Accountability Pod: Frequently Asked Questions
(Unless otherwise noted, Charlie wrote these answers with input and feedback from his accountability pod.)
Why now? Why didn’t you do this earlier?
When I first tried to address this in September 2016, I asked for a public accountability process because I have held personal accountability as one of my values for many years. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I was deep in my defensive reactions, and that I wasn’t ready to take that step. As a result, I lashed out in the comment thread and created more harm and confusion. After getting input from several people, I realized that I needed to step back and do my own personal work to address the root causes of why I did what I did. That was my main focus for about a year and a half.
After that, I needed to figure out what I could do to move forward. It took time to learn about accountability processes and practices, identify what skills I needed from my accountability pod members, and then recruit a pod. Once the pod formed, it took time for the pod to start working together, and there were many moving parts that the pod needed to address as part of this process. During this time, I continued my personal work and my pod was a big help in identifying areas to explore.
With all of those pieces, it took quite a while to get to the point of a public announcement. As my pod has often reminded me, it was better to do it slowly and make sure that we were doing it with care.
If you are interested in the specifics of my personal work, you can find a summary of it here.
Is this a PR stunt?
No. This is a real thing that I am doing to try to repair some of the damage and hurt that I caused.
I am doing this publicly because some of my actions took place online. I’ve heard it said that your apology needs to be as loud as your disrespect was. In this case, I take that to mean that my apology needs to be as public as my harm was.
Is this all marginalized people doing free emotional labor?
My relationship with my accountability pod members and consultants is a professional one, and I am compensating them for their time, expertise, and support. I also recognize that there are many ways to create a fair exchange with professionals, and that my social and professional privilege gives me the opportunity to pay my pod members.
My pod members and consultants hold a range of identities. Some are white and some are people of color. Some are cisgender and others are transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary. Some are heterosexual and others are queer. None of them are cisgender white men, largely because there aren’t many cis white men who do this work. (I looked for at least one, but the few I found weren’t available.) The dynamics that result from these various perspectives and relationships have informed our work together, and we discuss them with transparency and honesty.
Aida Manduley, one of the folks who’s been supporting my process, has a twitter thread on this topic and why they specifically choose to do work with White men who have caused harm, and it’s worth reading. In their own words for this specific FAQ they wanted to add:
“These processes are often put at the intersection of mixed messages—the people participating are expected to both do it for free because that makes the work somehow less biased and pure (which is not true, first of all) AND also these people are expected to not let themselves get taken advantage of and demand appropriate compensation and support. For a process like this, I encouraged Charlie to consider what resources he would be willing to invest / put on the line to make this work, and asked the people involved to think about what resources—not always monetary—they needed to be able to show up to do this work given how grueling and even triggering it can be, especially when it’s public. I also advised both Charlie and participants that their inclusion and involvement should not be coming primarily out of financial interest though it could certainly be a factor. Certainly, compensation can complicate relationships and create power dynamics, but so can lack of compensation. Rather than avoiding these issues, though, we aim to tackle them head on and move through them.”
Hold on, if people are being paid to do this work that means they’re biased and don’t actually care about people in the process who aren’t Charlie!
Note: this response is from my pod.
When considering whether we wanted to be a part of Charlie's accountability pod, we all focused on whether doing so would potentially create long-term healing for everyone - not just for Charlie, but also the individuals who were harmed, those affected by his actions, and the community as a whole. Charlie cannot engage in accountability if he's surrounded by people who do not challenge him to grow, ask him the hard questions, point out the places where we see him moving out of his desired ethics, ask him to own his actions & help him to learn to do better. So our role as pod members is to do the deeper work with Charlie of witnessing, challenging, and holding him accountable for making change. As part of that, we are individually and collectively committed to maximizing safety for everyone in this process, not just Charlie.
That’s also why the consultants discussed pod creation and the importance of having people with varied perspectives, investments, and rationales for being part of the team (e.g. people directly in his communities, people that are peers in other ways, people that don’t know him very well at all and have fresh eyes, people that have been following this for years, people who are angry at his harms and evasions, people who are closer to him, etc.) Additionally, we would refer to the previous question’s final paragraph about mixed messages and the double-bind of “if you’re doing this for free it’s bad, and if you’re doing it with money being exchanged that’s also bad!”
Here is part of a Twitter thread written by one of the consultants advising this process (Aida Manduley) that also tackles part of this question while discussing another process they’re involved in. Some notable quotes (adjusted for inclusion here):
- “BEING UNBIASED IS A MYTH. The way to mitigate bias though is to engage in reflexivity & account for varied perspectives.
