The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Sexual Abuse
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The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Sexual Abuse

Hope through Trauma

Judah Oudshoorn, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Michelle Jackett

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eBook - ePub

The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Sexual Abuse

Hope through Trauma

Judah Oudshoorn, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Michelle Jackett

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About This Book

Restorative justice is gaining acceptance for addressing harm and crime. Interventions have been developed for a wide range of wrongdoing. This book considers the use of restorative justice in response to sexual abuse. Rather than a blueprint or detailing a specific set of programs, it is more about mapping possibilities. It allows people to carefully consider its use in responding to violent crimes such as sexual abuse.Criminal justice approaches tend to sideline and re-traumatize victims, and punish offenders to the detriment of accountability. Alternatively, restorative justice centers on healing for victims, while holding offenders meaningfully accountable. Criminal justice responses tend to individualize the problem, and catch marginalized communities, such as ethnic minorities, within its net. Restorative justice recognizes that sexual abuse is a form of gender-based violence.Community-based practices are needed, sometimes in conjunction with, and sometimes to counteract, traditional criminal justice responses. This book describes impacts of sexual abuse, and explanations for sexual offending, demonstrating how restorative justice can create hope through trauma.

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Information

Publisher
Good Books
Year
2015
ISBN
9781680991161
1
Introduction
A girl is sexually abused by her stepfather.
How can we help?
A man is arrested for soliciting sex from a minor. What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
A teenage boy is sexually assaulted by his youth pastor. How can a faith community respond?
An indigenous community is devastated by sexual abuse. How does it heal?
This book considers the use of restorative justice in response to sexual abuse. How might such interventions address the above situations?
Restorative justice is gaining increasing acceptance for addressing harm and crime. Interventions have been developed for a wide range of wrongdoing. Rather than a blueprint or a specific set of programs, restorative justice is about mapping possibilities. Because it is not prescriptive, it gives communities more flexibility, more power in responding to violent crimes like sexual abuse. Restorative justice is concerned with the disproportionate attention given to offenders, often at the expense of victims; it seeks to balance concerns for both those who have been harmed and those who have caused harm.
This book asks the following questions:
1. What can a restorative justice approach offer to people who are victims of sexual abuse, people who have offended sexually, and communities impacted by sexual violence?
2. How does restorative justice complement or differ from what is already being done by the therapeutic and legal communities?
3. How can we create communities where victims are supported, offenders are accountable, and all can live safely?
4. What would it mean, philosophically and practically, to shift some justice resources from enforcement, courts, and prisons toward prevention and the needs of the people who have been harmed?
5. How can restorative justice address structural violence—such as patriarchy, racism, and colonialism—when responding to sexual abuse?
What is this book about?
This book is not about making excuses for offenders. Sexual abuse is wrong. When a person chooses to sexually offend against another, he or she causes tremendous harm not only to direct victims but also to others in the community. Regardless of offenders’ own histories—which often include hurt and/or trauma—they need to be accountable for their choices. Restorative justice does not minimize harm, make excuses, or help offenders avoid consequences. Sometimes people equate restorative justice with forgiveness and/or reconciliation. These are not priorities of restorative justice, unless desired by those harmed. Restorative justice takes a stand against violence, for community safety.
This book is about moving victim needs to the forefront. Most of the financial and human resources of criminal justice machinery are spent on offenders. From policing to courts to prisons, North America dispenses billions of dollars on those who have caused criminal harm. This is often at the expense of meeting the needs of victims. Conversely, restorative justice starts by asking, “Who has been hurt?” followed by “What do they need?” This fundamentally moves victim needs to the forefront. The majority of victims do not disclose their experiences of sexual abuse. North America needs a justice framework that starts by believing victims. Many are afraid of being doubted, ridiculed, and/or blamed. Restorative justice practices should start by believing victims, establishing safety for them, and prioritizing their healing.
