The prevalence of sexual assault within social justice organizing and activist groups and networks was one of the primary reasons we formed the Challenging Male Supremacy Project in 2008. Some of us had been called upon and were engaged in community-based responses to this violence. These community-based responses are key for addressing both the sexual violence itself as well as the harm they cause to the social justice initiatives within which they occur. Our partnerships with generationFIVE, Creative Interventions, the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, and the NYC affiliate of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have been central to our understanding of what is variously called community accountability or transformative justice.
At its core, community accountability is an attempt to provide a better response to violence or harm than the police, courts, jails and prisons of the criminal legal system. The reasons people work outside of the system are many. The individuals and groups we have supported in these processes all came from activist formations, some from LGBTQ communities and communities of color – all groups targeted, whether formally or informally, by state violence.
In practice, shifting from crime and punishment to a transformative justice framework outside of oppressive state systems is complicated to say the least. As anyone who has ever been involved in “community accountability” can tell you, it’s really challenging and never seems to go as planned. One thing we’ve found important to emphasize when anyone approaches us is that the work needs to be really thoughtfully distributed between a) supporting the survivor in achieving safety, healing and agency, b) engaging the person who caused harm toward accountability and transformation, and c) addressing and shifting the broader community and social conditions that support the harm and violence. As we are often engaged to do work with the person who caused harm, we find that naming these three domains helps to ensure that the broader response is more holistic in approach.