How can Restorative Justice meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community?
Reflections from facilitating a National Roundtable
This is a blog written by Why me?’s Restorative Justice Development Officer (Youth Justice), Leah Robinson.
On Tuesday 9th August, we held an LGBTQ+ National Restorative Justice Roundtable. This event was held as part of the Why me? Access to Justice LGBTQ+ hate crime project with the aims of:
- Discussing how a person’s gender identity and/or sexuality may affect the Restorative Justice process, both in terms of access and uptake.
- Discussing good practice in meeting the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.
- Sharing ideas amongst academics, Restorative Justice professionals, professionals working with the LGBTQ+ community and those with a vested interest in repairing the harm caused by LGBTQ+ hate crime.
- Contributing towards the foundations for a strategy on widening access to Restorative Justice for those affected by LGBTQ+ hate crimes or incidents.
We prioritised the views of those who have personal and/or professional experience of LGBTQ+ hate crimes or incidents. Whilst this roundtable focused primarily on the views and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, there was wide discussion in the session about intersectionality. Attendees highlighted the importance of not viewing aspects of people’s identity in silos. Some shared their experience of feeling pushed aside due to their identity and how this can escalate trauma. It is important that agencies and Restorative Justice services are not dismissive of any part of a participant’s identity and always consider their intersectional needs.
During the session, we asked attendees ‘What words come to mind when thinking of using Restorative Justice for LGBTQ+ hate crimes or incidents?. Using a mentimeter, we anonymously recorded the words that attendees shared, with the following result:
The words used here vary extensively, with some being positive and some more cautionary. The reality of using Restorative Justice for hate crimes or incidents is that it only goes ahead if all parties consent and it is safe to do so, following rigorous safety planning. This blog will examine some of these words and key themes in more detail.
Listening to needs
Restorative Justice is a participant-based approach to repairing the harm caused by crime and conflict. Consequently, listening to the needs of the participants is a crucial element of restorative practices. This was further highlighted within the roundtable, by acknowledging that LGBTQ+ participants may have needs which are additional considerations, such as the need for a gender-neutral toilet at the chosen venue or considering how participants could stay anonymous throughout the process.
As one of the six restorative principles, empowerment is an important theme. Victims of crime can feel empowered through engaging in a restorative process, taking control of their own recovery and being given a voice. With regards to LGBTQ+ hate crimes and incidents, the harmed person is provided the chance to explain what happened and how they were affected. They may also want to educate the person who harmed them, however, this is completely their own choice. Even without a face-to-face meeting with the person who harmed them, victims of LGBTQ+ hate crime can be empowered by a restorative conversation with a facilitator.
Creating a safe environment in which participants feel they can be open and honest about their thoughts and feelings is an important aspect of restorative practices, especially when a person has been harmed due to their identity. Creating and enabling this space requires appropriate training for the facilitators in order to ensure they are able to fully adhere to the restorative principles of neutrality, safety, accessibility and respect. It is important in every situation to find out what the participants need in order to feel safe and to react accordingly. A safe space could be created by facilitators meeting with participants more frequently to build rapport or ensuring that the venue is in a location in which the harmed person will feel safe.
Attendees of the roundtable acknowledged that many victims of hate crimes or incidents may feel fear towards the perpetrators. However, some of this fear can be alleviated through effective preparation. If a safe space has been created then a person should feel comfortable asking questions and discussing any concerns they may have. It may be that a participant has a fear of being misgendered by the person who caused the harm. In which case, a facilitator may want to lay out the use of pronouns in their ground rules, following safety planning with each participant around the importance of using the correct pronouns.
The complex nature of LGBTQ+ hate crime cases demands a high level of skill and appropriate training. The roundtable identified the need for restorative practitioners to undergo complex and sensitive case training in order to facilitate a hate crime case. There are also additional factors to take into consideration in order to ensure a participant feels safe and heard in complex cases. For example, if a person wishes to remain anonymous in order to avoid being outed through the restorative process.
Victims of crime often feel let down by the Criminal Justice System and Restorative Justice can be a great way for them to be heard and have their questions answered. We already know that 95% of victims of crime do not recall being provided with information about Restorative Justice, as per their rights in the Victims Code of Practice. This does not cover the victims of crime who do not report what happened to the police, which is often the case for hate crimes. The theme of opportunity therefore represents the victims of crime who do not know about Restorative Justice, thus denying them the opportunity to take part. One of the key goals of Why me?’s LGBTQ+ project is creating opportunities for the use of Restorative Justice following LGBTQ+ hate crimes or incidents, in order to try and combat this.
Whilst there may be some additional complexities, Restorative Justice can be enormously valuable for people affected by LGBTQ+ hate crimes or incidents, as long as it is carried out by services and practitioners who are trained and have policies which support safe practice. All the themes identified within the roundtable discussions and comments made will feed into the LGBTQ+ project itself, as well as the wider work done within Why me? on hate crime.
If you are interested in discussing Why me?’s LGBTQ+ project further, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.