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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Restorative justice' for sexual assault cases?

Photo: Keira Burton/Pexels

Some California colleges are experimenting with "restorative justice circles" to deal with sexual assault charges, report Oden Taylor and Felicia Mello for CalMatters. Police are not informed. There is no formal hearing to determine what happened. Instead, both students discuss what happened and how to prevent future incidents.

The Trump administration revised Title IX rules to give accused students the right to cross-examine the accuser, while also giving college the flexibility to settle cases informally.

At Occidental College in southern California, the non-profit Ahimsa Collective provides facilitators who talk to both parties, who must agree to participate, and ensures both have support systems in place, write Taylor and Mello.

The circle, which usually lasts several hours, is not over until the accused has made an apology and the survivor is able to ask any questions of the accused. The person who’s caused the harm then takes the steps the survivor has requested, which could include things like getting therapy, or quitting an extracurricular activity so the survivor doesn’t have to run into them on campus.

Rutgers University in New Jersey, which has used restorative justice for minor incidents, now includes sexual assault cases.

One assault victim chose restorative justice because “she did not want another man of color with a disciplinary record,” said Amy Miele, the university’s associate director of student affairs, compliance and Title IX. “She said, ‘I want healing and justice and to be able to move on from this, I have a lot of questions I want answered, and I don’t feel comfortable going up to him on my own.’ ”

I think an informal conversation with an apology is appropriate for sexual harassment allegations, but not for sexual assault. "Restorative justice" makes sense only if "sexual assault" doesn't mean "rape." What does it mean? What is that the "survivor" has survived?

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