What does it mean for the community to take responsibility?

 In Transformative Justice

I am a firm believer that if we want to improve community responses to harm over relying on the state (police, lawyers, prisons, etc), then we need to get comfortable ‘getting involved’ RESPONSIBLY* as a community when harm occurs. A lot of harm goes unaddressed because people assume it’s ‘not their business’ if it doesn’t affect them directly. At the same time, a lot of harm gets addressed by people simply cutting their ties with survivors or people who caused harm, in order to avoid difficult dialogues or to show support. But all harm is learned and we are all fallible. All communities allow and perpetrate learned harms and therefore we all carry a level of responsibility to address it when it happens.

The reality is there is NO easy way to deal with harm. Difficult conversations and conflict are unavoidable. We need to step up to the plate because transformative justice is not about an expertise or professionalization, it is a commitment to building a different future and world.

Community accountability is not a solo sport. It requires a team and strong collaboration.

What does it mean for the community to take responsibility or to step up?

When harm happens survivors and those who caused harm might ask the community for help. Perhaps survivors want help finding support or the person who caused harm might want help taking accountability. Many times none of these things happen because they cannot find people to support them. Often the people asked for support don’t feel equipped with the skills to help. Instead what happens is:


-survivors get silenced by those who want to protect those who caused harm

-those who caused harm get exiled or cast out of their communities without being given an opportunity to take accountability

None of the above is helpful to any of the parties involved. In Mariam Kaba and Shira Hassan’s workbook ‘Fumbling Towards Repair‘ they say that community accountability processes are about:

trying shit, changing course (the processes are not linear), asking for help (forming a team rather than working alone) and getting comfortable with messiness and failure. They also list skills and characteristics of effective community accountability facilitation. This list has skills from being a good listener to being patient to being organized.

What skills do you have? How can you step up and offer your skills when survivors or those who have caused harm come forward and ask for support?

Ex: facilitating meetings, mediating dialogue between process participants or between community members, documenting a process or meeting, listening and providing constructive feedback, support or perspective, organizing meetings or scheduling logistics; offering technical support when needed, cooking food for those engaging in a process, compiling resources, offering transportation, etc. These are all useful skills.

What connections or resources do you have access to?

Do you know facilitators, mediators, note takers, social workers, therapists, spaces to hold meetings, useful books or resources on how to conduct a CA process, etc?

These could all be useful connections or resources.

How much can you offer? In money, in energy, in commitment.

weekly? monthly? bi-monthly, etc? I don’t think people facilitating CA processes should be paid, but money may be needed to pay for things like therapy, other healing modalities, space rental, food, transportation, tech supplies, etc. Energy and time commitment are needed to host and conduct meetings and help sustain the process for the long term.

I want people to feel less helpless when these situations occur and people look to the community for help. Often we think we have nothing to offer, but perhaps we’re just too afraid to try new things, put ourselves out there and make mistakes. Embrace your skills and potential mistakes. You can only learn from them!

*The most important part of volunteering yourself or community for a CA process  is making sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Not for clout or to ‘fight for’ someone. Involving ourselves should be done because we want to take an active part in building safe communities and transformative futures that don’t dispose of survivors or those who have caused harm. Before involving yourself you should conduct a self assessment that looks at your motivations and make sure they are not solely being fuelled by revenge, punishment or desire for attention and praise. See my post on how to tell if you are being motivated by punishment.

What skills and connections or resources do you have and can you offer if a community member came forward asking you for support? Share them in the comments!

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