Sunday, November 12, 2006

Restorative Justice

I wrote yesterday about being approached to work on a possible TV series about restorative justice, and touched briefly on my reservations about whether my case was suitable. Before I called the researcher back, I did some reading up on restorative justice, and some good links can be found here ( Home Office report - pdf, Home Office page , Government Strategy with regard to restorative justice, Transforming Conflict ( education site) ACPO Response (pdf) to Government's Strategy on Restorative Justice, Joseph Rowntree site on Thames Valley Police restorative cautioning, and the impressive results )

Wiki also has a good round up of links and explanations as to the main ways in which restorative justice is practised throughout the world through mediation, community justice boards, healing circles and so on. is the main UK site for exploring and finding out about restorative justice, and here I quote from their home page where there is a definition of what restorative justice is:

Restorative Justice is a process whereby:
(i) All the parties with a stake in a particular conflict or offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the conflict or offence and its implications for the future, and;
(ii) Offenders have the opportunity to acknowledge the impact of what they have done and to make reparation and victims have the opportunity to have their harm or loss acknowledged and amends made."

Basically, restorative justice is a way to deal practically and positively with the fall out of crime on the victim, the offender and the community. The criminal justice system treats the victim as a witness only, with the State acting as the injured party and delivering justice. Though new measures such as Victim Impact Statements/Victim Personal Statements have been introduced so that the victim can communicate something of the effect of the crime on them to the court, there is little in the criminal justice system to make the process anything other than an artificial, ritualised and often frightening process which can, in the worst instances, re-traumatise the victim. The offender is the passive focus of the system, and is supposed to meekly accept punishment; there is no language of healing or rehabilitation, nor is there any restitution or attempt to make amends.

Restorative justice - letting victim and offender speak to each other, listen and be heard and validated is much more like the way humans naturally resolve their differences and communicate with each other, rather than the highly-formalised structures and language of the court. And it does seem to have a positive effect, on victim recovery rates, on re-offending rates and on community satisfaction and sense of justice having been done. And I support the idea of and practice of RJ wholeheartedly. I would love to embrace it and be a part of it.

Here is a good example of restorative justice in action, told by Helen, a victim.

The problem I am having in my case is that, unfortunately I just don't think it will work. Cases of serious sexual assault or murder are not usually considered suitable for RJ, ( though there has been sterling stuff done in Northern Ireland and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committees). But cases where the offender shows no remorse or has a mental condition that precludes him feeling empathy, shame or remorse are usually not considered suitable for attempts at RJ .

In the case of my 2002 violent stranger-rape, I went to every single court hearing and I went through a trial, and I attended every attempt at a sentencing hearing ( there were endless delays and delaying tactics and changing of pleas and sacking of counsel by the defendant) and the rapist never, ever displayed any remorse at all. Right up until the end, he still denied culpability and ludicrously claimed the attack was consensual. He lied and lied. He was unable to even read out the oath, being illiterate, yet he claimed to have been reading his lines for a play before the offence, instead of loitering on the streets looking for victims and ( probably) smoking crack. He denied robbing me, even though he made dozens of calls from my stolen mobile to a drug dealer. He had no explanation for the injuries on my body, and there were over forty, nor could he explain why I was found tied up and covered in blood with a wire noose around my neck. He mumbled throughout, and would not meet my eyes, and was dumb and gaping when moved away in questioning from his pre-prepared excuses about how he had ''met the lady'' walking home and ''offered to carry the lady's [plastic carrier] bag and handbag''.

The judge, when he eventually sentenced him, after psychiatric reports had been made, described him as ''extremely violent'' and ''a danger to women'' with ''worrying elements of sadism'' in his actions, and described me as ''an honest, reliable and truthful witness''. Throughout the whole judicial process my attacker did nothing to help the case proceed smoothly, in fact he obstructed it at every turn. He never showed any feelings at all apart from violent anger, or sadistic pleasure in being in control when attacking me, and in the court, either blankness or occasional self-pity.

I absolutely cannot see the point in trying to have any sort of conversation with such a person.

And I have nothing to say to him. I think I might as well try and talk to an axe.

As to feeling empowered; I never felt like a ''victim''. I held onto my power almost all the way through. I lost it only for a few moments, when he burst into my flat, and began to beat me, and I begged him to stop, and he told me to shut up, and continued to beat me, and make me his prisoner, his thing to abuse and humilate and hurt.

But then I got what control I could back, when I decided I would do anything necessary to stay alive. That was when I felt it, the power I never knew I had.

From the minute when he began raping me, and I disassociated from the attack, knowing he could never violate my essential self or rape my soul.

At the moment when I knew I had defeated his attempt to kill me by feigning my own death.

When I decided to come back into my body after he had left me; when I got to my feet, bound and escaped from the house and got help.

