Solingen 93

Domestic Violence and Abuse

How to Support Harm Doers in Being Accountable


– I think when people have caused harm, the first thing that needs to happen is an interrogation of
the root systems of harm in their own lives and in
their own relationships, right? So I think too often we’re just like, you caused harm and it’s like
it’s in a vacuum or something. At some level it’s not like they woke up like, “Let me cause this harm,” right? So, really checking on and
paying attention to intention, even though it’s not more
important than impact, but really being like, I recognize your
intention as a human being is not to be a horrific, harmful person. Actually there’s people that
I’m supporting right now who are causing harm
and when I interrogate even just a little bit, it’s like, “This trauma happened when I was a child, “I was treated like this, “and no one’s gonna treat
me like that again,” or “I was socialized to think
this was normal or okay,” or “I was never given
tools to balance my temper. “I was never given tools
to process strong emotion. “I don’t know how to have a broken heart. “I don’t know how to
express my sexual desires.” There’s just stuff that
people don’t learn, and I don’t think that’s an excuse – you didn’t learn that so now
you get to be an asshole. But I do think there’s
something that’s like, okay, that’s what happened and shaped you, and now what we need to do is figure out how do we reshape you, right? How do you opt in to a new shape, a new way of being in the world that is not causing harm to
people you say you care about or love or just wanna
be in community with. – I’ve seen a lot of folks
say, “Oh you’re just talking “about your trauma as a distraction.” And also, we’ve noticed that if folks are able to process that trauma, they’re much more ready
to take accountability for the impact that they’ve had. Often it’s feeling like, “No
one cared when I was hurt, “and so why am I supposed to care “when someone else is hurt?” And it’s like, well you should still care, but also we care that you were hurt. Just not to the degree that we don’t care about this other person too, right? And so it’s about holding
kind of complexity and nuance. – There’s an incredible
quote from Danielle Sered, that is like, “No one experiences
harm for the first time “when they do harm,”
and I really love that ’cause I’m like oh yeah, what
were you like as a child? And this helps me with,
when I’m mediating people, I’m often like, can I see you, can I imagine you at age four, can I imagine you at age seven? When did that first harm
happen in your life? How long have you been broken
or scarred or wounded being, and how far has that scarring taken over what you think is your personality and what healing is possible? – People who are stuck in
patterns of lashing out and harming folks, a lot of times that comes
from a place of feeling like you’re not seen and
held and loved as a person. In our experience, when you
first have a conservation with that person, it comes to the surface that often some of their
needs are not being met. And so that could be material needs, that could be social needs,
that could be emotional needs. And if you come to that person, or rather come at that person, and say “We don’t care
what’s going on with you, “you messed up and you need to step up “and take accountability,” that person would feel
like they’re not being seen as a full human and a full
person in the equation. And in our experience, there’s
just a much greater openness to taking accountability if you feel seen, respected, held – really just
treated with human dignity. – I learned a lot from Philly Stands Up and the work that they did
to support accountability. What I saw was that they
stayed close to people for a long period of time,
they met with them regularly, and they really started from a position of caring and of love. They understood that people had needs, that people who had
done harm also had needs around having lives of meaning, of having people that cared about them, about having housing, about having
food, about having work, about having an income, and all of those things
that they need to thrive. – It’s very hard for
someone to be introspective, be responsive, be
accountable to another person when you’re having a really
hard time just surviving. – What we do in our practice is we start with safety planning, right? And we do that both with the
person who experienced harm, and with the person who caused the harm. And that just sets a good
baseline of understanding where they’re at, and in a logistical way, what barriers would present to
them being part of a process, like, do they have
access to transportation? Do they have housing? What’s their financial situation like? Do they have supporters
that they can call on? Or are they like alienated
from their family and support system, even as a result of the
harm that they caused? – For accountability to be possible, we really need to think about
what conditions need to exist so someone can be accountable. What that often looks like is check-ins and relationship building for a long time before we can actually get to a point of really deeply diving into
the harm that has happened. Shifting the way we fundamentally
