Using RJ to heal historic sexual harm

Published: Friday, July 15th, 2022


This is a blog by our Campaigns and Communications Manager Meka Beresford and Development Officer Sula Blankenberg. 

This week the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation (IICSE) revealed that over 1000 children in Telford were sexually exploited over a decades-long period. 

These children were frequently blamed for making “unwise life decisions” rather than seen as victims of exploitation, according to the report. Failures to investigate the exploitation came about, in part, because of “nervousness about race”. 

The report comes as a stark wake-up call about the way we address race and exploitation within the UK – especially when the two intersect. 

The harm done against these children, most of whom are now adults, is vast, and the victims of this exploitation should be supported in both their journey to healing and justice.  

Restorative Justice would be an instrumental tool in that journey. 

Using RJ to heal historic sexual harm can be a complex but life-changing opportunity, as was the case for Why me? ambassador, Wendy, who met her father in a restorative meeting 40 years after he sexually abused her. 

Wendy had always wanted an apology from her father, she knew that this would also serve as an admission, as her father had always denied it to the outside world. During the meeting, Wendy’s father tried hard not to admit to most of what had happened, but once he did, he actually apologised. 

“Once the weight had been lifted from me, it helped so many more around me,” Wendy said of her restorative experience.

“My nearest and dearest had suffered alongside me for as many years as I had, once that darkness had gone from me, it was and still is a far brighter day for all of us.”

Even though Wendy’s father was convicted, she was left for 40 years with unanswered questions. For the hundreds of children who fell victim to this wrought period of exploitation in Telford, they too may have questions that will be left unanswered even if convictions take place. They may wish to come face-to-face directly with the perpetrator, or perhaps have a conversation with the people who should have protected them. RJ can facilitate that conversation. 

Restorative Justice could be a powerful tool in healing this historic sexual harm, especially when addressing the role that “nervousness” about race played. 

When it comes to race, society frequently holds people accountable to different standards. This can be especially true for victims – if a victim doesn’t fit a particular archetype, then they may not be seen as a victim, as was the case for many of the children who were harmed across Telford. 

Asking questions and creating a conversation about culture, traditions, and dynamics may have empowered those responsible for protecting these children to carry out their duties – instead, conversation about race was shied away from, and consequently, mass harm occurred. 

RJ can be used to address the broader impact this has had on the community of Telford. Restorative circles between victims, their families, and those who were responsible for safeguarding may help to heal some of the trauma that has occurred. Facilitating these conversations in a restorative way would help to re-build the community and prevent further harm from occurring in the future. 

The harm that has occurred against the children in Telford is vast, and beginning to repair the harms of the past will be so important for the community there. If you or someone you know is affected by this story and wishes to engage in the restorative process, get in touch via info@why-me.org.

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