Domestic Violence and Restorative Justice: Response to Fawcett Report
Restorative Justice has the potential to transform lives. As one domestic violence survivor said, “I went from being a victim to a victor as a result of Restorative Justice”.
On 23rd January 2018, the Fawcett Society released a ground-breaking report on sex discrimination in the legal system. It is a thorough and substantive report which contains many pressing recommendations for women’s justice.
The report makes three recommendations related to Restorative Justice (p. 56). Why me? Welcomes this opportunity for open discussion regarding the use of Restorative Justice with domestic violence. Here we provide our responses to each recommendation.
“Street level” restorative approaches should not be used in cases of domestic abuse or sexual violence; the College of Policing and National Police Chief Guidance needs to be strengthened with regard to this issue.
Why me? response:
We agree that “street level” Restorative Approaches are inappropriate and potentially damaging in cases of domestic violence where there is a gender control or power control element to the crime. However, some crimes that are logged as domestic violence are not what we instinctively think of as classic domestic violence cases. For example, a teenage son threatening a relative may be logged as a domestic violence case but a Restorative solution could be an effective outcome.
However, we stress that in many “street level” out-of-court-disposals, actual Restorative Justice is not used, but another form of Community Resolution. Read our blog post on the distinction and the issues with confusing the two.
There must be greater transparency about the use of restorative approaches in domestic abuse cases to enable police forces to develop best practice and share experiences – positive and negative. Data should be routinely collected and held centrally and forces should answer for any use of resolutions that are contra-indicated by College of Policing guidance.
Why me? response:
We agree on the need for more information regarding the process of doing Restorative Justice in domestic violence cases and a better understanding of best practice. This is something which we are keen to work on. Data regarding its use and outcomes will be very helpful.
Restorative justice measures above street level should not be used in cases of domestic abuse until women’s organisations are confident that they are being delivered in a way which will not harm victims or survivors. Women’s organisations should be consulted in their future development.
Why me? response:
We are glad to see that Fawcett does not rule out the possibility of Restorative Justice as an option in cases of domestic and sexual abuse as it can be powerfully healing. Victims can get a chance to get their questions answered, to feel empowered through having a voice in the criminal justice process and the closure to be able to move on. Read Wendy’s story here (pg. 10).
As with any case, Restorative Justice used in domestic abuse cases must be done by skilled and trained facilitators. It must be voluntary. It must have risk assessment processes which thoroughly consider the risk of further harm. Specific to cases of domestic abuse, there must be a heightened awareness of the possibility of coercive control. While there is certainly work to be done across the board, some RJ services, including Why me? have successfully delivered RJ in domestic violence cases. This existing good practice needs to be developed and spread.
There is a wider issue here, which extends outside of Restorative Justice, regarding the need for criminal justice professionals who work with survivors to recognise coercive control when they see it. When they recognise it and understand it, only then will it be possible to see what support that person needs and if Restorative Justice is appropriate.
Finally, we wholeheartedly agree that women’s organisations should be consulted in the future development of Restorative Justice practice with victims of domestic violence. We would be pleased to work with Fawcett and others on this.