When I said to the police, I have been raped, find him.

When I let the police take the evidence of my body and my home and held nothing back, trusting that justice would come this way.

When my love came to me in hospital and his eyes and his smile showed me that we had had lost nothing, that we loved each other more for having nearly been so cruelly separated.

When I gave the police statement on video camera, and told all I could remember of the assault, and was not ashamed to speak of it; when I couldn't remember, I gave permission for a Professor of forensic Psychology to work with the police using new techniques on me in interview to unlock the suppressed memories locked down by masssive trauma-amnesia, even though I knew it would hurt me.

When I went out of my house, and went to the shops, even though I was nauseous with fear that he was somewhere waiting for me, to finish me off.

When I went back to work and said I had taken the time off because a stranger had tried to kill me, and yes, he had raped me.

When I got the call from the police ' We've got him, Rachel.'

All those times when I put on my suit and went to court and stared him down, holding J's hand and the police officer's hand.

When the judge pronounced me truthful, and he a liar, and then he was taken away and I looked at his face for, I hope, the very last time.

All those times, I was not a victim; I still had power.

And now, I still have my power. And my life, and my love, and my family and friends, and my freedom and my voice and my words.

And he has nothing. Nothing at all.

So I do not feel the need for anything to be ''restored'' to me with restorative justice, since I am more than restored; I am strengthened and empowered and I have a life that is richer and sweeter and more satisfying for having nearly lost it. And I know the redemptive power of love, and compassion, and justice, and how it is always stronger than hate and anger and lies.

Perhaps restorative justice would help my offender. But I owe him nothing.

Perhaps it would help society, if it helped to rehabilitate him and prevent him reoffending again. But I have already done my bit: I gave evidence, with some of his other victims, and I helped to get him out of society and sent down, locked safely away, so he couldn't hurt people any more.

And there are other victims to consider: how would they feel if they saw him again on TV? And anyway, I do not think, as I said, that he is capable of feeling remorse or wanting to ''make amends''. I think the only reason he would agree to be part of a restorative justice effort is if he thought he could get something out of it, like time off his sentence, or earlier parole, or better treatment in prison or something.

I honestly do not see the point of ever having anything more to do with that man ever again. And there are dangers too: already I have spoken out about it, and I worry that his family or friends may seek to come after me, and hurt me, though I have my legal right to anonymity to protect me. I am known as ''Rachel North'' now, not my real name. I need that protection, still.

People sometimes ask me about forgiveness: do I forgive this man? They act as if it is something I ought to do, I have to do, in order to ''move on''. But I have moved on: I never think of him anymore. At least, I didn't, for years. I am only writing about it now because I was approached to make a programme about the subject of what happened two days ago, and because I am writing a book about PTSD, and so it is on my mind again.

I do not 'forgive' this man, not in the Christian sense of the word. I have written about this before in the Sunday Times when I said:

''Does this mean I can foresee myself forgiving the man who raped me? Forgiveness is defined as “compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive” or “the act of excusing a mistake or offence”. I have some compassionate feelings towards him already, as I can see that he is a human, not a monster. I do not excuse what he did, but he is not my problem any more. Part of the process of justice is that he is society’s problem now. I am free of him. If he can rehabilitate himself over the years ahead so that he is no longer a threat to women, then he should be let out, having served his sentence. ''

Later I expanded on this in a piece I wrote called 'The F Word'

''For me forgiveness is about moving through the storm of pain and outrage, holding onto my essential self, which was there before the devastating event. It’s hard to let go of the desire for revenge: anger became my sole driver in the months after the first attack.But to be trapped in a state of permanent rage hurts me. I hold what has happened to me, the rape, the bomb, and I try to live through it. I do not want to live a life defined entirely by an attack on me.

Forgiveness is a choice, and a gift I make to myself, to live freely in the light, rather than to be trapped in a hell of hatred and vengefulness. It has little to do with the perpetrators of the crimes; it is for me, not them that I choose to do this. It is how I stay sane.

When I cannot go any further, I lean on others; my partner, my family, my friends and fellow passengers. I have found that the only way to get past hate and cruelty is to look for where there is still love. I have put up walls to survive in the past; I have used my anger like armour. I could not bear to be so vulnerable in the months after the rape, so I did what I could to protect my devastated self. It took time to forgive myself for being so painfully human. But I found that my vulnerability was my strength. I am human: and I live amongst humans in an imperfect world. The only world that we know.

A world where, yes, there is horrifying pain and injustice and cruelty, but also, still beauty and kindness and hope. Wounds take time to heal, and eight months is such a little time. I do not forgive in the Christian sense of the word. I do not exonerate. I move past, I let go, I walk through this and I walk on, leaving the bomber and the rapist and the anger behind me. It is the hardest thing I have ever done.''

