New law gives sexual, domestic violence victims the ‘restorative justice’ option

by Grace Sherwood, Community News Service

With the passage of Act 11 this past Statehouse session, legislators have cleared the way for survivors of sexual and domestic violence to take matters to a nearby community justice center. 

Before the act, those cases would have only been allowed to go through the traditional criminal justice system. In Vermont, sexual and domestic violence cases were the only cases outlawed from being referred to a community justice center. Act 11 updates the law governing the centers to give survivors an alternative to lengthy, taxing trials — or the chance to find closure by talking with the person who has harmed them.

Stakeholders say it’ll take about a year before there’s a process in place to make that happen, though. 

A community justice center is a place where victims can meet with the person who committed a crime against them after being referred by prosecutors, the court or other authorities. The victim has the opportunity to explain how the crime affected them and can then request action from the offender with the aim of mending the harm and preventing further offenses. Rather than the state punishing the perpetrator, the process allows the victim to advocate for what they believe will help them most. 

“Agencies were finding folks didn’t want to go through the court system — they just wanted folks to stop the abuser or take accountability for it,” said Rep. Karen Dolan, D-Essex Junction, lead sponsor of the legislation.

Survivors can go through the court system and take part in this kind of peacemaking process — called restorative justice, broadly. But “that conversation doesn’t always happen in court,” Dolan said. “That can happen now that this law is in effect.”

There are 17 centers across the state, in every county but two, though those missing counties are served by centers in neighboring ones.

The biggest piece of this legislation is giving victims a choice; the restorative justice method is there if they want to use it. A case can be taken to a community justice center at any point in time: instead of a criminal court case, along with a criminal court case or even years after a crime has been committed, Dolan said.

Act 11 says both parties must agree to bring it to a community justice center and commit to the restorative method. 

“Restorative justice isn’t restorative if it’s mandatory — if it’s being forced,” said Dolan. If one of the parties declines to participate, a community justice center can send a referred case back to the criminal system. Trying to take the restorative route with an uncooperative offender “causes more harm and trauma for the victim,” said Dolan. 

But centers are not yet taking referrals for sexual and domestic violence cases. The new statute requires each of the state’s centers to draft and agree to a memorandum of understanding with a local member of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Each may differ county to county, and the entire process is being overseen by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. 

The agreements aim to make clear to everyone involved what exactly the given community justice center is able to do. The agreements must include protocols to ensure survivors’ safety, train staff and establish confidentiality standards, among other requirements.

“The idea was it’ll probably take about a year for these MOUs to take place — for the Attorney General’s Office to get set up to be this central oversight agency, for relationship building and for training of staff and volunteers and for fundraising,” said Rachel Jolly, director of the Burlington Community Justice Center.

Jolly said step one will be finding the money. “Right now we don’t have any money that is backing this concept even though it’s allowable because of Act 11,” she said.

Erin Jacobsen, assistant attorney general and co-director of the state office’s community justice division, said the legislation came with no appropriations. Until legislators decide to fund the work, Jacobsen said, leaders will look to federal grants from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs.

Jacobsen said her office supported Act 11 (then H.41) from the start. 

“There’s a lot of research now about how victims express the difference between the traditional criminal justice approach and when they had a restorative option and how the restorative option just feels so much more like justice,” said Jacobsen. “We’re very interested in seeing how this shifts things in terms of helping people who are harming others stop harming people. Helping people understand what the harm was, how to stop that kind of behavior and also to get the resources they need so they can do that.”

Categories: Legislation

13 replies »

  1. Does the “restorative justice” option involve an extremely sharp machete and a particular portion of an offender’s lower extremity? If so, I’d be in favor as castration (chemical or otherwise) greatly reduces recidivism. If not, I’m pretty sure mowing a victim’s lawn all summer (a typical task assigned to “restorative justice” participants in VT in the past) ain’t gonna cut it.

    These Dimocrat lunatics are just waging an out & out brazen war fest against women & children. They represent the epitome of the most amoral and deviant sociopaths who walk amongst us. With zero regard for the future safety & welfare of Vermonters and total disregard for recidivism rates, their focus is centered solely on their cockeyed, distorted views of criminality as well as the very tragic lifelong traumas endured by victims of violent and deviant crimes.

