The European Commission solicited public feedback on the proposed Directive on violence against women (VAW) and domestic violence from March to May 2022. The Directive responds to the prevalence and severity of these crimes throughout the EU and aims to provide uniform standards for preventing harm, protecting victims and punishing offenders. However, at the time of the solicitation, the EFRJ felt that the Directive had yet to sufficiently address some important aspects of victims’ needs, namely their empowerment and healing through personal agency.
The EFRJ Working Group on Restorative Justice and Gender-Based Violence addressed these issues by submitting a position paper to the European Commission. Drawing upon practical experience, current research findings and relevant international legal and policy documents, the paper offers several recommendations with the following overarching goals in mind:
- Securing the availability of restorative justice for victims, their right to be informed about the existence of these services, and the opportunity to freely choose to participate or not, within and beyond criminal procedures, taking into account their individual needs.
- Establishing and guaranteeing provisions related to safeguards and high standards of practice for restorative justice services dealing with cases of VAW.
A special thanks goes to Valentina Bonini, Tim Chapmant and Kristen Parker for their precious contributions.
We suggest the following concrete amendments to several articles of the proposed Directive on VAW and domestic violence:
- Defining restorative justice services within the context of VAW, specifying the importance of elevating victims’ voices, delivering the process in a balanced manner, and protecting the decision to participate based on free and informed consent (Recitals)
- Individually assessing each case with input from a specially trained restorative justice professional who can determine the risk of repeated and secondary victimisation (Article 18)
- Guidelines on the use of restorative justice in these cases for the competent authorities acting in criminal proceedings on verifying victims’ full and free consent to enter non-compulsory alternative proceedings and restorative justice processes (Article 23)
- Expanding compensation opportunities as an outcome of a restorative justice procedure in which a mediator can protect the balance of power between the victim and offender (Article 26)
- Including independent restorative justice service providers as specialist supports if a victim of sexual harassment at work chooses to participate in early conciliation (Article 30)
- Supporting the availability of evidence-based restorative justice programmes to reduce the risk of recidivism among offenders (Article 38)
- Promoting cooperation among relevant authorities, agencies, and service providers so that victims can access restorative justice information and services at any stage in the criminal justice process (Article 40)
Our recommendations stem, in part, from our members’ experiences with victims of VAW. Repeatedly, victims emphasise the importance of having their voice heard—speaking of the harm they suffered and how it continues to impact their lives, having their truth validated and their lack of responsibility for the harm vindicated—and holding perpetrators accountable. restorative justice practices can release victims from the coercive power of their abuser and bring new awareness of their own power and their strengths.
These real-life experiences are increasingly highlighted in research and standards of best practice. Several new international (EU, Council of Europe, and UN) legal instruments and guidelines also demonstrate a growing consensus among the global community in favour of a wider applicability of restorative justice in criminal matters and beyond. Despite the benefits, some remain hesitant about the applicability of restorative justice in cases of VAW. As such, we advocate for especially high standards of practice as outlined below:
- The restorative justice professional must be specifically trained in the features of VAW and Domestic Violence,
- The restorative justice programme must set down specific guidelines to ensure that the victim enters the process on the basis of informed and free will and that there is no risk of either further victimisation or abusive manipulation, and
- The restorative justice programme cannot result in discontinuation of the criminal proceedings and thereby result in the avoidance of punishment and/or the re-privatisation of the violence.
We also address common concerns in a thorough appendix, which reviews recent research findings related to restorative justice and victims (especially victims of VAW), restorative justice and desistance from crime, and the primary EU and international policy documents concerning restorative justice and victims’ rights.
Now that the public feedback period has closed, the European Commission will consider comments and may decide to revise the proposed Directive. In the meantime, the EFRJ will continue its international policy engagement. In addition to securing restorative justice for victims of VAW, the EFRJ calls on the European Commission to do the following:
- Consider a comprehensive EU binding act (like a Directive) on restorative justice,
- Include restorative justice in relevant EU policies and legislation related to victims and beyond (as applicable to the rights of offenders to receive information, child-friendly justice, and combatting hate crime, cybercrime, violent extremism, sexual and gender-based violence, environmental crime, and more), and
- Feature restorative justice in EU awareness campaigns on victims’ rights and provide (financial) support to restorative justice services as noted in the EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights.