beginning, it was a pre condition of my involvement that I have complete discretion to recommend whatever I think is appropriate, and I've done that. I've done that and I will continue to do that. And whenever I've had questions or concerns about any aspect of this process and have requested a change, I have not had any resistance from the NFB to making that change, to make the process more survivor friendly, to make it a more comfortable process for witnesses.
Anything that I've ever suggested has been received well and has been accommodated. So I think that it is appropriate to be concerned about whether or not the fact that my bill gets paid by the NFB is an issue, but I actually just don't know who else would pay it if it wasn't the NFB.
I will also say that I continue to do independent investigations, not as often as I did when I was associated with big firms in part because most organizations won't hire a person who is a civil rights attorney and advocates for victims to come in and do this role. They just won't do it.
The last time I actually did an independent investigation for a big organization was when the organization was involved in advocacy, and it was important to them to have someone who would bring the diversity of experience that I bring to this work and to have credibility and for everyone involved in the process. And my integrity and who I am as a person is not something that I would ever sacrifice to get an assignment and to get paid. It's just not something I'm capable of doing. And I think that my track record, if you look at the decisions I've made during the course of my career bear that out. I walked away from big firms to start my own practice. I sued the biggest law firm in Maryland and took on no other work and basically didn't get paid for a year and a half, because it was the right thing to do.
I am not someone who's motivated by money. I'm motivated by justice.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: That is great to hear. Is there an ability for NFB or offenders if they choose to ignore recommendations or do something different.
TONYA BANA: I didn't hear the very beginning of the question. What was the first couple of words?
DAPHNE MITCHELL: What is the accountability for NFB or offenders if they ignore if they choose to ignore recommendations or do something different.
TONYA BANA: Well, the final determination issued by the president I think is a step toward accountability, because by virtue of the fact that they determination includes my findings and recommendations and also then shows whether or not those were implemented, that in and of itself is a step towards accountability. Because the organization is being transparent about whether or not they are accepting my recommendations or deviating from my recommendations.
And the appeals process is an avenue that allows the participants involved in the process to decide if they're satisfied with it. Beyond that, I don't know that there's any other accountability, but I do think that those two steps are pretty significant. And certainly being transparent about whether the organization ultimately accepts and implement my recommendations is an unusual step.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you, Tonya. We have three more questions in the queue. So I know we're set to adjourn at 9:30, but just wanted to give a final push. I see more coming in. All right. So the next question is, how many witnesses are the survivors/reporting party allowed to include in their initial report? What if the survivor doesn't include a witness?
TONYA BANA: There is no limit on the number of witnesses that can be identified. And it's not a requirement either.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Why has the NFB been experiencing such a high incident of sexual misconduct?
TONYA BANA: Was the question why?
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Yes, why.
TONYA BANA: You know, I don't know that I am qualified to answer that question. I mean, I could certainly that they are I mean, the NFB is not unique insofar as these are issues that have been underreported and have not always been properly handled broadly. And I think that they are some unique factors that exacerbate the things that contribute to abuse in this particular context. But to say more than that, this is not something I've examined and it's not really something I think I'm qualified to speak to more than that.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you. When is the deadline to submit a complaint?
TONYA BANA: I know that the deadline for lifting kind of the one year limit was pushed back. I'm not sure what it is now.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: August 1st.
TONYA BANA: All right, good, good.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: So to confirm, if folks want to file a violation against a Code of Conduct, any time restriction is lifted until August 1st and will be re evaluated at that point. But in the initial language of the Code of Conduct, it was within one year of the incident. Daphne, back to you.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: So the next question is, give me just one moment, because we're getting new questions and it's moving around the focus. Do you think the NFB should publish a list of those who have been expelled?
TONYA BANA: Do I believe that the NFB should publish a list of expulsions?
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Expulsions and suspensions.
TONYA BANA: You're coming in and out a little bit, Daphne, just so you know.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Is this better? So do you feel that the NFB should publish a list of individuals who have been suspended or expelled?
TONYA BANA: I don't actually. I don't. Because I have represented people with I know that discrimination is a significant issue in the blindness community and I think that it would just become another way that people in the community another source of potentially inappropriate discrimination against people within the community. I do absolutely believe that the information should be made available to members and to people who should know because of, you know, impropriety that needs to be shared with licensing organizations and things of that nature, but to simply have the information publicly available to anyone, I don't actually agree with that.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you. The next question is, if a lifetime expulsion is issued, is there anything that can undo that aside from the appeal? New presidency, etc.?
TONYA BANA: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Just switching up my setup here. So the next question is will you, Tonya, be monitoring whether recommendations are implemented since the general membership will not know the terms of outcomes?