    IF ONLY the fake VT news media would turn in its tracks and report the bills and ideologies coming out of Montpelier that are analogous to the way excrement spews forth from a broken sewer line – these crazies would be voted OUT. Sadly, the electorate is still as sound asleep as Rip Van Winkle once was. Will they EVER awaken?

  2. It would be good to know more about this. Our nation does need healing. We do need real Justice. Jesus came to forgive all our sins, God wants us to forgive and forget. He also wants Justice. Ther is a mix that works.

    Sadly our populace, looking for love respect, admiration, looks in the wrong directions, demands it, takes it, steals it and nobody wins. Left to our own natural devices we faulted, the crime are pretty equal among mean no women, just different, men staling sex, women stealing money. God has a better plan for all of us. He wants us happy, joyful, loved, at peace. What we are experiencing I this world is not his plan.the Worls also does not bring about the change we desire, but they can, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It would be good for VERMONTERS to welcome them into our hearts and minds.

  3. Crime isn’t “equal” between men and women and never has been. If one looks at FBI/DOJ stats over many decades, males are convicted for perpetrating the majority of violent crimes at a rate of approximately 80% as opposed to females for fairly obvious reasons. Further, men paying money to buy females to satisfy their own personal sexual perversion is abhorrent and amoral, for one need only know the New Testament to be aware of how many times Jesus directs BOTH sexes to abstain from sexual immorality and to remain pure. A brief perusal online will attest to this message being proffered over & over. The vast majority of women who tragically sell their bodies under EITHER legal or illegal circumstances are typically addicted to drugs or entered the trade under duress. Government statistics prove that over 90% of all prostitutes seek to separate themselves from the “work” they engage in which is very simply a form of sexual slavery and should be unacceptable to modern societies. And sexual assault as mentioned in the article above is always a serious, violent, & dangerous crime – never a crime wherein victims can simply choose to “forgive & forget” it all. Forgiving and forgetting are two different conscious acts.

    Also, though Jesus loved criminals as He loved all & visited them in order to minister to them, Jesus never advocated for the abolishment of the legal or criminal justice system whatsoever. And forgiving someone for a serious crime they inflicted on you never should demand or coerce the victim into “forgetting” about the pain and suffering which they endured and oftentimes may endure for a lifetime. Instead, when justice is truly served, it allows the victim the opportunity to attempt to move forward knowing that the criminal either cannot or will not sin against them or other innocents again. Punishment of true wrongdoers is clearly allowable & justifiable as per the Bible. And whenever Jesus forgave serious sin, His caveat was to ….”go and sin no more”. In order for a criminal to be worthy of being considered for this program, the perpetrator needs to admit guilt & profess genuine sorrow & regret for the damage inflicted, give complete restitution, and prove ongoing, serious commitment to never re-offend. Conversely, when a crime is particularly heinous or injurious as in most sexual assault cases, there is nothing “wrong” with using traditional punitive methods, so long as the punishment is constructive and seeks to rehabilitate. “Forgiving & forgetting” a rape or the rape of your minor child is not what God

    • I don’t know where you get your 90% statistic from. The huge number of women making money on “subscription” sites by getting their bits out would suggest that many many women have no problem with “sex work”.

      There is even a campaign to say that “sex work is real work”.

  4. By the by, I personally was involved in one of these “restorative justice” programs in Bennington County VT, in Bennington proper, to be exact — and needless to state, abuses ABOUNDED — with preference to the criminal and unsympathetic to the victim, of course.

    The perp was a young guy in trouble with the law routinely but connected to a well-known family in one specific town. The case centered around repeated acts of vandalism at our home that we were subjected to in order to “punish” me for refusing to participate in the usual corrupted town politics while I sat as a long-term member on a Town Commission. During the course of our meeting held at the courthouse, the lad mocked the entire process and joked with one of the totally unbiased community leaders who sat as a member overseeing this process of “goodwill”.

    In the end, the guy was pleasantly requested to make arrangements to do grounds work in a reparative manner to compensate me for the thousands of dollars of damage he had intentionally caused. Thereafter, never did he nor any member of that committee, board, kingdom, or whatever they termed themselves there EVER make any further contact with me to follow through. When I finally phoned Erica Mathage’s Office months later after hearing nothing, they basically blamed me for his not following through as I apparently notified phoned them “too late” of his non-appearance…….. and that was the state of “restorative justice” in Benn County approximately 12 or so years ago.

