“I would love to see #restorativejustice in the same tweet as #Metoo much more often”
Ailbhe Griffith advocates for restorative justice as an option for the survivors of sexual violence. She is a survivor of a sexual assault herself, and after being traumatised for years, she learnt about restorative justice as a possible approach to address her harm and decided to take part in a restorative process and confront her attacker, what she recalls as an “utterly transformative” experience. Her journey did not end there. She started to collaborate with Dr Marie Keenan, who is an international expert of the field, in discussing restorative justice and sexual violence publicly.
In 2018, acted herself in Alan Gilsenan’s film, The Meeting, which re-tells her story by focusing on the restorative encounter.
Ailbhe Griffith along with Marie Keenan will be keynote speakers on our upcoming conference in Sassari. The Meeting will be also screened during the conference. On this International Women’s Day we have conducted interviews with both of them. From Ailbhe we asked her about her perspective on restorative justice for survivors of sexual violence and about the MeeToo movement.
You heard about restorative justice accidentally, several years after you were attacked and sexually assaulted. Can you recall how you learned about this option? And what made you think, this could be something for you?
Restorative Justice was something I wanted before I even had the language or terminology to describe it. To summarise, I had spent several years occasionally talking about my desire to confront the man who offended against me face-to-face. One particular day, one of my sisters said to me that what I was describing was a thing called ‘Restorative Justice’. I was shocked and surprised to hear it was a thing, that it had a name and that it was a process. She had heard about it because she was a student of Marie Keenan’s and suggested I contact Marie to discuss what I was feeling. Marie and I met soon after. There began my restorative journey. Ultimately, I felt it was something I needed to attain closure from negative impacts of being a victim of crime. I felt I would achieve this because this need had grown organically over the years within my mind. I had tried all other methods I could think of to overcome the traumatic impact, but it was only within a face-to-face meeting I felt I could regain my power.
"It firmly ended my ‘victim’ identity that I believe I had created in my own mind and I think that is something I feel that can be common in survivors."
Based on your restorative justice experience, would you offer such a programme to other victims of sexual harm? Why? And what would be your arguments to encourage them to consider a restorative justice program?
With absolute conviction I would recommend restorative justice to other victims of sexual crime. It must be something they want of course and it is not something that every victim will want and that must be acknowledged. However, I know that it is an incredibly powerful tool to help crime victims to overcome their trauma and experience healing and closure. For me it firmly ended my ‘victim’ identity that I believe I had created in my own mind and I think that is something I feel that can be common in survivors. This was because I found it totally empowering and changed how I perceived the man who had sexually and physically assaulted me. He was no longer the monster, but instead the human behind the behaviour. It was this that made me realise that it was and never will be my identity but an experience. By speaking openly about my experience of restorative justice and how it can be a way of finding healing and peace, I have always hoped to encourage victims who already feel that they may want to meet their offender to move forward with the process (as long as it’s done in the right way).
You often tell about your participation in restorative justice together with Prof. Marie Keenan. How do you experience this collaboration?
As far as advocating for restorative justice in sexual violence cases, Marie and I seem to come as a pair and have done so right from the time we met in 2013. Our collaboration and friendship has grown organically over time. Advocating collaboratively for restorative justice was not something we necessarily planned, but I think based upon my experience I simply couldn’t resist the idea of communicating its benefit and its power to other crime victims. I believe for Marie, although I don’t want to speak on her behalf, she has also seen first-hand how helpful it can be for victims who want it. I just feel fortunate to have met her.
Do you have any suggestions for practitioners (e.g. mediators, facilitators) to improve the way restorative justice is offered and delivered in cases of sexual harm?
My main suggestion for anyone facilitating cases of restorative justice in cases of sexual violence, beyond the excellent preparation and extra training that I discussed earlier, is to pay extra attention to ensuring the victim feels empowered in the process at all times. Sexually violent crime is highly intrusive and deeply disempowering. Within these meetings the victim will most likely be looking to rebalance that sense of disempowerment. I would suggest avoiding making any decisions on behalf of a victim or deciding what’s best for them. For example, anticipating what they can or cannot handle and therefore whether the meeting should go ahead or not is not ideal. In these cases, more than most, I feel it is critical to let the victim decide as it is that that will help rebalance the power in their own minds.