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Human Rights Defenders

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1

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“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Lewis B. Smedes

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

 

 Mahatma Gandhi

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”

 

 Thomas S. Szasz

In this excerpt from Tributary Streams of a Healing River, Howard Zehr talks about the continuum of restorativeness, shame, respect, honor, humiliation, vindication, indigenous and social justice.

Tributary Streams of a Healing River is an in depth study of restorative justice with over 14 hrs of video on 10 DVDs. (available from Heartspeak Productions -- www.heartspeakproductions.ca)

Speakers Bio:

Howard Zehr joined the graduate Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) at Eastern Mennonite University in 1996 as Professor of Restorative Justice. Prior to that he served for nineteen years as director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Office on Crime and Justice. He now serves as Co-Director of CJP and Professor of Sociology and Restorative Justice, Conflict Transformation Program. ouse College, Atlanta, GA in 1966.

Restorative Justice May Not Be Appropriate for Some Crimes

There has been an increased utilization of the Restorative Justice process in cases of sexual assault/abuse and domestic violence.   Many who work with sexual assault and domestic violence victims believe that sexual assault crimes are incompatible with the restorative justice model in its current form. Because 95% of domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women, the term 'she' will identify survivors of male violence and the term 'he' will identify perpetrators/offenders throughout this document. Restorative justice refers to victims; in this presentation, women who have encountered male violence will be identified by the term 'survivor'.

The  usual goals for a restorative justice model to "repair the harm caused by the offense, and achieve a sense of healing for the victim and the community." But for sexual assault crimes, however, restorative justice is at cross purposes with its end. In its current form, this program has the potential to seriously harm survivors who participate in the process.

 

We are NOT in the business of forgiving sexual assault/abuse or domestic violence. We are in the business of STOPPING it. Seeking an apology for this type of violence is NOT an appropriate societal goal. Adopting zero tolerance for sexual assault/abuse domestic violence is. Furthermore, forgiveness is NOT essential in a survivor's healing process and, if a survivor is pressured or guilted into forgiving a perpetrator prematurely, it can sabotage her healing process.

Restorative justice claims to be victim-centered. Yet, to our knowledge, input from survivors of sexual or domestic violence was not solicited and considered in the design of these new measures. Under these new measures, if a survivor does not want her case to go to restorative justice, this may happen anyway. The survivor does not have a veto as to whether her case will proceed to a restorative justice program. In our view, the lack of consultation and current policy displaces the survivor to a position peripheral, not central, to the process of defining harm and how it might be repaired. In our view, restorative justice appears to focus on the perpetrator, not the victim. He repents for his crime and justice is restored. How can justice be restored for a survivor of sexual assault who has chosen not to participate in the restorative process?

Sexual assault survivors need to talk about their feelings, need to reclaim their power, and need to have their pain and suffering validated. The terror, humiliation and stigma that result from sexual assault, make this a long, difficult and painful process. Usually, this type of healing only occurs within the context of a safe, trusting relationship. It is unrealistic to think that a survivor will discuss what justice has casually identified as "concerns and feelings" with a perpetrator of sexual assault. It is unrealistic and dangerous to think healing will take place as a result of a such a meeting between a perpetrator and the survivor. Survivor/perpetrator interactions that have successful therapeutic outcomes usually result only when there has been intensive, long-term preparation and a bastion of support for the survivor. Given the limited resources of our communities and the department of justice, this preparation and support is not likely to be available.

If a sexual assault survivor becomes emotionally and psychologically tied to a perpetrator's recognition of the pain and suffering they caused or, an apology or repentance for the act, her capacity to heal becomes incumbent on the perpetrators decision to apologize or repent, and the quality of this apology. This emotional entanglement gives power back to the perpetrator, not the survivor. Therapists work with sexual assault survivors to free them from any need for offender repentance or apology so they may reclaim their sense of empowerment independent of anything the perpetrator says or does. If, however, a survivor agrees to listen to an offender's account of his understanding of the harm inflicted on her, what happens if she is not satisfied with the account? Who evaluates this? What happens then?

Reintegration of the offender into the community

a) In our experience with women who have experienced crimes of sexual violence, the reintegration of sexual assault offenders into the community creates fear of re-victimization, not healing, for the survivor. A survivor's sense of safety is so deeply compromised after sexual assault they often feel too fearful to go outside, take buses, or walk alone during the day, or at night, even when the perpetrator has been incarcerated. Knowledge that the perpetrator is at large is usually a frightening, re-victimizing experience.

b) To involve a sexual assault survivor in a process intent on preserving the offender's integrity, and reintegrating him into the community, places responsibility on the survivor to support the perpetrator's healing. Allocating even minimal responsibility to the survivor for offender healing can all too easily become fodder for the current myth that women survivors of violence are somehow responsible for the crimes committed against them.

c) Finally, given recidivism rates for youth and adult crime, it seems clear that community reintegration is usually successful only if there is sustained support and intervention for offenders. We have not seen an allocation of resources to this end. How much money will be made available, and to whom?  

Recommendations:

1) Recognize the incompatibility of sexual assault/abuse domestic violence crimes with restorative justice in its current form and eliminate access to this forum by offenders of same.

2) Slow the implementation of restorative justice until stakeholders are able to thoroughly review this process.

3) Conduct the necessary research (consult with survivors and community based agencies whose mandates address women and sexual/domestic violence issues) to determine if survivors of sexual and domestic violence will be satisfied with this process in its current form.

4) Place a hold on restorative justice for sexual assault/abuse domestic violence cases until research has been completed that supports your statements that victim satisfaction will increase as a result of this process.

5) Create clear, specific guidelines and an infrastructure to monitor the expanded discretionary powers of the police, crown, and corrections. Commit financially to this sustained monitoring.

6) Recognize the need for and commit to the education and training of all parties (police, crown, corrections, community agencies) around sexual assault/abuse domestic violence issues. Commit financially to this education and training.

7) Create access to due process for victim, community agency, offender complaints.

 

 


“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

― Leo Buscaglia

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Theodore Roosevelt- Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic", delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910