The Project Restore model is a ‘New Zealand Made’ Restorative Justice (RJ) process designed specifically for interventions in sexual violence cases. The programme is unique in New Zealand and one of only a few such programmes in the world. Project Restore has evolved since 2005 in response to feedback from stakeholders and research regarding its principles, processes and outcomes to deliver the safest programme for all participants, particularly survivors, which also has the best chance of reducing possible re-offending. The following summary will provide a snapshot of Project Restore discussing its beginning, the model, its foundations, what makes it unique and its outcomes.
Project Restore was created in response to dissatisfaction by victim -survivors of sexual violence with the traditional response to them and sexual violence as a crime from the formal criminal justice process. Victim-survivors often feel unable to secure a ‘sense of justice’ from a system that places the person responsible for sexual harm at the centre and can often cause further harm due to the processes of the court system.
Project Restore New Zealand, an Incorporated Society until July 2017, was legally launched in 2005. It was inspired by the RESTORE programme in Arizona, United States of America and the research of Dr Shirley Jülich in New Zealand. Project Restore has been governed by a charitable Trust since July 2017. The objectives and values remain the same as under the Incorporated Society.
What makes Project Restore unique?
Project Restore is unique because it has been driven by victim-survivors of sexual violence/harm and it operates in a way that draws on the expertise of both the restorative justice and sexual violence sectors. To date it is New Zealand’s only restorative justice provider group that specialises in addressing sexual violence. It draws on the expertise of
- Restorative Justice
- Survivor helping agencies, such as HELP4, Rape Prevention Education – Whakatau Mauri, and TiakiTinana6 and
- Person responsible for sexual harm support agencies, such as the SAFE Network Incorporated, and independent therapists working with sexual person responsible for sexual harms.
Harmful sexual behaviour and violence comes with particular dynamics and impacts that requires specific interventions to ensure the dynamics of the abuse are not replicated and cause further harm to the victim-survivor. Those dynamics and impacts include,
- Person responsible grooming which distorts the understandings of victim-survivor’s (person harmed) and their families have of the sexual violence.
- Myths about sexual violence and abuse that are widespread in our society and impact on how people around the victim-survivor and the person responsible for sexual harm react when they learn of the abuse.
- Sexual harm is often perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim-survivor. This abuse of power results in a power imbalance between the person responsible and the person harmed.
- For those harmed there is always a risk that participating in a process mayreplicate the dynamics of their experience of sexual violence / abuse.
- There are high levels of reoffending which impact on wider community safety.
In order to address the dynamics and impacts of sexual violence, Project Restore requires that sexual violence specialists support participants throughout the planning, conferencing and outcome phases of the restorative process. There are three different kinds of specialists involved.
The victim-survivor specialist is able to
- prepare the person harmed (victim-survivor), recognising when the process may be causing more trauma and slow processes down.
- encourage the victim-survivor into therapeutic counselling to help address the issues that may come forward as a result of the process.
- work with the person responsible for the harm (person responsible for sexual harm or perpetrator) to help him or her understand the impact of his or her offending.
- assist whanau /support people in understanding the dynamics and impacts of sexual violence so that they can provide a truly supportive role.
The Offender specialist is critical in the safety of the programme. Sexual violence person responsible for sexual harms are well skilled in manipulation and minimising their offending. Therefore the work of the person responsible for sexual harm specialist focuses on
- assessing the person responsible for the sexual harm as a first step.
- recommending they undertake a treatment programme if required.
- ensuringthey are ready to be accountable and take responsibility for the impact of their harmful sexual behavior before entering into the conference phase.
- following up on the conference agreed outcomes to ensure that the person responsible completes those tasks set for him or her.
- providing an educative role to help participants understand sexual offending.
The restorative justice facilitator has an in-depth knowledge of sexual violence and in their impartial role can ensure that the process recognises the needs of participants and runs safely. To ensure the work is carried out safely by the specialists, a clinical psychologist supervises the team. The team meets weekly and all cases are reviewed at the team meeting. The supervision provides checks and balances aimed at keeping all stakeholders safe.
The core of Project Restore is that it is victim-survivor driven. In essence, this approach means that every aspect of the process is reviewed and tailored to meet the needs of the victim-survivor. For this reason, each conference is different from the last and each is tailored according to the needs of the participants.
- their stories heard by witnesses in a safe forum based on substantive equality.
- an acknowledgement of the difference between right andwrong
- the person responsible for sexual harm to take responsibility and demonstrate accountability.
- an experience of victimisation validated by person responsible for sexual harm , bystanders and outsiders.
- the ability to transform relationships so that they could co-exist with person responsible for sexual harms in shared communities (e.g.families).
For the person who caused the harm, healing is promoted through the opportunity to publicly accept accountability for wrong-doing and to make appropriate reparations for the harm caused and commit to action to prevent further abuse. Project Restore encourages person responsible for sexual harms who are assessed as being suitable to undertake a treatment programme which also contributes to their ability to heal and address the underlying causes of their offending.
The victim-survivors Julich (ibid) interviewed stated that although they could imagine a restorative justice process that could achieve a sense of justice they were unsure that a process could address practice issues they were concerned about14. Project Restore has developed to ensure that the practice issues raised by victim-survivors have been addressed by providing the following:
- The victim-survivor and the person responsible for sexual harm are given all the information possible about the process and its outcomes at many steps in the process and are asked for informed consent at various stages.
- A victim-survivor specialist assesses the readiness of the victim-survivor to participate to ensure the person has the internal and external resources to undergo what is an emotionally intense process.
- An person responsible for sexual harm specialist asses the person who caused the harm through sexual violence.
- Other participants are screened to ensure all participants will be constructive to the process and not cause further harm to the victim-survivor.
- There is sufficient preparation for all participants. This can include an educative element and small group meetings (perhaps between siblings which may have been split through the person responsible for sexual harm grooming or between mothers and daughters) to help prepare the participants for the conference.
- There is access to therapy for the victim survivor.
- Specialist support is available for the person who caused the harm.
- Conferences and meetings are emotionally safe enough environments for the victim- survivor.
- Agreed outcomes are achievable, monitored and mediated.
- All participants are contacted following key aspects of the process.
- The process is psychologically informed, in particular, informed about psychological trauma, sexual offending, systemic therapy and the need for supervision.
- There is a high degree of community safety in that restorative justice facilitators must hold the safety of children as paramount.
- The restorative process is safer because it and the staff involved are embedded with community agencies that provide services for victim-survivors and person responsible for sexual harms.
- Time frames are necessarily flexible and based on the nature of healing from sexual violence.
- Other victim–survivors are acknowledged – people who may have been groomed by the person responsible for sexual harm to collude with the abuse.