An International Women’s Day letter to Laura Dern: #MeToo and Restorative Justice

Published: Thursday, March 8th, 2018

This International Women’s Day, Why me? Director Lucy Jaffé writes an open letter to Laura Dern about her call for Restorative Justice at the Global Globes as part of the #MeToo campaign against sexual assault and harassment.

Dear Laura,

The tidal wave of revelations about sexual harassment in recent months has been overwhelming. It has been appalling to hear of the trauma caused by the crimes and the years of silent hurt which have been locked away. It is now heartening to hear women speak about their experiences and I see this as a positive opportunity to change the way women are viewed, heard and treated.

There are so many questions. Why did women not feel able to speak out? When they did, why were they not heard? How do the structural inequalities of our societies and the criminal justice system impact on individual women and silence them?

And then we get the call from you, Laura Dern, for Restorative Justice at the Golden Globes ceremony in January 2018. Do you suggest Restorative Justice as a method to get answers to these questions? Maybe you are talking about individual women meeting their perpetrators (as is suggested in this powerful article from SFGate). Or perhaps you are talking about Restorative Justice between all victims and the institutionally sexist criminal justice process. Boy, would I like to talk to you about that. Laura? Anytime you are free, I’ll be there!

What we do know is that Restorative Justice offers a way for victims to get questions answered following a crime. It can be a very powerful process, allowing those affected by the crime to put questions directly to the offender. This is not allowed through the court system in England and Wales. You can write a Victim Personal Statement. This is a one-way process and is shown to have lower satisfaction ratings, compared to over 85% victim satisfaction ratings for RJ.

The RJ process is structured and supported by facilitators. You can ask questions and also talk about the impact of the crime. If a meeting is judged safe enough to proceed, it will have been prepared meticulously by trained facilitators over a series of meetings. At Why me? we run a co-facilitation model of practice which means we can reflect on best practice with each other and provide checks and balances for the participants.

However, there is a real danger that women may be exposed to further harm by meeting their attackers without professional support. For example, Emma Riggs met her ex-boyfriend who had raped her years earlier. Was this with a trained facilitator and in a safe environment? If this was not the case, then I am scared about the danger she may have been in and the lack of support she had. This type of story risks encouraging women to meet former attackers in a bid to benefit from the liberating effects of Restorative Justice but without the proper support.

If women survivors of domestic violence meet the perpetrator in a ‘Restorative Justice’ meeting, we would be very concerned that they may do so as part of the coercive control being exercised by the former attacker and be endangered in the process. They should not be attempting a Restorative meeting on their own. It is also paramount that professionals using Restorative Justice are adequately trained to recognise and to understand how power and control play out in situations where coercive control exists. See the Fawcett Society report on Sex Discrimination Law Review for recommendations about involving women’s organisations in developing safe and appropriate RJ provision.

The other concern with the use of Restorative Justice, such as that by Jennifer Ferguson in South Africa in 2017 is that without a conviction for the offence, the offender may not participate fully as they may be concerned about perjuring themselves, i.e. saying something which will incriminate them.  It may lead to the facts of the case being disputed in the meeting, which is always a bad idea and can lead to the meeting not being restorative.

At Why me?, we know the benefits of Restorative Justice very well, and campaign for more people to access it, but only if it is provided in a safe way by trained facilitators who understand the power and control dynamics and needs of victims who want to participate.

Laura Dern, I’d love to talk to you more about the healing power and potential for Restorative Justice. Do get in touch.

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