Stubbs J (2014 ) Gendered violence and restorative justice in A Restorative Approach to Family Violence:
Changing Tack edited by Hayden, A., Gelsthorpe, L., Kingi, V. and Morris, A. Published by Ashgate
Publishing Ltd, Surrey, UK. ISBN 978-1-4724-1230-0 pp199-210.
Gendered Violence and Restorative Justice
Reviews suggest that Restorative Justice (RJ) ‘works better with crimes involving personal
victims ... with violent crimes more consistently than with property crimes ... [and] victims
benefit, on average, from face-to-face RJ conferences’ (Sherman and Strang 2007:8). Why then
is there such caution about using RJ for gendered violence? In this paper I draw on research
concerning gendered violence and RJ to argue that caution is well advised, and that generic
models of RJ may be poorly equipped to deal with the needs of victims of gendered violence,
and entail risks. I also argue that restorative justice demands more from participants than
conventional justice, which has implications for victims’ safety and expectations of the victim’s
‘Gendered violence’, such as domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault, arises from/within
gendered social relations. Such offences reflect and contribute to the subordination of women
(Ptacek 1999). Some scholars challenge the depiction of DV as gendered and argue that there is
gender symmetry in offending, but this is highly contested. There is agreement that women
victims of DV are more likely than men to experience fear, to be injured by their partner, to
experience violence at separation and that most intimate partner homicides are committed by
men (Dobash and Dobash 2004).
Recognition that ‘gender relations order social life and social institutions in fundamental ways’,
‘structure life chances and opportunities’ and ‘generate and legitimate cultural norms of
difference and inequality’(Miller and Mullins 2009:34), has implications for RJ, especially in
dealing with gendered violence. Achilles and Zehr acknowledge that some developments in RJ
have failed ‘to take seriously the full implications of the philosophy and values they espouse’ as
in ‘naively attempting to apply restorative approaches in highly problematic areas (such as
domestic violence) without adequate attention to complexities and safeguards’ (2001: 93). For
instance, an incident based account of offending seems to underpin much of the RJ literature but
is inadequate in understanding DV and possibly other offences. Domestic violence is commonly
recurrent, may involve physical, sexual and other forms of abuse and the offender may exert
considerable control over the victim through instilling fear of further violence. It typically
involves the violation of trust by an intimate partner, and perhaps also by family and community
who have failed to protect the victim. Yet generic RJ approaches ‘have not accounted for one of
the chief characteristics of most domestic violence cases; the existence of ongoing danger
occasioned by the victim’s resistance to the batterer’s authority and control’ (Frederick and
Debate continues as to whether RJ might be appropriate for gendered violence and, if so, what
type and under what circumstances (Ptacek 2010, Strang and Braithwaite 2002, the special issue
of Theoretical Criminology 2006 vol.10(1)). Some authors differentiate between types of
gendered violence and their prospects for safe use of RJ processes; for instance Hopkins, Koss
and Bachar (2004) distinguish date rape from ongoing intimate partner violence and see merit in
adapting RJ for the former but urge great caution with respect to the latter.
What is meant by RJ?
Assessing the merits of RJ in response to gendered violence is difficult because RJ is used to
describe a diverse range of programs and practices. While many schemes share a broad
orientation to RJ, they differ in key respects.
Models of RJ vary between and within jurisdictions. For instance, in NSW different forms of RJ
are used to divert young offenders, inform sentencing for eligible adults, in Indigenous circle
sentencing and with prisoners post-sentence where RJ has no influence on case outcome or
parole (see contributors to Bolitho et al. 2012). Gendered violence offences are excluded from
the first two programs but may be included in the latter. In the UK, programs include warnings
for young offenders, direct and indirect victim-offender mediation and conferencing schemes for
adults operating in addition to conventional criminal justice and at various stages, such as
between conviction and sentence, during a community sentence or pre-release for prisoners
(Shapland et al. 2007). The Dove Daybreak program deals with decisions concerning children in
cases involving DV but does not necessarily include offenders (Leibmann and Wotton
RJ programs that have been developed specifically for gendered violence, such as those
described below, tend to differ from each other and from standard RJ in important ways. They
are commonly hybrid models that blend RJ with therapeutic intervention and involve special
expertise and greater preparation and engagement with the parties.
RESTORE Arizona was a demonstration project for date rape and other first time sex offenders
referred by prosecutors. Victims received support via a partnership with a sexual assault service.
