Despite a succession of revelations about sexual crime perpetrated in families, institutions and in communities, sexual crime is still largely un-reported with less than 1 in 10 cases ever reaching the criminal justice system. For the vast majority of victims of sexual crime a gulf exists between what the criminal justice system promises and what it can actually deliver.
According to the findings of a recently published study, restorative justice could provide an additional justice mechanism for victims of sexual crime which can support the needs of victims, offenders, and their families, in the aftermath of sexual crime in Ireland.
The study entitled "Sexual Trauma and Abuse, Restorative and Transformative Possibilities?" based on 149 interviews with victims, offenders, judges and others, and a review of the global literature found that "all cohorts of participants are in favour of restorative justice in sexual violence cases as an additional justice mechanism for victims of sexual crime, as all participants recognise the considerable gaps that exist in current justice provision for victims of sexual crime in this state".
"Restorative justice can work to repair harm caused by the offence; increase the offender's sense of responsibility for the offence; provide an opportunity for the victim to receive reparation and/or an apology; provide an opportunity for the victim to ask questions and receive information from the offender; provide a means for victims to talk about how the incident impacted them; giving victims an opportunity to take back power and maximise the opportunity to provide victims, offenders, and the community a sense of justice," said Dr Marie Keenan from the UCD School of Applied Social Science, University College Dublin who led the study.
The study recognises that restorative justice is not for everyone, but says that victims should have a choice on whether it is part of the criminal justice system or runs alongside it. It recommends that "a three-year pilot project of Restorative Justice in certain cases of sexual violence be established in Ireland as a matter of urgency, with a specified agency established for this purpose".
The collaborative study conducted by UCD, Facing Forward – A Restorative Justice Organisation, and Counselling Psychologist, Ms Bernadette Fahy, was officially launched by Minister Aodhán Ó Riordáin, TD, Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality and Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in Dublin Castle on 01 December 2014.
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The study is available online: facingforward.ie/wp-content/up … AFO_Final_Lo_Res.pdf