Describe the innovative models to justice and accountability that inspire you to make progress in the anti-gender-based violence field.
Through the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Training and Technical Assistance Project, my team developed a set of guiding principles to communicate our aspirations to the field about engaging people who cause harm through intimate partner violence (IPV). There is no universal model for abusive partner intervention because communities are different and people have different strengths, challenges, and motivations for their use of violence, but these principles are crucial to holistically addressing violence. They include: centering survivor voices; expanding notions of accountability to include personal, communal, and systemic accountability; restoring hope and dignity; ensuring cultural humility; developing programs responsive to the needs and strengths of people who cause harm; promoting racial justice; and engaging in self-reflection. I’m grateful to our advisory board whose wisdom and experiences shaped these principles and who have been instrumental in my growth and evolution in this field.
These principles represent a philosophical shift when compared to mainstream abusive partner intervention programs. They allow for the exploration of participants’ own experiences of trauma and oppression as a way to build empathy and promote healing; seek to break down the us vs. them dichotomy that separates those in the movement from participants in programs; and encourage us all to be accountable to survivors, those with lived experience, and our broader communities. These principles inspire me because they address accountability compassionately and remind us that we all have a role to play to create a future where communities are safer and thriving.
Restorative and transformative approaches to accountability and justice are not always embraced by the field. What hesitations do you often see and where do you think they come from?
There’s often hesitation about the use of restorative approaches with intimate partner violence and I think a lot of the hesitation is rooted in fear. Fear that survivors won’t be safe. Fear that survivors will be coerced to participate. Fear that it’s a lighter touch approach void of accountability. Fear of the unknown and that these processes look different than mainstream approaches. Some of this fear is warranted; we don’t want a reversal of our approaches to IPV where it’s seen as solely a family issue and there’s no broader response. But that’s not what restorative processes are.
Unlike traditional punitive measures, restorative approaches, rooted in indigenous wisdom, are a relational way to repair harm. These approaches center someone who has experienced harm (e.g., a survivor) and a deep understanding of their needs. They involve processes to address those needs by exploring who is responsible for the harm and bringing together a community of people to provide support and encourage accountability. Transformative justice takes this approach further and explores and seeks to disrupt the root causes of harm.
Many survivors don’t access the legal system, and, when they do, their voices are often not heard. Sometimes survivors want punishment, but sometimes they want the violence to stop or to safely co-parent or to have a say in what safety looks like for them. Building restorative approaches is about increasing options and pathways to healing and accountability for survivors, their families, people who cause harm, and the broader community. It’s about getting the community involved in the process and reminding folks that we all have a stake in healing and accountability.
Let’s be honest, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) have been doing restorative and transformative justice in our own communities for centuries. What are some unique and innovative ways you’ve seen RJ/TJ implemented?
In 2019, our office published a national portrait of restorative approaches to IPV, through which we learned about and amplified the amazing work of several programs. The wonderful thing about restorative approaches is that they can be done in many ways. Epic ‘Ohana developed an approach rooted in Native Hawaiian culture. Within the child welfare context, they facilitate family and community ‘ohana conferences wherein families and support people for each party come together to identify a family’s strengths and challenges, develop plans for safer homes, and ultimately seek to restore family harmony. Through this process, they also address historic and systemic trauma and oppression that have impacted families and their connection to their cultural roots. Evaluations have shown promising outcomes, including reunification and the prevention of state care. These outcomes help keep children safely at home with their families and support systems and connected to their communities.
HarborCOV began circle processes as a response to a homicide that occurred in their community. To promote healing, they facilitated community circles rooted in indigenous practices and have since re-envisioned their agency’s operations. Circle processes flow through the veins of the organization. They hold community circles, support circles for survivors, and staff circles where they discuss organizational values and issues that impact their work like trauma, healing, oppression, etc. I’ve participated in staff circles at my own organization and they provide a grounding way of being with one another, a time to deepen relationships, and space to slow down and think intentionally about our work.
To take it a step further, what hopes, dreams, and aspirations do you have for the field in the next 10 years (as it relates to RJ and TJ)?
My hopes for the field are that we put the community back in the coordinated community response. Our responses to IPV have become increasingly system-based, limiting our ability to reach and assist survivors who, for a variety of legitimate reasons, do not want to access the system or who have tried to access the system and have been further harmed. We need to develop multiple pathways to healing and accountability because we know that healing and accountability are not uniform experiences. Instead of replicating power and control by using systems that often do not center the voices of survivors and those with lived experience, I hope the field comes together to create something new, acknowledging the harms caused by the system and leveraging the wisdom of innovators who are developing community-driven processes.
We are all impacted by violence and systems of oppression and we all have a role to play in preventing harm. I hope the movement identifies new roles for community members, engages the community in norm change work to firmly declare that violence is unacceptable, and builds response networks that provide resources to address the root causes of violence. Mariame Kaba says, “hope is a discipline,” which means we all have work to do. These changes won’t happen overnight, but if we bring more voices to the table and give power back to communities and those impacted, better solutions will emerge.
This project is supported by Grant No 2020-TA-AX-K022 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.