Photo courtesy of Alex Aiello ’21.

Alex Aiello ’21 (she/ her)

In February of 2019, I published a Davidsonian article titled “A Call to Action: Why the Davidson Sexual Misconduct Process Must Change.”  Recognizing that the Title IX process was neither trauma-informed nor survivor-centered and led to no accountability for my rapist, I knew why the route I took to get justice — filing a Title IX complaint and going through an investigation — did not work.  However, at the time, I was not aware of an alternative. When I went to the Health Education office to receive support two days after my assault, I was put in a room with the health educator, the Title IX coordinator, and a campus police officer.  To me, my only options appeared to be to file a Title IX complaint, to file a police report, or to do nothing.  Now, two years later, I write to the Davidson community to propose an alternative route to justice, one not rooted in carceral or punitive measures: restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a community-based approach to violence that seeks to create an environment of healing and accountability without creating more violence or harm through reliance on state-sanctioned processes. Restorative justice was created by and for historically marginalized communities such as Indigenous communities, Black communities, undocumented communities, sex workers, queer/trans communities, and other groups that cannot rely on the state for safety.* Typically, restorative justice processes involve bringing together the person who was harmed, the harm-doer, and community members to address why the harm occurred and how it can be repaired. There is no one-size-fits-all way to implement restorative justice practices; rather, they are meant to be unique and look different for each individual case of harm. 

Restorative justice challenges us to imagine a world where it is okay to admit to causing harm and creatively think through how healing and accountability can be achieved for all parties involved in the incident.  What would it have looked like if I had had the opportunity to use restorative justice practices after my sexual assault? Instead of immediately denying causing harm and hiring a lawyer, perhaps, with the assistance of restorative justice practitioners, my rapist could have admitted to crossing my boundaries and uncovered the conditions that led him to do so. Instead of being inappropriately questioned by investigators, maybe I would have had the opportunity to talk about how I was hurt and what I needed to heal.  With trained restorative justice practitioners, my rapist and I could have worked together, through shuttle negotiation without ever being in the same room, to reach an agreement for how to move forward.  This process could have looked like creating a schedule for times we went to Commons so that I would not have had to run into him at meals, prohibiting him from attending parties until he did educational work about consent and rape culture, or requiring him to write an apology letter in which he took accountability for his actions. 

In imagining the possibilities, I also imagine the harm that could have been avoided. After completion of the Title IX process, both my rapist and I were left without closure or a path forward to healing. The campus community was aware of my rapist’s actions, and he was shut out of certain aspects of campus life, as I was shunned from certain communities who were uncomfortable with how I spoke publicly about sexual violence.  With the option of restorative justice, community healing could have been achieved, and the division the Title IX process caused could have been avoided.  We could have both found a way to safely integrate back into the campus community after accountability was taken.

Ultimately, restorative justice is successful only when both parties are willing to engage in the process.  No one should push a survivor towards a path to healing they are uncomfortable with, and no one should force someone who has caused harm to take responsibility if they are unwilling. For restorative justice to work in the way it is supposed to, we have to create an environment in which we respond to violence with care and open communication, not more violence.

To work towards this, I call on the administration to reconsider the accountability processes we are currently investing in.  Can we invest less in carceral, punitive processes and more in restorative justice practices? Many of our peer institutions have restorative justice centers and trained restorative justice practitioners on their campuses. It is time for Davidson to provide these types of restorative justice services on campus.  Students and administration can support Students Against Sexual Violence and the Student Government Association in their restorative justice educational and awareness initiatives, working towards offering restorative justice accountability processes that value the humanity of all people and are rooted in community care and love.

For more information about restorative justice and its history, visit following websites and books:

Centre for Justice & Reconciliation

The International Institute for Restorative Justice

Colorizing Restorative Justice: Voicing Our Realities

The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Colleges and Universities: Repairing Harm and Rebuilding Trust in Response to Sexual Misconduct by David Karp