As a survivor-centred agency that believes that people are the experts of their own lives, SACE supports the choices people who have experienced sexual violence may make in order to seek healing for themselves and accountability from the person who harmed them. We offer counselling, support lines and a police & court support program as resources for anyone navigating healing after sexual abuse/assault.
We also recognize that for many valid reasons, some people who have experienced sexual abuse or assault do not feel safe, comfortable, or interested in accessing a criminal justice response. Alternatives to the criminal justice system can sound scary in the context of sexual violence, but there is actually a long lineage of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) folks practicing alternative systems of accountability and community safety in cases of sexual violence. This type of work is generally understood as part of one or both of the fields of Transformative Justice and Restorative Justice.
According to writer, educator and community organizer Mia Mingus,
“Transformative Justice (TJ) is a political framework and approach for responding to violence, harm and abuse. At its most basic, it seeks to respond to violence without creating more violence and/or engaging in harm reduction to lessen the violence.”
Put differently, TJ aims to transform the conditions that enabled the harm, at the same time as facilitating repair for the harm, by cultivating accountability, healing, resilience and safety for all. TJ works from the assumption that ending sexual violence can only be possible if root causes, such misogyny, white supremacy, ableism, heterosexism, cis-sexism, poverty, and trauma are addressed.
The movement has largely been led by women and femmes, and has been created by, and for, communities that experience violence disproportionately, including Indigenous communities, Black communities, racialized communities, immigrant communities, poor and low-income communities, people with disabilities, sex workers, and queer and trans communities.
Since TJ is community-based work, what is looks like in practice is also dependent on the needs of each specific community.
Unlike Transformative Justice, which is just beginning to gain more widespread understanding, Restorative Justice is a method of harm response that already has some mainstream recognition. In fact, Restorative Justice processes are sometimes offered as an alternative to punitive or carceral responses in the criminal justice system. Restorative Justice also has history and applications far beyond the criminal justice system, and can be used to repair harm at the community level.
According to the Alberta Restorative Justice Association,
“Restorative Justice is an approach focused on repairing harm when a wrongdoing or injustice occurs in a community. Depending on the process or technique used, restorative justice involves the victim, the offender, their social networks, justice agencies, and the community.”
Like Transformative Justice, Restorative Justice is often led by Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities, and is rooted in powerful practices that can foster accountability, resilience and healing. Here in Alberta, for example, Native Counselling Services of Alberta is a leader in the development of restorative justice models and practices for Indigenous people, by Indigenous people.
At SACE, we work exclusively with people who have been impacted by sexual violence and their supporters, and do not offer services to people who have used offending behaviours. We recognize, however, that effectively supporting survivors and ending sexual violence will take nothing less than cultural transformation, and we believe in a diversity of strategies for getting there. Transformative Justice and Restorative Justice are valuable frameworks that can teach us a great deal about what a world free of sexual violence could look like.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of resources to learn more.
Articles and Readings:
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement – Book, edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Transformative Justice: A Brief Description – Article by Mia Mingus
Transform Harm – Resource hub on Transformative Justice created by Mariame Kaba and designed by Lu Design Studio
Audio and Video Resources:
Appointed episode 9, Transformative Justice: Healing in Place – Podcast episode featuring James Favel, the co-founder and executive director of Bear Clan Patrol, and Rachel Herzing, the Executive Director of the Center for Political Education
Barnard Centre for Research on Women – Video resources on building accountable communities with leaders in the Transformative Justice movement
For The Wild episode 151 – Podcast episode featuring Mariame Kaba on moving past punishment
Hollow Water – Documentary profiling the tiny Ojibway community of Hollow Water on the shores of Lake Winnipeg as they deal with an epidemic of sexual abuse in their midst
Home Fire – Ending the Cycle of Family Violence – Documentary that explores family violence and Restorative Justice from an Indigenous perspective
Laura Flanders Show episode 289, Mutual Aid Justice: Beyond Survival – Podcast episode featuring Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Ejeris Dixon
The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC) – Community collective of individuals, based out of Oakland, California that is working to build and support Transformative Justice responses to child sexual abuse
The Third Eye Collective – Survivor initiated intergenerational grassroots collective led by self-identified women of Black/African origins, dedicated to healing from and organizing against sexual, gender-based, intimate partner, and state and institutional violence, as well as incest