Survivor-centred justice for sexual and domestic violence

Published: Thursday, July 4th, 2024

This is a blog by our Communications and Campaigns Manager, Keeva Baxter.


It is now well established that for survivors of domestic violence or sexual abuse, accessing ‘justice’ is even harder than for victims of other crimes. The backlog of rape cases means that over 3,000 people are still waiting for their cases to go through court. And this is only the start of the problem, as most instances of sexual and domestic violence remain unreported. Of those that are reported, many never reach court at all. 

In advance of this week’s general election, all major party manifestos feature segments on tackling violence against women and girls. This cross-party consensus demonstrates a shared acknowledgement that violence against women and girls is one of the biggest issues facing women and our criminal justice system as a whole.

The launch of Solace’s ‘No more injury time’ campaign centres on the statistic that domestic violence increases by 38% when England men’s football team lose. With the Euros currently on, we know that women are at higher risk of being abused by the people closest to them. 

Recent media coverage has also highlighted sexual misconduct in the police, Westminster and other institutions. This means that the systems designed to protect people who have been harmed by crime are failing to maintain the trust of those who should be able to rely on them. 

The backlog of rape cases is also rising, with adult rape cases taking over two years on average to complete in court. With no access to justice, many sexual violence survivors are left feeling ignored and failed by the system. Even when they do reach court, many survivors of sexual and domestic violence are subsequently retraumatised by the court process itself. 

How does this link to Restorative Justice?

With unacceptably high rates of violence against women and girls, something needs to be done to ensure that those who have been harmed can access meaningful justice. Rather than a court, judge or panel deciding what this might look like, we need to turn directly to survivors to ask what they need and establish how we can support them to get it. 

We know that many survivors feel silenced both by the offence and by the court process, unable to have a voice or explain how the violence has impacted their lives. Others may have specific questions about what happened that remain perpetually unanswered. Both of these issues could be addressed through a restorative process. 

While it won’t be suitable for everyone, it’s crucial that survivors are able to access a Restorative Justice service so that they can work with an expert facilitator to determine whether RJ is right for them. With an ongoing risk assessment, nothing will go ahead without everyone’s informed consent or without ensuring that it is safe to proceed. The person-centred nature of Restorative Justice means that it puts the needs of survivors at the heart of the process, listening to and prioritising those who are most affected.

An important point to note is the flexibility of the Restorative Justice process and how the intervention can be adapted to suit participants’ needs on a case by case basis. For example, for those who don’t want to see the person who harmed them face-to-face, they could do a letter exchange instead. 

Working internationally

The potential for Restorative Justice to deliver survivor-centred justice has been explored beyond the UK, too. A few weeks ago, we met survivor advocate Marlee Liss and learned more about the work she is doing in North America. Having gone through the restorative process herself, Marlee is committed to increasing access to restorative interventions in order to facilitate healing for survivors of sexual violence. Meeting Marlee was an opportunity to compare the UK system to Canada, where despite many differences, survivors face a similar experience of a silencing and retraumatising legal process. Marlee campaigns for Restorative Justice to help more people get the ‘justice’ they need.

In Europe, there has been a recent leap forward in this area with the launch of the European Forum for Restorative Justice’s report, ‘From Survivors to Survivors’. The report captures the stories of people across Europe who have experienced sexual violence and been through a restorative process, demonstrating an array of experiences and restorative interventions. Highlighting these stories is an important way to platform the voices of survivors, helping others to understand best practice and consider what may work for them.

Why me? are working hard to continue the conversation and widen access to justice for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to stay up to date on what we’re doing. If you’d like to discuss this work further, or share what you’re doing in your local area, please get in touch with Project Lead, Keeva Baxter, at


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