About Transformative Justice
This page contains some case studies and answers to common questions that people have about Transformative Justice (TJ), the framework being engaged for the Transform Dance project. If you want to do a deep dive into TJ, we recommend the Creative Interventions Toolkit, which you can access here.
In a nutshell, what constitutes a TJ response or intervention?
Transformative Justice interventions...
do not rely on the state (e.g. police, prisons, the criminal legal system);
do not reinforce or perpetuate violence such as oppressive norms or vigilantism; and
actively cultivate the things that we know prevent violence (such as healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved).
That sounds really broad…
Yes, it is! That’s because every TJ process is different. It’s all based on the specific circumstances, the needs of the person affected, the responsiveness of the person who did harm, the surrounding community, and a whole host of other factors.
OK, so can you give me some examples?
Here is a written case study of a process that happened following a sexual assault in Chicago. (Editor’s note: in this case study, they talk about Community Accountability, or CA. This is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with TJ.)
Here is another written document. It includes a description of an accountability process that took place in the late 2000s in New York City. It also includes a description of a second group process some of the men associated with the first process later undertook. (This is a good example of how TJ processes often morph and evolve as they develop.)
So does the survivor/victim need to interact with the person who has harmed them?
No. Sometimes community allies supporting a TJ process will engage with the person doing harm, but this DOES NOT mean that the survivor or victim needs to have any contact with the person doing harm.
What if someone who has done harm doesn't want to engage with the process?
Most of us struggle with accountability and experience it as a rejection, a threat, and an unjust imposition. Experienced TJ facilitators take this struggle into account - the goal is to create systems flexible enough to allow for the expected process of dodging and delaying accountability and strong enough to withstand and diminish these tactics over time.
(From the Creative Interventions Toolkit.)
Of course, sometimes a person who has done harm does not want to engage, and, even with time, this attitude does not shift. TJ does not use coercion and instead relies on consent and engagement. In cases where a person who has done harm ‘stonewalls’ or refuses to engage, there is often serious frustration among community members and grief and pain on behalf of those harmed. As such, the process will often shift its resources and focus to the healing and well-being of these actors.
It can be a huge disappointment when someone refuses to engage in a process, but many survivors still experience the process of asking for accountability - with community support - as empowering. It often helps people break the sense of isolation that frequently follows an experience of violence by building new networks of community support. In addition, many years later, many survivors report that they are happy that they asked for support and accountability and did not ‘suffer in silence’. Finally, TJ processes can also give birth to unexpected group actions that change the community landscape in other ways - for example, TJ support circles channelling their energy into convening community dialogues and workshops or producing interactive arts and drama that address violence.
So, if a person who has done harm does want to engage, what does accountability look like?
Most TJ processes start with the survivor and those supporting them brainstorming what accountability and change would look like. The answer, of course, is always very unique. For many survivors, the most important outcome is that they feel confident the person who harmed them understands how the behaviour was harmful and therefore agrees they will not behave in this way again. Other examples of accountability measures include: an apology, a commitment to stop drinking or using other substances, a commitment to convening public dialogue about gender violence, participation in a recovery group (for those who abuse) or in a workshop series about consent.
Below are the five common phases of (most) accountability processes, from the Creative Interventions Toolkit:
The Five Major Phases of Accountability Processes
There are endless ways to map out phases of an accountability process, but here are the most common phases we have charted in our work and experience:
The first step in a process is that a person must have an awareness and understanding of the actions and behaviors for which they are being called out. This is foundational and can sometimes take longer to accomplish than you might imagine.
Accepting Harm Done
Building on the understanding of what specific behaviors led them to this accountability process, the next step is to acknowledge in what ways these behaviors were harmful - even if harm wasn’t their intention. This is the seed of one of the most frequent goals in a process: building empathy.
Looking for Patterns
Making comprehensive change to prevent future assault requires broadening the focus beyond the isolated incident(s) that precipitated this process. This means identifying and naming the person’s history of abusive/harmful actions and contextualizing these behaviors in their underlying assumptions and socialization.
Unlearning Old Behaviors
The process of breaking habits starts with identifying harmful dynamics and then deepens beyond naming to analysis and understanding. Gaining an awareness and determining the kinds of situations that trigger or enable abusive or harmful behaviors and then having clear strategies to avoid and diffuse the potential path for harm.
Learning New Behaviors
Building new positive/healing patterns of behavior goes hand in hand with breaking down the old harmful patterns. One of the tools in this stage is role play, where a person can rehearse their consent practices, graceful acceptance of criticism, disclosure strategies, etc. Also important is becoming familiar with their resources to support positive and new behavior [affordable therapy, sites to find jobs, a clearly defined network of supportive friends, membership to the gym, etc]. This phase is very much about understanding the ways to build new behaviors so this skill becomes sustainable and fueled by self reliance.