Section 3: Accountability & Justice
The authors of the Courage to Act report, a federally funded project exploring the current climate of sexual violence education and prevention work at post-secondary institutions (PSIs) note: “There is limited research on best practices and services for people who have caused harm at PSIs—specifically in the case of GBV [gender-based violence] or sexual violence” (2019, p. 78). While there are a number of promising and innovative programs that have been developed and delivered by grassroots and community organizations, overall, this is an area that would benefit from further research, capacity and resources.
The development of this resource was inspired by the experiences of anti-violence workers working in post-secondary institutions in BC who have worked alongside victims and survivors of sexual violence, people who have caused harm, and community members with a shared recognition of the need for more support in the area of accountability and justice.
This resource was developed for educational purposes, not as a punitive measure. It was created in response to hearing victims/survivors say that they wanted the person who harmed them to have an opportunity to learn more about what they had done and why it was harmful. As such, this resource may be used as an element of sanction after an institutional investigation has determined the sexual violence policy was broken. To date, there is a gap in educational options for people who are found to have violated an institutional sexual violence policy. Additionally, there are a growing number of folks who are realizing they have caused harm and are interested in learning more about what they can do to work toward repair of that harm. This resource is intended to be a starting point for filling that gap.
- Creative Interventions Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Stop Interpersonal Violence (Creative Interventions, 2012)
- Transformative Justice (Mia Mingus, 2015)
- Accountability Process Curriculum (Support New York, 2015)
- Manifest Change Facilitator Manual: Engaging Men and Boys in the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence (Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, 2018)
The overall approach for this training is summarized in the Guiding Principles below.
Violence does not happen in a vacuum. We are surrounded by messages, images, norms and social structures that minimize, excuse, promote and normalize violence while blaming survivors (Coates & Wade, 2007; Mingus, n.d.; Stewart, Todd, & Kopeck, 2009; Todd & Wade, 2007).
Violence does not happen accidentally. It is a result of individual choices people make. This is also true for repairing harm. Everyone is capable of learning and choosing different ways of thinking and operating in the world to create safety. Repair takes deliberate work, time and support (Coates & Wade, 2007; Stewart, Todd, & Kopeck, 2009; Todd & Wade, 2007).
We are responsible for our actions. With rare exceptions, responsibility for violence is not shared. Too often language is used to imply that it is mutual (i.e., ‘we fought’). This principle means that each person is responsible for the harm they cause (i.e., choosing to use violence), and violence is not the “fault” of the victim(s) (Coates & Wade, 2007; Stewart, Todd, & Kopeck, 2009; Todd & Wade, 2007).
People who have caused harm deserve to be treated with dignity. Feeling seen and heard supports people to be accountable for choices they make. Everyone is more than the worst thing they have ever done and more than the worst thing that has ever happened to them. They also are responsible for their actions and the impacts of those actions (Stewart, Todd & Kopeck, 2009).
Repairing harm is the focus, not intentions. Intentions provide context for why something happened, but regardless of the intentions, the people who have been harmed and the impacts they experience need to be consistently held at the center (Mingus, 2015).
People who have caused harm can also be victim/survivors. Each individual’s life experience is complex and multifaceted. This may further complicate your process as you move through the material. Please connect with campus or community support in this area as you need.
This resource was developed using principles of Response-Based Practice (RBP). Response-Based practice “examines the strategies of violence, the functional links between diverse forms of violence […], the tactics of ever-present resistance, the importance of dignity, the connection between violence and language, and the central role of social network and institutional responses” (Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, 2020, p.2). One of the central tenets of RBP revolves around the deliberate nature of violence, often articulated as “a choice to use violence.” When we spend time exploring an incident of violence in greater detail, we begin to notice where decisions were made to ignore (or respect) personal boundaries, body language and any other efforts to resist violence or otherwise indicate a “no.”
The concept of personal choice is not meant to eclipse the broader historical and systemic influences that create a culture of minimizing, normalizing and justifying sexual violence. The concept of choice can be used to help us understand how those broader influences show up in everyday lives and individual acts of violence. When we spend time noticing and articulating the small choices and actions made prior to and during an act of violence, we gain a more accurate understanding of what happened. These choices may be informed by the messages and lessons we receive culturally and socially, and/or by our own experiences of violence or witnessing violence. Individual acts of sexual violence cannot be divorced from other forms of oppression and violence, such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism.
Exploring violence as a choice empowers individuals to consider the skills and knowledge they already have and the ways in which they can choose to act more safely, to use less force, or to not use violence at all.