relate to the people around us, so, trying to
address the tiniest issues so that we get ready for the big ones. So really taking the time
to ask each other like, “Why aren’t you doing the
dishes when we have an agreement “that you should do the dishes?” Which can seem like a very small thing, but it’s how can we
address those tiny things in the ways that we want because those smaller choices every day are how we transform the way
we relate to one another, which is how we get ready
for big accountability and to really support folks who harm. That’s how we build up our frameworks of how do we talk about
things when they go down? How do we become better
practiced at having difficult conversations with each other? How does it become okay
to talk about what we need and how can we know what we need? – We’ve all caused harm in
some way, shape, or form, or we’ve colluded with harm
in some way, shape, or form. And so if we can build relationships where we can have complicated
and nuanced conversations that are vulnerable about accountability, mistakes we’ve made, times
where we’ve messed up, or where we weren’t in
alignment with our values, where we can talk about our fears, and our shame, and our guilt. I think to me, those have been some of the most powerful examples because you set a norm
and create a culture within your relationships
and your intimate networks around not only accountability, but what it means to be human, and that being human is okay. – It’s this balance between
really rigorous challenge, like really being able to stop, tell a person that that
behavior was not okay, you need to cut that out, we need to be able to talk about it. And it’s also like deep love,
and commitment, and time, and energy, that goes
into really being, walking with someone through accountability. So it’s that both and. We talk a lot about, it’s
actually not possible to hold someone accountable. And so that is a process that someone engages in
themselves by choice. And so what we can do is
create the conditions, or the apparatuses, the processes
that make that possible. And that to me looks like
people that love you, people that care for you, people
that will show up for you, people that will call you on your shit. And then have a relationship on the other side of that possibly. – So much of what was in me was to want to push away
people who’ve been identified as people who’ve caused
sexual violence, caused harm. And say, “Well I’m not related to them. “I’m something else,
I’m with the good guys.” And what I found is, if I
actually want to support somebody in taking accountability, I have to build a relationship with them. I have to find some way of
connecting and empathizing with that person, and creating
a space where that person actually feels like they’re
still seen as a full human. And then we can create and open up a space where it’s like, actually,
the practice of accountability is something that’s doable and it’s not gonna be a life ending thing, it’s actually a life affirming action. – I think we can support
people who do harm by recognizing that we all cause harm. And obviously that happens
on different scales and at different levels, but that there is no actual binary between survivor and
person who caused harm. That actually we’re all
constantly moving through those and learning through trial and error, about how we impact the world around us and the people around us. And so I think one of the
ways that we can address an aversion to accountability
and support folks who are causing harm actively
is by also acknowledging that we all have the capacity for that, and that we also all have the
capacity for transformation and to change our behavior. – The way that I would approach someone when talking about accountability, especially when there’s a lot
of shame, is just to name it and to be really gentle and tender, and to really acknowledge and
say and reiterate many times that I’m coming from a
really non-judgmental, non-shaming place. This isn’t going to be a situation where it’s about yelling
and screaming at you. This is an opportunity to
really step into something that you might have done, and to actually even
understand for yourself why, for the deeper reasons and
the root causes of the why, which actually can be quite
freeing for a lot of people. – It’s hard I think to get
somebody to be accountable if it’s just like, you did wrong, and you need to do
something for someone else. I think we have a easier time
of holding people accountable when they can also understand that if they go through
a process for repair, or remedy in some way, that it
also will be better for them. It’ll be better for our
communities as a whole. – I work with a lot of folks
that have done severe harm, and are really interested in looking at accountability on themselves. And one of the things that people say is that it’s actually incredibly freeing, it’s a moment of liberation to step into your accountability because you are working through shame, you’re working through the thing that you’re the most
scared of talking about, that terrorizes you, that
makes you the most afraid, and you’re coming into a new level of understanding about it, and a new commitment to