Offenders were diverted into an intensive, 12 month therapeutic program and were required to
participate in an RJ conference with the victim (or surrogate if the victim agreed to RJ but didn’t
wish to participate), meet with a case manager, appear monthly before a community
accountability board, complete psycho-sexual therapy and make a written apology to the victim
(Koss 2010). Following successful completion, charges were dropped and offenders avoided sex
By contrast, RESTORE NZ accepts referrals from courts following a guilty plea, where
outcomes inform sentencing, and from the community where matters need not have been
reported to police but offenders must accept responsibility. Not all cases proceed to an RJ
conference. Two community experts, one for offenders and one for victims, assist a clinical team
overseen by a psychologist to select appropriate cases, prepare the parties over a series of
meetings, coach supporters, plan a restorative conference specific to the needs of the parties and
monitor outcomes. The facilitator has specialist training in the dynamics of sexual violence
(Julich et 2010:18-9).
Also in Arizona, the Circles of Peace/Circulos de Paz (CCP) program for DV is a court referred
RJ treatment program designed as an alternative to batterer intervention programs. Offenders
attend weekly conferences for 26 to 52 weeks; facilitators use a ‘transition framework’ intended
to bring about change. Victims, families and community volunteers attend some conferences.
Offenders who complete the program have their matters dismissed by the court (Mills et al.
It is important to understand what advocates recommending RJ for gendered violence intend
since the opportunities and risks, and the expectations of and upon victims, may differ depending
on the approach. These differences also matter in assessing the possible implications of RJ
research. Most evaluations have been of diversionary youth justice schemes but the research
literature is growing concerning adult schemes, typically run in conjunction with criminal justice.
Research suggests that results differ for different forms of RJ and for different kinds of people;
for instance, a major UK study of three schemes (Shapland et al. 2007) found more positive
results for direct (conference or victim offender mediation) than indirect approaches (e.g. shuttle
Low referral numbers in RESTORE NZ and RESTORE Arizona have limited the capacity for
evaluation. In the former case research has focused on best practice principles and raised
questions about how best to measure success (Julich et al 2010: 62-64). In the latter case
researchers found that offenders developed victim empathy over time (Bletzer and Koss 2012).
An evaluation of CCP found no significant differences in recidivism rates between offenders
randomly assigned to CCP and those in the usual batterers’ intervention program, but didn’t
examine other program goals or RJ characteristics (Mills et al. 2013).
RJ and/or criminal justice?
Some advocates promote the benefits of RJ as if it provides a complete alternative to criminal
justice. This is not achievable, since RJ is not a fact finding forum but requires an accused person
to accept responsibility for the offence (Daly 2006) and thus, RJ cannot fully overcome problems
associated with the trial process. It is possible that aspects of RJ could be introduced to shape the
trial process. The debate about whether RJ can or should replace conventional criminal justice
commonly caricatures both positions (Hoyle 2010: 1-6). Achilles and Stutzman-Amstutz (2006:
218) caution against presenting an ‘either/or’ proposition since victims have benefited from some
improvements in conventional criminal justice and those who are interested in RJ shouldn’t be
asked to trade off opportunities afforded by conventional criminal justice. Most evidence about
the use of RJ for adults is derived from schemes that are within the criminal justice system
(Sherman and Strang 2007, Bolitho et al. 2012).
Community based RJ programs should be examined on their own terms, rather than as a
replacement for criminal justice. Community RJ schemes may increase opportunities (and risks)
for parties to deal with offences or other harms, but like other modes of informal justice (Abel
182: 278), dispute resolution (Field 2010) or therapeutic intervention undertaken voluntarily, will
vary in their capacity to safeguard participants, encourage compliance, hold people accountable
and give victims of crime the vindication they seek. They may offer particular risks in cases of
ongoing violence. Community based RJ schemes designed by Joan Pennell and colleagues in
Newfoundland and North Carolina to respond to child protection issues and offer safety planning
for battered women (Pennell and Burford 2002, Pennell and Francis 2005) are seen as very
promising (Ptacek 2010) and demonstrate the need for great care in designing specific RJ
schemes related to domestic abuse and the value of working in partnership with victim advocates
and community organisations.
RJ as victim focused?
