New Report Highlights Potential of Restorative Justice to Address Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses
April 6, 2016 /3BL Media/ - As colleges and universities across the country grapple with the issue of sexual misconduct, higher-education administrators are searching for new approaches to not only reduce the number of incidents but also to change the campus culture that contributes to such behaviors. A new report from a team of researchers and practitioners indicates that the application of restorative justice principles can be an important part of the solution.
The report, “Promoting Restorative Initiatives for Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses,” has been released by the Campus PRISM Project, an international network of scholars and practitioners whose work is coordinated by the Skidmore College Project on Restorative Justice. Members of the PRISM Project—Promoting Restorative Initiatives for Sexual Misconduct—are committed to finding ways to reduce sexual and gender-based violence by exploring how a restorative approach may provide more healing and better accountability.
“We know many students, staff, faculty, and community members are looking for effective ways to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct, and we think restorative justice offers another way to address this important issue,” said Kaaren Williamsen, Title IX coordinator at Swarthmore College and a co-author of the report.
“Restorative justice on college campuses is a non-adversarial approach to addressing offensive behavior that seeks to identify and repair harm and rebuild trust through facilitated dialogue,” states the report, which describes the process as “rooted in the basic human impetus to sit together and deliberate the issues.”
The report advocates for the use of such formats as restorative conferences and discussion circles under the guidance of experienced, trained facilitators. States the report, “Circle practices offer people on campus a way to surface and explore issues related to sexual norms and behavior. They can be used for community building, personal and group reflection, facilitated discussions about sexual harm, rewriting cultural narratives about rape and hegemonic masculinity, and developing commitment to pro-social behavior…. RJ circles can be implemented as one-time events or sustained dialogues.”
“Campuses have been working hard to better respond to the problem of sexual misconduct, but many people are still unhappy with these efforts,” said David Karp, a coauthor of the report who is a professor of sociology at Skidmore College and director of the college’s Project on Restorative Justice. “We hope this report will stimulate campus conversations, new research, and pilot projects using a restorative approach.”
States the report, “A restorative approach to campus sexual misconduct offers hope that we can truly meet the needs of victims, offenders, and campus communities. Rather than aspire to simply meet compliance standards, RJ offers an opportunity for healing, student development, and community growth.”
The report discusses the challenges of moving to a restorative justice model and the potential rewards. “Implementing RJ calls for new perspective and long-term aspirations to provide a comprehensive approach that includes prevention, response, and reintegration. Inevitably, piloting a program will begin with incremental, small steps,” states the report. “As capacity grows, campuses can apply RJ practices broadly with the goal of true community transformation.”
For more information on the Campus PRISM Project and for access to the full report, visit http://www.skidmore.edu/campusrj/prism.php. For more information on the Skidmore College Project on Restorative Justice, visit www.SkidmoreRJ.org or send email to RJProject@skidmore.edu.