Sometimes we are lucky enough to see steps toward real progress or justice accomplished.
An abuser gets held accountable.
An organization is forced to change.
These moments can take the form of legal decisions, administrative changes, or even public acknowledgements.
It can be extremely validating when these moments occur. Justice and accountability are important.
However: it’s really important to not confuse public justice or accountability with personal healing.
The two can be related— justice and accountability can be helpful in some peoples’ healing journeys.
But it’s also the case that sometimes people assume justice or public accountability will result in comprehensive closure for their traumatic wounds.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
We need to remember that when you’ve been abused or traumatized, the damage done has been to your nervous system. Your brain and body have been wounded, and are trying to heal.
Holding perpetrators accountable is overwhelmingly important from a public health and safety perspective— but your brain and body STILL need to do what they need to do to heal.
Justice is important…but it doesn’t guarantee personal healing.
Moreover, sometimes survivors are called upon to play a role in ensuring public accountability and justice for perpetrators and organizations…which often means sharing their stories and experiences, sometimes very publicly.
Often this happens before those survivors are quite ready to be sharing those stories—let alone publicly.
As a result, it can be the case that, even when the cause of justice or accountability is moved forward…the survivors who contributed to those efforts are left retraumatized, triggered, and otherwise suffering on a personal level.
Sometimes ensuring consequences for perpetrators has the effect of leaving survivors in pain.
The public usually assumes that survivors must be happy or satisfied that the perpetrators are facing consequences…and, of course, often they are.
But what the public does not see is that this accountability very often comes at a price for survivors who have shared their stories in very public ways.
Then…the news cycle moves on.
And survivors who have risked and invested a great deal in sharing their experiences and coping with everything that has been stirred up are sometimes left feeling very alone.
The public often assumes that justice represents “closure” for survivors…and, yes, seeing perpetrators and organizations held responsible for their behavior and policies can contribute to survivors’ process of healing.
But public consequences rarely complete a survivor’s process.
All of which is to say: we need to be realistic about how healing happens, especially when a trauma has been part of a public narrative.
We need to have no illusions about public accountability being any kind of “magic bullet” that heals our PTSD surrounding these events.
And we need to be VERY realistic about the emotional consequences of publicly sharing our stories— especially in a world where social media encourages “hot takes” and polarized judgments.
I’m overwhelmingly glad and grateful survivors have the opportunity to bring their perpetrators to justice.
But it is essential that we be mindful and respectful of the real world costs involved…and that we continue to support survivors even after the news cycle has moved on.
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