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Weinstein Verdict: Restorative Justice is Needed to Empower Victims

March 14, 2020 By Lisa M. Rea, President, Restorative Justice International
& Ailbhe Griffith, restorative justice advocate, victim/survivor of violent crime and RJI Ambassador of Restorative Justice (Dublin, Ireland)

Most of us were not in the court room during the testimony of a multitude of women who came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. We all waited expectantly for the sentencing of Weinstein by New York Judge James Burke. He received a sentence of 23 years in prison for rape and criminal sex act convictions. The maximum sentence could have been 29 years or a minimum of five years. What we know now is that women have felt for so many years that sexual assault and rape are not taken seriously under the rule of law. Today that changed. The sentence reflected the #Me Too movement but it is more than that recent movement. Are women empowered by this sentence and the trial itself? I would argue, no, they want more. It’s restorative justice. 

What is most interesting is Weinstein’s public comments, his first in court. He said, “We may have different truths but I have great remorse for all of you.” Weinstein also stated, “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.” In the field of restorative justice many victims of crime and victims of violence would be more astounded by those comments than not. It’s the lack of remorse that’s expressed by Weinstein when apparently he was trying to express remorse. Perhaps he did not write those words himself, maybe his legal defense team did, but there is no remorse there at all. The comment about “different truths” sounds exactly like many high profile offenders who do not take responsibility for their actions after being called out for sexual harassment or worse convicted of sexual assault and rape.   

The victims of violence Restorative Justice International (RJI) works with nationally and globally are asking for victims-driven restorative justice. This is a global movement of victims seeking something that so often our criminal justice systems does not offer: a way to heal but also a justice that seeks offender accountability. And it must be victims-driven.

RJI recently conducted a podcast with a victim of a violent sexual assault in Dublin, Ireland.  Her name is Ailbhe Griffith.

Ailbhe wanted what the justice system could never provide – answers and the opportunity to reclaim her power in his presence. In her case her offender received a nine year sentence for the violent attack she endured in 2005. But Ailbhe realized that she wanted something else that she later learned had a name: restorative justice. Through a restorative justice dialogue with the offender, with the skilled assistance of Dr. Marie Keenan, a national restorative justice expert in Ireland, she would be empowered to ask questions and to tell her attacker to his face how the violent attack had impacted on her on her life. This process is more than the simple reading of a victim impact statement, something Ailbhe had the opportunity to do in court but still didn’t feel it was enough. For Ailbhe this voluntary victim offender dialogue provided much more than the prison sentence her offender served. It would free her from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and allow her to move on with her life. In being afforded the opportunity to humanize the man who had behaved so violently towards her and in becoming a human to him, Ailbhe finally found peace and healing, something she feels she never would have been able to achieve via the criminal justice system alone.

While most of the victims of Weinstein, especially those who publicly testified, praised the prison sentence he received we wonder if each victim might want, in addition to the sentence, restorative justice. This seems quite possible; with some reporting in the New York Times soon after the guilty verdict, that one of the first well-known actresses to accuse Weinstein, Ashley Judd, indicated that she would love for Harvey to have a restorative justice process in which he could come emotionally to terms with his wrongs. The question of whether Weinstein’s sentence was too severe is another subject worth debating. But from Weinstein’s comments in court it appears he still does not understand the impact his actions had on his victim. Through restorative justice processes an offender would hear more directly from the victim(s) and not in a court setting. 

It is RJI’s position that victims of sexual assault and abuse need restorative justice as a right. That would mean that victims of violence would be asked by our justice system if they wish to choose restorative justice. Restorative justice would be explained to crime victims and could include, as in Ailbhe’s case, an option to participate in a direct victim offender dialogue, if both victim and offender agree. In those cases thorough preparation occurs with both victim and offender with a trained facilitator. A victim’s right to restorative justice is not a new concept and increasingly recognized and supported in many countries. This new right to restorative justice must be embraced in our laws and applied to criminal cases nationally and throughout our world.  

There are other options when a victim does not choose direct dialogue including meeting with a surrogate offender (similar offense but unrelated cases). Such programs exist nationally and globally (e.g. Sycamore Tree Project, Bridges to Life, Insight Prison Project and others). But we need more such programs (in- prison and post-conviction), Those programs must be fully funded, including victim offender dialogues, to reach more crime victims and their offenders. This is a new way of responding to violence against women. It puts the needs of victims first in ways that urge offender accountability and seeks to restore victims/survivors as much as possible. 

Weinstein’s sentencing hearing (Associated Press) March 11, 2020

AP coverage:

Ashley Judd Responds

Contact RJI to learn more about the work and how it evolves and expands daily from a national and global perspective.