What is accountability?

This is a site that’s devoted to exploring what accountability can mean, particularly in work against sexual and partner violence.

Accountability might be translated with “Rechenschaftspflicht” or “Verantwortungsübernahme” in German, and with “Solidarität” (solidarity) when used in this political context.  It is use to describe a specific kind of responsibility, most often :

Responsibility of a person who has caused harm TO the those who were harmed

This word appears in the U.S. anti- violence movement often when discussing the accountability of perpetrators of sexual assault and communities who condone assault  TO  survivors and communities affected by assault.

In this understanding, the communities around both the survivor and perpetrator can be both causing and receiving harm, sometimes at the same time.  Therefore, communities don’t occupy one simple position, but may have been colluding with and also impacted by violence happening within them.

In this context, accountability of someone who’s caused harm could include :

  • stopping current actions & committing to make change
  • making reparation for the harm that’s been done : apology, recognition, action

see: Generation Five, Towards Transformative Justice


Responsibility of those with power and privilege TO those oppressed by that power and privilege

The word sometimes shows up when newspapers talk, for instance, about Obama and the accountability he has to “the American people,” or BP and its accountability to the people of the Gulf Coast.  Here, accountability means the responsibility that someone has to those who have given him/her power.

In anti-racism movements in the U.S., the word usually appears in discussion of the accountability of white people to people of color, or in anti-violence movements, the accountability of men’s groups to women’s and / or survivor groups.

A core belief informing accountability is that the group most affected by an oppression (women & sexism, people of color & racism, differently-abled people & ableism, and so on) should be at the center of and in the leadership, if there is leadership, of any movement to combat that oppression.

Allies, or people in positions of power (for instance, white people in relation to racism, able-bodied persons in relation to ableism, etc.), can use their privilege and power to advance an anti-oppression struggle.  But their work needs to be accountable to, or in constant relationship / feedback / response to, the needs of members of oppressed groups.

Some other words associated with accountability are : trust, dependability, loyalty, solidarity, support.

see: European Dissent, “Accountability and White Anti-Racist Organizing”, Tim Wise, our “What is an Ally?” Resources page