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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Georgiou

Accountability: the impact it could make compared to the smokescreen of blame

With all the recent media attention on yet another established celebrity being revealed as a controlling sexual abuser, it is easy to get swept up into the media storm of dissolved and disillusioned opinions of who is right or wrong, and who is to blame for yet another occurrence of trauma, abuse, and misogynistic entitlement.

These reports, comments and conversations are a smoke screen for more poignant questions people should be focused on, which is often about accountability.

How do we, as a society create change and how do we begin to understand the difference between someone being made accountable for their actions, compared to shifting the blame at individuals?

Blame is an ineffective outlet that doesn’t lead to productive change. Trying to establish blame from media stories minimises the bigger picture of how our society is engrained with the normalisation of people hurting others. Abuse is bigger than one man being a perpetrator. It is bigger than the decisions of victims deciding when to disclose abuse they have been subjected to.

What can we do when we are presented with coverage of traumatic events? We can make ourselves accountable and take ownership for the changes that need to happen in a society where patriarchal, misogynistic, sexist, racist, inequalities and capitalism is rife in our normal boundaries and acceptance.

I get the impression that accountability is misunderstood, it is not solely about liability. It is not something that can be dealt with or understood without communication, compassion, reflection, and critical thinking.

Everyone has something to gain by choosing to aspire to live in a world where accountability is leading to honesty, transparency, equality, and inspiring leadership. Everybody deserves the right to gain perspectives that are both subjective and objective. Everybody can choose to learn, grow, and play their part in disallowing history to repeat itself. Research often provides answers to social issues of injustice and opens forums for discussion to develop a different way of navigating social expectations. But this sometimes is uncomfortable and can be ignored by many because it isn’t the familiarity of answers or approaches, we have been programmed to hear. We restrict our thought processes, reducing interactions that challenges what we think we already know.

Reflecting on accountability is difficult. It may unearth awareness of personal undesirable characteristics and behaviours past and present. It may mirror traits of descriptions of perpetrators you are reading about, or it may reveal triggers from our own unhealed traumas. This can feel scary and overwhelming, with buried emotions bubbling to the surface and then we find we have nowhere to put them. Suddenly we have a challenge of how to act on them and trying to understand what impact this may have on our lives and those around us. So, we mask. We ignore. We relish in our ignorance. We display arrogant attitudes to conversations that threaten our idealisations and break down our own internal bias and taught behaviours.

As a society, we need to take accountability with how we educate and inspire others to be critical thinkers and take steps in our personal everyday situations to decrease the level of systematic inequalities that effect every single one of us- regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability.

Where does it start-with the media, with education sectors, with workplace environments, down the pub, round dinner tables, at conferences, on the internet?

I believe it starts with YOU. With us. We talk about society, communities, professionals, victims, abusers as a separate entity. They are US.

Taking ownership of mistakes brought to our attention through others subjective experience or our own reflections is about taking responsibility, setting boundaries with ourselves and others, to allow for learning and to actively choose a different way to navigate our responses and behaviours in the future. We can do this with compassion and understanding of self-worth and the worth of those around us. This takes courage and often a lot of time and acceptance of healing. The alternative is to internalise our mistakes, which loses agency and brings guilt, shame, and feelings of being less deserving. This is what leads to a focus of blame, entitlement, punishment, penalising people, whilst all the while creating a smoke screen and not identifying the actual core and impact of cycles of trauma.

This has detrimental effects in how we socially connect and separates us from evolving into enlightened versions of ourselves, deflecting from individuals taking accountability and appropriate actions for change. We have evolved to rely on guidance and leadership as humans, we follow the masses, we tend to navigate towards often superficial, misunderstood, or likeminded opinions if presented in established groups. If larger quantities of people are saying the same opinions or acting the same, then this creates feelings of security and familiarity, perceived as a positive aspect for individuals. Who doesn’t crave safety?

However, if this is the right approach to social connections and productive change, why are we still living in a world with limitations on how we handle situations to do with violence, sexual abuse, power, money, hate crime, poverty, inequality and willingly give our power to infrastructures built around deceit, control, toxicity, malevolence, misogyny, and mistrust?

Change will not happen if accountability is not held in regard.

Having conversations around accountability shouldn’t be mindless ponderings, it needs structure and momentum to explore what were the expectations of a situation, then describe what happened, leading to the understanding of the consequences of these two things and realising the differences- with the goal of an agreement of change. Perceptions change and evolve with conversations and acknowledgement around accountability, it is never a linear process. Conversations are therefore vital, but without context and comprehension of the conversations being exchanged, they become lost words that lead to deflection, aggravation, possibly further abuse and ignore the systemic issues. This results in no proactive, meaningful changes in our understanding of abuse and the roles we play in society enabling abuse to continue.

During conversations, to start to grasp at accountability, let’s think to ourselves Who am I and what is my role in this conversation? Who are others and what does this mean to me?

If accountability is the conversation, then taking ownership is taking the action required to see past the media storms illusions, to dissolve the conversations around blame and ignorant opinions of disregard to why a victim may only be coming forward to report sexual assault long after it happened. The timeline of when disclosures are made can be less to do with the event itself, but rather the knowing of the lack of accountability that will be placed on the perpetrators and society’s bias to victim blame and hold the victim accountable for the abuse they have received.

By expanding our mindsets and learning how to critically think about topics in the world, which isn’t easy and often very challenging. It is trying to unlearn habits and communication skills we have been coerced into learning our whole lives. Embedded ignorance often leads to apathy and a lack of empathy. If we are not the victims of abuse or assault, or haven’t had experience of certain traumas, we limit ourselves to sympathise from afar as it doesn’t impact our daily lives. But we should be holding ourselves accountable for feeling uncomfortable to discuss topics that are so detrimental to society. We should be holding ourselves accountable for accepting that abuse and inequality is normalised and makes us feel like there is nothing we can do about it. We should be holding ourselves accountable for minimising accounts of rape, exploitation, and abuse to just matters of consent or money, and fame. Weaponizing misogyny and abuse in forms of humour, newsworthy headlines and casual chats is not acceptable. It is not holding anyone accountable but feeding the narrative that abusive behaviour has always been around, will always be present and it’s just a part of life.

Perhaps, when we are next reading a news article regarding someone abusing someone else, because unfortunately there will be, or having a social or professional dialogue around abuse and the people involved directly and we think we have an opinion, we can take a moment to think again. We can ask ourselves questions. We can try to take a moment to understand our own accountability in society and the impressions they make on the people around us and others you are having these conversations with. Critically explore our thoughts and understanding of what is being, or rather not being presented to us as a society. Then we can start gravitating to making changes that will protect society, minimise victim blaming, misogyny, racism, classism, ableism and value human life and connections for the wonderful nature it should be celebrated for.

Photo by cottonbro studio:

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