Accountability Dialogues

Those harmed must be enabled to express the impacts & effects directly to the person who caused the harms.

Accountability Dialogues are facilitated conversations intended to ensure that individuals who have caused harms or wounds to others may realize the harms they’ve caused, and acknowledge their responsibility for them. They are conversations aiming not necessarily toward argument or agreement but toward understanding, in the person who caused the harms, the nature and degree of those harms. Accountability Dialogues enable those harmed to fully express to the harming person some of the immediate and longer-term impacts and effects of the harms or wounds.

These dialogues are not simple or superficial discussions, and they are not limited to matters of fact. Rather, they are rooted in the complex realms and arrays of feeling, including betrayal, outrage, grief, anger, fear, revulsion, and profound disappointment, among others. Such feelings charge these dialogues with intricate — and sometimes intimate — emotions. This is why they are facilitated by someone trained and skilled in the art of harm-centered dialogue facilitation, wherein the person harmed is fully allowed and enabled to focus the dialogue on giving voice to the harms and wounds he or she has experienced. That is the starting point for these Dialogues.

Accountability Dialogues arise from the field of Victim-Centered Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD), wherein victims and survivors — even of severely violent crimes — are enabled to engage in dialogue with the (usually incarcerated) offenders in those crimes. More than two decades of history with VOD in crimes of severe violence in this country have proven that victims/survivors experiencing it have come away feeling a fuller sense of justice, of unburdening, and an ability to “move on” in their lives following VODs with offenders. By the same token, offenders have come away with a sense of having accounted for their actions and behaviors directly to the survivor, who deserves it the most. Answering directly to the survivor — as terrifying as it can be for offenders — can also represent for them a more truly “just” effort.

Often referred to as an aspect of “restorative justice,” VOD has sometimes been rendered less effective for victims/survivors when the work has not been sufficiently “centered” on meeting the needs of the survivors, and instead on encouraging some kind of “agreement” between survivors and offenders. But violent crime victimization and violation are not misunderstandings in need of resolution or agreement. They are the most profound kinds of harming and wounding of others, and VODs in these kinds of cases must be rigorously centered on meeting the needs of the survivors, and “anchored” in helping them to express the terrible impacts and effects of the crimes. Accountability Dialogues must work in the same way: those who were harmed must be allowed and enabled to fully express the impacts and effects of the harms directly to the person who has caused those harms. And to do so in such a way as to invite from the “offender” an acknowledgment of his or her actions and behaviors, and an earnest attempt to “account” for them. This is the core principle of Accountability Dialogues.

Among the more common situations in which Accountability Dialogues may be successfully utilized are those where adjudication may not be the preferred remedy or approach, or where adjudication is only a small part of the resolution sought by the person harmed. Certain kinds of workplace (civilian or military) culture victimization, power relationship victimization, personal or social media bullying, stalking-associated behaviors, veiled or ambiguous threat language, and acquaintance- or situational sexual exploitation and victimization are among those that may be appropriate to the tremendous potential of Accountability Dialogues.

But participation takes an authentic willingness on the part of each — or agreement to a formal order, judgment, or command of some sort — to initiate this process, and securing that agreement may require considerable effort, in some cases. It is not easy to hold someone who has harmed us to account, and it is not easy to be held to account by someone whom we have harmed. But at their best, Accountability Dialogues offer a potent avenue for addressing harms in ways that result in a sense of healing, justice, and “conclusion” for those harmed, and a sense of accountability and integrity for those who have committed the harms.

For further information on Accountability Dialogues, contact:

Jon Wilson, Director
JUST Alternatives
41 WoodenBoat Lane
Brooklin, ME 04616