Restorative Justice & Cases of Sexual Abuse
Posted on: 5th, September 2023
Restorative Justice can be used for any crime where there’s an identifiable victim and offender, including sexual abuse crimes. It’s important to note that we only accept referrals to do with sexual offences when it’s the victim approaching us to engage with the service.
Sometimes those harmed seek Restorative Justice almost immediately after the offence has happened, whereas others begin the process years down the line. Sexual abuse cases are complex and sensitive, and can take years in conjunction with other partner agencies.
A number of our clients who have accessed Restorative Justice have been childhood victims of sexual offences. For some of them, the criminal justice system gave them what they needed at the time of the offence, but years later they’re looking for something different.
Lauren was sexually abused as a teenager, and later decided to pursue Restorative Justice to help her heal after having her own children. She also wanted to let her harmer know how his actions had affected her.
Lauren wrote a letter to her harmer; “I found writing a letter to him very empowering and healing… I’ve had the opportunity to say what I want to say to him and know that he has read and heard that”. The process of Restorative Justice prior to making contact with her harmer gave Lauren the opportunity to think about how she was actually feeling, what she wanted to say and how she wanted to be heard, “rather than sitting on those feelings”. She says, “It gave me the control back and the freedom to be able to say what I wanted to say”.
Wanting to regain control is often a reason why those who have experienced sexual abuse pursue Restorative Justice.
Lydia was sexually abused 13 years ago. The offenders were sentenced, but Lydia wanted the power and control back that she wasn’t given in the court proceedings. While she had the opportunity to have her Victim Personal Statement read at parole hearings, she felt that these were sanitised and that they "weren't exactly" her voice. Tired of "feeling like a victim", Lydia wanted to actively engage in a process, rather than have things happen to her. Restorative Justice gave her this opportunity. Following the meeting, Lydia said, “I've found my peace now".
Rosalynn also regained a sense of control through Restorative Justice. A victim of a violent sexual attack in her home, Rosalynn spent the years following her harmer’s sentencing seeking Restorative Justice. During a three-hour Restorative Justice meeting, Rosalynn finally got answers to the questions she’d been carrying for over a decade.
She chose to tell her harmer that she forgave him, as a way of finding freedom and “releasing something…it was a powerful moment”. When the meeting ended, Rosalynn left the room first, finding further power in leaving behind the man who had harmed her. “I was able to maintain my dignity, my own power and my own control, which he took away from me that night”.
Rosalynn says about Restorative Justice, “I would encourage anyone who wants to do it, to go forward and do it. It’s something every victim should have the opportunity to do”.
Through Restorative Justice, victims are given the opportunity to tell those who harmed them the impact of their actions. Lisa was sexually abused by her father as a teenager, and hadn’t seen him for 20 years. She met with her father for the opportunity to face him and question him over the abuse, including challenging his ‘memory’ of it. After the meeting was over, Lisa said: “It was like taking a big black cloud from over me and putting it over him.”
Restorative Justice can also help those harmed move on. In a non-recent sexual abuse case, two sisters were abused by their stepfather as children. They pursued Restorative Justice, and following the meeting one of the sisters said, “Now we can get on with our lives without the burden of what happened grinding us down. My only regret is not reporting it as soon as it happened. If only we had known that nothing bad would have happened.”
Is Restorative Justice right for you?
We work with cases where there is a clear victim, offender, and offence. If you feel as though Restorative Justice is the right step for you, please get in touch.
To find out more about what happens before, during and after a Restorative Justice meeting, please read our blog post. To read more case studies, for a variety of crimes, visit our case studies section.