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by Madeleine Holden 

In the MeToo era, there’s been endless public discussion about how people who commit gender violence should be held accountable. One idea? They should literally pay up.

Lucy, a 30-year-old designer in Chicago, was in an abusive relationship with a man we’ll call Dave for nine months until 2018 (all names have been changed for privacy). Two years after they’d separated and ceased contact, Dave got back in touch with Lucy. He’d put himself through rehab and was doing what she describes as an “amends tour.” In the interest of healing, she agreed to have a conversation with him about the harm he’d caused her. 

“One of the main questions on his end was, ‘What can I do to make it right?’ — in any kind of amends conversation, that seems to be a key component,” she explains. “I didn’t directly ask for money but in detailing the harms that were done I definitely outlined how much money it cost me to move apartments, break a lease and upheave my life, as well as the intense therapy I had to undergo for years for PTSD, some of which was covered by insurance and a lot of which was not.”

Dave didn’t respond well — for him, even the faintest allusion to financial amends was beyond the pale. “He was like, ‘Are you serious!? What, do you want my money!?’” Lucy continues. The “implication that it was super crass” to invoke payment for abuse made her immediately back off. “That was it — I didn’t push it.”

But today, Lucy finds Dave’s obstinance frustrating and puzzling. “We live in a capitalistic society so I don’t understand why financial reparations aren’t a base offer, especially if you can prove really clear-cut ways [the abuse has cost you],” she says. “If you’re really sorry for abusing someone and they break a lease to get away from you, is it not the bare minimum to pay for the security deposit?” 

How abusers can “make it right” with their victims is an age-old question that’s receiving new life in the #MeToo era, which has involved an unprecedented level of public discussion about how people who commit gender violence should be held accountable. It’s surprising, then, that the topic of financial amends is still so underexplored; after all, as Lucy illustrates, the financial toll on victims is significant and can include lost income, moving costs and the cost of therapy for issues like PTSD, depression, panic attacks, dissociation and flashbacks, and medical bills for complications related to assault, like bodily injury, pregnancy and STIs. That’s without even touching more indirect costs like stunted career progression and reputational damage. 

But there are signs that these attitudes are shifting, especially within progressive, feminist organizations and spaces. Colin Hagendorf, a trans woman and writer who ran sexual assault accountability processes with the now-defunct Support New York collective and who still consults other groups running similar restorative or transformative justice processes, says she’s hearing requests for financial amends come up “more and more lately.” “No one has ever put a dollar amount on their pain,” Hagendorf explains. “But like, ‘I need to go to therapy and I need this person to Venmo me $15 a week for my [health insurance] co-pays’ — that’s the kind of thing that I’ve seen in practice. I’ve never heard of anyone saying, ‘I was traumatized and couldn’t work for two months and I need you to pay my rent.’ I could see someone asking for that and I think that’s a reasonable thing to ask for, but I’ve never witnessed that.”

Financial compensation for gender violence isn’t a niche idea, and the legal system provides multiple options for survivors to seek it. Perhaps most obviously, sexual assault and intimate partner violence are crimes, and survivors who report these to the police are also able to pursuing victim compensation: Each state offers a program that allocates funds to survivors of sexual assault and other violent crimes. Federal law requires these programs to cover the cost of lost wages, medical costs and mental health counseling, and individual programs may cover other costs, such as moving expenses, crime-scene cleanup and attorney fees…


F. Kaskais Web Guru

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