TONYA BANA: That is a good question. At this time, there's not any I don't have any involvement in the process after sending my report to the NFB. And as I mentioned earlier, I would certainly be willing to make myself available to answer questions if in the appeals process that would be something that's helpful. But at this time, I don't have any involvement in any kind of back end process. I do think that it is critical for there to be mechanisms in place for accountability and transparency to ensure that recommendations and implemented and accepted disciplinary measures are enforced. But at this time, I don't have any role in that process.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: If reporting parties decide to opt into being anonymous just from an NFB leadership facing perspective, so not to you, but in terms of the reporting but still wants to continue within the process, is that a possibility?
TONYA BANA: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that has happened already. There are times when members have shared issues with NFB leaders that they felt comfortable with who reported those issues on their behalf. And within that process, the person was put into contact with me. And so there definitely are way, if people are uncomfortable with having their involvement in the process in any way memorialized within the NFB part of the process, there are ways around that.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Yes. So then the next question is what does expulsion actually mean? What is the individual no longer able to do?
TONYA BANA: As I understand it, and I may not be the best person to answer this question, but if a person is expelled, they're completely prohibited from participating in the NFB in any capacity. Not only in leadership positions, being involved in committees, volunteering, holding employment, they're also ineligible to attend and participate in events. They would not be allowed to participate in any way, shape or form in any capacity within the NFB.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Thank you, Tonya. That is my understanding as well. All right. The next one is, what is considered reportable in terms of time constraints. Is there a statute of limitations on the period of time that has lapsed between a misconduct incident and when it is reported?
TONYA BANA: I think we just addressed that and the information you shared is my understanding as well. As of now and through August 1st, the typical one year limit on reporting misconduct is not being enforced. And so misconduct that has occurred at any time can be report through this process.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: . And so everyone knows, we have one more question in the queue. So last call for questions this evening. Back to you, Daphne.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: So Tonya, do you have recommendations for the NFB to share de identified cases that involve minors so that there's a level of transparency in the membership amongst members so that we can know where we were and where we are now?
TONYA BANA: I believe I've been transparent with everyone with respect to my views on this throughout this process. I think that part of accountability is transparency. And so obviously, this is ultimately a decision for the NFB to make. But certainly my recommendation would be to provide those kind of those statistics, if you will, so that people have a sense of what's been done. And quite frankly, I think the statistics are evidence that the organization is being responsive.
There has been some press coverage. There was a report that was talked about in the press, and if there is anything about this work that has been frustrating to me, it's for people to not understand the extent to which the NFB has done in engaging me is very, very different from what is typically done in this circumstance.
Even the other investigation that I mentioned that I did a couple of years ago for another advocacy organization, I made finding, but I didn't give recommendations. It is very forward and a huge step for the organization to not only hire an independent investigator to make findings, but also to give recommendations. And so I think that obviously, that is a decision for the NFB to make. And I understand that. But I think that they should be transparent because I think that people should know what they've done.
Honestly, I came into this and agreed to do this because of my professional respect for Sharon and because I know her to be a good person and she knows me. So I didn't anticipate she would put me in a position where I would be uncomfortable and working with an organization that wasn't committed to doing what it said. And again, my experience has been, I have not had any resistance to any of my recommendations. And as far as I know, I think in all cases they've been implemented. So I think it would be actually a very positive thing for the organization to be transparent about that.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: We have two more questions on the question space, and we also have one hand raised. So we will go to the two questions in the queue and then to the person whose hand is up. So the next question is what is the relationship between the external committee and the external investigation, AKA, you.
TONYA BANA: Well, certainly, I do work with the special committee and counsel to the special committee as a necessity. For example, when complaints come reports come in, there are reports that raise issues that are primarily related to how a prior report was handled, that raised allegations of silencing of survivors, which isn't really within my purview. But there clearly is a desire to address those issues and to hold people accountable.
So when complaints come in, if they raise issues that are not really within my purview, then I will confer with coordinating, making sure that those issues are going to be investigated and looked into my counsel for the special committee.
I also will share although my scope is very narrow and very specific, I have observations about process and policy that I have periodically shared with counsel to the special committee, and in some instances, to address process things that I thought needed to be addressed immediately. And again, I found that they've been very responsive to getting that feedback from me and acting on it.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Thanks. Then the final submitted question is to clarify, did you say that it would make sense in your opinion for the NFB to make the list of suspended members available to all NFB members white not making it entirely available to outsiders?
