Restorative justice is an alternative we should also consider
Ashley Judd, one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers and a key figure in the #MeToo movement, reacted to the Hollywood producer’s conviction with satisfaction. But she would have preferred a “restorative justice process in which he could emotionally come to terms with his wrongs.” The criminal justice system, she said, was less satisfying than this “more humane” alternative.
For decades, victims’ rights advocates, including many feminists, have stood behind the promise prosecutors routinely make to victims: We will absolve your pain by prosecuting your offender to the maximum possible extent. But for many, it is an empty promise. A vast majority of sexual assault cases never see the inside of a courtroom. Some victims, like Ms. Judd, seek restorative justice, a remedy intended to heal victims and prevent reoffending through accountability and restoration — not incarceration.
Criminal prosecutions expose victims to a toxic level of stress, if not trauma. The benefit is a potential pound of the offender’s flesh. But even in rare cases where perpetrators are convicted and punished severely, many victims report that their experience was retraumatizing and disempowering: Their story was confined to the rigid strictures of a prosecutor’s narrative and raked over on cross-examination. Of course, advocates argue that the process should be reformed so that victims do not face such scrutiny. But sex offenses carry some of the highest penalties under the law; rape trials will never simply be rubber stamps for the prosecution. Any fair criminal process will subject the victim to unavoidable scrutiny — the kind of invasive cross-examination experienced by Mr. Weinstein’s accusers.
A pilot program called Restore, which operated in Pima County, Ariz., from 2004 to 2007, worked with local prosecutors to offer victims of felony and misdemeanor sexual assaults a restorative justice alternative. A majority who were offered the opportunity to participate accepted. A peer-reviewed study of this program showed that of the 22 cases where restorative justice was pursued over three years, 66 percent of felony offenders and more than 90 percent of misdemeanor offenders successfully completed the program. The percentage of victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder dropped, and nearly all participants “felt safe, listened to, supported, treated fairly, treated with respect.” The Restore program ended when the federal grant supporting it dried up.
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