4 Tips for Restorative Justice programs, skills with victims and addressing domestic violence.

My first experience in the helping profession was as a volunteer in a domestic violence shelter.  I would stay weekends when my daughter was a baby.  I did other evening shifts, helped around the office and became very close with the director and co-directors.

I learned a great deal about working with women, families, answering a hot-line, getting restraining orders, working with law enforcement and the community.  I did this work while I was working on my MS in counseling, and I had the domestic violence lens on my learning.

Little did I know then, that in a few years, I myself would be on the door steps of a shelter.  I stayed one night.  These experiences are the cornerstones to my perspective.  As a therapist, I saw first hand the impacts of sexual abuse, violence, family violence.  My work as a social worker for violent adolescents helped me learn intervention and change strategies for those who inflict that violence.

I’ve been working with Restorative Justice for 14 years, full-time the past 6, going on 7 years.  I read all I can find, I am passionate about using a holistic response to people, finding the strengths and power for transformation and healing in Restorative Justice.  These 4 tips come from experience and education.  This blog does not replace professional training and is not recommending that practitioners tread lightly into the topic of domestic violence.  These tips are intended to be the start, to help your work, promoting safety.

Tip 1) Understand and examine yourself.  What are your theories of violence?  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence site, hosts a very interesting article, that can help you understand perspectives.  This article, WHY, by Susan McGee, provides some insights and it is full of resources.

I encourage advanced training for crimes of severe violence, and my training in this area has been crucial to my work.  On going training is important as well as a network for feedback.  Mastering a skill set of helping others help themselves takes practice, coaching and experience.

Tip 2) Study.  It is very, very important to educate yourself about DV and victim advocates.  If you are a Restorative Justice practitioner or advocate, you have to read the 22 page document, Taking Victims and Their Advocates Seriously: The Listening Project.  This is not a new publication, it is very, very important.  I offered this post in July of 2010, when I had memorized the specific needs of victims.

Tip 3) Don’t freak out (externally anyway).  You MUST be comfortable in seeing red flags.  You have to be able to be compassionate and open.  Sometimes you have to ask if violence occurring?  You should know as a program, how you handle these kinds of situations.  How do you treat someone who reports violence to you?  You should know ahead of time, because you never know what RJ case, might have an undertone or aspect of DV.  Even if the referring incident was not related to DV.

If you are non-judgemental, that means you can be trusted.  I’ve had offenders relate their own past victimization.   A victim of a traffic crime shared about abusive behavior as an offender.  You have to be able to share the message, violence is NOT healthy.  Promoting healthy living, encouraging people to take care of their bodies, their spirits, their connections and to get professional help can be done respectfully, supportive and compassionately.  This may completely change the course of your restorative work, you need to let it.

Tip 4) Refer when needed.  Safety First.  Always be curious about people wanting to see you together.  Meet with victims alone.  I know it seems common sense.  I don’t want to believe that kind of harm and evil can exist.  You have to learn to listen to your gut.  If you have to ask yourself if you see signs of DV, that means there are signs of DV.  You might need to use outside resources, I have referred situations out for AODA assessments and returned a referral back to court, because the situation was more complex than the services we had available.  This is tough, because there was a chance no other appropriate services were available.

Take care of yourself.  Domestic Violence is tough work, burnout from dealing with the trauma can challenging.  Restorative Justice practitioners should be caring and supportive of our friends in violence work.  We should keep a strong committment to our work with violence prevention with youth and in schools.  Restorative Justice provides empathy development, which can prevent violence from escalating.

I’ve seen the field transition from “absolutely not, never” with regards to DV and RJ – - to programs that provide surrogate dialogue, survivor panels, sentencing circles.  Research is growing on the planet.  It is a dynamic time to be watching and learning.

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