Restorative and Transformative Justice have long been used as tools for repairing harm in communities following an act of interpersonal violence, but how can these ideologies be used, primarily on school campuses, to advance sexual violence prevention?
First, a little bit of history. Restorative justice is rooted in indigenous and Native American practices of communal restitution and mediation as a means of addressing conflict. Originally, a significant part of its function was to return a balance of power to the impacted parties. In the 11th century, white European colonizers worked to gain power by creating a retributive criminal justice system that considered violent crimes a crime against the state or institution rather than the person who was impacted by the harm. Transformative justice emerged in the late 1990’s as an adaptation of restorative justice that sought to address the social inequities and environmental factors that allowed the harm to be done in the first place.
See this example from the Peace and Conflict Review, written by Anthony J. Nocella:
“For instance, if a 14-year old boy who is queer and from a poor neighborhood robbed a store when it was closed at 2:00 a.m., transformative justice would not only look at the crime of burglary, but why the boy did it. Was the boy kicked out of his home by a father who was homophobic? Did the boy need money for food, clothes, and shelter? While restorative justice only addresses the specific conflict between the victim and offender, transformative justice strives to use the conflict as an opportunity to address larger socio-political injustices.”
Therein lies the opportunity for the prevention of sexual and interpersonal violence. If restorative justice is intervention then transformative justice is prevention. Retributive systems in schools often mirror the criminal justice system – students of color are disproportionately affected by overly punitive measures and the harm caused is generally thought to be a crime against the institution rather than the impacted student.
These trends can create conditions on campus that feel devaluing and unsafe, which is an environment that is conducive to sexual violence. Additionally, typical punishments like detention and suspension do very little to benefit the person who was impacted by the harm and do even less to ensure the prevention of future harm.
Fortunately, more schools are coming around to adopting policies that are restorative and transformative, rather than punitive. Oakland Unified School District, for example, implemented restorative justice to replace its “zero-tolerance” policies. OUSD also developed an implementation guide to assist other districts in adopting RJ/TJ. Additionally, the Chicago Public Schools Office of Social and Emotional Learning published an RJ toolkit and guide for CPS staff.
Interested in talking to your schools’ administrators but not sure where to start? Consider sharing some easy-to-digest information with them, such as this article or starting with some of the policy change steps in Alliance for Girls’ “Meeting Girls’ Needs Toolkit.” Rebuilding a system free of sexual violence is a ton of labor and not without its challenges, but transformative justice might be one of the most effective tools to have in our tool boxes.