Restorative justice and sexual violence

Last week I attended Restorative Gloucestershire's excellent annual conference. Not only was it great to hear about their work and meet some of their very impressive volunteers, but it was also an opportunity to hear Rosalyn Boyce speak.

For those of you who don't know Rosalyn's story, I'm not going to be able to do it justice and you can read it in full here. But in summary she was raped by a stranger in her home and 16 years later, after a lengthy battle to convince somebody to take on the case, met her attacker in a restorative justice conference. She spoke for an hour last week and you could have heard a pin drop throughout.

While Rosalyn’s story is certainly unusual, it’s not unique. Last week a conference in Dublin discussed the issue, with Dr Marie Keenan leading calls for restorative justice to be made available to victims of sexual violence. To coincide with this Rachel, who was violently sexually assaulted by a stranger, was interviewed on Irish radio. She described her experience of restorative justice as “amazing and profound and exactly what I wanted”.

On the same day the latest edition of our magazine, Resolution, was published. (If you’re a member of the RJC you can download it here. If you’re not, you can join us here). It contains Emma’s story. Emma was abducted and raped by her former partner and later met him through restorative justice. Reflecting on the restorative justice conference, she said: “In the days and weeks afterwards, it was as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

Three positive examples of the use of restorative justice in cases of serious sexual crime is not the same as a robust evidence base. And while there is some promising evidence, it's very limited. Nonetheless, what the experiences of these three women do show is that for some victims of serious sexual crime, restorative justice does work. Practitioners – and maybe more importantly agencies and institutions – need to remember this.

So what does this mean in practice? Restorative justice won’t be right for every victim of a serious sexual crime. And if a practitioner is going to take on this sort of case they need to have sufficient training, experience and support to do so. The victim has to be entirely comfortable with the process and receive the right support both before the conference and in the aftermath, as does the offender. The process needs to be continually risk assessed to ensure it’s safe for everyone involved.

However, where these conditions are met and the victim wants to take part, then we want to see more victims of sexual crime getting access to restorative justice. Because we know from Rosalyn, Rachel and Emma, among many others, that it can make a huge difference, helping victims to put the crime behind them and move on with their lives.

Emma appeared on Woman's Hour on Wednesday 23 September and you can listen again here.