Restorative justice – a victim’s choice?

Yesterday, a young woman called Ione Wells took the courageous step of waiving her anonymity to publish an open letter to the man who sexually assaulted her. The letter powerfully and eloquently expresses her outrage at the attack and confronts the anonymous offender with questions about the effect of his actions.

This is yet another demonstration of the fact that victims of crime often have something that they want to say to their offender. Like Ione, many have questions that they want to ask. Others simply want to tell them what impact the crime has had on them.

Restorative justice can be an opportunity to do this. By giving victims a chance to meet their offender face to face it can enable them to put the crime behind them and move on with their lives. They can ask questions and may get an apology.

There is, however, still a great deal of uncertainty around the use of restorative justice in cases involving sexual offences. There should be a certain degree of caution - the potential for revictimisation can be significant and the power dynamics of gendered violence need to be understood. It is, by no means, the right option for everyone.

But in the end, surely the choice as to whether restorative justice might help them should be, wherever possible, in the hands of the victim? They must be supported to make an informed choice, and it's essential that this support comes from trained and experienced practitioners, but we know from the victims themselves that restorative justice can work for some victims of sexual assault, even in cases of rape.

Given this, shouldn't all victims, whatever the crime, have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether restorative justice could help them?