This book is not a soft- or a tough-on-crime approach. Some assume that restorative justice allows people to take the easy way out, to avoid jail time or punishment. Others argue that it is actually more demanding than conventional punishment. In reality, restorative justice is multi-faceted. It considers how to repair harm when needs are different, or even in opposition to each other. Consider the predicament: many people in a society want those who have offended sexually to suffer for their wrongdoing, while others who have been hurt simply want acknowledgement and changed behavior from an offender. Soft-on-crime (“hug-a-thug”) tends to minimize harm, while tough-on-crime (“lock ‘em up and throw away the key” or “tail ’em, nail ’em, jail ’em”) minimizes real accountability. Both approaches sideline the complex needs of victims.
That being said, prison and restorative justice are not mutually exclusive. Prisons can be an important part of community safety—at least temporarily. When a person is unsafe to him- or herself or others, incapacitation is vital. Yet longer sentences or punishment for punishment’s sake (or political expediency) often do not make our communities safer, nor do they always satisfy victims. Although some prison rehabilitative programs have proven effective for offenders, the overuse of imprisonment alone has often made communities less safe. For victims, arrest and conviction can provide some vindication, but the process itself is often re-traumatizing and does not go far enough to meet their needs.
This book is smart on crime and/or harm. Restorative justice is comprehensive, asking intelligent questions of those affected by harm. Healthy restorative justice practices consider victim trauma and offender accountability as well community safety. “Smart on crime” means interventions must also be geared toward preventing future harms. Smart on crime means not being silent about sexual abuse.
This book acknowledges sexual abuse as a form of gender-based violence. While both men and women perpetrate violence, the majority of sexual offenders are men. This book is not anti-men, nor does it suggest that men are prone to being rapists. However, sexual abuse is predominately a male-perpetuated issue. The restorative justice framework described in this book acknowledges that sexual abuse is a form of gender-based violence. While some women also perpetrate sexual abuse—and this should not be forgotten, especially for their victims—sexual abuse will not be eradicated until more men stand up to challenge the forms of masculinity that perpetuate it. As authors, we are indebted to many scholars and practitioners concerned with gender issues who have championed, often at great personal cost, an end to gender-based violence.
This book acknowledges that racism and colonialism in North American criminal justice systems have been very harmful toward particular people groups, namely African American, Latino, and indigenous peoples. Restorative justice practices must be careful not to ignore or perpetuate racial inequality. Criminal justice systems have been used as a tool by white men to maintain power over other races: to marginalize and colonize. White supremacy needs to be challenged. In the case study of the Ojibwe people of Hollow Water (later in the book), we will highlight how structural or collective violence, like colonialism and racism, are connected to individual violence, including sexual abuse.
This book acknowledges community as a value. Restorative justice is about people. It is about people learning to live together in a way that honors the dignity of all. Respect for all means talking about harm and supporting those who are hurt. It also means that sex offenders are people, too. They are fathers and stepfathers, mothers and stepmothers, uncles and aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters. People hurt each other for a variety of reasons. It is important that offenders have support, alongside accountability, to heal and understand their choices.
A restorative justice framework suggests that accountability happens best when people are supported. Eileen Henderson, Restorative Justice Manager of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, observes, “Reintegration is a myth when most offenders were never integrated to start with.” This is not an excuse, minimizing the harm they have chosen to perpetrate, but a reality that offenders need space to heal and develop healthy relationships. Communities include people who have been hurt, people who have caused harm, and people who have both harmed and are hurting. Restorative justice values all members of a community.
This book does not advocate specific programs, including those based on face-to-face dialogue. People often equate restorative justice with encounter, a face-to-face meeting between victim and offender. While such approaches may be appropriate or desirable in some cases, there are many situations where this type of dialogue is not advisable. Sometimes offenders are unwilling to take the responsibility demanded by an encounter-based restorative justice program and/or would not willingly participate. Moreover, many victims do not need, or want, to meet with the person who caused them harm. Most significantly, most perpetrators of sexual abuse are not caught. If dialogue is the only restorative justice tool available, this approach will miss the majority of victims and offenders. Restorative justice is first and foremost a framework, a way of doing justice. Only secondarily is it a type of program.
