How restorative justice can empower victims in serious crimes - two cases of rape

By Jonathan Bartley
January 2, 2012

A frequently repeated myth about restorative justice is that it can’t work for “serious” or “violent crimes”. As restorative practices become more widely available however, this myth is being busted. Its role in shifting the power imbalance around crime towards the victim is becoming increasingly apparent. Its ability to help victims overcome the fear of crime and move on, in a way that more punitive practices often don't, is also being appreciated. Two examples that have been cited recently involve cases of rape.

The first, featured by Sky News concerned Joanne Nodding. She told Sky News how she feared for her life when she was raped almost 10 years ago, and how even seeing her attacker being sentenced to life did little to help her achieve closure. This is what she said:

    “It changed the power balance," she said. "I'm not scared of him now."

    "Previously he had control over me, and I couldn't bear that. I also hated the thought of him thinking that he had ruined my life.

    "Now I've taken that control back - and yes, I did forgive him."

    Ms Nodding said she is not a particularly religious person, and surprised herself with her ability to forgive. But by doing so, she said she can now get on with her life without fear or shame.

    "It's totally given me my life back".

The second case involved Claire Chun, who was raped twice, at knifepoint, by a man who had been released from prison. This is what she said of her RJ experience:

    “Although I was in court, nobody looked at me and nobody heard me.

    “From the outset, I knew I wanted to speak with the rapist. I didn’t want to be just another rape statistic. I was a real person, with a real life, who had been really harmed. The collateral damage to my family and friends was immense.

    “I wasn’t aware of Restorative Justice (RJ) at the time; and despite being so traumatised and barely able to function, I went on to work with two highly skilled mediators who agreed to take on my case. After 20 months of negotiation, I finally got to speak to the man whose first words to me had been “Do as I say, or I’ll kill you”.

    “When we finally met, the offender was shaking, sweating and wary of my actions. I was in the perverse situation of asking him if HE was alright! However, we both went on to calmly talk for two hours. He did say “sorry”. I had to ask him to say it. He said it didn’t seem enough after I’d described my current state of desperation. He had eye contact with me when he said this and at last I felt like I counted. I was able to voice the feeling of hurt, abandonment and the damage wreaked on my family and I as my life slowly fell apart in the months after his conviction.

    “It is ‘human’ to want to feel understood. I needed to be heard, but so did the offender. I listened, without judgment, to the pain and hurt he described of his early childhood. How his anger and unhealthy sexual fantasies had evolved into his own rage; enacting crimes perceived by the public as second in severity only to murder. I wanted him to take responsibility for his crimes.

    “Chillingly, he described how this was the first time he had ever viewed his victim as a real person and only because I was sitting beside him and confronting his excuses; bringing him out of his disassociation from the reality of his crimes.

    “Rape is about power, anger and control. It is rarely about sex. On that day, in a small prison visiting room, the balance of power changed. I too had to confront my hopelessness and helplessness. I was also in prison but the fear was in my head. Being given the opportunity to allow the rapist to think about his crimes in a different way was a huge step forward in the start of my recovery.”

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.