Restorative justice has been put forward in the US as a new, and in some cases,
better approach to dealing with sexual violence
Something had snapped inside Gretchen Casey. Maybe it was the way the doctor propped himself up on the side of the exam table, letting his legs swing nonchalantly over the edge. Maybe it was the casual tone he struck when he said: “So I heard you had a rough night.”
But whatever the reason, Casey had come to a decision. This man was not going to touch her.
What had happened was not just a “rough night”. A rough night was stepping out to find your car had been towed, or that your friend had thrown up in the back seat. It was not waking up in the dead of the night to be threatened at knifepoint. It was not the experience of being blindfolded and raped in your apartment, all the while praying not to die.
The last thing Casey wanted now was to be probed and swabbed by some clueless doctor. So she refused to undergo a rape exam. “And I made that decision in a split second. Who did that hurt? It hurt me.”
Looking back on that moment, Casey, doesn’t blame the doctor for her decision. She had been reluctant to report her rape in the first place, afraid that the man would come back and kill her if she did.
But now she recognizes the fears and pressures she faced while reporting her rape as one reason why there need to be alternatives to the criminal justice system. She is exploring one such approach by using a practice called restorative justice to help other sexual assault survivors.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, restorative justice has been put forward in the US as a new, and in some cases, better approach to dealing with sexual violence – one that puts the victim’s needs first. The concept has received high profile support in recent months, most notably from the American actors Ashley Judd and Laura Dern.
Restorative justice encompasses a variety of actions designed to repair the harm a crime has caused. Sometimes, that means bringing the accuser and the accused together in a dialogue, to discuss the impact of a crime and settle on a plan to make amends.
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The risk of re-traumatization is one reason why Michael Dolce, a Florida lawyer who represents sex crime survivors, remains skeptical of restorative justice.
“I think restorative justice reflects, in the context of sex crimes, a complete misunderstanding of what sex crime victims go through,” he said. “And I think it provides a very dangerous ‘out’ for sex criminals that leaves others at enormous risk.”
A survivor of sexual abuse himself, Dolce says he’s spent nearly $300,000 on his own recovery – but restorative justice is not an option he’d consider personally.
“To be perfectly blunt, I don’t want to be reconciled with somebody who has the pathology of resorting to a sex crime as a way to exert power and control, which is what sex crimes are about – first, last and always,” he said.
Given that the majority of offenders know their victims beforehand, Dolce worries that survivors might be vulnerable to emotional manipulation and feel forced to forgive.
“It basically says to a survivor that you need to accept a process that is going to restore this perpetrator to the point of reconciliation with the community. Where they’re here as if we’re back to normal,” Dolce said. “When inside, I know for the sex crime victim, they’re not back to normal. It’s never normal for them.”
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