There is no clear theoretical account of how or why RJ should benefit victims (Green 2007) but
RJ is commonly said to be victim focused and that by putting harm at the centre of restorative
deliberations, victims’ interests will be served. However, RJ models differ in how central victims
are to their design and practice (Dignan 2005). Bolivar (2010) analysed the various ways in
which restorativeness for victims has been conceptualised in the literature (reparation, meeting
needs, specific restoration of the damage, healing, empowerment) and found a mismatch
between these concepts and the measures commonly used in evaluations (satisfaction,
psychological symptoms, positive emotions). Achilles and Stutzman-Amstutz (2006: 219) note
the opportunities afforded to victims by RJ but found that many programs are offender focused,
too often assume that they know what victims need or want, and that it is uncommon for victim
advocates to be consulted or involved in planning RJ. While RJ guidelines often cite victim
safety as a key principle, Wemmers found that no study in her review had asked ‘whether
restorative measures respond to victims’ need for security and to their fear of crime’ (2002:53).
A related concern is that offender-screening criteria for RJ encounters have not been ‘victim
oriented, research-driven, nor consistently applied’ (Presser and Lowencamp 1999:335).
Victim take-up rates in RJ vary substantially. Dignan (2005:chapter 5) reports rates from 14% to
over 80% in different schemes. However, studies commonly report high levels of satisfaction
with the process among victims who do participate. Some studies also measure satisfaction with
outcome. Shapland et al. (2007:26) found similar levels of satisfaction with outcomes generally
among victims (75%) and offenders (78%) but that offenders were more positive than victims on
several dimensions. Offenders (83%) were more likely than victims (60%) to say that following
the RJ conference offenders now understood the harm caused, RJ had solved the problems
caused by the offence (51%; 38%), the offender was now less likely to reoffend (79%, 40%) and
RJ was a good way to deal the offence (73%, 64%; Shapland et al. 2007:37). Compared to the
control group, ‘conferencing did not seem to affect victims’ process of recovery’ (at p45),
although 63% of victims said that they felt better and 39% said that they felt more secure
(Shapland et al. 2007:40). However, Dignan (2005:42) has observed that research findings about
the benefits of RJ for victims of crime, are ‘more equivocal regarding the part played by
conferencing – as opposed to victim resilience, support from family and friends or simply
passage of time – in contributing to any recovery.’ Schemes are rarely funded to provide
outcomes for victims, beyond any reparations or apologies that an offender has the capacity or
willingness to provide and some legislative schemes are limited to providing outcomes only for
offenders (Daly and Nancarrow 2010: 171). The Newfoundland RJ model (Pennell and Burford
2002) was a rare example that generated additional resources to support families.
Restorative Justice tends to assume an idealised victim and may ‘tacitly endorse victim
stereotypes’ (Green 2007: 183). Early studies of RJ did not examine gender issues, the
experiences of racialised groups or whether victims needs and experiences might differ
according to offence, victim and offender characteristics or victim-offender relationship
(Walklate 2006: 279, Green 2007: 183, Strang 2002:209). Victims may differ in the approach
they take in reconstructing their lives and need different things at different times (Achilles and
Stutzman-Amstutz 2006: 218). Victims of gendered violence (and others) commonly have both
‘survival needs and justice needs’ (Koss 2010). Survival needs such as ‘safety, physical health,
economic issues such as housing and employment, education or retraining; and immigration
problems’ (Koss 2010: 221) are typically not acknowledged in the RJ literature but may
condition the capacity for, and timing of, participation in RJ processes. While some schemes
invest substantial time and resources in preparing the parties for RJ (Koss 2010), that is not
uniformly the case.
While some studies have found that victims of violence can respond well to RJ, others offer
reason for caution. In a study of RJ for young offenders, Daly found that the group of victims
who exhibited high levels of distress were ‘significantly more likely to be composed of female
victims, personal crime victims (including those victimized in their occupational role or at their
organizational workplace), violent offences, and victims and offenders who were family
members or well known to each other’ (Daly 2006: 141). After the conference the high distress
group ‘were far more likely to remain angry and fearful of offenders, and to be negative toward
them’, than the low distress victims and unlike other groups, the majority of high distress victims
(71%) said that they had not recovered from the offence one year later (Daly 2006: 141). While
this may suggest the need for careful screening of cases for RJ, Pelikan (2002) found that among
DV victims in her study it was impossible to pre-determine who was suited for RJ.
Victim participation in RJ is voluntary and offers choices that are unavailable in conventional
criminal justice. However, in the literature debating the use of RJ for gendered violence, women
are largely constructed in one of two ways - as either too victimised to make choices or as active
agents empowered through choice. Such a dichotomy is unhelpful; women’s choices as they
resist violence and attempt to find safety are constrained by the effects of gendered violence and
by material circumstances and cultural narratives and practices. The choice to participate is not
adequate to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the process or outcomes.