    So, pardon me for not having any faith in this process & I find it appalling, actually, that the state would look to set this up for violent sex offenders to take advantage of. What with drug dealers already running free here and repeat violent criminals serving no time – I’m just taking a wild guess that white women would be chronically at the losing end of this program; sorry.

  5. Thank you Ms Gaffney for sharing your story. It was as I suspected, a totally bogus program. I am curious though, does participating in this program remain on an official file in the legal system for the perpetrator or does it miraculously disappear? I would be very interested in hearing that response.
    One thing that strikes me as bizarre is that if I am the victim of a serious crime against my person, such as a physical attack or sexual assault, and I agree to this program, I can tell the criminal how I feel but the perpetrator doesn’t have to spend time in jail, and then they can interact with me in the performance of this restorative justice? So, the victim gets to be retraumatized in every single interaction. How in the holy heck is that good for the victim?

    • Good question! Better let your holier than thou Vermont legislators ‘splain that one to ya. Or better yet, God forbid in the event one is brutally assaulted & raped – you better just “FORGET” the entire life-altering ordeal – as the poster above recommended.

      I cannot believe these women-hating simpletons have the gall to use this previously non-functioning program designed for those who commit “petty crimes” & attempt to use it to keep degenerates & felons out of prison!!!

      ANYTHING to coddle criminals (the REAL victims) & increase the suffering of the innocent. ANYTHING. What a DISGRACE these Communists truly are.

  6. And conversely, as a religious volunteer at a men’s prison in VT, I see way too many women-abused men incarcerated. When they finally get to leave, they yet again wind up with abusive women. Women mentally and emotionally abuse men, whether knowingly or not, and when men have reached the limit of their cool react, they wind up back in prison. Domestic violence hardly appears out of nowhere with no causes to get men so pissed off that they prefer jail to someone nagging the crap out of them endlessly. Some of us had mothers just like that, too. I chose to walk away many years ago from her. I also have had multiple bat-crap insane women in my life as “girlfriends” who cheated, stole, and harassed me endlessly. Behind closed doors, all these “innocent” wordy females who protest too much are like hyenas who just cannot let anything go and can drive the sanest person to madness. In Vermont, this kind of female behavior is exceptionally rampant, as there are many male facilities vs women’s for crimes of passion. Women always get off easy, no matter how badly they behave, because, after all, they’re just little confused dainty creatures. As I walk or bike along a path, most females I pass by are visibly angry creatures who cannot even say hello back. And forget about the girly-men in Vermont… I haven’t seen normal men and women here except for my church group which is older, traditional married couples for the most part. Maybe the problem with Vermont is that women are predominantly overweight or very grey and witchy looking. Tons of those crystal rainbow unicorn types here who are typically referred to as dykes elsewhere in the nation. Men need to find greener pastures in another state, and preferably way, way south of here. Choices for decent, safe female companionship is really low in Vermont, worse than anywhere I’ve been. And I’m pretty well-mannered, educated, handy, and good-looking. That scares women in Vermont. I can’t even get the nurses at the doctors office or customer service women at the bank to say hello to me, they are so angry at my mere presence. LOL. But seriously, women have a major chip on their shoulder up here, for sure.

    • Mr. RGP,
      Sir, your emotional intelligence quotient is significantly low. You’d best have it examined and treated before you go out in public again. You wonder why women won’t speak to you… but you’ve very aptly demonstrated why they won’t. You’ve disparaged all sorts of folks in your diatribe. I wonder if you’re the pot or the kettle? Usually, when one accuses others of a discretion or crime, it’s usually because they are guilty of it as well.
      I recommend you speak with your spiritual advisor at your church and spend some time on your knees in prayer. I wish you all the best Mr. RGP.

      • P.S. I’ve been happily married for 29 years to a wonderful, if flawed man and he’s been been married to a flawed woman for the same amount of time. We work it out. We give each other respect and the venefit of the doubt. Pay heed RGP.

      • Save your breath, Pam. Once any man is blaming women, the victims, for the vicious attacks and sexual assaults they sometimes suffer at the hands of violent male abusers – there is little hope of them thinking clearly.

      • Very True Kathy. Very true. In my humble opinion, this is a potentially very dangerous man. Flawed logic, repressed anger/rage, feelings of inadequacy and being thwarted make this person an ideal “snapped” personality. Wouldn’t want to be within reach when it happens. Praying for those that are that they are able to get out of the way quickly enough.
        And I will pray for this person to find the right course, the right guidance and assistance.