Restorative Justice & Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is real and has penetrated the core of our modern societies. By definition, it involves the person entrusted with protecting a child, violating their position of power. School teachers, spiritual leaders, parents and family members, doctors, scout leaders and coaches have all been included in the list of perpetrators. I have been involved in the investigation and researching of child abuse cases since 2004 with a particular interest in the healing of the abused. As part of this journey, I embarked on a multi-year, international, research and policy project looking at the potential of restorative justice with clergy child sexual abuse cases that occurred within the Catholic Church and other faith institutions. This is not to suggest that abuse by members of other religions and denominations has not also been a reality for some time. Through qualitative research, policy development and campaigning, the project aims to explore alternative ways that can genuinely help address the harm that these cases have caused to the abused, communities and the involved faith institutions.
What is restorative justice? "Restorative Justice is an ethos with practical goals, among which is to restore harm by including affected parties in a (direct or indirect) encounter and a process of understanding through voluntary and honest dialogue. Restorative justice adopts a fresh approach to conflicts and their control, retaining at the same time certain rehabilitative goals" (Gavrielides 2007: 139).
In 2005, Coker and I published " Restoring Faith: Resolving the Catholic Church's Sexual Scandals Through Restorative Justice", 8:4 Contemporary Justice Review The paper reported on the main findings of the first stage of my project. This centered on desk research that looked into existing and past international restorative practices with child sexual abuse. The paper also provided a critical overview of restorative practices and research projects that have been implemented with clergy sexual offending cases. The results of these programmes were contrasted with notorious clergy sexual abuse cases that had been processed through the traditional criminal justice system.
Subsequently, I conducted primary qualitative research with survivors, practitioners and interested parties. The new publication Gavrielides, T. (2012). " Clergy Child Sexual Abuse & the Restorative Justice Dialogue", Journal of Church and State argues the following: Firstly, these cases extend beyond the breach of state laws. They have multiple psychological and existential implications and constitute a violation of victims’ faith, identity and basic human right to dignity, as well as the sacramental culture of Catholicism. Secondly, due to this additional dimension, the impact of clergy child sexual abuse cases on all parties involved can best be mitigated through user-led reconciliation processes such as “dialogue”. Thirdly, one form of such a dialogue could be restorative justice. Its potential as an alternative model to traditional litigation and station action were examined. Critical analysis of the extant literature and a selection of case studies were attempted in an effort to identify next steps for researchers and policy makers in this grey area of practice.
Recently, I started writing my monograph on power and restorative justice. Child sexual abuse features prominently and I am looking for case studies, evidence, testimonies and public views on the matter that will either be published as part of the book or inform my argument. As part of this project, I also recently published a blog with reflections on my discussion with a paedophile. A chapter is also going to be published on the matter as part of the International Handbook of Restorative Justice that I edited.
The project is ongoing and I have no intention of concluding it soon. We are far from reaching long term solutions to the problem. Through evidence-based arguments, research and networking, the project aims to:
increase public awareness of restorative justice and encourage a public debate about its potential for resolving sexual abuse cases such as those that occurred within the Catholic Church;
publish its findings through peer review journals, academic books and articles so as to enrich an under-developed research area. Publications include:
Gavrielides T. and D. Coker (2005) “Restoring Faith: Resolving the Catholic Church’s Sexual Scandals through Restorative Justice”, 8:4 Contemporary Justice Review, pp. 345-365. ISSN 1028–2580 (print) /ISSN 1477–2248 (online)
influence national and international policy; international meetings include Gavrielides' participation in the international workshop "Sexual Abuse in the Church and other institutional settings" organised by the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Onati, Spain on 10-11 April 2014
inform and influence practices and encourage faith institutions, such as the Catholic Church, to consider alternative options, such as restorative justice, in the long lasting resolution of the sexual scandals that occurred within their body.
The project is not funded but carried out voluntarily. For more information and how to support it or get involved contact Dr. Theo Gavrielides,