We believe that punitive approaches to addressing sexual violence are not the best paths for healing, for both those who have experienced the harm and those who have caused it. We are operating under the framework that sexual violence is a pervasive structural issue and the capacity to experience and do harm is within each of us. We believe that “sexual violence is not a story of individual monsters” (Mariame Kaba). We want the healing process to be trauma-informed and survivor-centered. The core questions we want to begin asking are: Who was harmed? What do they need? Whose obligation is it to meet those needs? What does accountability mean for those who have caused harm? Whose obligation is it to educate those who have caused harm? The justice processes we are envisioning for our campus are intended to meet the needs of everyone impacted by the harm while putting the survivor’s needs first.
What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence is a nonlegal term that refers to any type of activity that forces, coerces, and/or violates sexual or emotional boundaries. This includes sexual harassment, abuse, stalking, manipulation, coercion, assault, and rape. It is important to note that these things are not mutually exclusive and often occur simultaneously.
“no one enters an act of violence for the first time by committing it”
This powerful sentiment completely ruptures the victim/perpetrator binary we often view (and punish) violence through. Understanding the cyclical nature of violence, we are asking people to see how we are all complicit and affected by rape culture on campus. Some survivors of assault may want punishment and that is a path that is (somewhat) offered through the formal methods of reporting (police, Title IX office). We are hoping to offer alternative paths that focus on making sure harm is not compounded. That those who cause harm are held accountable, but not deemed to be “less human” by our punitive system. This does not mean that those who cause harm will face no consequences. Consequence and punishment are two very different things. Consequences, in cases of sexual violence, could look like not being allowed to use a certain door to Chambers for a year after the harm was done. This causes the person who committed harm to have to think about their actions every time they need to go into Chambers. Their routes will be disrupted and they will be inconvenienced. Consequences can look like a temporary suspension from sports teams or social organizations. Consequences should always include counseling services. A punishment would be having a student kicked out of Davidson College for committing sexual violence.
We are not advocating for punishment or violence against those who caused harm. All we want is accountability and a commitment to reduce the harm we cause in the future.
What is restorative justice?
“Restorative Justice is a process whereby those most directly affected by wrongdoing come together to determine what needs to be done to repair the harm and prevent a reoccurrence.” –International Institute for Restorative Practices
“Restorative justice brings those who have harmed, their victims, and affected families and communities into processes that repair the harm and rebuild relationships.” –sujatha baliga
In short, restorative justice is about relationships–individual and communal–and repairing those relationships when harm has been done. Restorative justice is centered on and led by the needs of the person who was most directly affected by harm. The person who was harmed gets to have their voice heard, and listened to, by the person who harmed them. The person who caused harm is able to accept accountability for their actions and learn how to not repeat this behavior in the future. Instead of asking “what punishment is needed?”, restorative justice asks “what needs to be done to make things right?” Together, the person affected by harm and the person who caused the harm, get to decide what are appropriate consequences for the behavior and what actions must be taken before the person who caused harm can be fully accepted back by the community. In order for the restorative justice process to be fully effective, all parties must be honest, open, and direct about their needs, what they can accomplish, and how they feel. It is also important to remove any punitive consequences from the table when beginning the process, as it encourages the person who caused harm to be honest without fear of suspension, arrest, or other punitive actions. In the context of Davidson College, this would mean making it impossible for the survivor to pursue action through the town police or the sexual misconduct board.
For more insight on what a restorative justice process looks like, please read Sujatha Baliga’s piece: https://impactjustice.org/a-different-path-for-confronting-sexual-assault/.
what is transformative justice?
Transformative justice is a big idea and hard to consistently imagine and enact. We have grown up in racist and imperialist structures that demand punitive consequences for ourselves and for others. We are told justice is punitive. We are told that safety and security are only possible through policing and incarceration. Prison abolition asks us to imagine a world where this is not the case—where justice is restorative, healing, and community-oriented. It asks us to view people as more than our worst day. It asks us to see the humanity in every person regardless of the harm they’ve committed. Most importantly, it asks us to do the hard work of loving and supporting people even after they’ve caused harm. Prison abolitionists, to use the words of Dr. Eve L. Ewing, “choose imagination where others might choose compromise”. We are choosing to do the hard work of imagining otherwise.
Transformative Justice fundamentally shifts the conditions that allowed violence to occur. This requires deep community ties that are hard to build in an intrinsically transitory space like Davidson with students coming in and out every year, but this is always where we want to be headed. Transformative justice rejects terms used by the criminal punishment system (victim, offender, perpetrator, crime, etc.) and will be our dominant, overarching framework for this project.
so why are we focusing on restorative justice?
Because of the transient nature of Davidson’s community, we would like to implement restorative justice practices (or at the very least, encourage the use of non-punitive and communal measures) to try and restore a sense of safety and belonging from before the harm was caused and to prevent future harm from being done.