What does it mean to be accountable? | HMA

What does it mean to be accountable?

Last week I was running a masterclass on Disrupting Family Violence, and the issue of accountability versus responsibility arose. I believe that in the DFV sector, we have embraced a legalistic view of accountability. We talk about holding users of violence accountable for their behaviour. I don’t have a problem with this, but accountability can be much more.

We can define accountability as being answerable for performing a task or duty. It refers to the obligation to explain and justify one’s actions or decisions. Accountability is often assigned by others, and it involves consequences for not meeting expectations. In the case of DFV, it is about not meeting the expectation of keeping others safe. In the context of men who use violence, accountability refers to accepting ownership of their actions and for the harm they have caused. As we know, users of violence often try to avoid accountability by denying or minimising their behaviour, blaming others or external factors, or shifting the focus away from their actions. 
Accountability for men who use violence may involve acknowledging the harm they have caused and taking concrete steps to repair it, such as participating in counselling or restorative justice programs. It may also involve facing legal consequences for their actions, such as criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

Accountability is essential to preventing and ending violence against women and other marginalised groups. When men who use violence are held accountable for their actions, it sends a message that such behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It also helps promote a culture of respect and equality, where all individuals are held accountable for their actions and impact on others. 
On the other hand, responsibility refers to the duties and obligations a person is expected to fulfil. It implies that someone has been entrusted with a task or duty and is expected to perform it to the best of their abilities. Responsibility can be voluntarily accepted or assigned by others. In DFV, we are responsible for the wellbeing of others.

Responsibility is about what a person is supposed to do, while accountability is about being answerable for what has been done or not done. In other words, accountability is the consequence of failing to meet one’s responsibilities. To be responsible, we need to be able to draw upon a range of skill sets to meet the demands of the moment. To be responsible, we need cognitive flexibility and a range of responses to meet the moment. I like the ACT notion that responsibility is the ‘ability to respond’.

The challenge is to get the balance right. If we lean too far into accountability without doing the work to ensure men have the capacity to act responsibly, then we are only doing half the task.

Where does your practice fit in balancing work on accountability and responsibility?

Published on Monday, July 10th, 2023, under Family violence, Offender work, What Ken thinks

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