Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Restorative Approaches to Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Harm

Donna Coker, Restorative Approaches to Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Harm, Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 36, No. 5, 2021

The last several years have seen a dramatic increased interest in the U.S. for the use of Restorative Justice (RJ) responses to intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual harm. This change is most apparent in sectors of the mainstream feminist anti-violence movement and is reflected (unevenly) in public policies. I have described this shift as a “reimagined movement to end gender violence.” This reimagining project encompasses not only a less carceral response to harm, but a greater focus on changes in the social conditions that create and maintain violence. It is focused on economic and racial justice, on better responses to trauma, and on violence interruption that relies less on the state and more on community. Additional changes in the RJ movement and the anti-mass incarceration movement have converged to create a moment of opportunity for significantly transforming responses to IPV and sexual harm. These movements and policy trends provide an opportunity for less punitive and non-carceral responses to IPV and sexual harm, including RJ, and simultaneously for RJ responses that are intentionally gender- and race-conscious, attending to both individual and system change.

The most common understanding of RJ practice is that in response to a specific harm, the stakeholders affected come together address the harm. The harm or injustice sought to be addressed may be interpersonal and regard recent events or it may be a historical harm or involve institutional responsibility. For cases involving contemporary harm, the common conception of RJ is a process that involves what I have termed matched dialogue—that is, a dialogue that, at a minimum, includes the person(s) who caused harm and the person(s) they harmed.

While matched dialogue describes a significant amount of RJ programming, it is an incomplete description. There are practices and programs centered on responses to specific contemporary harms that do not involve matched dialogue and there are restorative practices that are not centered on a response to harm, but rather on community-building, prevention, education, and empowerment.

I provide an overview of this broader understanding of restorative justice as it relates to responses to and prevention of IPV and sexual harm. I include descriptions of three distinct processes and describe some of the benefits of matched dialogue restorative responses to IPV and sexual harm, concluding with some cautions. I also describe the growing number of RJ programs that are community-based prevention, education, and community building.


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