Expectations For Justice After Sexual Harm

By Julie Shackford-Bradley

“We cannot jail, fire or expel our way out of this crisis. We need institutional responses to sexual harm that prioritize both justice and healing, not one at the expense of the other.”

UCB Alum and social activist Sofie Karasek has a new project, #InMyWords, which asks survivors of sexual harm to think about their expectations for justice. In a New York Times op-ed, she explains what motivated her to “reimagine” our responses to sexual harm:

Over time, many student activists have become disillusioned with an emphasis on punitive justice — firings, expulsions and in some cases, prison sentences. We’ve seen firsthand how rarely it works for survivors. It’s not designed to provide validation, acknowledgment or closure. It also does not guarantee that those who harmed will not act again.

Echoing our views here at the RJ Center, Sofie notes that #MeToo has brought the realization that

We’re simultaneously dehumanizing the people who committed sexual assault for years by calling them monsters and learning that the people who commit these crimes are our friends, co-workers, family members and partners.

Thinking back to her own experiences, Sofie talks about the complex dynamics of reporting and demanding a punitive response:

it was as though I had to prove that my story was really “that bad,” …if I admitted I didn’t want him to go to jail, it would minimize his wrongdoing… What I wanted was for him to change his behavior. He needed an intervention, not prison. He got neither.

Where most institutions give two choices, “either try to have the perpetrator formally punished, or … do nothing,” what she was seeking was a response that prioritized “both justice and healing.”

In seeking “solutions at the scale of the problem,” Sofie explores Restorative Justice in various guises, at the interpersonal level, through RJ Conferences, and at the community level, through Truth and Reconciliation processes. As she notes, these “alternative” justice processes accommodate cultural differences and provide paths to justice for those who don’t have access to, or don’t choose to work with criminal justice systems.

If you’re interested in alternatives, contact the RJ Center’s page on “restorative responses to sexual misconduct” as well as Just Beginnings.

Julie Shackford-Bradley is the Co-Founder and Director of the Restorative Justice Center at UC Berkeley. 

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