Vol. XXXI, Issue 2, Spring 2019 Text Only Version
In This Issue
Editor's note
President's message
Accountability and responsibility in the era of #MeToo
The use of nonviolent resistance in forensic therapy for the prevention of sexual abuse
Using good groups to attain good lives: Ten techniques for enhancing the effectiveness of group therapy in the GLM
Father-daughter incest: Investigating family dynamics and risk in German-speaking fathers
Hotel reservations for #ATSA2019 open April 1
SO: The New Scarlet Letters
Adult practice
Education and Training Committee
ATSA is seeking nominations for the Board of Directors
Legal notice
U.S. state legislative bills affecting practice
New members
National Adolescent Perpetration Network Conference
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Forum Editor
Contact the editor or submit articles to:

Heather M. Moulden, Ph.D.
Forensic Program
St. Joseph's Healthcare
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
E: hmoulden@stjoes.ca
P: (905) 522-1155 ext. 35539
Accountability and responsibility in the era of #MeToo
By Joan Tabachnick and Cordelia Anderson

“Justice will not be served if we maintain our exclusive focus on the questions that drive our current justice systems: What laws have been broken? Who did it? What do they deserve? True justice requires, instead, that we ask questions such as these: Who has been hurt? What do they need? Whose obligations and responsibilities are these? Who has a stake in this situation? What is the process that can involve the stakeholders in finding a solution?” 

― Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice


In 2006, Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist from the Bronx founded Just Be Inc. to help victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Just Be Inc. provided resources that were not readily available, especially to children and young people of color, who were often overlooked in the mainstream. She began with the simple words, Me Too. In 2017, Alyssa Milano, an actress in Hollywood, picked up the campaign and with the participation of millions of women, #MeToo skyrocketed into a global movement. #MeToo offers women, and increasingly men, the opportunity to simply say that “this happened to me.” With this movement they can say it now without shame, disbelief, and isolation that so many experienced in the past. For the first time in history, this movement has created the space for people who have been harmed by sexual violence to step forward. The space allows individuals to say, “This happened to me” and no one needs to question exactly what happened, why it happened, no one judges if the harassment or abuse was bad enough to be included; most importantly everyone is invited to the table.  

The response that #MeToo requests is that each individual who comes forward is met with a simple, “I believe you.” Millions of women and men are stepping forward to say #MeToo and that has never happened before. The prevailing response is that the victims are believed and many of those who are accused are resigning from their positions, being asked to leave their jobs, and losing much of their credibility while the investigation goes on. This shift is seismic and reflects how far we have come from the pervasive silence that began to be shattered in large and small ways by survivors of sexual abuse.  

Recognizing that this may be a controversial statement, we are suggesting that saying “I believe you” is an important first step, but it is not enough. “I believe you” is essential for the person who has been harmed.  But we as a society and as ATSA members can push for more. 

The question for this Forum is what can ATSA contribute to this conversation?  If society’s only response to #MeToo is “I believe you”, the movement may slowly die because there won’t be an adequate shift in those who cause the harm. In this context, the #MeToo movement could have a bigger impact over time if ATSA members challenge ourselves to add our voice, our knowledge and our resources to the conversation.

ATSA and ATSA members offer a unique point of view to this growing conversation. If #MeToo makes no distinction for anyone who comes forward to say that this too happened to me (nor should it in these authors’ opinions), ATSA’s response must start by acknowledging the complexity of the issue and taking on the challenge of creating the space to say #Ididthis.   

Ana Maria Archila Gualy, the survivor who famously confronted Senator Jeff Flake in the elevator shortly after the public hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh offered one clear pathway for a deeper response. She said: 

“The way that justice works is that you recognize harm, you take responsibility for it and then you begin to repair it.”

She went on to say that Senator Flake was wrong to vote for a man who “is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions, unwilling to hold the harm he has done to one woman, actually three, and repair it.”  

However, as of this writing, there are not many shining examples of anyone publicly recognizing the harm their behavior caused and taking responsibility for that harm. In fact, most of the public apologies have fallen short of this request for recognizing the harm they have done and taking full responsibility for it. The statements have fallen short by not taking full responsibility (e.g., Kevin Spacey saying “If I did behave as he described….”) or describing the behaviors as mutual (e.g., Garrison Keillor saying that the suggestive fantasies were simply “romantic writing”) or deflecting the impact and seriousness of the allegation (e.g., Mario Batali including a recipe for pizza dough cinnamon rolls).  

Reflecting on the number of public figures who have done everything possible to avoid taking responsibility, Ashley Judd said: “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.”

