Restorative justice and sexual harm

What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice gives victims the chance to meet or communicate with their offender to explain the real impact of the crime - it empowers victims by giving them a voice. Restorative justice often involves a meeting called a conference, where a victim meets their offender face to face. Sometimes, when a face to face meeting is not the best way forward, the victim and offender will communicate through letters, recorded interviews, video or via a facilitator instead.

Why would I want to take part?

While every case is different, there are some issues which many survivors of sexual harm have talked about experiencing. If you identify with any of the following statements it’s worth finding out more about restorative justice:

‘I have questions which only the offender can answer.’

‘I want the offender to know how their actions have affected me.’

‘The offender took away my control and I want a chance to get it back.’

‘I feel as if I’m not moving on from what happened to me.’

What are the benefits?

Restorative justice can help survivors to get answers to their questions and to directly tell the person who harmed them how they have been impacted. Many survivors feel that the criminal justice system does not give them a chance to get involved, but restorative justice puts them at the heart of the justice process. This can empower survivors and help them to move on. Restorative justice holds offenders to account and can give them an opportunity to make amends. And research shows that it reduces reoffending by 14%.

How is restorative justice different in cases of sexual harm?

Restorative justice has to be very carefully considered in cases of sexual harm, and can usually only be considered when initiated by the survivor. If the offender is known to the survivor it may add additional risk factors. No one should ever be expected or in any way pressurised to take part, and, in order to make sure the process is safe, restorative justice should only happen when there is a facilitator with the right skills and experience available. They must have completed suitable training and have specific expertise in sexual harm. They will decide whether the process is appropriate and, if it goes ahead, make sure that the survivor is kept safe.

The Restorative Justice Council recommends that any practitioner working with survivors of sexual harm gets advice from specialist organisations, like Rape Crisis.

What are the criteria for taking part?

Restorative justice can be used for any type of crime and at any stage of the criminal justice system, including alongside a prison sentence. It doesn’t matter how long ago the crime took place – there is no time limit. Restorative justice is only possible if the offender has admitted to the crime, and both survivor and offender must be willing to participate - it is an entirely voluntary process.  

What will happen if I decide to take part?

The restorative justice process is led by a facilitator who supports and prepares the people taking part and makes sure that it is safe. They will be able to talk you through the process, answer any questions that you may have and explain what will happen every step of the way. This will be a chance to explore what will work best for you and it is entirely up to you to decide whether to go through with it. You can drop out at any time including on the day of a conference or even while it is taking place. It’s your process and it will be tailored to meet your needs.

If you decide to take part in a restorative justice conference you can choose whether to go alone or have a friend or family member there to support you. This will be discussed with the facilitator and agreed in advance, so that your supporter is fully prepared. The facilitator will always be with you even if you decide not to bring anyone else.

In order to make sure that restorative justice is safe for everyone involved, a great deal of preparation is necessary. You should be prepared for the process to take time – it won’t happen overnight.

Will it affect my offender’s sentence?

Once an offender has been convicted a restorative intervention will not impact on their sentence.

Do I have to forgive the offender?

No, restorative justice is not about forgiveness. It’s an opportunity to say the things you need to say to the person who harmed you in a safe, controlled environment.

When can’t you do restorative justice?

If the offender does not accept responsibility for their actions or refuses to participate then restorative justice cannot take place. If they are diagnosed with a serious mental health condition restorative justice is also unlikely to be possible. If, during the process, the facilitator decides that it is unsafe in any way, they will stop it immediately.

What do I do next?

To find out more about restorative justice and how to access it, you can call the Restorative Justice Council on 020 7831 5700 or email safi@restorativejustice.org.uk.