What is accountability, anyways?

The limit of naming names

People are getting “outed” all over the place. Winnipeg, among many cities, has “name your abuser” lists on Facebook and in bar bathrooms.

I’m all for naming names. Personally, I hope it will help to stop the culture of abusers bouncing between communities - mess up in Winnipeg, move to Montreal, voila new city, new you (until the next assault). But herein lies the problem - neither relying on victims to “out” abusers, nor allowing abusers an easy escape via “banning,” are the same as accountability.

Emma Healey wrote in her 2014 article in the hairpin, “We consistently fail young women  -  all women  -  by tacitly relying on them to learn from each other, or from their experiences, which of the people in their communities they can and cannot trust.”

Relying on “name your abuser” lists to keep communities safe is, to say the least, inadequate. At most, it is a weak form of vigilante justice born out of the failure of the justice system.

And the lists are barely making a dent as is. As one person said in response to Winnipeg’s Facebook list, “Where are all the business owners and chefs?”

Despite the reality of these lists and the very low percentage of false accusations (between 2-10 per cent of reported assaults, according to a 2010 study from an unnamed American university), there is consistent lashback against those who name names. There is disbelief.

Last week, Michael Spry wrote an article titled “No Names, Only Monsters,” in which he remorsefully describes his participation in Concordia’s rape culture.

“In my 14-year association with Concordia and CanLit I have been witness to and made aware of innumerable instances of unwanted affection, groping, inappropriate remarks and propositions,” he writes.

This is why I believe survivors.

“When rejected by women, men in positions of power would engage in whisper campaigns denigrating and degrading those who had rejected them,” he writes.

This is why I believe survivors.

“Both Concordia and CanLit have fostered inappropriate behaviors and environments that have permeated throughout the community,” he writes.

This is why I believe survivors.

No, I am not incapable of critical thought - my partner and I recently fought over my hyper-criticality. No, I am not just a “man hater,” though I’m not not that. No, I am not a blind champion of all women, and no, I really am not politically correct.

When I believe a survivor, I am being rational. I am taking into account formal research. Also, these things have happened to me and a vast majority of people I know. If you ask me, the truth a survivor tells is a universal experience.

Believe the lists, and know that the lists aren’t enough.

An old anthropology professor of mine used to say, “Liberalism is fascism in slow motion.”

Right now, it’s stylish to name names. It’s cool. It’s liberal. But what do we do with those names?

At best, today’s common response is to ban offenders from spaces. However, this leads to community-hopping, not accountability.

To be clear - banning is a technique that centres the safety of survivors and their ability to participate in social spaces. This is very important. Simultaneously, supporting survivors and preventing/rehabilitating abusers are not exactly the same thing. They are mutually beneficial but require different actions taken by different people.

The Good Will Social Club might kick out someone who has harassed another person inside their doors, but what happens once the harasser steps onto the sidewalk or into a cab?

“Liberalism is fascism in slow motion”: This means that there are masses of people feeling social pressure to go along with a radical culture - in this case, accountability culture. Yet, there is a risk that many don’t have the understanding or the social support to actually uphold the radicality of this culture with integrity.

Outing and banning do not make a community more liberated or necessarily more safe. Liberal culture is not safe.

An example: Canadians proudly wear their multiculturalism, especially in contrast to America’s melting pot. Yet, according to a 2000 paper by Tamara Seiler, immigrants face more economic inequality in Canada than they do in the United States. It is not so welcoming a nation, after all.

Seiler writes that Canada’s reputation as an ethnocultural mosaic is “a corrective to the rigidity of the ethnic, cultural, and racial hierarchy which had been built into its institutions and its practices.” Multiculturalism is a cover-up for a history of institutionalized racism, colonialism, residential schools, indentured workers and white guilt.

Liberalism is a cover-up.

“Men feel so right about their ways. They’ll put it in writing, take it to a judge, go public. Imagine if the real victims were so bold? Think about how they are treated when they are,” Julie McIsaac writes in a 2018 blog response to Spry’s article.

Can I just say, as a mysterious and public aside: Shame on the man who is filing a human rights grievance against a local establishment which stood up for survivors. The self-righteous complaint came after the man’s band was removed from a bill because members of the band are associated with local abusers. Honestly, are you kidding me?

It’s certainly an enticing facade, yet in the end, “liberal” and “liberated” are not synonyms. Saying we support survivors and going through (some of) the motions is meaningless (and harmful!) without building the self-knowledge and skills to act and speak with integrity.

Healey writes that abusers’ “power comes from institutional support, whether implied or explicit, and it comes from systems that rely on the victims of harassment to be the ones who take down their abusers by speaking out in public.”

“There is a complex and tangled system of habits and behaviors and assumptions that runs underneath our tendency to turn a blind eye to potentially predatory behavior in our communities … These things are ingrained, and on one hand, it’s difficult to know how we might even begin to change them,” she writes.

My suggestion? Be courageous. Listen. Talk to each other - with compassion and belief. Be committed to your community. Know, with certainty, that you - yes, you! Right now! - are building the community that will (or will not) uphold members to a standard of integrity and accountability.

Published in Volume 72, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 18, 2018)

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