Would you be strong enough to meet your attacker?
Could you come face to face the person who brought misery and fear into your life?
The idea of restorative justice - which enables victims of crime to meet their offenders as part of the rehabilitation process - has gained credence in recent years as a way of helping people cope with the trauma.
According to a Ministry of Justice report, for every £1 spent on restorative justice, £8 was saved through the reduction in re-offending.
To mark International Restorative Justice Week Wigan couple John Smth and his partner Lynn (not their real names) have taken the brave step to share their experience of the system.
John, a security guard was badly injured when he was attacked 18 months ago at his place of work in Ashton.
The assault left him with serious injuries and a loss of blood supply to his foot resulted in hours of surgery. He also developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following the incident and was unable to work for six months.
Lynn said: “Our initial reaction was of course that we were angry and upset and wanted to see the young person who had attacked John punished, but we have a son the same age and it made us think about what if the situation was reversed; you would want someone to give him a chance, so we decided to go down the restorative justice route.”
Wigan Council offers victims of some crimes the option of restorative justice which aims to resolve conflicts peacefully, to reduce the chances of issues happening again, to bring beneficial outcomes to all involved and to give the victims of crime some input over what happens next.
Victims can potentially choose to meet or have some contact with the person who has committed the crime and to influence how that person makes amends for what they have done.
Both John and Lynn chose to meet with the attacker’s parents, whilst Lynn also decided to meet with the man who had attacked her partner but John declined, fearful that such a meeting might be a step too far.
John said: “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go through with it as I was worried I would feel angry but I was glad I did. The lad’s dad was a good person. He apologised to me and I shook his hand.”
Lynn added: “The meeting was an emotional experience for them and for me. But the staff from Wigan Council had done a lot of work with both of us in advance to prepare.
“John and I had talked about what we wanted to happen next and we didn’t think that going to prison would be in any way helpful for their future.
“At the end of the meeting they apologised to me and I knew their apology was genuine and I gave them a hug.”
But both John and Lynn acknowledge that restorative justice is not always the easiest option.
Lynn said: “You’ve got to be open to finding out things that might not be easy to hear. But it helped us put a real person and background to what happened, which helped us come to terms with it and we hope the young person is now in a better place because we chose this option.”
Viv Hulland and her husband Keith also decided to go down the restorative justice route when they agreed to meet a young burglar who had broken into their home in the middle of the night.
Most of us in this situation would have probably started shouting, or panicked and tried to confront the intruder, but when Viv confronted him in her house, she did neither of these things.
“I sensed that he was frightened and in that moment I felt really sorry for him. It’s hard to explain because you don’t know how you’re going to react but I just felt he was scared, so I said 'would you like to sit down?’ and he did.”
When Viv realised he wasn’t going to hurt her she started talking to the intruder, who was still wearing his balaclava. “When he sat down I realised he was just a young lad and I felt really sad because it’s hard enough to get a job when you’ve got qualifications and I thought 'how’s he ended up in this mess?’”
The police then took him away and the 17 year-old burglar was later given a nine month referral order for the offence. This could have been the end of the matter but Viv wanted to talk to him again.
“For those two minutes when I was talking to him I knew he wasn’t out of reach and I thought if there was a chance of connecting with him then it was a chance worth taking.”
After he was sentenced she and Keith were contacted by the young offenders team to see if they were interested in taking part in the restorative justice process and Viv agreed.
To find out more about restorative justice in Wigan and Leigh contact Victoria Finnigan-Lord at Wigan Council, [email protected] or 01942 487774.