What excites me about Restorative Justice
This is a blog by our Fundraising and Public Relations Officer Lucy Harris.
My enthusiasm for social and criminal justice began with my undergraduate degree in Sociology and Criminology. I have always had a keen interest in the Criminal Justice System, but a limited understanding of how it functioned, and pursued this subject with the desire to learn more. However, my degree not only taught me how the system works, but also how it does not. I was equipped with an understanding of societal inequalities, and how the discrimination that marginalised groups face is often perpetuated in the justice system. The crucial message I took from my degree was that the Criminal Justice System is far from perfect and being a part of it means advocating for change.
During my master’s degree I developed an interest in the marginalisation of women in the justice system, particularly in relation to sexual abuse. In recent years, the justice system has faced unrelenting criticism over the low and continuously falling rates of prosecution and conviction for serious sexual offences. Rape Crisis (England and Wales) suggest that only around 15% of survivors report their crime to the police, and only 5.7% of those reported end in conviction.
Securing positive outcomes for survivors in these cases is notoriously difficult for numerous reasons. Sexual abuse cases often not only have to prove a sexual encounter took place, but that it did so without consent. The onus is on the prosecution to prove a lack of consent and providing evidence for this can be challenging. The crime is likely to take place in a private environment, meaning that often few or no witnesses are present. Furthermore, societal misconceptions around sexual abuse and the behaviours of abuse survivors can influence how juries respond to evidence, causing biases in decision-making. These can perhaps go some way to explaining why conviction rates for sexual offences are so much lower than other crimes. Nevertheless, the Crown Prosecution Service have acknowledged that public trust in the system’s ability to bring justice for those who have been victimised by sexual abuse is at risk.
Many survivors of sexual abuse are left behind by a system that is unable to secure prosecutions or convictions for these crime types. However, it is important to note that those survivors who have secured these outcomes can also be left dissatisfied by conventional criminal justice processes. While these processes remain crucial for securing convictions, their lack of victim focus can leave victims of crime feeling that their voices have not been heard. With the incorporation of Restorative Justice into the Criminal Justice System, this can be achieved. By allowing survivors to have their questions answered, the ‘victim-led’ Restorative Justice process is an empowering one. This is crucial for all crime types, but particularly in cases of sexual abuse, where control and coercion often leave survivors feeling powerless.
Why me? has opened my eyes to how hugely beneficial Restorative Justice can be for the recovery process of sexual abuse survivors. Why me?’s paper ‘Using restorative approaches for sexual and domestic abuse’ outlines the best practice for its application to cases of sexual abuse. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to Restorative Justice, all processes involving victims of crime must ensure that their safety is a priority. Survivors of sexual abuse may be particularly vulnerable to further emotional harm and revicitimisation, and the experience and training of facilitators must be specific to abuse cases to prevent this.
Restorative Justice can transform the lives of sexual abuse survivors, and it is critical that they have the same access to it as other victims of crime. I am excited to contribute to Why me?’s work, widening access to Restorative Justice, a valuable tool for all those affected by crime.