Posts Tagged victim-driven justice

Restorative Justice Concludes Ugly Dalhousie Facebook Scandal

Published by — Lessons learned, when Dalhousie University gave victims the opportunity to face their offenders and decide the consequences.


The nasty social-media scandal caused by male 4th year students at the Dalhousie University Dental School has resolved.  Victims, offenders and relevant faculty participated in a restorative-justice (RJ) process for five painful months.  In conclusion, they wrote a 9-page “Statement from the Restorative Justice Participants,” speaking together and as sub-groups.

This summation of lessons learned might well become a seminal document in the evolution of the growing Restoration movement.  It is not a report with specifics about who, what and when — however curious we are as to exactly what went on in those conference meetings.  Nor is it a how-to.  The RJ techniques are hardly mentioned.

Instead, they describe certain fruits of their labors — the mutual understandings reached, as well as some hard, life-changing experiences they never anticipated.  Twenty-nine of the students, nearly the whole 4th-year class, took part in the process, along with some faculty members and facilitators.

Briefly, the facts are these:  For three and a half years, thirteen men had an invitation-only Facebook page that functioned as a raunchy boys’ locker room.  Their postings seemed almost competitive in their vulgarity, indulging gluttonously in the bad-boy culture of manly, randy men.  Mind you, in person and daily life, they were close friends with their female colleagues in a tight culture of young adults, most of whom were far away from home.  But in cyberspace their discussions of those very women were repulsive.  Finally one offender outed the page to one of its victims.  The screen shots leaked to the press were media red meat.  Scandal erupted.  The public demanded vengeance.

Most universities would have expelled the men and washed their hands of it.

Dalhousie is a rare standard bearer for restorative justice in their handling of student misconduct.  The University offered the victims the opportunity to face their offenders, to be heard by them, and finally, to decide the consequences.

In the victims’ section of the Statement, the women explain their decision: RJ “provided us with a different sort of justice than the punitive type most of the loudest public voices seemed to want.  We were clear from the beginning, to the people who most needed to hear it, that we were not looking to have our classmates expelled as 13 angry men who understood no more than they did the day the posts were uncovered.”

Take-away #1:  Bad-boy culture is alive and well among us.

No one makes excuses for the hurt caused.  But according to the participants, one tough lesson was that on Facebook the offenders were just manifesting an oft-tolerated boys-will-be-boys culture.  Again, here are the victims:  “We are part of a generation in which inappropriate sexualization is more common and widespread than ever before, and we have become used to this.  …  For example, we have always known about the men’s Facebook group.  …  It was only when we knew it was about us that we took real offense.  That made us realize that we, as women, also contribute to the culture and climate that allows Facebook groups like the one at issue to persist and flourish.”

Take-away #2:  Also alive is a revenge culture that believes in the virtue of hurt.

Besides the remorse marbleized throughout, the Statement exudes resentment of the pressure and outright meanness of those who wanted blood.  From the get-go, the press and social media insisted the men be expelled at a minimum, and taken to court and prison, if possible.  What empathy there was for the women was expressed as rage at the men.  The backlash against using restorative justice itself was hot and hateful.  Midway through the process, the victims pleaded with the public to let the process play out.  RJ was their choice, after all, but the public bloodlust continued.

The offenders say, “The efforts of some to gain information about us have resulted in significant threats and harms against us and our families.”  Their families?!  Wow.

Mind you, the victims were satisfied.  They wanted the right to determine how to resolve the matter.  The entire group negotiated consequences for the men.  The Statement purposely gives no specifics beyond that each man performed at least 150 community service hours.  And from the time the story broke, they’d been suspended from performing their clinical hours, delaying their graduation at best.

The statement by participating faculty members says:  “Many felt the issues around the Facebook incident were black and white — a group of students did a terrible thing and should be expelled.  However, first and foremost we are educators.  Punitive measures such as expulsion do not change attitudes or positively influence future behaviour, nor do they address underlying systemic problems.  [The women] saw restorative justice as the most promising path towards meaningful change.”

