I think that there is a big difference between forgiving our abusers (and anyone, by extension who does us harm) and holding people accountable for their actions. WE can forgive anyone at anytime and in so doing, take onto ourselves the burden of the effects wrongdoing. This does not stop us from requiring or demanding that a person be held accountable for their actions. What it does do is release us from the trap of needing something that we may never get from someone in order to make progress in our own healing. The sad truth is that many of us may never have the opportunity to hold our abusers accountable for their crimes, but that does not stop us from being able to forgive the crimes themselves and move forward in our healing.

That's the main point. I'll flesh it out below if you want to read through my thinking. But from this point on, I'm simply elaborating on what I said above. I cribbed some of this from a post I made in the spirituality forum, so I do use the term sin. If that's not a word you're comfortable with, subtitute the word crime, it still holds.

Personally I have come to recognize that forgivness is one of the most powerful tools available to the survivor. It can release the survivor from the vortex of past pains relived and give us a sense of empowerment.

One thing that really helped me understand the importance and power of forgiveness was to learn about the "debt" nature of sin. In brief, every time someone "wrongs" someone else, some kind of debt is created that must be paid off. For example, if a friend of ours breaks a lamp accidentally, the loss of the lamp is a form of debt. We are no longer in possession of something we previously had. Also if we are not given something to which we are entitled (nurturing, protection, an object which we have paid someone for) then a similar debt also exists.

If we ourselves are wronged we have two options, we can seek payment for that debt from someone else (by either going after the one who wronged us seeking restitution, or by passing along the burden to someone else), or we can assume the responsibility for the debt ourselves and pay for the damage out of our own resources. We can pay to replace the lamp out of our own savings; we can look within to find the resources and strength needed to nurture ourselves when that help will not come from those who were supposed to give it. Inevitably this second option is more painful, as it requires us to assume a burden that was not of our own creation, but it is the only way to kill off the legacy of any individual sin (or crime, if you prefer not to use the word sin).

But when we forgive someone, all that means is that we have assumed a debt that they are unwilling (or unable) to pay. This does not mean that the guilty party is absolved of their crime. There is still a need for justice and accountability that no amount of forgiving will wipe away. The problem is that, for many of us survivors, holding someone accountable for their crimes against us may be impossible. The perp may be dead, or we may have no way of ever finding or contacting that person. In this case you can still forgive the person who wronged you. Forgiveness and accountability are two separate actions.

Would I like to see every abuser strung up and held accoutable for their crimes? Of course. But I also accept that this fantasy has less to do with righting the wrongs they did than with soothing my own sense of injury. I may not have the power to see every criminal punished in this world, but I do have the power to set an example for all those who are victims.

I know this is likely to stir up some big emotions. I hope that if you disagree with me, you will tell me so. I freely admit I might be wrong, but I'll never know that unless someone teaches me. You are all my teachers.

"I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self...."
Healing D.H. Lawrence