I had a few issues with Theresa May’s recent comments regarding RJ and Domestic violence. In regards to her experiences of Police facilitated RJ and DV she said…
“…Or the officers who put victims of serious domestic violence into a room with their attacker in the name of restorative justice, with no consideration of the psychological and emotional damage that can cause. I know that restorative justice is meant to be victim-led and I know that guidance says it should be considered in all cases. But I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators who for months and years may have destroyed their confidence, manipulated their mind, and beaten their bodies.”
The issues I had with this were:
- In 20 years of practice we have NEVER simply ‘put victims into a room’ with the person responsible for any crime committed against them. There’s quite a lot more involved than that.
- We extensively consider, explore, discuss and address the potential ‘psychological and emotional’ risks involved in any restorative process- this frequently takes the form of very close working partnerships/consultations with a wide range of specialist support providers.
- As a restorative practitioner for 15 years I don’t believe restorative processes are ‘victim led’, I don’t believe a genuinely restorative approach is ‘led’ by either side involved more than the other.
- ‘Considered’ in all cases does not mean automatically delivered in all cases.
- ‘I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators’ Not a fan of restorative processes then? Many victims of many offences are ‘vulnerable’- We don’t believe this in and of itself constitutes a reason for victims to be denied access to a process which may significantly assist in reducing that vulnerability
Let me be really clear- I absolutely 100% accept that Domestic Violence offences MUST be assessed with a huge degree of sensitivity and awareness of the potentially huge power imbalances and manipulation that may very well be there. Given that is the case I don’t believe there will ever be a situation where a restorative intervention is a common response to a domestic violence offence. BUT, and its a BIG BUT, I think it is fundamentally wrong to say a restorative approach is NEVER a viable option in regard to DV. We have undertaken a number of cases- 100% at the victim’s behest, 100% supported throughout by the specialist support/care provider working with the victim which have resulted in significant benefits to the victim.
In preparing to write this response I spoke to a service user of ours, Susan (name changed). Susan had suffered a huge degree of violence and resultant suffering throughout a 12 year relationship. This violence had resulted in her hospitalisation on 10 separate occasions. With the help of a support agency she felt able to leave the relationship and after a significant period of support she was able to move on to a place of safety. With the help of the charity supporting her Susan felt able to approach the Police. As a result her former partner was imprisoned. Susan is one of the bravest, most empowered and most inspirational people it has ever been my privilege to meet.
After 2 years Susan was watching TV one night when she, by chance, happened to catch a documentary which featured ‘Restorative Justice’. The day after, following a huge anount of research and numerous phone calls she identified a ‘Restorative Justice’ service local to her. She said “I was so excited when I found the number I couldn’t wait to ring them. This is what I had been looking for” So she rang. She outlined her experiences and said that she would like to talk to someone about the possibility of ‘doing’ RJ. The response she received, which she says she will never forget was, “I’m really sorry but we don’t do Domestic Violence cases”. When Susan asked why she was told “Its just too dangerous and could do more than harm than good and we have a responsibility to protect you”
Now whilst I think the language used was hugely inappropriate I can sort of see where this person was coming from and I absolutely don’t, for one minute, think that they had any intention of making Susan feel re-victimised or disempowered or excluded. Unfortunately however that is EXACTLY how Susan was left feeling. She said,
“I couldn’t believe it. It felt like what I thought didn’t matter, that I was clearly incapable of making decisions for myself. I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime and I just didn’t think it was fair”
She hung up.
Later that week following an internet search Susan phoned our office. Afterwards she explained, “I was quite angry when I phoned up because I was expecting the same response I’d had before but it wasn’t like that. The lady on the phone listened to everything I had to say. When I finished she explained that Remedi didn’t have an office where I lived but that she would speak to her manager and that she’d phone me back. To be honest I thought ‘yeah of course you will’!”
Despite her suspicions to the contrary we phoned her back. We agreed to fund the case ourselves and made arrangements to visit her.
Four months of extensive discussions with Susan, her support worker, the offender manager involved with her ex partner and subsequently her ex partner later it was agreed that a direct meeting would be arranged.
The meeting took place in a neutral setting in a location away from her current location and extensive ground-rules discussed and agreed prior to the meeting taking place.
In the meeting Susan did most of the talking. She had prepared notes which she wanted to refer to, “I took my notes so I didn’t miss anything I wanted to say and ended up not needing them. When I started talking, everything I wanted to say, had wanted to say for years, just poured out. The main thing I wanted to say was to tell him I wasn’t frightened of him anymore, that I was in control of my life and to make him listen, really listen, to the horror he had put me through. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t that person anymore and I really hoped he would get help so he never made anyone else suffer like I had. I just needed him to see that he wasn’t in control of me anymore”
Her ex partner listened to what Susan said and when offered the opportunity to respond said that he had started to access support whilst in prison and that this had continued after his release from custody. He then said “All I can say is I’m sorry. I know thats not enough”
Susan responded saying “You’re right its not enough. Actions speak louder than words- you’ve got to prove it by never hurting anyone again. That’s all I’ve got to say”
This meeting took place 14 months ago. When I spoke to Susan about writing this piece I asked her what taking part in a restorative process meant to her?, what did she get out of it? Her response will stay with me for a long time- so much so that I asked her to email it to me so I didn’t mis quote her. Here’s what she said,
“I felt like I had taken the power back that had been taken from me over 12 years. I felt stronger, I felt in control and for the first time I didn’t feel like a victim anymore. I know we tend to talk about being a ‘survivor’ now more than ‘victim’ but I’m not to keen on that either because it feels like being put in a box. I think I was a victim who was then a survivor and now, now I’m Susan again”
The biggest problem I have with the example Ms May gave in her speech is that what she outlines and what was done was not, and never has been, a restorative process. The fact is, however, that whoever delivered it described it as ‘restorative justice’ and as such I have some sympathy as a result with her reaction and subsequent condemnation of RJ. The challenge facing the restorative world is to challenge this type of ridiculous activity being described as ‘restorative’ whenever and wherever possible as it threatens the huge amount of superb work being undertaken on a daily basis up and down the country which is truly ‘restorative’ in each and every case. Simply calling an activity ‘restorative’ doesn’t make it so.
Susan continues to be Susan. She now works as a support worker with women who have suffered violence and the last words should be hers.
“I have heard people say that Restorative isn’t suitable for cases like mine. All I can say is talk to me, talk to women like me, be honest and be open and listen to what we say. I agree it isn’t for everyone but please don’t just automatically take that choice away. There’s a lot of talk about putting victims at the heart of things. Well if you truly believe that please don’t exclude them from making choices”
Steve Jones, Director, Remedi