Is restorative justice possible in cases of sexual violence?
Dec 20, 2011
....In early 2010 a restorative justice conference was held which involved a woman called Lucy – the name she has chosen to be known by in this research. Lucy is an adult survivor of rape and other forms of sexual abuse which took place several decades ago. The offender was a male family member who was also a young person at the time.
We investigated the experiences and expectations of four of the conference participants in order to explore the conference process, its outcomes and to understand any lessons which could be learnt from this experience for other victim-survivors. We interviewed Lucy, her Rape Crisis counsellor, the conference facilitator and the senior police officer involved in the case. The offender was invited, but declined, to participate.
....What lessons can we learn from this case study?
Preparation is key
For approximately three months before the conference, Lucy met with her counsellor on a weekly basis to prepare. The counsellor says: ‘it was all about looking at every eventuality; what was the worst case scenario, what was the best case scenario, how to prepare her ... we discussed power dynamics, we discussed all the potential things that she could feel in that room with him, so that she had considered everything.’ Both Lucy and her counsellor saw this preparation as absolutely essential.
Support for victim-survivor
The support of the Rape Crisis counsellor was crucial. As well as preparing Lucy, she went into the conference ‘very prepared that if I thought there was going to be a power shift that we would address that’. So, she says, it is essential that ‘you’ve got the right people in there who are looking for the right things to protect the victim’. Similarly, Lucy said that support was vital and that ‘someone like [the counsellor] would be the ideal. She was stunning.’
Never under-estimate the strength of victim-survivors
The counsellor recognises that restorative justice can be ‘fraught with dangers’ in these situations because of the ‘power dynamics’. However, she continued that: ‘I think we can’t underestimate the power of the women or the men that we work within in these situations and ... that’s why I think with the proper preparations and proper risk assessment that giving somebody an opportunity to help themselves can only be a positive thing’. Similarly, the senior police officer we interviewed felt that people should be given the option of restorative justice and that failing to do so was patronising and implied that individuals were ‘not able to make a rational choice’.