THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT has been told that plans to facilitate meetings between survivors of sexual violence and their abusers could cause the victim “further harm”.
The stark warning about the restorative justice proposal came in an open letter signed by women’s aid groups across Scotland, as well as a number of domestic abuse experts and survivors.
Nicola Sturgeon and Justice Secretary Keith Brown have been asked to remove domestic violence and sexual violence from the program.
The first participants are due to take part in an initial test project in Edinburgh and Lothian and Borders next year, with services then rolling out across the country.
Restorative justice is used in a number of countries.
It allows victims of crime to meet their abuser in person in a safe environment to ask questions and explain the impact of the crime.
Its supporters say it can help people heal and overcome their trauma.
However, the signatories say the use of restorative justice in cases of domestic violence and sexual violence is “not recommended” given the complex nature of the crime.
The letter states: “Domestic violence/coercive control/intimate partner violence are not one-time events but behaviors, the frequency and severity of which may escalate over time and spread to private space. and public.
“Domestic violence can continue openly or covertly at different stages of the relationship and beyond, can be accompanied by stalking and harassment, including after separation, regardless of the parties’ engagement with the justice system criminal.”
They point to College of Policing guidelines that say domestic violence is “one of the most dangerous cases [for restorative justice] because of the risk to victims of re-victimization or serious violence and the potential effects of controlling or coercive behavior”.
They say they are concerned that the government’s plans have not been sufficiently thought through.
“Physical and emotional safety is essential to recovery. We are concerned that the introduction of restorative justice processes will impact women’s recovery from trauma, be counterproductive and cause further harm.
“Engaging with the abuser in a restorative justice process can unconsciously re-traumatize, reaffirming a woman’s prior traumatic bond, derailing recovery and increasing the risk to her safety.
“As control and manipulation are at the heart of domestic violence cases, as a whole, this significantly calls into question the relevance of restorative justice and is deeply problematic in this context.”
They also question the experience of the Thriving Survivors group to deliver the service. They have been mandated by the government to provide a “safe and trauma-informed service to support cases involving sexual abuse”.
However, the letter’s authors claim that there is no “publicly available evidence of the organization’s track record of competence in providing highly specialized professional contributions to victims of sexual violence”.
The signatories – which include Glasgow, Edinburgh, Orkney and Perthshire Women’s Aid, the Dumfries and Galloway Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, and people such as University of Strathclyde Honorary Fellow Dr Anni Donaldson and consultant in violence against women, Mhairi McGowan – also expresses concern over the pace of work, accusing ministers of rushing.
A spokesperson for Thriving Survivors said: “We fully recognize the concerns raised by some within the violence against women sector, but it is essential that we respond to the needs and voices of survivors who want access to justice. restorative in Scotland.
“As a lived experience organization, we recognize the importance of a survivor having power, choice and control when deciding what is best for them and their recovery.
“Our service is provided in partnership with another lived experience action group, several experts in the field of restorative justice and sexual abuse, as well as a number of national organizations that have engaged in the development of restorative justice for women in Scotland.
“We currently have a team of 12 specialists from a variety of backgrounds, including violence against women, children and young people and harmful sexual behavior, trained to expert level in restorative justice. We remain committed to providing the highest level of service to survivors of sexual violence. »
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Restorative justice is not an alternative or substitute for the criminal justice system. However, as part of the Scottish Government’s vision for justice, it is essential that victims and survivors have a voice and that their needs and values are respected and supported.
“We recognize the particular concerns regarding the safe use of restorative justice in domestic violence cases. In sensitive cases like these, restorative justice will only be explored if the claim comes from the aggrieved person, and then only pursued if it is deemed safe.
“We will continue to engage with the sector at national and local levels, to ensure that their expertise informs an appropriate response to survivors.”
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