‘Voice’ and being heard
Communication has been identified as a defining feature of RJ and as important to the parties.
Sherman and Strang (2007: 29) say that victims crave a story of why and how the offence
happened, while offenders crave to offer an explanation. Drawing on procedural justice
literature, advocates often point to the importance of ‘voice’ and presume that telling their story
is cathartic and empowering for victims. UK researchers found that among both victims and
offenders people differed in what they thought was important about the RJ conference; for
victims the most common response was being able to explain the effects of the offence (17%).
Meeting the offender was the best thing for some victims (16%) but the worst thing for others
(10%). For offenders the best thing was being able to apologise (20%) and being able to explain
the offence (14%) (Shapland et al. 2007: 22).
As Wemmers and Cyr found, for victims ‘voice is not just about expressing one’s needs but
also, and perhaps more importantly, about being heard’ (2006: 122). Since popular discourses
continue to trivialise offences like DV or sexual assault and challenge the credibility of victims,
there is reason for concern that victims’ accounts may not be heard and validated. Research also
indicates that DV offenders commonly minimize or neutralise their behaviour (Dobash et al.
1998). However, what appears to be minor may be much more significant when considered in
the context of the coercion that is common in DV (Stark 2007). For some victims a word or
gesture is enough to make them very fearful since it signals the likelihood of another beating and
yet this may not be evident to others (Stubbs 2007). This suggests the need for facilitators and
other participants to have a good understanding of gendered violence and raises questions about
the wisdom of including offences of gendered violence in generic RJ schemes.
RJ programs require offenders to accept responsibility or at least not deny the offence. Shapland
et al. (2007: 23) found that most people attending RJ conferences thought that ‘they understood
what the other party was saying’ but victims were more sceptical about whether the offender was
sincere. However, apologies were given and accepted in most cases (Shapland et al. 2007: 25).
Daly (2002) also found a mismatch between victims’ and offenders’ assessments of whether
apologies were genuine. These findings are important since researchers have found that a feature
of the minority of conferences that ‘did not go well’ was a dispute between victims and offenders
about the facts of the offence, a failure by the offender to take responsibility, making light of the
offence or blaming the victim (Shapland et al. 2007:47). Apologies are valued as an outcome of
RJ, but may be particularly ill-advised in DV contexts. Women face strong cultural expectations
to accept apologies, but DV offenders commonly use apologies to placate victims only to re-
offend (Stubbs 2007).
Within Project RESTORE Arizona, offenders were termed ‘responsible persons’ and required to
successfully complete the program before making an apology. Of 20 cases enrolled in the
program, 16 completed. A textual analysis of completed cases found that victim empathy and
acceptance of responsibility among offenders developed over time throughout the program
(Bletzer and Koss 2012). These findings suggest that standard RJ programs typified by a single
event such as a conference, may not be sufficient to engender victim empathy and responsibility
among (some) offenders.
What does RJ ask of victims?
As Crawford (2002: 123) notes, RJ asks participants to take on greater responsibility than in
conventional criminal justice. Victims of gendered violence who participate in RJ processes,
directly or indirectly, tell a personal story to the offender and others with whom they may have
ongoing relationships. Those who are able to speak effectively in their own interests, and also
for their children, may find this empowering but ‘[t]he risks of speaking frankly in the RJ context
are great’ (Smith 2006: 186). For instance, ‘as people negotiate relationships, they calculate the
costs and rewards of compliance, conflict, disclosure, and relational commitment’ (Heath and
Jennings 2002: 215); ‘[a] n unwelcome story … runs the risk of rejection, derision or reprimand’
(Smith 2006: 186). Care also needs to be taken so that the high value placed on apology in RJ
does not become an obligation or burden for victims (Stubbs 2007).
Sherene Razack has examined ‘how relations of domination and subordination stubbornly
regulate encounters in the classrooms and courtrooms’ (1998: 10) and I remain concerned that
the same may be true in RJ settings. The involvement of victim supporters and community
members cannot be relied on to challenge subordination and safeguard victims since
communities are not necessarily benign, but are riven by inequality and may be intolerant or
prejudiced (Dignan 2005: 179). Generic models of RJ may be poorly equipped to safeguard
victims of gendered violence. A different approach is needed in which facilitators and
participants fully appreciate the characteristics of gendered violence, avoid the risks of re-
victimisation which can arise when offenders minimise their offending or offer insincere
apologies, and which can provide safe and meaningful outcomes for victims.
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