Opinion

Experience of victims weighs on restorative justice

Community justice forums and other restorative justice processes are centered on the experiences of victims.  They also give offenders the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions.

A further important benefit, that is sometimes overlooked, is that they can lead to understanding and connection between people who were feeling hurt and angry.  This week’s story is about how an incident of sexual harassment in a school in Maryland was resolved.

In the school cafeteria line, a 14 year-old boy took his friend’s hand, and placed it on the breast of the girl behind them.  The girl ran out of the cafeteria in tears, and the boys were suspended for 25 days.  The girl’s father still wanted to have them arrested, but he agreed to attend a community conference before taking that step.

At the conference, the boy who instigated the incident sat slumped in his chair, arms crossed, and gave a quiet, short version of what happened.  The other boy was very apologetic as he spoke about what happened.  The girl let them know how hurt she was.

Her mother pleadingly asked the boys, “How would you feel if someone did that to your sister?”

The girl’s father was even more emotional, saying he lost a lot of sleep wondering if this was planned, or if it was just a stupid last-minute prank.  “It just happened.  We didn’t plan it.”

After several others spoke, the girl’s father saw the instigator still slumped with arms crossed, and said, “This is a waste of time.  He’s just not getting it.”

The boy’s mother interjected, “He looks like this now, but he’s been crying at home over this.”  Everyone was quiet, realizing that we don’t teach or allow our boys to show vulnerability.

The conversation continued, and within a minute tears were rolling down the boy’s cheeks.

At that moment, the girl’s father leaned toward him and said, “Son, you don’t realize the consequences of what you’re doing, because you could end up in jail, and there are far too many African-American men in jail.  And I don’t want that to happen to you because I love you and want you to make the most of your life.”

Tears welled in everyone’s eyes.  The boys apologized to the girl, her parents, their own family and the principal.

The girl’s father suggested that the boys should return to school, and their role should be to protect the girls in that school.  The principal agreed to let them back.

The girl’s father said that he would check up on the boys every week, which he did for the remaining eight months of that school year.

Richard Tarnoff is coordinator of the Boundary Restorative Justice Program. Assistance from the Independent Academic Research Studies program, UK, is gratefully acknowledged. Trail is served by the Greater Trail Community Justice Program. Visit their website www.greatertrailcommunityjustice.com.

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