How community accountability can help prevent intimate partner violence in the first place
Last month at California Partnership to End Domestic Violence’s Shifting the Lens conference, advocates asked participants to question what we mean by “accountability.” This comes at a time when more communities are moving away from “punishment only” toward new models of accountability. By strengthening social networks and increasing community members’ willingness to recognize intimate partner violence as community issue, community accountability can help prevent intimate partner violence in the first place. Such models may also be of interest to people working on community violence interruption who are confronted with multiple forms of violence in their work and are asking what more can be done to interrupt intimate partner violence to prevent and reduce harm.
What is community accountability?
“Community accountability is our oldest security system,” said Shira Hassan, an activist focused on transformative justice and healing. Shira believes that community accountability is about safety, healing, and agency, and that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
According to INCITE!, it is a community-based strategy by which a group of friends, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, or other preexisting network work together to address violence within their communities. Actions can involve leading with values and practices that encourage safety and support, developing sustainable strategies and processes to address and transform abusive behaviors, committing to transforming political conditions that reinforce violence and oppression, and respecting the self-determination of people who have been abused.
Community accountability recognizes the harms of incarceration and builds alternatives centered on survivors needs. Survivors often want accountability without involving legal systems and many do not feel safe to report abuse and leave their homes, communities, and social networks.
Shalom Bayit: An example of community accountability in action
Shalom Bayit is an agency in the San Francisco Bay Area committed to ending domestic violence in the Jewish community. Through its policies and procedural guidelines for responding to intimate partner violence, Shalom Bayit is working with synagogues to implement a community accountability model. The agency has aligned principles of community accountability from INCITE! with the community’s culture. The agency asks congregational leadership to prioritize protecting those who have been abused and support safety of other congregants with actions like safety planning, while also supporting a teshuvah (repentance) process focused on accountability. As part of teshuvah, congregations encourage those who have abused to admit wrongdoing, respect safety plans, and take responsibility for their actions while making necessary behavior changes. For example, the person who has abused can be asked to relinquish all positions of leadership in the synagogue, not attend services or events that the survivor attends, and acknowledge that their abusive behavior involved a misuse of power, to name just a few actions included in the policies.
Changing the sociocultural environment to advance prevention
Though community accountability models are primarily focused on supporting survivors of violence and changing the behavior of people who have caused harm, these models also leverage and strengthen elements that are important for preventing violence in the first place. Community accountability positively shapes the sociocultural environment in the following ways that are also supportive of safe relationships:
- Revitalizing or maintaining social networks
- Increasing community members’ willingness to take action on sexual and domestic violence
- Shifting community norms to support non-violence
- Shifting norms to recognize intimate partner violence as a community responsibility
Shalom Bayit’s commitment to shifting norms to support non-violence and recognize intimate partner violence as a community responsibility is even reflected in the agency’s name. “Shalom Bayit” – meaning “peaceful Jewish home” – is a term that in the past has been used to sweep intimate partner violence under the rug. Instead, this organization uses the term to empower individuals to have peace, safety, and sanctuary in their homes and emphasize the community’s role in ensuring safety from violence.
Sharing policies and practices like these with congregants supports prevention by creating a culture that does not tolerate violence. The policies require rabbis and other leadership to integrate education about intimate partner violence into religious services, social action activities, counselling, and more. Rather than separating people from their social networks when they experience or perpetrate abuse, Shalom Bayit’s model allows individuals to remain at their synagogues when possible and keep connected to their faith and community. Shalom Bayit seeks to address and prevent abuse within the community, and thereby strengthens social networks.
Several other community accountability initiatives exist, such as Creative Interventions, the Northwest Network’s Friends Are Reaching Out Project and LGBTQ Relationships Class, the Bay Area Transformative Justice Coalition, and Philly Stands Up. These initiatives seek to shift community norms and build community-wide capacity for action.
The opportunity at hand
Advocates and practitioners interested in exploring the nexus of community accountability and community-level prevention can take steps within their organizations and networks, and help shape community accountability frameworks more broadly. Prevention advocates can consider how their work can leverage and strengthen social networks, and advocates promoting community accountability can explore how to more intentionally prevent sexual and domestic violence in the first place. Stories about family and social network-based interventions to sexual and domestic violence can be powerful tools for learning from real-life examples and envisioning potential models.
In preventing community violence, Cure Violence and other models of violence interruption have proven to be effective methods of reducing violence and influencing community norms. As models of community accountability for intimate partner violence are developed, there may be opportunities for practitioners and advocates to work together holistically to interrupt and prevent interrelated forms of violence occurring within families and communities.
For more about preventing intimate partner violence, visit Prevention Institute’s Sectors Acting For Equity project page.