Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Content warning: sexual assault
Trauma Recovery Coach, Jae Ortiz (they/them), is the former Director of Holistic Services at Leda Health, a company that provides healing after sexual harm. In this fireside chat, Jae shares their approach to transformative justice through art, creativity, and accountability.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
While working at Leda Health, Jae realized the importance of group-based healing and creating spaces for open conversations.
(Note: This fireside chat took place while Jae was at Leda Health in 2021. Jae currently specializes in trauma recovery at Heal with Jae.)
What’s the difference between transformative and restorative justice?
They have a lot of different meanings to different people. My understanding comes from an abolitionist lens.
Transformative justice is about using community approaches outside of traditional systems. Restorative justice is seeking to repair harm, while doing it within systems.
I’ve been applying what I’ve learned into my work at Leda Health.
What does holistic services at Leda Health look like?
Talk therapy is normally the traditional form of therapy; however, it’s not always helpful for everybody. Holistic services are helpful because people sometimes don’t have the words to talk about their experiences.
Leda Health offers resources for people who have experienced sexual harm. For my department, we offer virtual healing resources. We started out with two types of healing circles: explorative and creative.
The explorative healing circles meet twice a week for 8 weeks. There are two kinds of sessions. One of the sessions is run by a sex therapists who explore various topics such as ‘how to feel good in your body again,’ ‘how to cope,’ and ‘how to have healthy relationships and boundaries.’ The other sessions are with rotating facilitators who have backgrounds in art therapy, music, dance, poetry, yoga, and other creative forms.
The creative circles only meet once a week for 8 weeks. They focus on specific areas such as art and music.
Exploring healing in different forms and exposing people to different lenses of healing helps us find what works best for them.
What are your thoughts on healing through creative outlets (eg., art, music, dance)?
The majority of people working at Leda, even myself, are survivors. When I did my interview with the CEO of Leda Health, I brought up the idea of support groups. She said that this was a resource Leda was expanding, especially within the mental health realm.
Even from the start, we have been incorporating this approach of creativity because the healing we see in the traditional lenses didn’t work for us. We specifically tried to find sex positive therapists to run these groups because we want to hold space for the people who have these experiences.
We don’t want people to feel like they’re just victims. It’s valid to talk about these experiences, but we also want to expose people to other forms of healing.
We found creative outlets to be successful. For the creative circles, we do an art exhibit on zoom afterwards and it’s been powerful. Many people found themselves expressing the emotions they originally didn’t know how to express through a painting or any other art form. They could let go of this need to be perfect and have the freedom to express themselves in any shape or form. It helped us bring joy and play into the healing experience.
Leda Health also hosts accountability circles. What does holding an accountability circle entail?
Through my work, I’m learning a lot about transformative and restorative justice and I wanted to see if it was possible for us to hold a space for people who have caused sexual harm.
Almost 90% of people in the healing circles didn’t feel safe reporting and don’t want to go through the traditional justice system. They often ask, “If we don’t go through that system, what can we do?” There could be another way for people who caused harm to take accountability.
Accountability circles, which meet once a week for 16 weeks, came directly from the desire that we saw in the healing circles. They are led by a sex and art therapist who was trained in India and the US. She has worked with people who have experienced sexual harm and people who have caused sexual harm.
It’s not an excuse—it’s understanding and recognizing that sometimes hurt people do hurt people.
In the movement space, once you talk to people who caused harm, you’ll see that they have also experienced sexual harm themselves. It’s a really difficult intersection to think about.
Sometimes, the education we have around sexual harm is very gray. For example, coercion used to not be seen as a form of sexual harm even though it is. Some people who are causing harm don’t even realize they’re actively participating because they’ve experienced it differently.
Now we ask—how can we address this? If people are in a space where they can learn from the harm they’ve caused, they often end up learning and not continuing the cycle of harm.
How do you get people to sign up for accountability circles, especially when our traditional justice system promotes punishment as a consequence for causing harm? What does the onboarding process look like?
We’ve had people ask if they’re going to get in trouble for signing up for this group and it’s a valid concern.
Our goal is to help people who are ready to acknowledge the harm they caused. No one is forced to sign up—this is an option for people who recognize that they’ve caused harm and want to do better.
We’ve done a lot of coalition building with different organizations that are centered in restorative and transformative justice work. We posted our work through our socials and we had people organically come to us from these platforms. We’ve had over 100 applicants since we started.
The application is in depth. We ask people to report demographics, have people read information on interchange phases, and ask them to identify where they think they are in that process and why. We also ask them for their understanding of transformative justice. From there, we screen people who are aligned with the group, and we do a quick 15-minute call to ask additional questions and answer any questions.
We want to make sure that we’re the right resource for them. We have many confidentiality agreements and compliant forms in place. We do everything we can to make sure everything is confidential.
Essentially, people are excited and enthusiastic to see that something like accountability circles exist. It gives people hope.
How do we balance safety and support for transformative justice?
In an ideal society, if any harm happens, we build out support and structures. Pod Maps are a helpful resource created by the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. Their approach is building out your pod—you have a pod of people to talk with when harm has been caused to you or you've caused harm to someone else. Make sure they consented to being a part of your pod.
But what happens if harm happens to us? We take that community and accountability approach and we center humanity. We make space to talk and think about humanity, accountability, and consequences separately.
We have the tools to address harm when it's caused within your community, but what happens when harm is caused by someone outside your community?
Sometimes, we don’t have the structures in place to reduce immediate harm. If the traditional justice system is what keeps people safest, then it’s valid for a person to rely on this system.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from working with Leda Health?
Sexual harm is so common. Seeing people’s growth over time, I see that punitive solutions aren’t solutions. They don’t seem to do the same amount of work to spark transformative change. Right now, these circles are options outside of the current system that might not work for everybody. This is an option for people who do not want to report and want to find another outlet.
Also, many people who have caused sexual harm have experienced sexual harm. When people are given the space to talk openly about their experiences and how they’ve understood the world, that’s where a lot of the transformative change happens.
What is an example of a transformation you’ve seen from Leda Health’s services?
The incorporation of art in the space has been incredible. Toward the end of a previous group, we had some people share their art projects. We saw paintings, curated Spotify playlists, Pinterest boards, etc. You could hear and see some of the transformative change that was happening.
One person even said the following: “My close friends have come to me and said they’ve noticed a positive change in my behavior and personality. They’ve validated the work I’ve been doing and thanked me for wanting to change and for choosing the right path.”
Being able to see a participant’s closest circles point out the change has been a transformational experience for them and myself.
How can we support Leda Health and share resources?
If anyone has experienced sexual harm and needs resources, Leda Health has healing circles. If you know someone who has caused sexual harm or knows someone who knows someone, our accountability circles can be a space for them. Even though we may not be the best fit for everyone, we can still connect people to what they need.
What’s your future vision for the world?
I would love to see a world where everyone has access to all the resources they need to survive and to live without want (eg., stable jobs, health insurance, appropriate funds).
I also want to see access to education related to sexual harm because people sometimes don’t fully understand boundaries or the meaning behind sexual harm. They’ve only seen the most extreme portrayals of it, but it exists in such a spectrum.
Lastly, I envision a community accountability system and a world where we’re not afraid to talk to each other freely.
Get our free bite-sized climate action plans before you go!