Question 3 “People get very concerned about [using RJ for] sexual offending and domestic violence, what I would call the ‘power offences’. If you’ve got power offences … you don’t dive into those … but generally across the board I can’t see anything that you can’t use [RJ] for.” – RJ facilitator, Thames Valley A good answer to this question will focus on some of the specific issues raised by DV as a crime, and in particular the issues about how to deal with it. If, for example, we take the view that a victim of DV should above all be protected from the offender – to the point of never having to look at him again – then RJ is probably not going to be appropriate. Does violence within a relationship represent the violent partner showing his (sometimes her) true colours? Or can a relationship be saved even after an episode of violence? Should a victim of DV be encouraged to consider reconciliation, or encouraged to leave?
This question will also test your personal definition of RJ (don’t they all). Asking a victim of DV to accept the offender’s apologies might sound excessive, particularly if it means that there is no punishment for the offence, and most particularly if the victim is then expected to go home with the offender. But what if the victim is safe, the offender is being punished, and the victim gets the chance to see the offender face to face and explain the impact of the crime? There’s no reconciliation, but it could still be restorative for the victim; it could even help the offender to appreciate the gravity of the crime. Perhaps DV is a test-case for whether we think of RJ as a punishment or an alternative to punishment (or an add-on to a punishment). The question refers to DV as a ‘power offence’ – the kind of offence that takes place where there’s a pre-existing imbalance of power and/or privilege between the offender and the victim. You may want to approach DV in this way, asking whether RJ redresses the power imbalance between abusers and their victim or reinforces it. You could argue that RJ encourages offenders to apologise and put the past behind them, which can allow an abusive relationship to continue: vctims of DV need to be backed up by the punitive power of the criminal justice system. Alternatively, you could argue that sexist assumptions are rife in the criminal justice system, and only the relative informality of restorative justice can enable an abused woman to tell her story fully. I’m not aware of any book-length studies of RJ for DV. Barbara Hudson wrote several papers on this and related subjects, which you can find through Google Scholar. Other authors who have written papers on the topic include Juliet Behrens, Linda Mills, Lisa Muftic and Julie Stubbs. The 2013-15 EU project Restorative Justice in Cases of Domestic Violence produced some reports which are available online, as did the 2009-15 DV perpetrator study Project Mirabal. And, of course, the general literature on RJ – Braithwaite, Johnstone, Morris & Maxwell etc – will be useful, as will reading around on the topic of domestic violence/domestic abuse/intimate partner violence.