Community Accountability

[TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses sexual violence. Please exercise self-care.]

Working in this sector means I end up being the 'Dear Abby' of my social circle. I don't mind; it comes with the territory.

But a friend approached me with a story recently that has really resonated with this concept I've been trying to get across in more and more of my public education work. The idea of community accountability. (*For the record, I am by no means claiming to be the inventor of 'community accountability', both as a title, concept or approach to this work. This is just my attempt to flesh out what it looks like in my own work.] 

Here's the story.

A friend was telling me about this guy (we'll call him 'John'). John was part of her peer group; she'd partied with John, went to school with him back in the day and generally saw him around a lot. The problem is that John had a 'thing' for drunk chicks. She approached me because she'd heard about the work I do with Draw the Line about alcohol-facilitated sexual assault and so John's little 'habit' started looking really not okay to her. 

She started rhyming off a list of tips she was hoping to give to womyn at the next party and wanted my advice. "Do you think it'll work? Do you think it's okay if I tell them that it's okay to push him away and to just keep an eye out for him when they're drinking?"

"Absolutely", I replied. "The womyn totally have the right to physically push him away if they don't feel comfortable."

"But," I suggested "why is John still invited to parties?!"

Wouldn't not inviting John be the best way of ensuring that no womyn has to endure drunk-cop-a-feel-McGee? 

This is what community accountability looks like. 

We can exert all this energy trying to come up with new apps, wearable technology or other "safety measures for women" or we could take the easier, simpler and more effective route and focus on the people perpetuating the behaviour. 

Community accountability, to me, is bystander intervention + calling out perpetrators + supporting survivors. It's the perfect combination of things that every day people can do; even those who don't feel comfortable interacting with the justice system.

Take the John situation. What's the problem with not taking a community accountability approach here? You're telling womyn to protect themselves (VICTIM BLAMING) while also telling John that what he's doing is totes a-okay (ENABLING SEXUAL VIOLENCE). Where is John being held accountable? Forget getting arrested, John isn't even losing social cred. Dude is gonna keep on keepin' on because he is not getting any indication, direct or indirect, that his behaviour isn't okay.

Examples like this one are incredibly common. It comes up all the time in my work. Examples of people wracking their brains to come up with solutions to things they know are not okay, when the more obvious solution is right in front of them. But, if we spend our entire lives in a culture that shames and blames victims instead of perpetrators, then it is a tad mind blowing to realize 'Wait a second. We're in the majority, so let's join together and call out perpetrators".

A beautiful example of this is a planned rally in Pembroke in regards to the horrific Derrick Gallagher case. The community has been hit incredibly hard by this case, but they're not backing down. The amazing Renfrew County Sexual Assault Centre is organizing a rally outside the courthouse to send a strong message that sexual violence is abhorrent and those who perpetuate it will be held accountable. But more than that, it's also sending a message to survivors that they are supported, loved and embraced by their community. 

That's what community accountability means. 

It's the recognition that our world is safer when we band together; that perpetrators are in the minority and that together, we can create the world we want. 

Community accountability is summed up beautifully by the amazing folks at FORCE: Upsetting Rape culture.

 

You can call it bystander intervention, community accountability or just straight up "Being the Change" but this model of using peer pressure for good is the key to dismantling rape culture (and truth be told, other forms of gender-based violence, too!) 

So, the next time John shows up and acts the fool, here's hoping this is how it ends.