TONYA BANA: Yeah, I think there should be a mechanism for members to access that information and to be able to verify who is suspended and who is expelled. At the same time, I do not think that is information that should be tracked or made available in a way that is public facing.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Thanks. And I think Kathryn was going to go to the person with their hand raised.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: Yeah. We also have two other people in the queue. Then we won't accept any other questions. I say that to be respectful of people's time. The door is always open, and even if the questions are for Tonya, we will make sure to connect with her and get your questions answered. So we will do these three, but then any others that come in, I'm very sorry, but we won't be able to get to those.
So the last four digits of the four number with the hand raised is 1792. You will be asked to unmute. So star 6.
>> SPEAKER: Okay. My question is, I have filed with the survivors task force. I also filed with the police and civil rights investigator with the Human Relation Council. I don't want to overdo things, but I'm wondering is would it be helpful to you to receive a report on something on your findings? Or do you guys work together on trying to resolve this issue of harassment?
TONYA BANA: I'm not sure that's a question for me. Kathryn, do you?
KATHRYN WEBSTER: So because this call is being recorded, we cannot I think my Zoom is delayed. If you can email survivors at nfb.org, we can give you additional attention on this matter.
>> SPEAKER: Thank you very muff, that's all I wanted to know. Thank you.
KATHRYN WEBSTER: The next question is, to what if there is a conflict of interest? If there is a complaint about the NFB president who is the person receiving the report.
TONYA BANA: Yeah. So when reports come in, as I mentioned, they automatically come to me and also to the special committee. And if there is a conflict, we would obviously review the substance of the report. And if there's a conflict of interest at that time, alternative arrangements would be made to have that specific matter processed in a way that would exclude the individual who has the conflict of interest in the process.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: So then our final question of the evening, and thank you to everyone who submitted questions. But the final question is, does the reporter and the witnesses receive your report?
TONYA BANA: So if the reporter is the NFB leader in obligation as a reporter, no. But if the person is a party to the misconduct, yes. And witnesses generally do not get I'm sorry, back up. No. I'm sorry, it's obviously after 9:30, I'm getting tired. To be clear, my report only goes to the president and the individuals who assist the president in making his final decision with respect to the disciplinary or remedial actions to be implemented. Yes, the report only goes to those people.
The president's letter with his decision, which includes a summary of my findings and my full recommendations, that goes to the people who are considered parties to that particular report. And so if the reporter is an actual victim or survivor of the misconduct reported, they would certainly get that report. The offender, respondent, the person who's the subject of the report would get the report, and if there are other if there are witnesses who are survivors, they would get from me the outcome, but they would not get a copy of the determination directly from the president. They would get that from me.
DAPHNE MITCHELL: Great. Thank you so much, Tonya. I'm going to stop the recording. While I do that, I'm going to ask Sarah to unmute to close out the evening.
SARAH MEYER: This is Sarah Meyer. My pronoun is she, her, hers. I'm one of the members of the Survivor Led Task Force, and Tonya, I just want to thank you so much for sharing your heart and your values and your process with us. I know for myself I can't speak for other, but I know for myself as a survivor, it has really been so beneficial for me to speak with you and hear from you tonight. You know, I just really appreciate your empathy and your compassion with which you are doing your work. So thank you for your time tonight and for being so open with our community.
Yeah, and I want to again thank everyone who submitted questions, and everyone who took time to participate, even through active listening tonight. We really appreciate you making this a priority. And I hope that this information has been useful and if, again, if you have further questions, follow up questions about anything that was shared tonight or if your question wasn't addressed, please feel free to reach out to the Survivors Task Force and [email protected], or you can call our dedicated voice mailbox at 410 659 9314, extension 2238.
And also in closing, I just want to highlight that the current iteration of the Survivors Task Force will be wrapping up within the next month or so. I'm not great with math, but around the time of convention. But we still really need involvement and participation with the recommendations and advisement we are providing with the programs in training we are recommending and with communication and engaging membership in this culture shift that we are working towards.
So if you have not yet signed up or reached out, there's still time. We still need you. We need survivors and allies and people who are willing to give feedback and help, because we definitely cannot do this alone. So please visit nfb.org/survivors, where you can join our three branches. And there you can also find updates. I believe we'll be providing some updates soon, and you'll be able to access information about other event and open calls and meetings we will be having. And we have a lot of activities and training and support options that we are working on for convention as well.
So we hope that you will consider getting involved and reaching out with any questions or concerns. So thank you to everyone who helped with hosting and facilitating. Thank you to Daniel Martinez and to our captioner. And we really appreciate each of you for your time and investment in this important effort. So with that, I hope you all have a wonderful night.