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Creating a Community of Accountability in Rape Prevention

A community-based response, though, also requires intervention for the perpetrator or professional at risk of violation. As mentioned previously, colleges have to have a multi-department committee that takes reports from the community, works to identify students at risk and helps determine appropriate interventions. Institutes could have similar committee based intervention teams. Such a committee could be used to help those in fear of violating. However, due to the confidential and private nature of psychoanalytic work, the most important form of intervention is interpersonal, helping members operationalize risky behaviors, identify them in themselves and others, and learn appropriate forms of intervening for the psychoanalytic setting. However, psychoanalysis gets in deep trouble when it uses the confidential nature of the work as an excuse for special rules, codes of ethics, and/or processes of investigation and reporting. It may be a unique setting but the operations of power, privilege, and abuse are universal.
Additionally, as colleges have found, procedures need to be in place to accept and investigate anonymous reporting. This is a step my university was unwilling to take, but campuses with anonymous reporting tend to cultivate an atmosphere much less tolerant of violence. (It is important to note that many campuses, including mine, refused this form of reporting supposedly not out of fear of receiving too many unfounded accusations but out of a concern for being able to provide support for the reporting victim). Thus institutes and communities need to develop channels for anonymous reporting that are formal enough to be differentiated from gossip, but still accessible for those fearing retribution or those who see reporting as a form of professional suicide, which, unfortunately, it can be.
At this point one may be associating to other forms of witnessing and community intervention, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Committees, where bystanders – i.e. other community members, were made agentic witnesses, active members of an institutionalized system of accountability, or one might recall the origins of witnessing in women of color’s ideas of testimony functioning to (re)unite the cultural, political and personal/psychology (Beverley, 1992; Smith & Watson, 1998). But bystander intervention is not the same process as these ideas of witnessing nor is it similar to the psychoanalytic process of clinical witnessing.
First off, recent psychoanalytic translations of witnessing do not always make links to the cultural and political nor do they explore their impact on subjectivities (Gentile, 2013b). Certainly psychoanalytic ideas of witnessing have been linked to the creation of a similar third space, a “live” or “moral third” (Feldman & Laub, 1992; Benjamin, 2009; Boulanger, 2012; Gerson, 2009) and can provide a way of entering another’s subjectivity, a deep form of recognition and perspective (Benjamin, 1995, 2009). The bystander does enter into both the victim and perpetrator’s respective subjectivities, attempting to engage both if only in thought.
One could see bystander intervention as being close to Ullman’s (2006) use of Margalit’s (2002) idea of moral witnessing, where the witness reports on and documents “a reality of human suffering inflicted by evil policies” (p. 183). Analysts writing about witnessing often use the term “evil,” locating it squarely in the “other,” a third party, not-me, not-you, but “them” (Poland, 2000: Grand, 2002, 2003; Boulanger, 2012). As observed elsewhere (Gentile, 2013b), this can function to triangulate, pulling the patient close through a presumed identification of goodness and distance from evil, such that we-together are not-them, not bad. Bystander intervention demands evil and goodness be held together within the bystander. In psychoanalytic witnessing the violence is conceptualized as having happened outside the dyad (albeit potentially being re-enacted within it). The culpability of the analyst is typically missing in most accounts (see Gentile, 2013b). For the bystander this seeming goodness, neutrality or ethical relating has to be earned through the process of intervening and actively challenging the violation. Only by speaking up is the bystander differentiated from the perpetrator or victim. Thus, the bystander is motivated by “an obligation…to respond in a way that opens up rather than closes off the possibility of response by others” (Oliver, 2001, p. 201), an obligation to restore dignity (Ullman, 2006) to him/her self as well as to the victim and perpetrator. This response-ability and restoration of dignity require holding people and institutional bodies accountable for what may be shame-full actions.

Creating a Community of Accountability in Rape Prevention

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2018). Creating a Community of Accountability in Rape Prevention. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Nov 2018
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