Transformative Justice and Gender-Based Violence

Increasing justice and accountability

Transformative Justice and Gender-Based Violence

The criminal justice system (“CJS”) is widely recognized as failing to meet the needs of many survivors of gender-based violence. This failure is particularly acute for people who experience intersecting forms of discrimination because of their gender, Indigenous ancestry, race, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, or other marginalized identities. When engaging the CJS, many survivors feel shamed, blamed and disbelieved by police, prosecutors or the judiciary. They experience a lack of control over the process, unfair scrutiny, and re-traumatization. In addition, many survivors are not looking for a carceral response and instead seek accountability, transformation, and healing.

While it is urgent and necessary to address the problems with the CJS, it is equally important to meet the needs of survivors who are looking for other systems of justice and accountability. The restorative justice, transformative justice, and anti-violence sectors have responded to this need by developing community-based initiatives that operate outside (or alongside) the criminal justice system.

The terms “restorative justice” and “transformative justice” can be broadly described as processes that support healing, accountability, and, in some cases, relationship restoration for people who have experienced harm, the person who caused the harm, and affected families and/or communities. Restorative justice principles are rooted in Indigenous justice systems and practices. Transformative justice goes one step further to examine the social conditions within which the violence occurred and work toward broader systemic change. It originated within movements led by Black, Indigenous, and activists of colour who were engaged in abolitionist and anti-racism work.

There are a small number of restorative/transformative justice programs that specifically address gender-based violence in Canada. They are diverse in their approaches but generally follow the following principles:

  • Survivor-centred and survivor-driven: the process moves at the speed of the survivor; their needs and safety are central to the process.
  • Focused on accountability: the person who caused harm accepts responsibility and works actively to repair the harm as much as possible. Institutional accountability may also be required where a system negatively impacted the survivor.
  • Trauma-informed: the process must be responsive to the trauma resulting from an experience of violence and the social and legal systems that may have exacerbated that trauma.
  • Intersectional and anti-oppressive: the process is equity-seeking by naming and challenging systems of oppression.

One example is WAVAW’s Transformative Justice Pilot Project (“TJPP”). WAVAW is a rape crisis centre located on unceded Coast Salish Territories (Vancouver). The TJPP supports survivors of sexualized violence through a justice and healing process that focuses on the survivor’s experience of harm, safety needs and wishes for the process. If the survivor is interested in engaging the person who caused the harm, the program will assess any safety considerations and the person’s willingness to participate. The process may also include support people or others who were involved in the harmful experience in some way and where accountability is sought. A facilitated direct dialogue may or may not take place, depending on the willingness of all parties who are supported by trained facilitators to shape the process.

TJPP’s methodology acknowledges the humanity of both survivors and those who have caused harm and de-centers a carceral approach to accountability. This approach is part of WAVAW’s decolonizing practices in the provision of care, services, and support to all participants. Ultimately, WAVAW’s pilot project will fill a significant gap in service by offering an approach that meets the justice, accountability, and safety needs of survivors who would have never been served by the CJS.