There is a lot of talk these days about “restorative justice.” After a crime is committed, or a rule is broken, school officials assemble all the people involved, and try to get them to understand each other. School and college administrators love this procedure and they are getting trained in how to implement it all over the country. If it works, it’s supposed to cut down on assaults, bullying and other crimes.
But if you were the victim of a rape, sexual assault or a violent crime, should you be forced to sit down in the same room with the perp and try to get him to understand you? We think not. It’s just a lousy idea.
Sitting down across the table from a perpetrator is likely going to cause you to re-live the experience all over again. Why should you have to do that?
Universities these days are requiring victims to do this with the idea that if the perpetrator has to confront the pain he caused, and see the vulnerability of his victim, he will understand the consequences of what he did and take responsibility for it. The theory goes, he will become a better person who is less likely to commit crimes in the future.
As attorney Michale Dolce recently pointed out in an excellent article, the problem is that perpetrators of sexual crimes are not capable of empathizing with their victims. Sure, there are lots of examples of criminals getting rehabilitated, and experiencing remorse for what they did. But that happens later, and not often. If a sexually violent perpetrator is going to develop empathy, it’s NOT going to happen from one meeting with a victim with an audience watching.
Just yesterday our Rotary club’s speaker, an excellent high school principal, said that they hardly ever have kids in suspension anymore, because they use this technique. They take the students involved in an incident, sit them down in a room together, invite the students’ parents, and everyone, including a school administrator, talks out what happened, in a guided way. Usually the students who had a disagreement come to see the incident from each other’s perspective. The school is more peaceful, and the kids get to focus on learning, rather than fighting.
The principal made sure to let us know she is using this procedure for “relatively minor incidents.” And we all applauded her efforts.
We all want schools and universities to be safer. But the methods have to work in practice, not just in theory. Schools and universities should be places where victims can feel it’s safe to report a crime, and that if they do happen to get attacked, they won’t get attacked again all over again.