And I still feel the same as I did when I wrote that last year.

So, here we are, (and what a long and grim post that was. November is the time of darkness, introspection, death, decay and shadows. You have to go through it, in order to get to Spring. But I am sorry if I have made you gloomy on your Sunday, reading this. )

I left it like this: I said to the programme researcher that if they could get a forensic psychologist's report on my attacker, as to whether he could feel emotions such as remorse, then I would think about the programme, even though my instincts are telling me not to do it. I think that if meeting him will help to stop him reoffending on release, then morally, I should try to do what I can to facilitate that outcome.

As to the other past crime which still affects me: the bomber is dead.

So there is no restorative justice to be had there, either.

And I think restorative justice has its limits, unfortunately, and today I found examples of them. But I would be interested to know what you think.

UPDATE: BBC article on restorative justice which I found very thought-provoking. Maybe I will see my attacker, after all,( but only if a psychologist says he can now ''do'' empathy.) Maybe I will go and talk to other prisoners instead, as someone in that article did. And I am in awe of the sister of one of the West victims, who sees murderers in prison.

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Blogger zoe said...

my god, you are a stronger woman than i.

'god' bless you, and all other sufferers/victims - whatever they prefer to call themselves, men and women alike.


November 12, 2006 7:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the most powerful pieces I've read- in any medium.

I know about South Africa and Northern Ireland RJ experiences (both facilitated by Desmond Tutu), and that many of those encounters have been a catalyst for healing for both parties. It is a huge ask.

However, what struck me about many of the NI encounters was the reticence on the part of the perpetrators to truly face the enormity of their crimes; even though they decided to participate in the programme and thought they were making amends, they invariably had an excuse.

I'd be interested in finding out what those NI victims who participated in the Desmond Tutu RJ feel today about the experience.

November 12, 2006 7:46 pm  
Blogger Bitseach said...

RJ is thought to help the victim as much as (well, more than) the perpetrator. Many victims are said to have had their fear of their attacker / robber / burglar removed and sometimes they've even had their paranoias assuaged - eg where a man thought that he'd been attacked because he was Jewish but in fact, just happened to be the next person along the road.

I personally don't think that RJ is appropriate for rape or other serious sexual assault; it can work well for acquisitive crime, even that involving some violence but the violence, control, sadism or sexual pleasure all employed by the rapist make it a particular type of crime. The feelings of (whatever rapists feel when they do that to someone) are more than just feelings associated with ordinary criminality - often just a means to an end of more drugs, booze or whatever.

From your powerful and moving testimony, meeting the person who attacked you would probably not give you feelings of pity or apathy towards them or give you back some power that you had lost in the encounter. It would probably not change them (although offenders certainly can be changed by meeting the people they've wronged) and you do not seem to need it. I'd say to them to pick someone different.

Best of luck, whatever you decide.
(these are my own views and not related to my job or its policy!)

November 12, 2006 8:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the best books on criminology I have read is Wayne Morrison's: "Theoretical Criminology" (Cavendish). His extentialist explanations for violent crime ring true. If it is the case that you want to know "why" you were raped, you may find out more from reading this book than speaking to a rapist direct.

If you are interested in criminology generally, I love Wayne Morrison. I don't know what he is doing now, but he used to teach criminology at the Masters level for University of London.

November 13, 2006 8:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree with what you say, Rachel. No one has the right to ask you to do something which will not be helpful for you in this situation. You've done a lot more thinking about this than he has, or will ever be able to. And what you've written is so well articulated, I can't imagine anyone would ask you to do otherwise.

November 13, 2006 10:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


After reading this and the previous entry, I am in no doubt that you have one of the strongest voices - through your words - of anyone on the net and perhaps even in print, which (the forthcoming book), if these pieces are any indication, will be a difficult, heart-rending but inspirational read.

I'm not a christian, but (or should that be and) I can see, intellectually, the potential for greater good (in reducing future cases rather than just punishing the offender, retribution-wise) in restorative justice. And maybe, just maybe, your offender could learn, find salvation, be released from his own demons, but such a process.

But I haven't been violently raped or blown up (though I have had my own, much milder, trauma), I'm just a man, what do I know about what it means to have come through those experiences with greater strengh, and a voice such as yours ? So it's ultimately your own decision, and you've made it, put it, way better than any of us could. Of course.

Perhaps he (the rapist) would benefit from reading your words - can he really be *that* empty, incapable of empathy, so blank ? Perhaps he would benefit from watching videos of victim testimony, even of other victim-perpetrator confrontations. Or maybe not.

Maybe, just maybe, there *is* something out there, a pure freefloating evil, which can attach itself to the weak and feeble and give them the illusion of power, strength, which they would not otherwise find, in hurting others. But I'm not a christian, so I don't have to believe it, do I ?

