Notes on accountability from Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement

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The following are summary notes relating to accountability in Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's 'Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement' [1] , plus additional resources. These notes are an extension to our 2 part workshop series on conflict, which covers disagreements and discomfort. Accountability processes, discussed in the following summary, are useful when harm, violence or abuse have occurred to ensure these behaviours are not repeated.

Ejeris Dixon on Transformative justice and relationship building, page 15 [2]

  • "Transformative justice and community accountability are terms that describe ways to address violence without relying on police or prisons. These approaches often work to prevent violence, to intervene when harm is occurring, to hold people accountable and to transform individuals and society to build safer communities."
  • "Some groups support survivors by helping them identify their needs and boundaries while ensuring their attackers agree to these boundaries and atone for the harm they caused. Other groups create safe spaces and sanctuaries to support people escaping from violence. There are also community campaigns that educate community members on the specific dynamics of violence, how to prevent it, and what community-based programs are available."
  • "The process of building community safety poses some critical questions to our movements: What is the world that we want? How will we define safety? How do we build the skills to address harm and violence? How do we create the trust needed for communities to rely on each other for mutual support?"
Relationship building 
  • When violence occurs, the people close to us can help. Relationship building can look like attending community events, introducing yourself to neighbours, inviting neighbours to events you organize, visiting local business owners etc. For many people, notably, engaging with strangers can lead to harassment and sometimes violence. But these challenges should simply shift how we try to build relationships.
  • Some key questions: "What can you help build? What conversations can you start to increase the safety of your community? What new structures or collaborations will you crease to decrease your reliance on the criminal legal system?"

Amanda Aguilar Shank on a process for accountability, pg 27

  • Interpersonal harm is inevitable. Abolition imagines that "each moment where harm happens is an opportunity to transform relationships and communities, build trust and safety, and grow slowly toward the beautiful people we are meant to be, in the world we deserve."

The following comes from suggestions on an accountability process for sexual harassment:

  • Come up with a protocol for how your organization will handle working with people who have harassed or assaulted others in the movement. This should involve confronting the person who caused harm directly to ask for details. It is suggested to be public about these protocols and decisions.
  • Organizations should approach others they are working with if they are working with someone who has caused harm, and share their protocol on accountability.
  • Uplift the leadership of women, gender non-conforming and trans people, and talk about the organizations commitment to dismantling sexism and homophobia regularly.
  • Accountability means naming the behaviour and its impact, issuing an apology and taking steps towards restitution.
  • Simply firing and excluding people who cause harm mirrors the criminal justice system. But we can work to build a path back, for those ready to be held accountable to change. When we throw people away, they don't just go away.

Philly Stands Up! Collective on phases of the accountability process, pg 91 [3]

1. The beginning

  • Choose a pair of people other than the harmed and the person who did the harm to provide support and facilitate the accountability process.
  • Assess the situation and schedule a meet up with the person who caused harm.

2. Designing the process

  • Make a list of demands with the person who was harmed. E.g. 'if they see me somewhere it's their responsibility to leave the premises', 'they are not to contact me personally, ever' etc.
  • Involve the person who was harmed in designing the process, including objectives, timeline, tactics.
  • Engage the person who caused harm in a way that works for them (E.g. a meeting online? On a walk? Doing a reading or watching a recording?) Set ground rules w the person so you can hold them accountable if they fail a commitment (E.g. arriving on time or giving notice otherwise, no name calling etc).

3. Life structure

  • Give the person who caused harm space at each meeting to do a 'check in'; hurdles in their daily lives, emotional state, logistic hurdles, progress made. Provide support where possible.

4. Tools used

  • Ask to hear stories, encourage discussion. These can help push for new ways of understanding and rewriting narratives that prevent people from taking full responsibility for their actions.
  • Use writing to record instances of abuse, log times they feel angry or frustrated, or to journal about how the accountability process is going.
  • Role-playing call help build skills of perception, try new behaviours and understand past ones.
  • Refer to film, lectures, podcasts etc. on relevant issues at play

5. Closing the process

  • When the demands have been met according to the person who was harmed, the process can close
  • The person who did the harm should have sustainable systems of support available moving forward
  • Space out meetings more gradually (E.g. meeting every 2 weeks, every month, then every 2 months etc. until meetings are no longer needed).

Mia Mingus on Pod Mapping, pg 119 [4]

  • Pods are relationships you can turn to for support around violence, abuse and harm; for safety, accountability and transformation (whether you were hurt or did the harm). You can have different pod relationships for different situations.
  • Many people only have 1-2 people representing pods, and people you can turn to when you've commited harm to hold you accountable are harder to come by.
  • People in your pod should ideally; have a track record of generative conflict, boundaries, the ability to give and receive feedback, reliability and trust.
  • Many people don't have pods. For example, some disabled people are isolated due to lack of access and resources, immigrant people of colour are isolated due to language or documentation etc. By building and growing pods where they exist, we can build the conditions to support those who don't have them.
  • Pods shift, grow and change over time. It takes time to build quality relationships.
Pod mapping template

1. Write your name in the middle in a gray circle.

2. Surround this circle with bold-outlined circles. Write the names of people in your pod. (Use names, not 'positions' or 'roles' such as 'neighbour')

3. Surround these circles with dotted-line outlined circles. These are 'moveable' people that could join your pod, but they need a bit more work. E.g. a relationship that needs more time to build trust. 

4. Surround the page with larger circles to represent your networks, communities or groups that could be resources (E.g. your youth group).

Nathan Shara on doing sorry, pg 221 [5]

Shame undermines transformative justice.

  • Where guilt focuses on a behaviour (I did something bad), shame creates an identity (I am bad). Shame creates hiding, numbing, blaming, attacking, defending and overcompensating.

For folks who have experienced harm, they'll want to assess...

  • What accountability for the harm caused looks like to them
  • Requests they might have, boundaries for the person who caused harm
  • Their understanding of what caused harm

For folks who caused harm, they'll want to assess...

  • How they're relating to the situation
  • How they think their behaviour impacted the person
  • How would they feel about telling someone in their life they caused harm to the person?
  • How they understand what caused the harm

Further resources

On an accountability process for sexual assault (group print out) booklet) - Philly Stands Up

On thinking through a perpetrator accountability process - Transform Harm

Pods and pod mapping worksheet - Mia Mingus, via Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective

Signs your call out isn't about accountability - Maisha Johnson for Everyday Feminism

9 ways to be accountable when you've been abusive - Kai Cheng Thom for Everyday Feminism

Community accountability factsheet - Incite

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