RMIT will become one of the first universities in Australia to commit to a process of restorative justice as part of a suite of responses in relation to sexual harassment and assault.
The work will be undertaken by RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice.
The initiative comes as RMIT adopts a series of measures in relation to sexual harassment and sexual assault, including:
- training for all staff in how to respond to the disclosure of sexual offences
- increasing the number of specialist student support staff
- partnering with CASA House and offering training to students about respectful relationships, consent and bystander intervention
How does restorative justice work? Adjunct Professor Rob Hulls, Director of the CIJ, explains.
“Basically, our adversarial justice system produces a McDonald’s, one-size-fits-all approach – but the justice needs of victims are far more complex than that.
“The adversarial nature of the system has a number of impacts on sex offence cases. The first is that convictions are very rare.
“It’s been estimated that fewer than 1 in 100 cases of sexual assault result in a conviction. That means 99 per cent of victims are missing out on some form of justice and never have an opportunity to convey the impact the assault has had on them.
So restorative justice is an attempt to meet the need for justice among victims of sexual assault and to give them a voice.
“It’s vital to point out that prosecution of sex offenders through the courts remains critically important.
“But most victims are still electing not to go down that path because it can be a very drawn-out and re-traumatising experience, or doesn’t actually address their needs.
“RMIT deserves to be congratulated for committing to an innovative response to cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
“The good news is that these approaches have already been tried elsewhere, with good results.
“It’s been operating for many years in New Zealand under the name Project Restore, and more recently as a service provided in Victoria by the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault, with success.
“And it’s also been adopted by the Australian Defence Force. The ADF’s Defence Abuse Response Task Force offered restorative justice conferencing to people who had been abused or assaulted while serving in the Defence Force.
“How does it work? One way might be for senior representatives of an institution to acknowledge their failure to protect the victim and committing to prevent such incidents in the future.
“This is a careful, step-by-step process which only proceeds if the victim is open to it and when a range of safeguards are in place. Not every matter will be appropriate for a restorative justice conference.
“The bottom line is that the needs of victims of sexual assaults are not being met by and large by the current process.
“We just have to think smarter. There is a better way. Restorative justice sits alongside the adversarial process and has a much better chance of meeting more of the needs of victims of sexual assault.”
Story: David Glanz