We have seen that, at least with less visible cases, the person taking responsibility has been harassed and shamed for any efforts they make. The authors have worked with one man, Kevin, in his 60s who raped a young woman when he was in college. After listening to allegations growing ever more prevalent in the media, he felt compelled to come forward and speak out. He believed there were many men like him who, if given the opportunity to take reparative accountability for past actions, would be willing to acknowledge the harm they’d caused. He published an op-ed about what he had written in the Huffington Post to encourage others to take responsibility for their behaviors. He hoped that like himself, there are many men who now have the understanding that they are not entitled to sex with women, nor should they in any way use their male privilege to justify such actions. While some response was encouraging and supportive, his writing caused a rift within his family, he was cut off from some friends and lost much of his work in a storm of criticism on social media. Some pointed out that while they understood what he was trying to do, he had a long way to go and was going about it all wrong. The question we need to face is: What would it take for society to be able to create the space for people to step forward and take responsibility for their mistakes, to be held accountable for the harm they caused, and to be allowed to “begin to repair it”?  

Through the work that ATSA members do every day with those convicted of a sex offense, ATSA members have deeper knowledge of what it means to take full responsibility for one’s actions. ATSA members have seen the impact of giving someone the space, and understand the process to create the space, to hold oneself accountable for a sexual crime. If ATSA members can begin to share the impact this accountability process can have on the individual, their family, the survivor and their community, it may help grow this concept of taking responsibility into our larger communities as well. 

The authors, along with Alissa Ackerman, offered a workshop at the 2018 ATSA Conference in Vancouver called “Accountability and Responsibility in the Era of #MeToo” to share our work and explore what ATSA members may offer to #MeToo. Like Ana Maria Archila Gualy, we chose to use a restorative justice frame to address this issue.

According to Howard Zehr, Restorative Justice “is basically common sense…. When a wrong has been done, it needs to be named and acknowledged. Those who have been harmed need to be able to grieve their losses, to be able to tell their stories, to have their questions answered – that is, to have the harms and needs caused by the offense addressed. They – and we – need to have those who have done wrong accept their responsibility and take steps to repair the harm to the extent it is possible.”

Questions Posed at the 2018 ATSA Conference

ATSA members often work with clients to develop a deeper understanding of what they have done, the impact it has had and explore what steps could be taken to repair that harm. In our workshop, we used a restorative justice approach, the talking circle process, to create three circles. And using the circle process asked workshop attendees to look at responsibility and authentic accountability at three levels. We asked: 

  1. At the personal level: When you are determining whether or not you believe your child/or another child you care about has taken full responsibility and is authentically accountable for a harm they have done, what do you look for?

  1. At the community level: When you are determining whether or not you believe a client (or someone you are advocating for) you care about has taken full responsibility and is authentically accountable for a harm they have done, what do you look for?

  1. At the society level: When you are determining whether or not you believe a public figure has taken full responsibility and is authentically accountable for a harm they have done, what do you look for?

Personal Level: From the rich discussion that followed, the themes that emerged at the personal level, to look for when considering an apology, included:  

  • Genuine remorse

  • Body language

  • Word choice

  • Taking responsibility and not making excuses

  • Choosing to act differently (Walk the talk/ Actions speak louder than words)

  • Being able to observe behaviors over time and explore whether the change is consistent with the apology

  • Willingness to come back to the conversation over and over again if necessary

  • Importance of being consistent when discussing the issues

The participants also noted that there are different levels of accountability depending upon the cognitive understanding of the adult, adolescent or child committing the harm. On the personal level, some acknowledged that the feelings behind this question would depend upon whether it was our own child who was harmed or someone we know, or we know the person causing the harm. Each of these might also affect our own responsibility and accountability in each situation.   

Clinical Level: When asked what clinicians may look for through treatment in their professional role, all of the above were mentioned, plus:

  • A clear understanding of the feelings of others

  • Recognize that the conversations, the insights and the changes are genuine

  • If there is an apology, it is from the heart and authentic, not scripted based upon what is expected of the person in treatment,

  • Being able to observe changes in all aspects of their lives

  • Confirmation from others that both their words and their actions are changing (for the better).  

Community/Public Level: The themes that emerged in the circle for the public person’s apology, included the items below in addition to the one already identified:  

  • Ability to articulate harm from the perspective of others and not be focused on their own experience,

  • Ensure that the focus of the apology is on others and not an excuse trying to explain their own behaviors,

  • Humility about their lives and being able to convey a sense of integrity,

  • Timing (not too soon or too late),

  • Word choice was raised to a new level for a public figure as well as their actions,

  • Ability to articulate a range of other behaviors AND taking responsible for those, and

  • Not victim blaming

The group noted that in the public domain, it is not possible to slowly build relationships based upon trust, which is an essential element of this work. The groups also noted that at least so far, very few public figures have tried to take full responsibility for their actions, and for those that tried to take responsibility, none has been received well by the public.    

