July 26, 2017

From the Archives: What is Transformative Justice and Community Accountability (TJ/CA)?


Category: Equity, Gender-Based Violence


**This post originally appeared in a Coalition 2014 eNewsletter, and was updated by the author July, 2017.**


Kiyomi Fujikawa is a Seattle-based, trans-feminine, mixed-race organizer who has been involved in the anti-violence movement since 2001. She worked as the Queer Network Program Coordinator at API Chaya until 2016. 

Community Accountability and Transformative Justice are community-based responses to violence that seek to address immediate needs for justice (e.g. safety, dignity, connection, self-determination, support, healing, accountability, etc) in ways that both address the survivor’s immediate needs (including addressing the behavior of an individual abusive person) and change the root causes of that harm and oppression and ultimately end violence.

Because options within the criminal legal system are very limited for survivors – and most inaccessible for survivors of color (especially Black and Latino survivors), queer and trans people, survivors involved in the sex trade, people with disabilities, poor people, immigrants, survivors who‘s abusive partners are in law enforcement, and many others impacted by state violence – we need solutions that do not rely solely on the state.

INCITE, a national collective of Feminists of Color against violence, defines community accountability as “a process in which a community – a group of friends, a family, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, a neighborhood, etc – work together to do the following things:

+ Create and affirm values & practices that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, and accountability.

+ Develop sustainable strategies to address community members’ abusive behavior, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior.

+ Commit to ongoing development of all members of the community, and the community itself, to transform the political conditions that reinforce oppression and violence.

+ Provide safety & support to community members who are violently targeted that respects their self-determination.”

Community accountability is often framed as an alternative to punitive justice. There is often confusion around how TJ/CA tangibly works because it is more about a set of values and organizing goals than a one-size-fits-all response. A TJ/CA response could look like educating people in the abuser and survivor’s life about how to support a survivor, communities taking accountability for minimizing or normalizing domestic violence, approaching a person who has caused harm about their behavior, supporting someone to be accountable to their actions, safety plans that leverage community resources (e.g. childcare, respected leaders in community, etc.) and raise awareness to the survivor’s support system about responding to and preventing violence, and full-on community interventions in violent situations.

Why are we looking for options beyond the police and the criminal legal system?

+ Many survivors’ first priority is not punishing or incarcerating their abuser, it’s getting violence to stop.  Many survivors we work with have a complex relationship with their abuser – who might be their family member, a parent to their kids, a financial or emotional support, or interact with them in a myriad of other ways.  Due to this difference in prioritizing, the goals of the criminal legal system might not match the goals of the survivor. Within the legal system, survivors have very little control over what the level of sentencing would be.

+ Many communities experience the police and the prison industrial complex as a source of violence rather than safety, and have strong distrust of the criminal legal system. The recent non-indictments of police officers in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown highlight this understood inequality within the justice system.

+ The majority of survivors do not receive justice even by the criminal legal systems definition’s of justice – RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) estimates that only 3 of every 100 rapists will ever spend a day in prison (https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates) and other research suggests similar rates for domestic violence that only 2% of abusers received any jail time. Many survivors do not report because they do not expect the legal system to support them. To witness survivor’s words about choosing not to report see the hashtags: #JusticeFailsASurvivorWhen #BeenRapedNeverReported #WhyIDidntReport

+ Many ways that abusers maintain power and control may technically be legal (i.e. minimizing, denying, blaming, some forms of intimidation & coercion, using isolation, using male privilege, gas lighting, financial control & economic abuse, threatening to out someone’s immigration status, sexual orientation, involvement in the sex trade, etc). While we know that abuse is about a cycle of power and control, the context of the criminal legal system is about addressing individual offenses.

+ Increased reliance on law-enforcement has led to many victim-defendants being arrested for using self-defense or for surviving abuse. The case of Marissa Alexander – an African-American survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, FL who was prosecuted for firing warning shots & defending her life from her abusive husband – highlights the experience of victim defendants and the racial disparities in the criminal legal system. According to a 2012 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, “in nearly 1/3 of the LGBTQ-specific IPV cases reported to the police (28.4%), the survivor was arrested instead of the abusive partner” (http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/ncavp_2012_ipvreport.final.pdf). For more on supporting survivors who are incarcerated for surviving, see Survived and Punished (http://www.survivedandpunished.org/)

Want to learn more?

+ Locally, we’re lucky to have a strong foundation around these topics, largely thanks to the work Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) and the NW Network of BTLG Survivors of Abuse, who have been engaging with these concepts for years. See articles by CARA here: http://www.incite-national.org/sites/default/files/incite_files/resource_docs/9261_anti-prisonbrochure.pdf and The Color of Violence: the Incite! Anthology

+ Locally API Chaya, the NW Network, and a few other organizations engage in CA/TJ work.

+ Further reading with The Revolution Starts At HomeArrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation by Beth Richiehttp://communityaccountability.wordpress.com/, and Creative Interventions Toolkit (http://www.creative-interventions.org/tools/toolkit/)

+ Survived and Punished toolkit on organizing Defense Campaigns for survivors incarcerated for self-defense (http://www.survivedandpunished.org/sp-toolkit.html)

+ For approaches to addressing child sexual abuse, please see the documentary Hollow Water (https://www.nfb.ca/film/hollow_water), Generation 5, and the National Council on Crime and Deliquency’s Restorative Justice Project