of Aotearoa New Zealand
Rodney Holm, Facilitator
This is a call to all facilitators urging them to begin to consider the possibility of declining to take on any more Domestic Violence cases that involve Intimate Partner Violence. The reason for this rather startling claim is that this may be the only way to protect the integrity of the RJ process. There are two reasons for this suggestion, and I will now examine them both.
Before a facilitator can do anything with the persons involved in an IPV case, they have to fill in an 18 page document containing a number of questions, including questions about ‘lethality.’ This is so that the innocent female victim of IPV will be ‘safe’ if a conference proceeds. It is possible to argue that the concept of ‘safety’ is now so overblown that it has become a straitjacket for facilitators and the RJ process. Both are tightly confined. So confined in fact that the process may no longer be RJ at all. Changing the metaphor, I want to argue that RJ facilitators have been headlocked and dragged into the vehicle of the official justice system. Once in there we become part of the punitive arm of the state. The ‘offender’ is an individual (male) person, and we are part of the process that is determined to punish him so that he will stop being violent.
This is morally dubious, ethically suspect, and intellectually fraudulent. It is fraudulent because punishment rarely ever changes behavior and the whole purpose of RJ is to change people’s behavior. Defining IPV as a ‘crime’ (since 1995) has not altered the incidence of the behavior, yet we continue to act as if it does. RJ is not interested in punishment, or singling out one person as ‘the offender’. RJ is all about relationship, yet this is the very thing that we are not allowed to address in IPV cases on the grounds that it is merely a covert way of blaming the victim. Something is wrong somewhere.
The second reason why all facilitators should rebel against IPV cases, is that these intimate relationships have been in place for a long time, and they are the product of long-standing deeply entrenched cultural and family patterns of behavior, which occur against the social structural constraints of education, health, housing, employment, ethnicity, gender and class. If we leave aside the five percent minority of genuinely pathologically violent men, the other ninety five percent are the result of the perfect storm of the confluence of all the negative indices indicated just above. I have met with many incarcerated men who have wept profoundly at what they have done to their partners, yet whose tears are also for their inability to escape the spider’s web of circumstance which is constraining their ability to carry out the most basic and defining characteristic of masculinity as they understand it, to have a job and provide for their family. These men cry, and cry out for help. Yet all we offer them is the harsh face of punishment through incarceration.
As facilitators we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into this god forsaken process of beating up on these beaten men. Have we forgotten the transformative potential of the restorative justice process? Facilitators everywhere, begin to think seriously about this. You have nothing to lose but your belief in a morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest system of punishment.
It was a pleasure to get to interview so many interesting and influential people over the last year as we developed our course, Restorative Justice and Practice: Emergence of a Social Movement.
In coming months, we'll hope to make some of the full-length interviews available that we originally captured for the EdX.org course. Here's the first.
The core concepts of the Māori worldview, as they relate to resolving disputes in the pre-colonial era, are discussed in this interview with Dr Khylee Quince, senior lecturer in law at Auckland University. In this interview, you will be taken through the core concepts of the Māori worldview as they relate to resolving disputes in Aotearoa's pre-colonial era.
An example job description for a restorative justice facilitator from PACT and Resolution Institute.
For the fullest collection of the McElrea restorative justice papers (with synopses and various other reader aids) see http://www.napierlibrary.co.nz/collections/judge-mcelrea-papers.
Restorative Justice Facilitator
Shakespeare has a lot to answer for. When he wrote ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ he was unknowingly setting in place a particular view of the world which is now deeply almost immovably entrenched. It is the view that understands that there are ‘things in the world’, and that there are also ‘words for those things in the world.’
There are thus, two different entities: things, and words. The thing is the primary existence while the word for that thing is simply an accident of naming. The ‘rose’ could have been named anything, a ‘tissywhatsit’ for example, and it would still give off the same bouquet. Words are just the names of things, it is the ‘thing’ that has the primary importance.
If you are wondering where this is going, then here is the punchline: if the rose was named a tissywhatsit, it would not be a rose. It would be a tissywhatsit. ‘Roses’ would not exist, only tissywhatsits would exist. So ‘the word’ does not actually describe something, it actually brings it into existence. The thing is no thing, until it has a name.
In Restorative Justice cases brought before us from the criminal court, there are two main players, an ‘offender’ and a ‘victim.’ This is the language of the legal system and inescapably RJ facilitators are dragged into it. The first thing we get when any case begins, is a series of sheets of A4 paper labelled ‘Referral Information.’ There is a lot of information about ‘the offender’ and much less information about ‘the victim.’ (Just to confuse beginning players, the offender is also frequently referred to as ‘the defendant.’) These labels become the players. Any other names for these people ( Ross, Miriam, dad, aunt, grandparent, ollybubby boo) do not exist for the purposes of the court process. The person is either a victim or an offender.
In this way, the legal process establishes its own reality. All other forms of social reality are deemed invisible and irrelevant. People, with all their complexity and multiple social roles, are stripped of their previous identities, by being given new names. What is in a name then? Everything. A new identity. And with the use of ‘offender’, a pejorative identity. When the case involves Intimate Partner Violence (to use the official terminology), the term ‘offender’ has a heavily pejorative connotative identity.
This (I intend to argue) is a major problem for RJ facilitators. In a sense, it is a double problem because very few facilitators display any awareness that it is a problem. The words we use are critically important. If we uncritically accept the official terminology then we have been sucked into the legal vortex without knowing it, and our usefulness as facilitators has been seriously compromised. The only way to guard against this is to use our own words (following Zehr) – ‘harmer’ and ‘harmed.’ This changes everything. ‘Offending’ is established by showing that a law has been broken. ‘Harming’ and ‘harm’ concern themselves with something entirely different: the fact that two people (and most often far more than two people) have been brought into a relationship of harm. It is this relationship that must be addressed with a view to healing the relationship, rather than the standard judicial response of punishing the offender in some way.
I hope I have established that words are critically important in the practice of Restorative Justice Conferencing.