If the rape alone was not traumatizing enough, the 8-year-old's family disowned her for fear that she would bring shame to the family. Phoenix Police Sgt. Andy Hill told the press, "The father told the case worker and an officer in her presence that he didn't want her back. He said 'Take her, I don't want her."' She was considered "damaged goods."

Damaged goods are non-salvageable and thus unsalable. It's a commerce term alluding to loss of commercial value. "Damaged goods" has migrated from its original meaning and is now used to stigmatize rape survivors....

....The young girl is now in the care of child protective services and the community is outraged by the family's response....

....Upon reading about the gang-rape of this 8-year-old child, most comments and letters to media outlets immediately called for the life-incarceration of these boys. Why should anyone have mercy on humans, irrespective of age, who would go as far as gang-raping a child? Even with years in the prison abolition and reform communities, my impulse was to lock up these boys....

A Chance for Restorative Justice

There are many layers to this crisis. There is an 8-year-old girl who must live with the memories of her rape and her family's abandonment. Four young boys who will have to confront their actions during prison time. A Liberian refugee community that must try to rebuild an already fragile existence. A larger international community that must rethink support services for the specific needs of Liberian refugees. And, a Liberian nation still must come to term with the enduring legacies of their country's civil war.

Restorative Justice, even in cases of sexual assault (PDF) is advocated as a form of justice that rebuilds communities after a crisis because the emphasis is on the crime as an offense against human relationships, not solely against the state. Furthermore, through this restorative justice model, the first priority is to assist the survivor, rather than solely punish the offenders. The second priority is the restoration of the community as much as possible. Models differ, but strategies such as family group conferencing, reintegration services, survivor-offender mediation and survivor support services often operate parallel to the traditional justice system.

There is surely a long road ahead, and President Sirleaf is correct in asserting that both survivor and rapists must be counseled so that "they too will have an opportunity to change and become useful citizens not only in the United States but when they return home." The goal is not simply to punish but to restore everyone so that they can be reintegrated with their communities. We do not know if the 8-year-old girl can ever return home. We do not know which wounds can be healed.

Read the whole entry.