Domestic violence and sexual abuse victims should be allowed to meet abusers to help them heal, say MPs

The recommendation in a new report goes against the advice of some women’s campaign groups

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 01 September 2016 00:02 BST
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An MPs' committee says sexual offence and domestic violence victims should have the option of meeting their abusers Rex Features
An MPs' committee says sexual offence and domestic violence victims should have the option of meeting their abusers Rex Features (Rex)

Victims of sexual crime and domestic violence should be able to take part in “restorative justice” allowing them to meet offenders face-to-face in a bid to recover from their ordeal, a Commons committee has said.

The MPs stated it would be wrong to pressure anyone into meeting a criminal who has abused them, but argued the option should be available in some cases if there is a desire from the victim and it can be conducted safely.

The suggestion flies in the face of advice from some campaign groups who warned restorative justice could be used by abusers as a means of maintaining control over their victim.

More broadly the MPs’ report recommended offering every crime victim a legal right to the method, though it warned the authorities did yet have the ability to do so.

Restorative justice brings those harmed by crime and those responsible for it into contact, the idea being that dialogue heals the victim and helps prevent the criminal reoffending.

Victims do already have some entitlement to restorative justice, but in some areas it is restricted in domestic violence and sexual offence cases.

The MPs said they understood why forces had done this “given the clear risks”, but went on to say “in principle” restorative justice should be available for all types of offence.

The document quoted one victim of domestic violence who, following a meeting with her abuser, had said: “When I walked out of that meeting, I felt as if I could knock out Mike Tyson.

“I could have taken on anything or anyone. In the days and weeks afterwards, it was as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

But Women’s Aid told the committee restorative justice could be “potentially harmful” for domestic abuse victims.

Refuge argued it is never appropriate in cases of intimate partner violence.

In particular it raised concerns that the method would provide offenders a means of maintaining control and that, for example, facilitators might not be familiar with what a particular look or gesture can mean between two people.

The report noted concern that so-called “street level” restorative justice, conducted by police officers, was being used in domestic violence cases by some forces and stated this was wrong.

But it went on to argue that while it would not be appropriate in every case, where there were clear guidelines, a trained facilitator and a desire from the victim, restorative justice could be useful in some domestic violence and sexual cases.

It concluded: “In order to help promote the use of safe restorative justice in such cases, we recommend the Ministry of Justice work with the Restorative Justice Council to create and fund training and promote guidelines of best practice for facilitators in such cases.”

In 2001 the government funded a £7m, seven year study into restorative justice which found most victims chose to participate in face-to-face meetings with an offender when offered the chance.

It also found that 85 per cent of victims who took part were satisfied with the process.

It then concluded that it reduced the frequency of reoffending, leading to £8 in savings to the criminal justice system for every £1 spent on restorative justice.

The committee’s report questioned the financial savings based on its assessment of how restorative justice has been delivered, but said there were social benefits.

Committee Chair Bob Neill said: “We heard extensive evidence of the tangible benefits to victims and the role of restorative justice in reducing reoffending, so it clearly benefits wider society as well.

“While capacity issues mean that it is still too soon to introduce a legislative right to restorative justice for victims, we urge the Government to work towards this goal.”

It called for an assessment to see what it is able to deliver and a new duty on local police forces to provide the service to a minimum level.

The MPs claimed this would also prevent the “postcode lottery” nature of the current system where restorative justice is delivered to a different degree and by different providers in each area of the country.

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