We have seen people take full responsibility in a less public venue and it has been received well by those participating in the process. After conversations with others, Kevin met with Alissa Ackerman to join in a process she has called “Vicarious Restorative Justice” highlighted in an HBO special report of Vice. Together, they decided to use her model of bringing individuals who are survivors of sexual violence together with men who committed sexual violence to share the impact of the trauma. With Cordelia Anderson as the circle keeper, Alissa organized four survivors to speak together with Kevin about the impact that sexual abuse had on their lives. In this circle, each was powerfully moved by the conversations and expressed surprise at the parallels in their healing journeys. Kevin was able to take responsibility in a new way. As just one example of how these connections can change us, Kevin remembered the first name of the woman he had raped, which he had been unable to recall for forty years. Kevin spoke about how he has been able to come to terms with this history in a deeper way, come to terms with his past actions and the harm he caused, and that has given him the ability to reach out into the community. In part through this process, Kevin has committed to using his professional expertise to work with and help a survivor-based startup enterprise resource near to where he lives.  

Another man we have worked with, Tom Stranger, was contacted nine years later by the young woman he raped while he was a high school exchange student in Iceland. Together they entered into a long and intense process to address her needs, at her pace, and to do what she needed for him to take responsibility for his past sexual aggression. Their process led them to co-author a book, “South of Forgiveness” and to do a popular TED talk about what happened and how they came to a place of working together. Tom lives in Australia and continues to speak publicly and faces both support for his courageous efforts, and the anger and skepticism of others for continuing to be public on his own.  

Both of these cases used the principles of restorative justice, a process that allowed for a survivor, a person who had been harmed to speak to the full lifelong impact of what happened to them. And in both cases, these conversations captured a relational approach with the survivors, the support people, and in some cases their families, and took away much of the isolation for those involved. The process also allowed the person who caused the harm, the perpetrator, to listen to that impact and begin to take in the full extent of what he had done. Then it was possible to begin to explore what is needed for the person who did the harm to be held accountable for their behaviors AND take full responsibility for what they had done. If one looks carefully, one can find other examples of people coming together, beginning to create the space for individuals and even institutions to take responsibility for sexual abuse. A podcast called Reckonings highlighted “A victim and a perpetrator find justice.” On college campuses there is a growing restorative justice movement that is highlighted by David Karp and others in the PRISM program. And different communities offer their own perspective on accountability such as this article which outlines the concept of Tshuvah – the work that a person must do who has done harm in the Jewish community and another about the Jewish community response

It is true that in our righteous anger society tends to focus on cases where the celebrity is clearly wrong and is fully punished for what they have done. We can all name these individuals from Jesse Timmendequas who killed Megan Kanka in 1994 to more recent cases of Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, and Larry Nassar. We are also starting to see celebrities who have been accused of sexual assault begin to re-enter their professions provoking the questions of what is enough time, what is enough accountability, what is enough remorse to signal that it is OK to re-enter society?

The initial response to these cases, understandably, is retribution not redemption.  When we hear of the horror, the extent and the expanse of what happened, we often have more of an appetite for vengeance.  It is, in part, a reaction to the helplessness we feel in hearing the horrific stories. But we are asking, what if we could also channel our reaction into creating a space for someone to step forward to acknowledge what they have done. For years, victims hesitated to speak out publicly because of their fear of being judged, shamed or worse. Why would we expect a different reaction from a person who is trying to take responsibility for doing that harm? How society responds initially can set the stage for a healing process. Just as the space was created for #MeToo and for survivors to come forward, can we, as a society, create the space for an individual to come forward and be held accountable for what they have done and to take responsibility for their actions? Yes, these examples are rare, it is even more rare to see them held up as examples of what is possible.  

There is no denying that #MeToo has brought us to a new important era that both acknowledges and demands a different public reaction to sexual violence. It has clearly raised awareness and provided opportunity to forge new paths in exploring the complexities of the issue. ATSA members have a deep understanding of the complexity of perpetrating sexual harm. We have seen what can happen when individuals who have caused harm are provided a space to acknowledge the actions and take responsibility.  Because of the work that ATSA does, members begin with an understanding that #MeToo addresses more than one type of behavior, more than one type of motivation, more than one level of cognitive understanding, often more than one challenge (e.g., alcohol or drug use) and often multiple levels of trauma. Given this understanding, ATSA members are crucial to the evolving discussion in the public domain. We challenge all of ATSA to educate ourselves about effective ways individuals, communities, and organizations have addressed accountability and responsibility and to take an active role in helping to create the space for this to actually happen.  

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