Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Safety Issues Associated with Using Restorative Justice for Intimate Partner Violence

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Safety Issues Associated with Using Restorative Justice for Intimate Partner Violence

Article excerpt


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is renowned for its potential to harm and its under-reporting. A study in New Zealand explored non-reporting of IPV, and the extent to which using restorative justice (RJ) could increase reporting of this type of crime. Although the use of RJ for IPV is heavily debated, 79% of participants in my (2010) research considered that increased availability of RJ would increase reporting of IPV. It demonstrated the importance placed upon their relationship by victims and perpetrators, the complexity of power in IPV, and a range of ways IPV is reported. Like most literature on the subject, safety was identified as a priority. In this article I examine the implications of gender and RJ, safety in terms of ways RJ would increase, decrease safety for victims, and ways the process could be made safer in IPV situations.

Key words: intimate partner violence, gender, safety, restorative justice, victim, perpetrator


Current political realities cast doubt on the practice of RJ becoming widespread for IPV cases. While on the one hand New Zealand's government guidelines (Ministry of Justice, 2004) acknowledge that family and sexual violence cases 'may not always be appropriate', in practice, family violence and sexual violence is only occasionally dealt with by using RJ. However, before addressing this issue it is necessary to examine RJ.

Restorative justice is a way people can experience justice, often allowing them to define justice for themselves, albeit sometimes within the framework of the conventional criminal justice system. Jülich (2001) canvassed the concept of justice in depth with adult survivors of child sexual abuse. She found that a sense of justice comprised the provision of survivors with a safe forum in which they had a voice. The processes they described which could provide them with a sense of justice were what Jülich identified as those used by RJ. At present, the conventional criminal justice system does not provide fairness to all, nor is it perceived as fair by many who have experienced it. RJ, on the other hand, may offer more to victims and perpetrators, particularly a sense of being treated fairly, where both parties' needs can be met (Zehr, 1990) more equitably. Zehr (1990) explained what RJ could offer, illustrating the ability of the community to define justice. He stated '[c]rime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates obligations to make things right. Justice involves the victim, the perpetrator, and the community in search of solutions which promote repair, reconciliation, and reassurance' (p. 181).

Generally the process has involved meetings facilitated by one or more trained facilitators in a safe place. Unlike conventional criminal justice systems, RJ has not dealt with issues of guilt or innocence, nor has it removed prisons as a possible sanction; instead it has presented a new way of thinking when responding to crime (Young & Morris, 1998). Restorative justice allows those directly involved and their community representatives to respond. Despite the growing acceptance of RJ for dealing with offending and its aftermath, its use for IPV remains a subject for debate and scepticism, particularly by those coming from a victim advocacy perspective. In general their concerns are focused on safety.

The purpose of this article is to explore the use of RJ for IPV, in particular its safety implications. I use the literature and, in contrast with the more commonly available views of their advocates (Hayden, 2010), the voices of victims and perpetrators. As IPV is, or has been the experience of approximately one third of New Zealand women, this article discusses another possible remedy besides reporting the abuse to the criminal justice system or living with the status quo. Accordingly, its contents have the potential to empower. Given the Women's Studies Journal's inclusion of a wide range of feminist positions, objectives of addressing of women's experiences (in this case one far too prevalent), and encouragement of feminist theory and debate, this article represents one feminist position, many women's experiences, and hope. …

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