Healing Circles

Yael Shy of the NYU Center on Violence and Recovery reflects on Sakhi’s Restorative Justice Training

Earlier this month, Dr. Faye Zakheim, Dr. Briana Barocas, and myself completed a Healing Circles training for the staff of Sakhi, and what a moving and powerful experience it was!

Healing Circles are a method of community-based communication born out of a confluence of the restorative justice and the domestic violence movements. Healing Circles involve
the whole family and members of the community in supporting people who have experienced abuse at the hands of their intimate partners or family members. Unlike the traditional
criminal justice system, Healing Circles are customizable and flexible to account for the needs of different populations.

The NYU Center on Violence and Recovery has worked with several communities and agencies across the country on developing successful Healing Circles programs, including
the largely Latino, border community in Nogales, Arizona, two Orthodox Jewish agencies in New Jersey and Brooklyn, and the majority Latter Day Saints community in Salt Lake City, Utah. What we repeatedly see with our community partners is that despite their geographical, racial, and religious differences, they all have populations who are not benefiting from traditional
responses to intimate partner abuse and who are looking for more options.

Circle trainings are taught by example, and we had a week’s worth of Circles with Sakhi in which we dug beneath the surface of our business relationship into the heart of our life stories –
why we do what we do, professionally and personally. I was truly blown away by the women of Sakhi and their fierce dedication to the safety and empowerment of their clients,
while at the same time their courage and faith to pioneer a new approach for transforming intimate abuse in the South Asian community.

Each and every staff member – from the Executive Director, to the Outreach Coordinator, to the Clinicians, was passionately committed to the integrity of her work –asking lots
of questions and challenging ideas when they didn’t seem to match lived experiences. At the same time, the staff did what is sometimes the hardest thing for seasoned professionals
to do – they allowed themselves to be vulnerable. They opened themselves to a new approach that would be significantly different than the services they currently offered.

I watched as they metabolized the lessons of the Circle, brainstorming and developing ways the model could be adapted to their community. In the way it so often does, the
Circle held everyone’s concerns and fears, just as it held our hopes and visions, and it helped us move organically through the process of paving a new way forward.

There is still a lot of work to do before the program is officially implemented at Sakhi, including many logistical and structural questions still to be answered. I am confident that the
momentum of the training, and the expertise and passion of the staff, will carry this amazing organization through that process, resulting in a culturally-specific model that will
serve as a powerful tool for South Asian women and their families.