others about what you’ve done. – I think giving enough time,
so giving that person time, being like, “We’re
offering you the reflection “that you’ve caused this harm.” And giving someone time to
update their sense of self, to move out of the defensive part that’s like, “What? “I would never do that!” To like, “Well you did do that. “And this person is saying you did that, “we’ve got proof you did that, “there’s a pattern that you did that.” So giving someone time enough
to update their sense of self. – One of the things that we said early on was that we can’t expect
people to change right away. Who does? If we look at, any one of us
looks at our own behavior, it often took a long time to make change, we were often offended when
somebody actually confronted us about behavior that we
had that was harmful. We might have even agreed to
change that behavior early on, but when there was a process in place and we actually had to make that change, we could have been very resistant to that. I think that is something that
is very common to most of us. – I really think that’s an
important part of the process that we often overlook, is like, how long it actually takes
to do the internal work. And that’s like, I’ve got a therapist, I’ve got somatic body workers, I’ve got great friends that
I process everything with. So that’s like me as a very
well resourced individual still going through that process. A lot of the folks we’re dealing with are not well resourced. A lot of people who cause harm, especially in intimate dynamics, are folks who are like,
“I don’t share any details “of my intimate dynamic
life with anyone else.” So, then it’s saying to someone,
“You don’t even have a place “necessarily where you
process stuff like this, “but you caused harm.” So we’re saying you have
to change in so many ways. A, you have to stop causing harm. B, you have to become the
kind of person who talks to other people and processes
stuff that you’ve done. And then third, you have to
evolve your sense of self to understand that whether
you want to believe it or not, you did cause this harm and
you’re accountable for it. – I don’t think there’s a prescription, but I’ve seen support groups for people who’ve caused sexual harm form, I’ve seen reading groups around when people have a similar harm
forming spontaneous groups. I’ve seen longterm mentorship around different kinds of harm. I’ve seen people be really
rallied and supported around when they can admit that
they’ve caused harm. Experiencing support when
you take accountability is important, but I also think
it’s incredibly important to experience real consequences. – Really creating a space for someone, and creating support around a
person to really have a space to be able to articulate
why they did what they did. And to really understand
the impact that it’s had. And to create a space
of care and compassion, while also really, fully
keeping that harm central. – How do we turn towards
each other to hold this space and in that turning to
each other we have to say, “I believe you can transform.” And that for a lot of
people is like, “ugh,” like that is actually the hardest part. It’s very easy to be like,
“This person is such a mess.” And in some ways we’re saying,
“I’m better than them.” Right? But it’s like, “I would never
do that, they’re such a mess, “they’re irreparable,
they’re always a mess.” And I’ve definitely met people
like that where I was like, “I don’t know if we
can get this one back.” And that means for me, that’s not my work. I can’t see that person’s
transformative capacity so I don’t offer to support that process. I really focus on places
where I can see a future in which this person could be
different than they are now. I can see a future in which
they could cause less harm, or be accountable for
the harm they’ve caused, things like that. And that’s the distinction in terms of, you know, even in my personal life, that’s a distinction of who
gets to stay in my life. A lot of people have caused harm to me, I’ve caused harm to a lot of people, that’s what being a human being is. And then the people who I keep around are people who are like, “I caused harm. “I learned how to do an apology,
I gave you that apology, “and I started showing
up in different ways.” And the people who I
don’t let be around me are people who are like, “I caused harm, “and maybe I faked it for a little while “and acted like I was doing better, “but I continued to cause harm.” And I think it’s good in communities to be able to make those distinctions. Transformation is a real thing, it’s like a caterpillar
to butterfly experience. It means that what you were
before no longer is possible. You’re no longer able to
scooch around on the ground or whatever like caterpillars
do, you have to fly. And I want that for more and
more people in our community to be like, you can no
longer be a shady asshole to each other, you can no
longer cause sexual harm to someone in your community. It’s no longer even possible. You have to be in
community, you have to fly, you have to be accountable. That’s the level of
transformation that I want us to keep holding more and
more of a standard for.

Cesar Sullivan

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