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Editorial: The best arena for victim redress?

Dec 04, 2013

from the article in the Sage e-bulletin from the Church Council on Justice and Corrections: 

Can the justice system ever be the arena for victims’ redress if redress means true healing and moving on from trauma and its effects? A criminal justice system built on punitive measures and adversarial posturing exacerbates the victim wound and creates even more layers of self protection against active resolution of one’s own wounding and the wounding one does to another. Further the judicial system is the state’s arena, not the victim’s, for redress against crimes committed and therefore its capacity to adequately redress victims’ needs where those needs are most required is difficult at best. Victims are left with insufficient avenues to get to the root of needed healing. And incarceration that does not consistently include those rehabilitation options that contribute to victim redress, does not hold real solutions to changing behaviour or creating public and victim safety in the long term. 


Yet we may be able to take a page from the healing process of those victims who never report the crimes against them in order to speak to the needs of victims of crime in general. Perhaps then we could propose a more effective blend of supports and intersecting arenas for healing both from within and outside the judicial system. For victims of child abuse, and sexual assault victims for instance, many of whom have never reported crimes against them, healing takes place over many years. That healing varies in outcome and depends upon opportunity, personal resilience and the capacity to reframe the expected negative outcomes of trauma into personal moments of courage and self empowerment. Most often the healing has taken place quite apart from a judicial system wherein offenders often are not caught, and quite apart from victims being supported or believed by families. Many unnamed adults work at healing on their own from child abuse or sexual assault experiences never coming in contact with the judicial system, while 75% of our prison population have a history of child abuse as well.

...The first step is to engage the wounded psyche in the arena of restoration from trauma itself. This is its own work and must be done by victims, offenders and communities alike. Experts agree that humour, intelligence and belief in “something good” beyond the trauma experience combine to define resilience. My experience after many years of work in this field is that real healing takes place from trauma when victims, offenders and communities have safe arenas that leverage their capacity for resilience and reconnection to their more whole selves. Removing all roadblocks that make this work inaccessible to those who have limited means, who we deem unworthy victims (such as offenders) and to communities whose profiles have developed into victim profiles (such as high crime communities) would work toward making personal healing from trauma a greater reality. 

...So how do we take the need for real healing and clothe it in real justice? Behind the individual labels of victim, 

offender and community lies the core issue of healing everyone on both sides of the prison bars. 

Our responsibility as a society is to: 

  1. Engage early and often positive solutions to antisocial behaviour; 
  2. Eliminate imprisonment as a ready catchall solution to address low level social crimes borne out of our social ills and lack of support systems. 
  3. Introduce measures such as restorative justice processes to address these community violations; 
  4. Address at a primary level those social ills that have a contributing factor to criminal behaviour; 
  5. Learn from those who, although victimized themselves have developed various ways and means to heal; 
  6. Build upon those ways and means to address and engage those positive solutions in judicial sentencing while we incorporate them into the prison experience itself. 


Download the publication PDF. The article starts on page 4.

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