Accountability: Why it is necessary for peace

“I’m sorry,” he says. And he looks it. He’s just punched the wall in a fit of anger again, but now he’s truly sorry. At least for today. It’s not the first time this has happened. It will probably not be the last. When is the right time to leave? There’s no chapter on this in the marriage books she’s read. Forgiveness. Submission. Consider what “flaws” in her may have prompted this response. Maybe she can retrace the “dance” of the morning and figure out how something she said or did could have avoided this ugly end. She’s dancing through eggshells, but she still wants to “put the pieces back together again.” He seems to as well. The problem is – they can’t. In this adult version of the famous nursery rhyme, “All the best counselors, and all of their books cannot put this marriage back together again.”

I know the argument that every marriage is “redeemable” and that “all things are possible.” However, there are some breeches of trust in a relationship that are so severe the relationship can never return to the one that existed in the beginning. If there is any hope of a restored relationship, it must become something new. This newness requires both sorrow AND accountability over a sustained period of time. If there is a formula for the renewal of a relationship after a severe breech of trust (i.e. infidelity, abuse, etc.), then it must come after a time of separation when the offending party is remorseful and has ongoing regular accountability.

Here at TAF we help women escape from some of the most violent circumstances imaginable. I have heard many stories that were difficult to hear – and yet women have lived them and are surviving them. They are desperate for someone to not only take away their pain, but to hear their pain. I’ve asked the same question repeatedly after hearing these stories, “What do you want to see happen?” After talking to women from not only the United States but all over the world, I continue to hear a common answer from all of them – accountability. Justice.

Accountability? I remember the first time a woman from Africa said this to me when discussing rebuilding her country after genocide. I thought, “OK, but what else?” I wanted to talk about the tangible relief needs like shelter, food, and medical care. Yet rarely (if ever) has this been among the first things a woman fleeing domestic violence or religious persecution mentions. Instead they frequently mention accountability and justice. They want their story to be believed, and they want someone to hold their abuser accountable. Why? Because without accountability there is no justice, and without justice there is no safety. Safety is as important to these women as food and shelter, and until some level of justice is served, most of them do not feel safe. The proverbial door to their home is merely closed but not locked. They are still vulnerable.

Our organization has been involved in the rebuilding of Sudan after the uprising in 2019, which followed decades of genocidal rule by President al-Bashir. As the new acting president of Sudan, President Hamduk, took power at the end of 2019, our recommendations for Sudan addressed not only the economy and laws about gender and the freedom of religion or belief. We asked for accountability for al-Bashir and his successor General “Hemeti.” The best plans of any leader who replaces a dictator will fail if trust is not established with the people, and the ultimate way to build trust between a new leader and the people is to prioritize accountability measures against previous warlords. Accountability measures are the ultimate olive branch of trust to a traumatized people, and trust is essential for stability to remain in a region.

Accountability is a word that needs a big voice in discussions about the solution to both domestic violence and societal violence. In domestic violence accountability looks like consequences and monitoring of behavior for an extended period of time. For those fleeing societal violence (i.e. gender-based or religiously-based violence) accountability looks like criminal justice in the form of prison time with financial penalties for the perpetrators of the crimes. Accountability measures are protective forms of justice that are both preventative and punitive. They are effective not only in relationships but also in foreign policy.

Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were held accountable for their abuses, and the world cheered. A measure of justice was served. Women all over the U.S. took a collective sigh of relief that maybe they were a bit safer now that the perpetrators of these crimes were being held accountable. Why? Most women will never encounter Weinstein or Cosby, so why did they care? Because a precedent was set. A message was sent to the world that you can’t get away with this. An act of justice to the perpetrator of a crime is an act of mercy to the victim. Without justice there is no mercy. Accountability is a word we need to hear more, and the world will be safer for it. This is why TAF is focusing our advocacy efforts this year on policy changes that provide greater accountability measures to protect women and children domestically as well as internationally. We look forward to sharing more details in the coming months. Stay tuned…

“It is not right to acquit the guilty or deny justice to the innocent.” – Proverbs 18:5