Restorative Justice and Violence against Women June 2001 – January 2002
The second phase of Justice Options for Women's work was focused specifically on Restorative Justice and Violence Against Women and was carried out between June 15th, 2001 and January 15th, 2002.
In phase 1, we heard from women across the Island about their experiences, needs and concerns regarding the justice system. A Reference Group including survivors of violence, community advocacy groups and justice system staff was brought together to hear the voices of these women as well as to add their own voices to a discussion of the issue of revictimization of women victims of violence. Particular attention was paid to restorative justice options and the restorative justice model below was used to help the group to create a framework for ensuring that justice options do not revictimize women victims of violence. The model was created by Karen Heetderks Strong and Dan Van Ness to illustrate the roles that each of the players in achieving justice play, indicates that the community's role is safety and peace, with a responsibility to the victim for providing opportunities for healing and a responsibility to the offender for providing opportunities for rehabilitation. The government's role is to assist in providing safety by maintaining order in the community. Government's role also includes ensuring fairness to the offender and redress for the victim.
While the concept of a philosophy, like restorative justice, which claims to offer victims opportunities for healing is certainly worth looking at, there are several challenging issues which need to be addressed before victims of violence and women's organizations which advocate for victims can come to the table for discussion. One of those issues was central to the discussions of the Reference Group: will restorative justice decriminalize violence against women and will we lose all we've fought for in the past decades? It became clear in the discussions of the Reference Group that it was not only the survivors and community groups who had those fears, the crown attorneys, the police, probation officers and other service providers around the table had the same concerns.
In her recent paper, "Restorative Justice in Cases of Domestic and Sexual Violence: Healing Justice?", Stephanie Coward identifies denunciation and decriminalization of violence against women as one of the major issues in restorative justice for women's organizations across the country. She says:
In light of the fact that it took many years and a hard-fought struggle to have domestic and sexual violence taken seriously within the criminal justice system, it is understandable that women do not wish to support restorative justice initiatives that appear to reverse such advances in denunciation. Presser and Gaarder, despite their support for community circles, still conclude that caution is in order for this reason. They assert that, "There are clear risks in applying restorative justice approaches to battering. Chief among them is the risk of framing such violence as not important enough to warrant serious attention, lest the gains of feminists be lost."  Some argue that, even though the current system is flawed, turning to restorative justice would actually be worse. Kim Robertson, a survivor of domestic violence and a participant in the PATHS conference, commented during those proceedings: "During the judicial process, abusers do not receive the message that their behaviour is unacceptable much less criminal. Restorative justice strategies seem to me to leave the door wide open for even less onerous consequences for the abuser."  Still others are concerned about the decriminalization of sexual and domestic violence through the use of restorative initiatives. 
The fear that restorative justice will set us back decades is a valid one and one which must be front and centre in any discussions of using restorative justice as a framework for healing in cases of violence against women.
At the same time, the Justice Options for Women project identified the need to develop community options to support women in naming the abuse, and in denouncing the behaviour of the abuser to help women stay safe. Restorative justice appropriately implemented can assist with community capacity building so that communities can make their contribution to women's support and safety. We need to better understand the role of government in developing community capacity, while using the authority of the criminal justice system to address the crime.
Project Goals and Objectives
- To ensure that restorative justice options do not revictimize women who are victims of violence by providing opportunities for victims, victim advocates and community have a voice in justice policy.
- To develop a framework for appropriate use of restorative justice options that develops policy to ensure that women who are victims of violence are not revictimized, ensures that violence against women is not decriminalized, and that defines the role of the justice system in building community capacity, and partnering with community.
The objectives of the Project were:
- to provide an opportunity for women victims of violence, victim advocates and community to inform policy and be a part of the decision-making process regarding restorative justice policy by using Gender-Based Policy Analysis
- to research and dialogue about the potential for decriminalization of violence against women through the use of restorative justice process
- to research and dialogue about the appropriate use of restorative justice processes in conjunction with criminal justice sanctions
- to raise awareness in the community and in the justice system about violence against women, the issues of re-victimization of victims in restorative justice processes and the potential for decriminalization of violence against women
Key Activities and Products
A review of the provincial, Atlantic and international studies, programs, case law and reports was conducted to inform the discussion. In addition, interviews were conducted with crown attorneys and judges in the province to determine their perspective on the role of the justice system with regard to violence against women and restorative justice. A summary report was created which will assist this province and other jurisdictions to look at the question of decriminalization of violence against women through the use of restorative justice. A teleconference meeting was held with projects in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia addressing restorative justice to get feedback on a summary report.
Popular Format Discussion Paper
Information from the summary report was developed into popular format discussion papers that were distributed to workshop participants. For example: what is restorative justice, why be concerned that restorative justice can decriminalize violence against women, what conditions need to be in place to ensure that restorative justice options do not revictimize women, what is the role of government in providing leadership to community capacity building for the community role in safety from abuse for women.
A one day workshop was held bringing together survivors of violence, women's organizations and victim advocacy organizations, restorative justice practitioners and justice system policy makers and front line service providers to dialogue about the potential for decriminalization of violence against women through the use of restorative processes, and the conditions that would make restorative justice approaches an option when women who are victims of violence chose that option. During the workshop participants identified issues and concerns and discussed strategies for ensuring that decriminalization does not occur.
Information for Justice System
Information gathered at the workshop and through the research will be used to inform and influence justice policies regarding restorative options through the preparation of recommendations about restorative justice policies and practices, including the role of government in community capacity building.