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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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9 Comments


Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Jan 09, 2023

For all X, "X-justice" isn't justice. Most public policy will have some disparate impact, by race or sex. To keep the DOJ Civil Rights Division, the DOE OCR, the NAACP, the ACLU, and SPLC lawyers off their backs, administrators manipulate offense statistics. Close your eyes and the problem goes away, right?

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Guest
Jan 06, 2023

I can see this being fine for the kinds of things that were once remedied with a slap or a knee to the groin - somebody getting handsy or a drunk person who keeps trying to hug you or something like that. But, those traditionally didn't cause the kind of trauma that would mean that the offender needed to drop an extracurricular so that the victim never encountered them again. Counseling everybody to reign in their drinking, or keep their hands to themselves unless encouraged to do otherwise, seems like good advice even in the face of a he said she said. But, there being no real consequences if something was an assault bad enough to cause trauma, which sou…

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Guest
Jan 06, 2023

We truly live in ridiculous times when we are now excusing -- and make no mistake about it, this is excusing -- sexual assault.

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mrmillermathteacher
mrmillermathteacher
Jan 06, 2023
Replying to

I agree.

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Guest
Jan 06, 2023

She shoved her backend against my hand and I demand an appology!

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Guest
Jan 05, 2023

"The circle, which usually lasts several hours, is not over until the accused has made an apology..." Maybe this has been taken out of context, but this makes it sound as if accusing someone automatically means they're guilty. And what if the victim doesn't WANT to confront the accused?

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Guest
Jan 07, 2023
Replying to

Joanne, you probably didn't mean to say "she" there, since anyone of any of the thousands of genders may be harassed. :)

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