Sakhi’s Restorative Justice Project: An Intervention Program to Respond Domestic Violence

It is our great pleasure to announce that Sakhi is moving forward to launch its restorative justice project, a community based domestic violence intervention program as an alternative to the criminal justice response to domestic violence for the women we work with. The idea of restorative justice was founded by John Braithwaite (2002). Restorative justice, in practical sense, involves conferences between victims and perpetrators of a crime. Each party brings to the conference a caring community of friends, and family that can support them individually.  Braithwaite argues that restorative justice restores and satisfies victims, offenders, and communities better than existing criminal justice practices.

For more than two decades, Sakhi has been committed to ending violence against women of South Asian origin. Recognizing oppressions based on class, immigration status, religion, and sexual orientation, Sakhi works to empower the survivors of domestic violence and strives to create a voice and safe environment for all South Asian women through outreach, advocacy, leadership development, and organizing. Through our work in serving survivors of domestic violence we become aware of the facts that South Asian immigrant women are often reluctant to embrace criminal justice interventions as it increases the vulnerability in their lives instead of resolving their problems. We address the range of issues they bring to us at Sakhi such as the fears of being ostracized by the family and community for bringing shame and dishonor for their families by calling police, language barrier and difficulty to navigating the criminal justice system, lack of emotional and spiritual support.  For example, while we were conducting our focus groups with survivors for our restorative justice project, survivors express their concerns associated with criminal justice system. Among others, one survivor mentioned that her family members were constantly blaming her and cursing her for bring police into their home and arresting her husband.

The survivors of violence from the South Asian community also face negative experiences in navigating the criminal justice system because of their color and language barrier. Their frustration increases when they find themselves in a system that often renders them powerless and unable to take control of decisions that impact their own lives. Criminalizing domestic violence has been derived from stranger violence scenarios when victims do not know the perpetrator of the violence. It ignores the fact that the parties have, at one time, shared their intimate lives together, including children, or they share the experiences of marginalization through migration, race, or sexual orientation (Grauwiler, Peggy, Mills, Linda, 2004). Research with women from a variety of cultural backgrounds suggests that there is a need to examine choices made by women within situational constraints rather than within a prescriptive scenario held by the members of the dominant culture (Yoshinama, 2000). Our experiences of working with survivors of domestic violence of South Asian immigrant community highlight the facts that a woman may be in abusive relationships but she also a mother, lover, friend, family member, or part of the religion or tradition that has profound influence upon her decision to stay or leave. Ironically current prosecution policies foster the image of the passive battered woman, and the belief that overcoming such passivity necessarily involves leaving the male abuser (Mills, 2003). The problem is that these stereotypical assumptions or images of women have not incorporated the realities and situational context of South Asian immigrant battered women’s lives.

Based on our experiences of working with survivors we also have become aware that survivors of South Asian immigrant women often seek criminal justice support to help to end violence, not the relationship. Sakhi’s restorative justice project is an attempt to provide our survivors a new service as an alternative to the criminal justice practices of domestic violence. The main purpose of this project is to provide survivors a safe space to speak about their situations, express their concern, and to share what they would like to change in their lives. This program, no matter what form it takes – be it a healing circle or otherwise, is a process and survivors will feel empowered by their participation in the circle as they will have a structured setting designed to verbalize their abusive experiences and will be able to make decisions for their lives instead of courts or the police making decisions for them. While the shame and stigma associated with criminal justice system cause women to feel the need to hide their abusive experiences from friends and family. It will allow us to address the issue of domestic violence in a more sensitive, compassionate and empowering manner.

 

References:

Braithwaite, J. (2002). Restorative justice and responsive regulation. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Grauwiler, Peggy, Mills, Linda G. (2004). Moving beyond the criminal justice paradigm:A radical restoratiave justice approach to intimate abuse, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 31(1), 49-69.

Mills, L.G. (2003) Insult to injury: Rethinking our responses to intimate abuse. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Yoshihama, M. (2000). Reinterpreting strength   and safety in a socio-cultural context:Dynamics of domestic violence and experiences of women of Japanese   descent.  Children and Youth Services,3(4), 207-229.