How can we champion survivors’ voices?
This is a blog by our Campaigns and Communications Manager Meka Beresford.
Last week, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its final report drawing on 15 investigations and 19 related investigation reports that have taken place since the Inquiry began its first investigations in 2015.
The Inquiry put the voices of survivors at the front and centre of its investigations, and a common recurring theme that came out in the final report was the lack of accountability and justice.
Many victims and survivors said that they wanted to receive an apology for the sexual abuse they experienced, with one member of the Victims and Survivors Forum saying that “first and foremost” they wanted “an acknowledgement that it did happen and that it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen”.
A number described a strong desire for formal accountability via the Criminal Justice System, but only three percent of Truth Project participants who disclosed child sexual abuse at the time said that their disclosure resulted in the perpetrator being convicted.
We know that prosecution of child sexual abuse cases is frequently low, but what more can be done to improve survivors’ experience of the justice system?
For survivors like Teresa, feeling heard can help the need for justice and accountability.
Teresa was sexually abused by her father when she was a child. He never admitted the crime, which caused rifts in the family. After years enduring trauma and with her father having passed, Teresa sought Restorative Justice with her mother. For the first time in years, Teresa felt heard.
“I was really worried about contacting my mother to get answers. She has never believed me. The facilitators showed they were going to be the safety barrier that I needed to be able to have contact with my mother, without risking further damage to my mental health” she explained.
Teresa didn’t meet her mother at a restorative meeting. The facilitators talked to her mother on her behalf and then shared her responses with Teresa. She had hoped that her mother believed her and “maybe wanted to rebuild.” But this didn’t happen.
“She downplayed and denied things in order to cope. This was such a hard truth and I was really disappointed because I had hoped to get a different picture of her. Restorative Justice confirmed the picture I always had: that she would protect herself, even if this harmed me. As the hard truth of this settled, it acted as an antidote to the shame of having been used for sex. I found a different picture of myself and this benefits my whole life.”
Restorative Justice didn’t change Teresa’s relationship with her mother, but it gave her so much more – she reconnected with her family, particularly her sister, whom she’d had little contact with for many years. She has attended family gatherings that she had previously avoided, and has found support that she didn’t know was there.
“I am so grateful for their work, skill and experience. I am much stronger,” Teresa explained. “Suddenly, I’m not an outcast of the family anymore. This all happened because of Restorative Justice.”
For Teresa, Restorative Justice was a “revelation”, the facilitators never promised that everything would work perfectly, but assured Teresa they would do their best to help get what she wanted from the process.
For other survivors who have experienced sexual abuse, having a restorative conversation may help them achieve the sense of justice that they need. Unfortunately, many survivors aren’t being told about their right to Restorative Justice under the Victims’ Code of Practice. The Victims Bill offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to place the right to information about Restorative Justice in statutory legislation, meaning that more victims will have the chance to engage in Restorative Justice.
For the survivors of child sexual abuse that contributed to the report, and many others like them, Restorative Justice could give them the voice that they currently lack and the opportunity to be acknowledged and understood.