Oxy must use restorative justice to fight sexual violence

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The most frequent question for a senior like me is about what I will do after graduation. I have zero concrete plans, but I can confidently say that I want to be like Marianne Frapwell, the Project S.A.F.E. Survivor Advocate. Without Marianne, I would not have made it through Occidental. Her work supporting survivors is something that more people and organizations should strive for, and it’s something that I particularly want to pursue. In light of the data released last week in the Sexual Assault Climate Survey, this campus is overdue for actions that actively dismantle rape culture. It’s time that Occidental exercised a restorative justice approach to sexual assault on campus as opposed to only the traditional sanctions process.

Restorative justice focuses on three aspects: first, recognition that a person’s wrongdoing creates responsibility and obligation; second, a trauma-informed approach — sensitive to issues in survivors’ lives and that takes into account their history as it relates to violence — to validate the survivors’ experiences; third, a response that includes community members, survivors and perpetrators in discussion together. In talking circles, participants must actively listen to whoever speaks and all are invited to participate equally. The circle addresses any harms committed and creates a safe space for participants. I spoke with Occidental’s Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Broomfield, and she told me that some survivors come to the Title IX Office seeking something similar.

“My interest in [restorative justice] came about when I kept hearing from complainants at other schools saying ‘I don’t want the person expelled, I don’t want the person suspended, I just want them to understand what they did to me, how it impacted me and how not to do this again,’” Broomfield said. “The traditional sanctioning process isn’t going to teach you any of those things whereas a restorative justice circle could.”

This resonates with me because I am a survivor of sexual violence. My assault did not occur when I was at Occidental — it happened long before. There is a part of me that feels immense pain as I think of the fact that the perpetrator will probably never know what they did and how badly it hurt me. Personally, I don’t want traditional punishment leveled against them because I truly don’t think that would convey the extent of my pain. I wish I had been able to tell them the impact of their actions; how sometimes I feel like I’m falling apart internally and how I can’t be around large men that are physically stronger than me because I get terrifying flashbacks. I wish I could have told them how damaged I felt and how badly I wanted them to understand the gravity of their actions.

A restorative justice approach could have given me that space. However, there are several conditions for restorative justice to be successful and safe. First, survivors have to feel safe in the discussion. Second, restorative justice doesn’t work if a perpetrator refuses to acknowledge that they committed any harm. At the same time, the survivor’s well-being is of utmost importance. They must feel comfortable undertaking a restorative justice approach. Restorative justice does not function when the perpetrator is a threat to the community at large. In such situations, the Title IX should use standard sanctions that protect the community, such as expulsion. Broomfield acknowledged this and told me she looks forward to implementing restorative justice practices at Occidental but only in cases where it is safe and appropriate.

I thought about restorative justice after the Sexual Assault Climate Survey Town Hall April 18. The number of students that experienced unwanted advances — 60 percent of the respondents — was staggering, but the low number of reports to the Title IX office hit me the hardest. It highlights the work to be done in addressing sexual violence and building trust in the institutions that are meant to protect students. Surveys by the Office of Institutional Research provide evidence and student outreach provides options for survivors, but this is reactive work as opposed to proactive. Solutions are long overdue, and an approach based on healing and normative shifts will create change in the right situations.

It would thrill me to see sexual violence eliminated for good, everywhere. I’m tired of the rhetoric and actions on this campus that negate survivors’ experiences. It gives me fervent hope that people like Marianne are working on behalf of survivors because this labor has been priceless when it comes ending such violence. I hope that one day we are in a place where this work does not have to continue because we have ended the reason for it to exist. Until that day, I’ll be advocating for myself, my beautiful, resilient peers and a process that creates healing and safety for survivors in the fight against sexual violence.

Rosalind Jones (senior) is a staff writer at The Occidental. In her final article for the paper, she reflects on her previous reporting on the Sexual Assault Climate Survey Town Hall. She can be reached at rosalindjones@oxy.edu.