The establishment of guilt, and meting out of hurt, doesn’t change anything for the better.  It’s revenge, an eye for an eye.  The punished offender often grows more defensive, resentful, hopeless of redemption and incapable of improving.  For that reason, traditional justice produces high rates of recidivism.  If changing behavior really is the point, punishment is not working.


Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see or contact her at or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Juvenile Justice Is Not Only Blind, But Deaf

Published by — Increasingly, the formal legal system has taken responsibility for conflict management out of the hands of ordinary people.

Sometimes achieving Justice is as simple as listening until the victim feels heard.

Increasingly, the formal legal system has taken responsibility for conflict management out of the hands of ordinary people.  The restorative justice movement is particularly critical of how the traditional justice system sidelines crime victims almost entirely.  As we all know from TV courtrooms, the crime is expressed as the State versus Julia.  But where are the victims?  They’re the occasion of the crime, to be sure, but at most they might write an impact statement to be read at sentencing or get some sort of Court-determined restitution.  Only the police are much interested in what victims have to say, and even their interest does not extend to what victims might want or need.  So lawyers and judges are by no means accustomed to asking how on earth such behavior – from obnoxious to heinous – came to pass, never mind how healing from this rift or crime might come about.

A professor of law, a former State’s Attorney and now the Governor’s liaison to the criminal justice program, Robert Sand has law-and-order cred.  Speaking at a recent Restorative Justice conference, he says as communities lose their tightly-knit character, they also lose their ability to handle their own conflicts.  So conflicts of all kinds are either ignored, which can lead to festering, or are handed over to the formal justice system, where victims are non-entities.  As a result, Sand says, fewer people get what they really want, which is to be heard.  Among his other stories, all far more grisly, he tells this trivial one to illustrate the efficiency and satisfaction of meeting a victim’s needs.

In one of Vermont’s many rural counties, an enterprising woman decided to set up a roadside farm stand to sell the excess of summer vegetables she’d been producing.  The display had an umbrella to shield the vegetables from the summer sun, a price list and a cigar box to collect the money on the honor system.

After some time she realized that a woman and her son were routinely stealing zucchini.  Infuriated, she installed a video camera to catch them in the act, and did.  With hard evidence in hand, she took her complaint to the local police station.  By all accounts it was theft, which is a crime.

Sand reminds his audience that at the end of the growing season, zucchini is so plentiful that you can’t give it away.  But rather than be dismissive and unresponsive, a Vermont Court Advocate took on the case.  Very civilized.

Just by having a conversation, the Court Advocate quickly found that the woman didn’t particularly want the thief to be punished or even to make restitution.  She certainly didn’t want that boy’s mother to go to jail.  What she did want was to tell that woman how sad and disappointed she was for her and her son.

The Advocate identified the perpetrator from the video, explained the situation and set up a meeting.  Together the vic, perp and Advocate had a structured and supervised conversation in a room at the Courthouse.  It didn’t take long.  The regional court system had no more dealings with the offending mom or her son, and for all we know hearing how much they’d betrayed the trust of that vegetable-vendor put them both on the straight and narrow.

But whatever the effect on the offenders, the conversation made the victim happy.  She was, after all, in the right – however trivially.  And she was only asking to be heard.

Now you may think that spending Court resources on such a crime is a waste of taxpayers’ money.  But I’m entirely with the vegetable lady wanting to hold that mom accountable for disrespecting a local honor system.  More importantly, modeling theft to the young is always a bad idea, no matter how petty.  I don’t think I could have confronted that mom without some authority standing by me.  Where else could she have turned?

Sand’s point is that we can no longer let Courts act as official non-listeners.  Very often, hearing the victims’ stories shows the case in a surprisingly different light.  And many times, as in this one, listening can just make a case go away, with a little learning and healing under the parties’ belts.

But what we’ve got right now is a judicial system that is not only blind, but stone deaf.  Where’s the justice in that?

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets.  As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008.  She analyzes data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan.  For more detail, see or contact her at or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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