Restorative justice urged to deal with sexual crimes


THE CRIMINAL justice system is not suitable for addressing most sexual crimes, the director of abuse victims’ charity One in Four has said.

Speaking at the Children At Risk in Ireland (Cari) 20th anniversary conference in Dublin, Maeve Lewis said restorative justice must be explored as a way of dealing with sex offenders.

The conference, launched by Fergus Finlay, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardos, examined if restorative justice could work as a response to child sexual abuse.

Restorative justice aims to address the causes and consequences of offending. It brings all those involved with an offence together to deal with and resolve the aftermath of that offence.

Ms Lewis said the criminal justice system was not suitable for addressing most sexual crimes. Many victims of abuse within the family did not want to engage with the system and did not want their father, brother or uncle to end up in jail.

“What they want is to make sure no other child is sexually abused, they want acknowledgment within their family of the enormous suffering they experienced and they ultimately want an apology from the offender,” she said.

Of 100 victims of sexual abuse in childhood, only 5 per cent will report the crime to gardaí, Ms Lewis said, and 2 – 3 per cent will end up with a conviction.

“We have to develop a more creative way of looking at this that will allow both the victims and offenders to come forward and get help,” she said.

The clinical director of Cari, Niall Muldoon, said there was societal pressure on a child who has been sexually abused by a family member not to have any further contact with the abuser, but he or she may want to.

As that child grows up he or she recognises he has no contact with his father, uncle or brother. He or she is the focus for a lot of family members and may carry their bitterness.

“If for some reason that child thinks at 14 or 15 they would like to have contact with their father . . . how do they bring that forward?” Mr Muldoon asked.

Restorative justice might work for such children he suggested, as an adjunct to the legal system, but he did not underestimate its challenges.

“If you’ve married someone who hurts your children, it must be unfathomable to give them the time of day . . . but you cannot take a step forward and produce a healthier society if you don’t work with your enemy,” he said.

Keynote speaker Dr Anne Marie McAlinden, school of law, Queen’s University Belfast, said current systems were not working. She said restorative justice reduced recidivism rates and promoted reintegration into the community.

The process also helped victims find their voice and was a more proactive and effective response to sexual crime. She said it was suitable for low to middle-risk offenders as an alternative to prosecution and would encourage more victims and offenders to come forward.

John Kelly, of Survivors of Child Abuse, said offenders needed to understand it was not just the sexual act that destroyed the person’s life, it was their dehumanisation. He asked those at the conference to consider how they could restore the humanity to victims.