- FEELINGS & CONNECTIONS ARE CRITICAL IN JUSTICE WORK. Boasting about ‘not being connected to [the harming party]’? That’s a weakness, NOT a strength. Connection itself isn’t a problem, it’s connection without reflexivity & structures to protect from undue influence.”
- Furthermore, dual relationships aren’t inherent conflicts of interest.
Why does it take so long to get a response to messages or comments?
One of the reasons I’m working with an accountability pod is to have their input and reflections on anything I write or say as I move through this process. There have been far too many times when I communicated from a place of defensiveness and reactivity, and I harmed folks. While I have done a lot of work to change those patterns, I want to make sure that they don’t sneak back into my communication.
When people send messages or leave comments, I write a first draft of a response. My pod reads it, offers feedback or comments, and I integrate their input into my writing. Sometimes, it takes more than one cycle, and it can take some time before we’re satisfied that a response is ready to post. We do the best we can to minimize the delay, and this is another place where it’s better to do it slowly than do it carelessly.
Aida specifically notes: "In as much as possible, we want writing to be Charlie's own words informed by our collective conversations, but not entirely REWRITTEN by us. Why? So that change can be more easily visible as his thinking and writing hopefully evolve—and that if change doesn't come well or fully, then Charlie can be challenged on that by the wider public. In our looking over Charlie's writing, we ask hard questions, point out slippery language or when he's falling into problematic patterns, and so on. That often leads to wording changes and longer conversations, and sometimes wording doesn't get changed very much at all. That’s part of the point. If we were rewriting all his work and/or not engaging him, then we would just become a PR team trying to sanitize his image or something completely antithetical to what we’re trying to do. The point here is that he’ll have to think through his actions and choices, and that he will learn and follow new patterns to minimize the harm he causes. Furthermore, he won’t have a pod forever and it’s critical he can learn how to do many of these things himself, even if he does need help later on as well (as we all eventually do).”
How are the people you harmed being helped by this process?
One of the lenses that my pod is bringing to this process is transformative justice, which can be described as: “a process where all individuals affected by an injustice are given the opportunity to address and repair the harm. Those affected consider and recount how an act has affected them and what can be done to repair the harm. The perpetrator is then held accountable to the individual by way of restitution.” (from the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault).
There are many different people who I hurt or who were impacted by my actions. Some of them were people I had personal or sexual relationships with. Some of them were professional colleagues or business partners. Some of them were people who I asked for support. Some of them were folks who watched things unfold on social media. Some of them were people who offered support to those who I harmed directly. And there were people who were in more than one of these groups.
My actions also affected and harmed several communities and organizations. Some of them were Facebook groups, some of them were conferences or event organizers, some of them were sexuality communities or organizations that had hosted workshops with me. I know that there were plenty of emails and discussions about how to respond, whether to continue working with me, and what impact my behavior might have on them. I used up a lot of bandwidth that could have gone to far more useful things.
One of the ways that I was hurtful and abusive was that I avoided acknowledging or taking responsibility for my actions, which caused more harm. I tried to control what people heard or said about me by imposing my story on the situation and by explaining it away. I verbally lashed out at some of the people who tried to call me in and/or support me. And I refused to see what I was doing because I was so invested in the story that I was telling myself. These were some of the ways that I tried to control the situation and the people involved in it, and it was abusive. One purpose of this process is to create a structure to avoid those dynamics and support authentic change and healing.
Will Charlie be rehabilitated by the end of this process?
Note: this response is from my pod.
Rehabilitation implies restoring or returning to an original state. Our goal is to help transform the way in which Charlie reacts, helping him develop the skill set to examine his behavior and interactions independently. The work he has done, and continues to do, has made him more aware of the impact of his behaviors, recognizing his privilege and the power differentials it creates, engaging in mindfulness, adhering to better consent practices and taking responsibility in a positive way. We are in the process of supporting him in doing better, integrating these skills into all of his interactions and daily life.
This isn’t a “wham, bam, now we’re done” kind of process either. None of us are finished projects: we are forever growing, changing, evolving. Even when the formal process wraps up, Charlie and his communities will still have work to do. We do NOT want people to see this as a process of “absolving Charlie from past sins” or inoculating him against ever causing future harm. We DO want this to be a way of addressing past harms and better setting him, and the communities he’s a part of, up for better interactions and set the stage for further accountability work as needed. If or when Charlie causes harm again, we hope this provides evidence of what work has been done thus far so that it can be built on, returned to, critiqued, and/or reimagined.
When does this process end?
I don’t have a definitive answer because the process will be shaped by the reports and experiences of the people who I have harmed. The report collection form will be open for eight weeks (ending August 16, 2019), after which, the pod will begin to analyze the information collected and use it to decide how to proceed.
I’m relying on my pod to tell me when they think this process is complete, and we will formally announce that when we get there. But ultimately, it will take as long as it takes. At the same time, I am committed to continuing my personal work separate from this accountability process.
What happens if/when this wraps up and Charlie causes harm again?
As part of the lead up to the public announcement, my pod helped me develop a consent policy, which is posted on my website, as well as on Medium. It includes contact information for Rachel Drake, one of my pod members and Deputy Director of the Consent Academy, a Seattle-based 501c3 non-profit, which she helped found in 2016. Rachel will be my accountability point person and will be available to receive reports of any harms I cause in the future. If I need to find a different point person in the future, I will edit my website accordingly.
What's the role of the people who Charlie has harmed directly or indirectly?
There are two different questions here, so I want to answer them separately.
Prior to the public announcement, this process was not centered on supporting the people who I harmed, although it has been a big piece of what we have been integrating into the pod’s work. As a group, we have focused on the learning and work that I needed to do, and on creating a process that could support the people I harmed.
As part of that, my pod reached out to the people who I am aware of having harmed in order to liaise with them. Some of those people connected with pod members to talk about their experiences and to give their feedback on the process, which has informed our statements and actions. The people who I harmed were given the opportunity to read the almost-final version of the public documents before the announcement, and we sent them the link to the report collection form before the launch.
Moving forward, one of the purposes of the report collection form is to offer an opportunity for the people who I harmed to name what they want or need from me. While I want to be proactive about taking steps towards resolution (and not fall into the trap of asking the people who I harmed to do the emotional labor of telling me what I need to do), I also want to listen to them when they tell me what they want or need. My pod will support and help me find my path forward.
Also, nobody is under any obligation to be part of this process. The invitation to participate is not an expectation or a demand. If anyone feels that it would support their healing, this process and the support of my pod are available. If anyone decides that it would not be useful for them to do it, I fully support them prioritizing their self-care over my process.
This seems messy…
It is messy. It’s messy because people are complicated. It’s messy because I hurt people. It’s messy because it’s real. It’s messy because there are many different people involved, with different and individual needs. And one of my hopes is that my pod can support this accountability process and help me repair as much of the damage that I caused as possible.
This seems too organized…
My pod and I worked on these documents and this process for several months. I wrote the first drafts and then we edited and refined them. I chose pod members who could be thoughtful about identifying the most likely concerns and questions, so we could address as many as possible in advance. We had plenty of conversations about what to include because we wanted to create as much safety and agency for everyone involved.
So if it seems organized, that’s because it is. As the previous question says, it’s a messy situation and it needed a thoughtful, organized response.
Aida also adds: “Part of the reason we want to be organized and public, beyond so that it encourages people’s participation and doesn’t minimize the harms Charlie caused, is because we want to model options for addressing harm that don’t involve the state or prisons. Doing it in a way that’s easy to follow makes it easier for people to provide feedback and critique, and if all of us are investing resources in creating these roadmaps and examples, we want to share those so people don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel!”
Why don't you want us to praise Charlie for doing this?
This is the time to center the people who I harmed. If you publicly praise me, you take the focus off of what I did, who I hurt, and how I harmed them. Doing that undermines the work that my pod and I have done to create this process.
This is especially relevant because one of the ways that I hurt people was to focus on how I was feeling. It was a strategy for keeping attention off of my actions and the resulting harm, and it’s something that far too many men (especially cisgender white men) often do to avoid looking at the impact of our behavior. Whether it’s intended to or not, praising me mirrors and reinforces that pattern. I can easily imagine that for some of the people who I hurt, it would erode any trust they have in this process. So it would help make things work better for everyone if you did not publicly praise or defend me.
Similarly, I don’t want private praise, either. One of the habits that my pod is helping me overcome is my tendency to make things all about me. That was one of the patterns that led to my controlling and abusive behavior in the first place, and it continues to be a challenge to not slide back into that habit. Praise can easily reinforce the patterns that I am working hard to change, so please refrain from it. The most useful support you can offer is to challenge me to stop harming others, encourage me to stick with this work, and express your gratitude for the efforts of the people who I harmed who have been generous in their participation in this process. (Many thanks to the person who shared this language with my pod.)
So how DO you want or expect us to interact with this entire thing?
If you are someone who I harmed or who was affected by my actions and you would find it useful, you are welcome to share your experiences with my pod through the report collection form or by emailing my pod.
