A powerful new film of one woman’s journey to get answers from her childhood abuser has been released to encourage other victims of crime to consider using restorative justice to help them recover and move forward with their lives.
Louise Gilbert, 39, has spoken out about her experiences to increase awareness and understanding of restorative justice to support International Restorative Justice Week, in the hope her story will give others the confidence to consider using the service.
Produced by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, in partnership with her commissioned restorative justice provider Restorative Solutions, the three-minute video available here https://youtu.be/p_PJZH0iDKY shows Louise talking about how childhood abuse by her grandfather had left her feeling “empty” and holding a “lot of heartache” for more than 25 years.
Louise, who was supported through the restorative justice (RJ) process by Restorative Solution’s lead RJ practitioner Jeannette Wrigley, explains how it helped her to gain back control and enabled her to feel happier and move forward more positively with her life.
Louise, who lives in Merseyside, said: “Restorative Justice appealed to me because it was about facing him and gaining the power and control back that he’d had over me for the whole of my life.”
“It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I know he had been convicted and gone to prison, but it was also him admitting it and I knew he was going to do that to my face. It was quite uplifting really.
“I could then start to move on with my life, because I’ve now got answers to the questions I’ve held since I was a five-year-old little girl. It’s kind of really changed the way I think and feel about what happened to me as a young girl. I’ve now started to feel happy, I’ve been promoted in work, and I’m kind of putting that behind me. I have got that power and that control and it’s a really, really lovely, uplifting feeling.”
RJ brings together people harmed by crime or conflict with those responsible for the harm, to find a positive way forward. The process gives victims a chance to explain to offenders the real impact of their crime and to get answers to their questions. It allows victims to ask 'why me?' and provides them with the opportunity to challenge the offender’s behaviour.
Going ahead with a RJ process is always voluntary. For any kind of communication to take place the offender must have admitted to the crime, and both victim and offender must be willing to participate. The short video also details how the RJ process works and the steps a victim of crime would undertake if they were interested in accessing this service.
Lead RJ practioner for Restorative Solutions, Jeannette Wrigley, who is featured in the film, said: “Victims are often looking for the answers to the ‘why?’ question. They’re looking for closure to the crime. Sometimes they’re looking for someone to say they’re sorry and sometimes what they want is people to understand how the crime has impacted upon their lives.
“Restorative justice can have a huge impact. It empowers victims, giving them the opportunity to meet or communicate with their offenders in a safe environment. All restorative justice processes are done in the confines of a whole risk assessment process around everyone’s safety, everybody’s confidentiality. Nobody needs to ever know what is going on.
“For victims, meeting the person who has harmed them can be a huge step in moving forward and recovering from that crime.”
The RJ service on Merseyside is commissioned by the Police Commissioner as part of the Victim Care Merseyside service which provides support and care to victims to help them cope and recover from a crime.
Deputy Police Commissioner Cllr Emily Spurrell said: “Victims of crime deserve the best possible support to help them deal with what they have experienced and move forward with their lives. The Commissioner and I are keen to support any process that allows the voice of victims to be heard and helps those affected by crime to reach a sense of closure that, sometimes, cannot be found in sentencing alone.
“RJ approaches are just one of the ways we can do that and it’s clear from Louise’s account what a difference it has made in her life. I would encourage anyone who is struggling to come to terms with a crime, and who thinks RJ could help them, to think of Louise and to find out more about RJ. Too many people still don’t know about RJ, so as we mark International Restorative Justice Week, I would also urge people to spread the word about the positive difference restorative justice can make to victims’ lives.”
As part of International Restorative Justice Week, the Deputy Police Commissioner is visiting Wymott Prison in Lancashire with Restorative Solutions to meet a convicted burglar who has been through rehabilitation training and is now keen to apologise to his victim. During the awareness-raising week, eight new volunteers are also being trained to help deliver RJ processes in order that more victims will be helped to get answers.
International Restorative Justice Week runs from 18-25th November. It aims to raise awareness of RJ and how it can be used to deal with harm in many different situations. The theme for #RJWeek is Inspiring Innovation.
Anyone affected by crime should visit www.VictimCareMerseyside.org for help and advice and to find organisations that can offer support.