By Cordelia Anderson, MA., and Alissa R. Ackerman, PhD.
Say your name, how your feel about being here, a hope you have for this circle of accountability, what your brought for an object of meaning to you and why you chose it for this circle…
And so begins the restorative justice circle we’d been planning for weeks. We had been thinking about what it would mean for survivors to know the healing power of telling the truth of their victimization in front of someone who had committed such an act. No, he did not rape anyone that is in this room. He raped a woman when he was in college – decades ago. He didn’t know or remember her name and there is no way he can be held accountable through traditional criminal justice sanctions; he tried. He wants to help other men speak to the truth of past harms they have done, and who want to be accountable somehow. He agreed to being part of this circle for accountability.
One of the participants, Alissa Ackerman, is a public survivor and criminologist, who has facilitated and participated in meetings with over 370 men who have committed sex offenses. She has lived the reality that sitting face to face with men who’ve committed such egregious acts of harm to other women, is healing for her. She calls this work “vicarious justice.” She also believes that part of the accountability for those who committed sex offenses– outside of and along with their criminal justice system and therapy work – is listening to her stories and the stories of other survivors. Being heard matters. In this circle she participated as a member of the circle, not as the facilitator.
The Circle Keeper, Cordelia Anderson, is trained in restorative justice and circles and has extensive experience doing circles with those who’ve caused harm and with those who have been harmed. Sometimes they are all in the same room; there are many ways to approach restorative processes and circles for healing, for intervention and for prevention. Serving as Keeper of this circle for accountability, (e.g., where the majority of the participants are survivors, and the one wanting the process for accountability has one person of support with him), was new.
For three hours and 15 minutes a talking piece was passed from person to person. When the talking piece came to the next person, they could speak to the question at hand or they could pass. After the opening pass, and rituals to set the stage and tone, participants were asked to speak to whatever it is they want to say, at that moment about:
- Why they are here today
- What the impact of what happened to them/or that they did, was for them
- How they are responding to what they’ve heard
- What they need to have happen next
- How to keep the confidentiality discussed as part of the opening values, while also clarifying how they will talk about today’s experience with others
- What it is they are taking away from today’s gathering
Part of the closing was the keeper reading from a piece written by Ashley Judd. In the 5/26/18 piece she wrote for TIME, about Harvey Weinstein, she said:
I was hopeful Harvey would plead guilty, that his surrender was volitional, so that in addition to carving out a singular position of disgrace, he could come forward as the predator who walks out of shame onto a new path of humility, introspection, accountability and amends, thereby leading our men and country in the necessary and inexorable of trajectory of restorative justice. It seems that Harvey, though, will not be the person to do that, as he is pleading not guilty and still maintains, in the face of so many accusations that all sex was consensual. Denial can stand for “I don’t even know I am lying,” and it appears that is where Harvey still lives.
So as these current steps of justice in New York City unfold, and the system does its necessary and important thing, we still wait for an accused who can and will embody what the #metoo movement and our society needs and wants: someone who can navigate the duality of having aggressed and address their abuse of power with culpability and integrity. Restorative justice is also dual; in order for survivor-victims and society to embrace and restore the reformed, the reformed must have been genuinely transformed, shedding layers of toxic masculinity, exiting the denial/apology tour and standing in a new and collective space where both the person is and the narrative are made whole and unified.
As ATSA members, who work very hard to treat those who’ve committed sex offenders or conduct research to better understand them or treatment process, or who work as victim advocates and/or for prevention, restorative practices and vicarious justice, offer additional opportunities for healing and accountability. Too often our work is in siloes that separates the life experiences and truth of survivors from the life experience and truth of those who’ve committed sex offenses. We all feel the limits and the benefits of our work. These processes offer an additional way for individual and collective healing and accountability.