Life After Harm: Exploring the Impact of a Restorative Justice Peer Support Group for People Who Have Sexually Offended
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In recent decades, restorative justice approaches such as victim-offender conferences and circle processes have emerged as a response to people who have caused sexual harm. The traditional legal responses to sexual offending are designed to deter, incapacitate, and rehabilitate. Restorative justice, conversely, is fundamentally concerned with fulfilling obligations, meeting needs, and repairing relationships. Relative to other offending populations, people who have sexually offended face numerous challenges including intense feelings of shame, stigma, and isolation. A restorative justice approach, which values respect and advocacy for all persons and prioritizes community, can help reduce negative emotional states, build accountability and prosocial skills, and insulate people who have caused sexual harm from risk factors that could otherwise contribute to the maintenance of offending behaviour. Although a wealth of literature on Circles of Support and Accountability exists, there is limited research on other community- based transitional restorative justice approaches; particularly non-encounter programs that do not directly involve victims of sexual harm. Additionally, there is little research that describes the impact of spaces involving peer support within non-custodial settings for this specific offending population. This case study seeks to address these gaps by capturing the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated group members involved in a community-based, restorative justice-focused peer support group for people who have sexually offended. This study relies on semi-structured interviews with five support group members and two service coordinators from a grassroots restorative justice organization in Ontario, Canada, as well as an observation of a support group session. Specifically, this thesis connects its findings to broader RJ ethos by exploring the effectiveness of the support group in helping group members fulfill their obligations, meeting their needs, and repairing their relationships. Three main findings are revealed. First, the support group provided a safe passage through which group members were able to create accountability. Restorative justice values and norms were mobilized to help group members understand and address the contributing and resulting harms of their sexual offences to prevent further harm. Second, peer interactions in a positive social space facilitated the development of social capital, which helped group members navigate various emotional and structural challenges associated with their reintegration, as well as cultivate a sense of community. Finally, the support group provided an avenue for healing after experiencing a carceral pipeline of marginalization. The criminalization faced by the participants was antithetical to the conditions required for them to prevent further offending. Group members found solace in RJ and through continued participation in the support group, they were able to realize a fulfilling life after harm was possible. Finding hope led them down a journey of personal transformation which positively impacted their relationships outside of the support group and strengthened their ties to their communities. This study concludes with several considerations for policy and practice as well as recommendations for future research.
Cite this version of the work
Mackenzie Leclaire (2023). Life After Harm: Exploring the Impact of a Restorative Justice Peer Support Group for People Who Have Sexually Offended. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/19319