A restorative lens on violence
Dec 27, 2011
....In our 14 years of working together on RJ cases involving violence, we have found that maintaining a focus on RJ as a justice process is fundamental in that it holds central the priorities of reparation of harm, accountability, safety and voice. Justice in this context is not synonymous with the criminal justice system; rather, justice as something people seek in societies and also as individuals on a daily basis, whether within families, workplaces or interactions within communities.
This focus on justice leads us also to distinguish RJ processes, especially with respect to peoples’ experiences of violence, as something different from mediation work within conflict resolution. While conflict and violence certainly may be linked in a given situation, it is important to recognize the differences between the two and ensure that RJ interventions are sensitive to this distinction.
A justice conversation about repairing harm in the wake of violence is a very different starting place than a conversation about resolving a conflict. For a victim’s experience of violence to be re-cast as a ‘dispute’ or ‘conflict’ misrepresents and diminishes those experiences and obscures the offender’s responsibility for his/her violent actions. It implies a joint responsibility for the acts of violence and also joint responsibility for reparation and future safety. Coates and Wade note that, while violence is a social action in that it takes place in a relationship of at least two individuals, it is also a unilateral action; that is, it “entails actions by one individual against the will and well-being of another.”1 It is perhaps the social aspect of violence that leads to the mistaken conclusion that violence is an expression of conflict.
Many writers and researchers have expressed the unique nature of violence and the need to be careful and accurate with language. Attempting to frame violent experiences in a neutral way, by using words like ‘incident’, ‘accident’, or ‘misunderstanding’ inevitably renders the violence invisible and risks normalizing its occurrence.
....If RJ processes where violence has occurred are framed as conflict resolution processes, the focus of the conversation risks being on resolving the conflict preceding the violence; with victims’ voices and their stories about the violence and its impacts easily becoming muted or subsumed. A further risk is that victims may mistakenly come to see a conflict as the cause of the violence and believe they are safe from future violence once the conflict is resolved. This may not be the case, given the many and complex reasons behind someone’s use of violence.
If the RJ version of justice starts with victim needs, then RJ practitioners must be sensitive to what those needs might be. A frequent need expressed by victims is for vindication; this need cannot be addressed meaningfully by reframing their experience as a conflict.