Otherwise, I ask that you read the online discussion with compassion for the people who I hurt and curiosity about the process. You can bear witness to the public portion of this work, you can bring curiosity to your own feelings and reactions to what you read or hear, and you can support those who I harmed by allowing their experiences and their needs to be the priority.
Isn’t Charlie just asking the people he harmed to tell him how to fix it over and over? That seems lazy and disingenuous, especially because many have already told him what they need from him.
Note: this response is from Aida Manduley
Oh yes—many people have already told Charlie what they need from him. We have a lot of that information and keep referring him back to it, especially if it feels he’s losing the focus of it. This is an area where we keep pushing and centering the needs that have been stated already, while also asking Charlie to dig deeper (using both his intellect and empathy) via pointed questions and more general restorative and transformative justice sample questions (e.g. “what obligations to the harmed party and the community did you create when you caused XYZ harm?”). Part of the goal from the story collection form is to gather the information we don’t already have, and to give people a chance to be more explicit / review their requests in a way that doesn’t have to involve them directly interacting with Charlie.
One of the things I’m personally really aware of is how we want to move away from a "just TELL ME what I did wrong and how to fix it" dynamic. While it’s super important and useful to incorporate the needs and narratives of people who’ve been harmed, it’s important to do work outside and beyond that. It’s very common to see someone who has harmed throwing up their arms and just waiting to be told how to fix it, like they’re somehow prevented from acting without explicit direction and management from the people they harmed. That also implicitly says “if I don’t change, it’s because the people I hurt didn’t help me change, and they didn’t say what they needed.” That’s trash, frankly. If we make a quick racial analogy for a second, there is some really powerful writing about how folks of color (and especially Black and Indigenous people) shouldn't be the ones figuring out how to dismantle White supremacy, and how since White people built it, it's their responsibility to figure out dismantling it. Obviously that's oversimplified and racial politics are more complex, but I think it brings up a good point, y'know? That's why we’ve been pushing Charlie to consider a lot of key restorative and transformative justice questions such as: Who has been harmed? What are their needs? If you don't know their needs directly, what do you think/gather/assume they might be and what's informing these thoughts? What obligations were created and who is responsible for meeting them? Who has a stake in the situation? What are the causes for this situation and what larger factors allowed/encouraged this to happen? What would I do differently if I knew then what I know now?
I've indeed seen a pattern, to some extent, of Charlie falling into some of the above issues. Framed in the kindest, most hopeful way, that could be a demonstration of: pause, genuinely being stumped and asking for help or needing guidance, desire to hear from people who may know more, being open to feedback, not wanting to cause further harm by making a Wrong Move. Framed in a more skeptical way, that could be a demonstration of: quiet ambivalence and resistance, lack of deep engagement with the process and its questions, throwing arms up and waiting to be told what to do, passive engagement, expecting others to do the work and serve it.
In this process, I invite us all to consider how each of those possible reactions and rationales may be presenting themselves in the process, even if unconsciously, and work to address them.
Can I share this information?
Yes. You are welcome to share the link to the Medium account or any of the individual posts on Medium, as well as my announcement on Facebook. However, given the potentially triggering nature of this situation, please get the consent of the recipient before sending them the links or give them a content/trigger warning.
Where can we find more information?
- My public statement and my pod’s public statement (posted on Medium and on Facebook)
- My accountability pod & consultants (posted on Medium)
- A summary of the personal work I’ve been doing (posted on Medium)
- My consent policy (posted on Medium)
- The report collection form
- Confidential pod contact email [email@example.com] (The pod consultants and I do not have access to these messages)
- Medium account for our posts (managed by the pod)
- My original Facebook post from September 2016, in which I excused and tried to justify my abusive behavior, and tried to control the narrative around my actions. (Trigger warning: I was solidly in my defensive reactions when I wrote it and throughout the comment thread.)
- Resources: Relieving Anxiety & Acute Trauma Response (Resource list created by Rachel Drake)
Please note that while there are blog posts and other pieces written by various people about my actions, I am not linking to them here because I don’t want to non-consensually pull those folks back into this situation. These links are only part of the story, and I am not intending to present them as the whole puzzle or as an unbiased/complete list.
If anyone who has written about this would like to be included in this list, you are welcome to send the link(s) to my pod here (firstname.lastname@example.org). In order to ensure consent, please only share links to posts that you have written yourself.
What if I have more questions?
You can contact my pod here (email@example.com). Emailing them will ensure transparency and accountability. They will determine the best way to respond, which might be an email reply from the pod, an addition to the FAQ, a private message from me, or something else.