Restorative justice in a case of serious sexual assault
Dec 23, 2011
....I was raped twice, at knifepoint, by a man who had been released from prison, just 24 hours earlier. I was his 27th victim. I reported the crime immediately. He had walked off abruptly in the middle of the attack and I was sure of 2 things: he had done this before and he would do it again.
I was believed and the rapist was caught, sentenced and returned to prison. Justice was done. Since the assailant pled “guilty” he was allowed a third off his tariff and the Judge, “to spare me any further distress”, proceeded quickly to his decision. 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 traumatized 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 2 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 vie wed 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.