The approach – which includes facilitated discussions – shows potential for
bringing closure to survivors and stopping repeat offenses. But critics
say it's not appropriate for such a violent crime.
Jasmyn Elise Story is one of those rare people whose rape case got as far as consideration by a prosecutor.
She was 18, about to move from her home in Atlanta to London to attend a first-year college abroad program.
Over the course of the investigation, she says, she had to tell at least five different officials what had happened: How a man who knew some of her friends took her behind a house during a party when she was incapacitated by narcolepsy, how she left in shock and the next day went to the police and the hospital to get a rape kit.
After one year, that “came to nothing,” she says of the criminal case.
A female prosecutor told her they had decided not to go forward because they didn’t want her to be subject to a “he-said, she-said” trial, with the defense dragging her through the mud, Ms. Story says.
She had reported the crime out of a sense of duty, hoping to prevent future assaults. “I was hurt that she didn’t see that I was doing it for something bigger than myself.”
In college, Story started learning about restorative justice, and a light turned on.
Restorative justice encompasses a range of practices – from facilitated conferences between someone who’s been harmed and the person who did it, to community circles weighing in on how that person can make amends.
“Everything about it spoke to the needs that I had,” Story says. She and fellow survivors she got to know – many of whom had never reported the crimes – saw in it so much promise.
Prevention or naiveté?
At colleges, people also have to think about what happens when a suspended student comes back, says Michelle Carroll, director of campus projects for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Restorative justice circles could “address community-wide issues that lead to sexual violence,” Ms. Carroll says – with people examining gender norms, consent, or a culture of binge drinking. “In that sense, restorative justice can be preventative as well as responsive.”
Yet some consider that perspective naive, and say sex crimes are so different from other types that a restorative model won’t transfer.
It would be “dangerous to the survivor as well as to the college community at large, and it certainly sends the wrong message to the perpetrator,” says Michael Dolce, a survivor of childhood sexual assault and a Florida-based lawyer who heads up the sexual assault practice group for the law firm Cohen Milstein.
Sex offenders are often skilled at manipulating their victims and others into believing that they are remorseful, Mr. Dolce says, but the dehumanizing nature of their crime, and the high rates at which they reoffend, should prompt deep skepticism. Instead, there has to be a zero-tolerance message, he says.
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