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Approach with caution not cynicism: Rape and restorative justice

October 15, 2010

…One of the most significant advantages of restorative justice– which is
often emphasised – is its capacity to give victims a voice: it allows
them to tell their story and explain the ways in which the crime has
hurt them and affected their and others’ lives. Feminists have long
encouraged the telling and hearing of women’s stories (in law) as a
means to express alternative viewpoints and to disrupt the monotony of
the dominant discourse. But the framework within which they are told and
heard limits the expression and understandings of these stories, and so
the structures they are told within must be challenged and rearranged.
For instance, the criminal justice system restricts the victim’s
explanation of events at trial by the nature of the questions she is
asked, and in rape laws the categories and language cannot capture the
hurt, pain, shame and objectification of sexual assault that survivors
have expressed in empirical research. Restorative justice does not have
the same restrictions.

…Seen in this way, it is important to emphasise that restorative justice
provides a different space – rather than just more space – in which
victims can tell their stories of rape. Of course, it is possible, as
critics have argued, that restorative conferences, and other forums in
which the rape victim-survivor is face-to-face with the offender, might
replicate and reinforce the gendered power dynamics, with the offender
restricting what the victim-survivor feels she can say. Even so, by
placing the crime of rape within a different framework and paradigm it
provides a different perspective from which to interrogate the harm of
rape, and from here to inform and improve the legal response. Having
seemed to have reached an impasse in the criminal law, restorative
justice could provide a means by which to explore more radical options
and provoke ideas for future direction.

Read the full article.


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