This book is but one framework. There is much work to do in supporting victims of sexual abuse and holding offenders accountable. Restorative justice offers some pieces, but not all, in the puzzle to accomplish this. Furthermore, as restorative justice advocate Howard Zehr notes, we are still early on the learning curve of doing and articulating restorative justice. Practitioners must be open to critique and change while also being careful about over-promising what they can do. The framework in this book can coexist or be in partnership with others. For example, criminal justice processes are exactly what some victims and offenders need. Rule of law, due process, public denunciation of wrong, and the protection of rights are important elements of justice and community safety. In fact, in Canada and some parts of the United States, citizens have a legal obligation to report any abuse of children to the appropriate authorities. Too many times, people running institutions have covered up sexual abuse, trying to handle it on their own, only causing further harm. Furthermore, therapeutic models are an important part of healing for both victims and offenders. Remembering, mourning, and reconnecting through these processes are vital steps for victim recovery.1 Cognitive behavioral therapy and relapse prevention models have proven to be excellent ways of helping many offenders to avoid reoffending.
This book is an invitation to further respectful dialogue. It is conversational rather than prescriptive or confrontational.
This is a tough issue. Many people have been hurt by sexual abuse. And many of these people have also been further traumatized by how people have responded to it—from family members doubting their stories to a criminal justice system that challenges their facts, their truth about what happened. We as authors acknowledge this. We tread into these waters with caution and utmost respect for those who have survived sexual abuse.
Why this book?
This book was written because of the urgency of the issues it addresses, and because so many have asked what restorative justice has to say to sexual offending and harm. We would like to highlight two specific concerns:
1. The need for safe communities. The heart of this book is about creating safe communities. In the next chapter, we will discuss the widespread nature of sexual abuse. More needs to be done to acknowledge and end it.
2. The need for imaginative conversations. Our society’s intervention methods to date are limited at best. This is true of both criminal and restorative justice. Our hope is that this book sparks the imagination of the reader to try new, safe, creative ways of addressing the harm of sexual abuse.
Book outline:
Chapter 2 describes the issue of sexual abuse, its impact on victims, and why some offenders perpetrate it.
Chapter 3 describes a restorative justice framework.
Chapter 4 uses a case study to describe how a restorative justice framework can be used with victims.
Chapter 5 uses a case study to describe how a restorative justice framework can be used with offenders.
Chapter 6 uses a case study to describe how a restorative justice framework can be used within communities (our example is a faith community).
Chapter 7 describes the way the Ojibwe people of Hollow Water First Nation responded to epidemic sexual abuse, using indigenous healing circles to heal victims, offenders, and the community.
Chapter 8 describes some limits and possibilities of restorative justice based on academic literature on the topic.
Chapter 9 describes principles that can guide restorative practice in cases of sexual violence.
Chapter 10 concludes with a case story.
Integrity
Many emphasize restorative justice as a values-based approach. In this book, we would like to highlight integrity as a key value. Restorative justice, from our perspective, is a pursuit of wholeness: wholeness of individuals and communities. If we facilitate restorative justice dialogue between victims and offenders without addressing root causes, we only accomplish justice in part. If we encourage others to be accountable for their actions without holding ourselves to the same standard, justice is partial. If we work to repair relationships in communities while failing to work respectfully with all people and systems, integrity is compromised. In the hope of addressing all of these problems, restorative justice is motivated by and strives toward integrity.
A note on terminology
Increasingly, the labels “victim” and “offender” are being reevaluated. While these terms provide convenient shorthand references and are common within the criminal justice system, they also tend to oversimplify and stereotype—people are much more than what they have done or experienced. In criminology, labeling theory has emphasized that labels are judgmental, and people may tend to become what they are labeled.
We see n...

Table of contents