I Want To Get Better – An insight into accountability and restorative justice.

I wrote this at the start of this year for inclusion into a zine on accountability. I’m still waiting for it to be published, so I got bored and I’m putting it on here. I hope people find it helpful:

TW: Accountability and Consent breaches.

This one is for the “Perps” engaging in restorative justice. The people who want to get better.

I’m not writing this from a holier than thou angle, I’m writing this because I have hurt people, I have put my desires before other people’s feelings and safety. I manipulated people, I broke their trust and breached their boundaries. I took advantage of them because I could only think about my dick, even when I knew it was wrong. I didn’t care. When I got called out it didn’t really sink in. They were wrong! It was their fault! If they had said or done things differently this would never have happened!

This was a pattern on behaviour I couldn’t see in myself. I didn’t behave like that, I was pro-feminist. An ally. An anarchist. I didn’t need a quiet word, I needed a fucking kick in. Instead, and all for the better, I got an e-mail. An invite to begin an accountability process. A process that put my life on hold and sent me to a very dark place, but a process that made me understand what I was doing and why I did it. The ability to see things from other peoples perspectives, and an opportunity. An opportunity to accept responsibility, for restitution and for re-authoring my identity.

I have many criticisms of these accountability processes, a process that has made these past few month the darkest and most painful I have experienced. I recommend reading “Accounting for Ourselves: Breaking the Impasse around Assault and Abuse in Anarchist Scenes” by Crimethinc and “The Broken Teapot” for well constructed critiques of accountability in its present form. However, the only person that put me in this position was me. So I want to talk about using this opportunity positively.

Firstly, Deal with it! When I got called out I began to wallow in self pity, even re-reading the above I see words such as “Dark” and “Painful”. I was only interested in how I felt, in letting people know how guilty I felt. I centred what happened around me. I guess this is a relatively natural response. In the mens group I attend someone else brought up doing this when he has hurt people and everyone there enthusiastically nodded along. In the zine “Ex Masculus” Vanessa Vendetta also raises this issue of perpetrators self pity, self loathing and depression.

I don’t have a way to make this not happen but hopefully you can recognise it now. This is likely the most important step in your process. Without reassessing your priorities there is little that can be done in terms of accountability. The pamphlet “As if they were human: A different take on perpetrator accountability.” Explores how these feelings come about and supports my theory that these emotions are normal. We just need to be able to manage them.

But who invariably deals with accountability in our communities? Women. Potential survivors. The survivor themselves. People close to the survivor. People who are understandably angry. So when I pulled down the shutters and only cared about my feelings, the people I hurt got more angry and I got more upset. Vendetta covers this in the article “With or Without You” saying: “I want him to stop putting off facing the things within him that allowed him to rape so that we don’t lose yet another aspiring radical to the jaws of unaccountable-escape-land. …I end up using the energy I could otherwise put in to being emotionally supportive to a survivor doing what I see as damage control through political and intellectual work around sexual violence prevention and accountability processes…”

Accept responsibility. I wasted time on arguing my point of view. Your perspective may be different, but the perspective of the person you hurt is equally as valid. Semantics and technicalities are not important. So take responsibility.

Get support. I didn’t think anyone would want to support me, I was scared they would hate me, but when people did offer support it made a world of difference. They made me see things clearly, get perspective and showed me that I wasn’t going mad when I couldn’t see a way forward. Counselling also had many benefits as it gave me the opportunity to voice my thoughts and feelings in a safer space and have someone else make sense of my confusion over many aspects of what was happening. I used counselling for social change, which are a great service for activists, and they were very important in me getting my head around what was happening.

Do what is requested. Hopefully the process is “survivor led”, that is the person you hurt will provide requirements for you to fulfil. See this as just one aspect of your process however, not the be all and end all, so make changes to yourself on your own initiative. Self improvement is not something we should be doing when we are told to because we fucked up, it should be a part of our every day lives.

Learn & Listen to how the other person(s) feel. I took what people said to me seriously, but it didn’t really sink in. I was too caught up in my own emotional turmoil, shame and guilt to care about anyone else. For me, reading up on the subject helped. One thing I did was go on to zinelibrary.info the Anarchist library and print off everything I could find on the subject. I read and read until it consumed me, until I couldn’t think about anything else. Maybe I took it too far, on reflection I used it as self-flagellation. But there are loads of great zines to read, some of which I have mentioned here. When I read them some said the same things that the people I hurt had said, and then I could begin to understand what they had meant, to understand their anger. All the zines I mention here are available for free online. Use these resources, they will not get mad at you, they exist to help so read everything you can

Be open and honest. This is very hard and something that I am still struggling to do. It is also important to maintain anonymity of any people who require it. I started with close friends, they were nice about it but always agreed with everything I said. For me, progress began when I told people I trusted but didn’t know that well. I was surprised at how sportive they were while still being able to look at my situation objectively and critically analyse my progress and actions within the process. For me this was the biggest leap forward, it is hard but the most positive step I took.

Re-author your identity. I came across the concept in Todd Augusta-Scott’s article “Letters From Prison: Re-Authoring Identity with men who have perpetrated sexual violence”, in the pamphlet “As If They Were Human”. I have not come across this idea in any of my other reading yet it is pretty clear to me that this is vital to the process of restoration. It is this concept alone that gave me the desire to continue with the process when I wanted to walk away.

Do not believe your identity is fixed. The language of accountability is intimidating: Abuse, violence, assault, victim, perpetrator, rape etc. Many times I felt there was simply no point in continuing, as nothing I could do would make any difference, it would never be enough, I was just a bad person. Augusta-Scott describes how within this generally heteronormative process, it can feel that men are totalised to a one-dimensional “perpetrator” identity, and women are reduced to the one dimensional identity of “survivor”. It is our opportunity to challenge this kind of gender essentialism existent in the process. Not via rape apologism, point scoring arguments or refusal to engage, but via actively embracing the process in order to take steps to re-author our identity.

One area I disagreed with my mediator (the person who was the go between and support for both myself and the person I hurt) about was when he said, in reference to my actions and behaviours: “This is part of who you are.” Well, no. Though I accept what I think he was getting at, which is that I should not hide from what happened, and the process of self betterment and accountability is an ongoing process, why do these identities have to be a part of who I am? Why can’t they be a part of who I was? Without the opportunity for re-authoring identity provided by the accountability process and our community as a whole then there is little incentive to engage in accountability. If we brand every one with no hope of rehabilitation or restoration, then we lose all hope of real justice and just re-create the system we seek to dissolve.

Restitution. Re-authoring identity does not serve to mitigate responsibility for the seriousness of the hurt caused. It instead provides us the ability to face our actions, be able to stop repeating our hurtful behaviours and to address the affects our actions have had on others.

Augusta-Scott highlights that restitution does not carry any entitlement for forgiveness or reconciliation. As it is sometimes unlikely to be able to take steps for restitution directly with those hurt, I found giving something back to the community was a way to move towards restitution, such as forming an anti patriarchy group or otherwise taking steps to challenge the systems that lead to sexual violence and breaches of consent. For me, writing this article is part of that process. I hope people will read this, and I hope it will help them in their journey of accountability, and that as a community we can move towards the world we want to see.

Engaging in such a process is hard, but the right thing to do.

February 2014