What is Restorative Justice (RJ)?
"The term 'restorative justice' describes a wide range of different practices which bring together offenders, victims and other members of the community to consider the impact of criminal wrongdoing and how the offender should make amends (1)." Restorative justice ultimately conceptualizes 'justice' in a very different way than it is traditionally thought of and sought out through the criminal justice system. "Rather than justice as 'punishment,' restorative justice conceives of justice as 'repair' to the harm caused by crime and conflict (2)."
If you're hesitant about the concept of RJ as a whole, or how it works in practice, you aren't alone! It certainly isn't for everyone, but it could be another potential option for survivors who are looking for a different kind of justice. And RTS has always stood for empowering survivors to choose what works best for them in their own healing!
How Does Restorative Justice Work?
It's important to understand that RJ does come with potential risks - mainly the risk of retraumatization for the survivor. Thus, it is important that all parties are willing to participate in a meaningful way, and that they are evaluated and prepped independantly before any interaction. RJ can only happen if the perpetrator is prepared to take full responsibility, and the survivor wants to to face their perpetrator and has specific and attainable expectations of what they'd like to get from the encounter. It can be a long process, which often takes many months in the lead up to indirect or direct encounters, and if a direct meeting is ever to occur, it should only happen in a very controlled environment with specifically trained and experienced mediators who have been present along the way. The whole experience must be survivor centric, and there must be an ongoing process for the survivor afterwards as well, as even an overall positive meeting can be retraumatizing (1, 2, 3, 4).
Despite all of these potential barriers, studies have shown that, when done correctly, RJ can contribute to healing for the survivor as well as the perpetrator.
For survivors of sexual violence, it can be a source of validation and empowerment. It can also allow a space for the survivor to express the pain that's been inflicted on them, directly to the person who caused it (1, 3, 4).
Interestingly, for perpetrators, it also shows promise. "Restorative justice interventions can support the rehabilitation of sex offenders... they encourage a genuine acceptance of accountability, sincere expression of remorse, motivation to participate in therapeutic treatment and person journey or transformation (4)." RJ for offenders has been shown to be associated with reduced recidivism (2, 4). Even with this interesting side note, all reasons for pursuing restorative justice should be squarely focused on what will be most beneficial for the survivor!
Is RJ a Good Solution?
The answer is that it depends! In situations where the perpetrator is not willing to take responsibility, it is simply impossible. It's also important to note that restorative justice takes a lot of time and support, something which survivors may or may not have available to them. And even in situations where the perpetrator might be willing to accept responsibility for the harm they've caused, and restorative justice could be possible, no two people or situations are alike and, as we all already know, every survivor is different! Some survivors may be appalled at the very idea of it, which is understandable too. It is however, an option others might want to consider, and more options for survivors is never a bad thing!