(BTW not the Iain mentioned in the earlier piece - that's Iain Dale).

November 13, 2006 12:27 pm  
Blogger Daniel of "Daniels Counter" said...

Restorative Justice usually helps the offender by learning about the impact of his / her actions. It does however much "less justice" for the actual victim, unless they are satisfied wit the outcome of the impact is being understood by the aggressor. There is no other reward or benefit. My wife wrote her Master dissertation about that, having inititially interested in it, she felt rather disappointed by what the system does

November 13, 2006 12:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I can't offer any insights into restorative justice or wise words on the subjects you touch on in this blog. But I can say thank you for the beautiful writing and agree with the commenters here about the power, eloquence, strength and resonance of your words. Thank you.

November 13, 2006 1:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a strong piece and you are such a strong person. You are right - you can only connect with someone in this way if there is something there to connect *with*.

November 14, 2006 10:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One less well-publicised fact about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is that a majority of victims felt that it had been biased in favour of the perpetrators, and that it had actually undermined the prospects of reconciliation in South Africa. The key bone of contention was that in the majority of cases, South Africa's TRC awarded amnesties to the killers and torturers of the Apartheid era against the wishes of the victim (or their surviving relatives). One has to question how "restorative", or indeed "just" this process was.

This sobering fact contrasts sharply with the picture painted by Desmond Tutu in his book "No Future Without Forgiveness" (definitely worth reading, if you haven't already, BTW), where he presents the TRC as a model to be emulated around the world.

This is an area of particular interest for me, as my family is facing the prospect of my sister's killers being brought before what the Burundian government is calling a "Truth, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Commission" in Burundi some time in the next few years, and pardoned of their crime with the UN's blessing...

We might feel differently if there was any realistic hope that such an amnesty process could help bring an end to the cycle of violence in Burundi, but unfortunately the country's recent history would seem to suggest the opposite. Most Burundians I know believe that the "Truth, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Commission" will be little more than a mechanism by which the political elites on both sides of the divide hope to get themselves off the hook for the abuses they have committed.

If SA's TRC is any precedent, then my family's feelings (along with those of other victims) will be strictly irrelevant to the process.

I have no problem with "restorative justice" in principle, and in the right context, but what troubles me is that so much of the rhetoric around it - well meaning though it undoubtedly is - so often seems to be based on wishful-thinking. Also troubling is the way that the concept seems so often to have been abused for political purposes.

November 16, 2006 10:17 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Richard, your excellent and powerful book 'Titanic Express' was something I read over the summer and was very moved by.

I wanted to leave you a comment but I can't find a blog for you.

I hope so much that when your sister's killers are brought in front of a Commission that there will be justice: I know how hard to worked to get to this point and my prayers/wishes/hopes are with you.

I would like to develop the point a bit more and aluude to your book in a future post, is that ok?

November 16, 2006 10:57 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Kris, thank you for the Wayne Morrison ref, I will go and have a look in Borders.

And thank you everyone else for your words: I do appreciate them, and you, all.

November 16, 2006 11:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,

Many thanks for those kind words. I'm really glad that you liked "Titanic Express", and would be pleased to read your thoughts on it as part of the wider debate. For reference, I do have a simple blog, of sorts, here:



November 16, 2006 12:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Rachel,

well done! I admire you immensely.

In 1982, a similar thing happened to me but I was so ashamed that I hid my injuries and didn't tell anyone for 24 years i.e until last year.

I have still only told two people, neither of whom is my husband, and both of whom have been supportive and sympathetic in a way I was not expecting.

At the time, I couldn't understand what had happened or why - feeling for many years, bizarrely, it must have been my fault - I missed the obvious danger signs but I was too young to know about those things. I was suicidal for a long time. Nothing else in my life ("A" levels then college then law school) seemed to have any meaning left in them at all and I was not so much living as keeping going.

I gradually put it behind me and began to enjoy life once more, but there was still a shadow.

Then the main attacker found my phone number and called me in y2000. He didn't have much to say, he just wondered how I was (!). I told him I was fine and it had never bothered me (a whopping great lie, obviously). Somehow the conversation gave me back some confidence because he sounded so ordinary, and failed and seemed to need to talk to me for some kind of reassurance. And I was able to stay in control of the conversation, safe in the knowledge that I have a lovely family and a good life despite that bad start.

Even though it was clear that he knew my home address, and that cannot have been easy to find, I have not worried since about him coming back for me.

It was low key Truth and Reconciliation; he didn't apologise and it was not at my instigation, but it helped a lot to make me feel whole again.

So maybe there is something in RJ but you should only do it if it feels right for you and you may have coped in a different, and better, way.

You are much, much braver than I ever could have been. I found surviving and trying to hold on to my sanity as much as I could manage.

Best Wishes,


March 09, 2007 3:58 pm  

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