Dr Marie Keenan is an internationally recognised expert in two very sensitive and extensively discussed justice related matters: the applications of restorative justice in cases of sexual violence, and child sexual abuse committed within the realm of the Catholic church. In this interview conducted on the occasion of the International Women’s Day we focused on first mentioned area of her expertise. We were interested in how she thinks about women’s rights and the MeToo movements and the public recognition of making restorative justice accessible as service for survivors of sexual violence.
When advocating for such a service, Marie Keenan often collaborates with Ailbhe Griffith a restorative justice advocate, who we also interviewed for this International Woman’s Day. Both of them will be among the keynote speakers at our upcoming international conference in Sassari. She also contributed to The Meeting film, based on Ailbhe Griffith's true story, which will be screened in Sassari. The conference will be a good opportunity to listen to them in person, watch their movie, and to discuss questions evoked by their message.
In your opinion can restorative justice help to restore the imbalance between women and men in society?
From my perspective restorative justice is not specifically about restoring balance in relationship between men and women – that is a much bigger social, economic, legal and political project. Restorative justice as I see it is more about empowering victims of crime when the crime has had the effect of disempowering them, irrespective of the gender of the victim or the offender.
What is your opinion about the women’ rights movement bringing public attention to gender-based violence?
Without the women’s movement I don’t believe we would have any attention paid to the issue of gender-based violence. It is through the work of the feminist movement to begin with, rape crisis centres and domestic violence services and lobby groups with the help of investigative journalists and the media that we have gotten any attention for these crimes against women and children. Having said that in my area of expertise of sexual violence, domestic abuse and coercive control I am concerned about all victims of such crime irrespective of gender. We know from research and clinical practice that male children as well as female children experience the suffering and harm associated with child sexual abuse. In relation to adult rape and sexual violence and domestic abuse/coercive control while the majority of these crimes largely affect adult females and are perpetrated by adolescent or adult males, nonetheless we cannot ignore the male victims who suffer from the effects of these crimes too.
"Dehumanisation makes no sense if we want to help individuals who have acted in an inhumane manner..."
In your eyes, what would be required to make restorative justice more widely accessible in cases of serious harm?
In some cases legislation, political will; in all cases adequate statutory funding and service provision as a legitimate arm of state policy and service provision. Estelle Zinsstag and I found that where services close it is usually because of inadequate funding or key passionate individuals leaving to take up other employment. This situation thus tells us that for sustainability and longevity of service provision, services must be well embedded in the state’s repertoire of responses to sexual violence and not dependent on passionate individuals with inadequate funding who drive the process.
What do you aim to achieve by giving common presentations with Ailbhe Griffith? What is the impact of her presence on your message?
Ailbhe had such a good outcome from her restorative meeting, having had years of unnecessary suffering by being denied such a service, as have other men and women with whom I have been involved, we want to try to spread the message: restorative justice might have something to offer victims who would like this opportunity and it has something to offer offenders who want to do something honourable in the face of having done something so dishonourable to another human being. The job of facilitators is to let the victim decide, ask the offender if he is willing and make the process as safe as humanly possible.