Updated: Aug 8
On the 31st of May, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Keith Brown visited us to discuss our exciting new launch for a Restorative Justice hub in Scotland. As you may know, Thriving Survivors are thrilled to be introducing RJ services and making them available to survivors later this year. The RJ pilot was developed following a survivor consultation that found significant demand for the option to access RJ services, including in cases of sexual harm. These innovative services will give survivors a voice, allow them to find closure and healing, and provide a different way to experience justice towards one that empowers and addresses harm and reduces harmful behaviour.
The Cabinet Secretary spoke with survivors of sexual harm and listened as they explained how RJ will work how they believed they could benefit from RJ and gained insight into why some survivors want the choice to access RJ.
The following sets out questions discussed and how survivors at the meeting responded to these.
Question: The media are reporting some concerns about the use of RJ in certain cases. Are cases of sexual harm not ‘too risky’ for RJ approaches to work?
Answer: Choice is more important.
Survivor: ‘For me it's about choice. The victims have had the choice removed at one point so it's giving them power back to make that decision and it's not something that they have to commit but it's all about, as I say, the choice and not someone else removing that cos they feel it's too sensitive. It's up to you what you disclose or divulge or how much you engage with it, so I think it's about giving someone that autonomy to make the decisions for themselves. But by removing it completely, you're again re-traumatising someone by removing their rights essentially.’
Question: How do we prevent re-traumatising survivors through interactions with perpetrators?
Answer: Professional intervention, with training along specific RJ principles, is needed.
Survivor: ‘I think if there is a clear process and professionals know, people who have had lived experience can then speak to those people who are to avoid re-traumatisation. I just in particular wanted to address the secondary re-traumatisation with the agencies that deal with trauma survivors: Police Scotland and the front line workers, and how they actually deal with somebody who's in a mental health crisis. [...] It's like a process where people are looking for healing. People who have been through that system are looking for something that they can get healing from and aren't left in that state of re-traumatisation. So, every step of the way I think it's like people who are really informed, and really know what they are talking about to start to speak into other people's lives.
‘I think as well, it's a journey, so there is bound to be a time in my own healing where I would never ever think to engage in the Restorative Justice process. But it's an option that could potentially be on the side-line and I think now that I'm at a point where I've done all this other work on myself, I've worked with charities, organisations, and there is just something lacking. So I think for me, that's where the power comes in, and I can regain that power by engaging in something I haven't previously been allowed to do, that is maybe preventing me from just moving forward. The trauma has happened, it's not going away, so give me the tools to be able to do something about it.’
Question: Does RJ offer an opportunity for survivors to exercise power and take control?
Answer: Yes, partly. It is also about preventing reoffending.
Survivor: ‘It potentially is partly to do with that, and I would say that it depends whether the criteria has been met. [...] I know what work I've done on myself to get myself to a point where I would feel safe and comfortable and willing to do that: me sitting in a room with that person regardless of what they had to say, I would know what I wanted to say, and I don't feel that I could be any further affected by the outcome of that. If I got the chance to do it, I think that would be enough for me.’
Survivor: [Regarding reoffending] ‘If my children do something wrong, I don't just put them away and not speak about it. I will maybe say: “do [you] understand why you've upset someone? Have you thought about that? This is how you've made someone feel.” Wee things [that] you can apply that to adults as well. Unless you've sat someone down and had that conversation, then they might not really realise the impact of their actions.’
Question: What is it like to go through the criminal justice system as a survivor of sexual harm?
Answer: It is re-traumatising, and you have no say.
Survivor: ‘The justice system just re-traumatises you. If you've been traumatised, there's no compassion in the system at all. It's completely objective and I get that [...] but it's not suitable at all for sensitive issues like sexual assault. It just doesn't bring you anything. And it's like the idea of justice for everyone is different. But as you're going through the system for it, it's like the only justice you receive is a prison sentence [....]. They can go through all this re-traumatisation and get absolutely nothing out of it. And even as you say, the perpetrator goes to prison, all essentially that goes on is that they're put on hold for a bit and if they survive, however long, they are meant to be in there for and they come out, have to learn anything? [...] So they could come out angry and you know, they've gone through prison and the likelihood is if they haven't been rehabilitated properly. They're going to back out and think they haven't done anything, and they're just going to harm other people. So, the thing is with Restorative Justice, we get something out of it. We get to have our own idea of what justice is. We get to cater it to what our needs are, and we're also addressing the perpetrators more than just us as well. It's to make sure that they don't harm anyone else, and they know what they've done wrong [...]. If you don't do it now, then it's never going to be addressed, and then everyone's just going to keep getting hurt and nothing's going to come from it, and it's just going to be going round in circles at both ends, because the justice system doesn't bring anything for any time sensitive case at all. It's just one process after the other, everyone has really bad experiences from it.’
Survivor: ‘The criminal justice system is extremely cold. It’s very barbaric at times coming through that system [...]. If you look at the work to restore, you are giving something back, so you're giving a voice back to the survivor who has come through an extremely traumatic re-traumatization through a system that's supposed to help. It's really important to hear that the system is just not working. It's not working for the sensitive issues, it's not working for the complexities of people coming through it. And this ending then gives the survivor a voice where they are able to say, “this is exactly what your actions did to me and I need you [to be] accountable for that.”’
Question: What does justice mean, and how can RJ help improve survivors’ experience of justice?’
Answer: We want more flexibility.
Survivor: ‘It is different for everyone, and everyone has a different idea. There were people [who] just want an apology, people [who] wanted their perpetrator dead. It was ranging to a million different things [...] It's different to everyone and Restorative Justice has got the flexibility to bring that to people. And without having that, nobody's ever really going to be able to get the closure they need.’
Question: Could RJ save public-spending money?
Survivor: ‘You’ve got £38K [spent] on one prisoner each year. My perpetrator got 5.5 years so I don't know how much money that is because I'm bad with numbers, but chances are that [without RJ] he'll come out and you could go back in. It's a waste of money.’
To find out more about RJ services, please visit us at https://www.thrivingsurvivors.co.uk/restorative-justice. Join us in revolutionising justice outcomes for survivors, and giving them a voice where before they had none.