ABSTRACT

Expressing the need for organized healing spaces for victims of crime in Canada within a framework of her Sawbonna model of (victim-led) restorative justice, Van Sluytman calls attention to a gap in human services. Van Sluytman’s recent construction of the virtual Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is a step in meeting this need, as she works towards the establishment of ‘bricks & mortar’ day centres starting in Toronto then being built across Canada. Van Sluytman states that, ”Though Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors, is not a healing home for offenders, it is not predicated upon negating or dismissing the need for healing homes for offenders, as well”.  Van Sluytman’s virtual centre welcomes those who have themselves been or had loved ones affected by a specific criminal action.

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Because relationship is our way of being in the world, an us versus them manner of addressing important societal issues proves flawed. In the paradigm of justice systems and legal frameworks, a poignant error occurs when it is assumed that victim and offender, and working with and for them and their communities, presupposes a binary notion. Trauma and injustice are not in the purview of specific definitions, organizations, associations, or status symbols demarcated by diplomas, degrees, or employment record. They are, in fact, commonalities distributed far and wide. Ubiquitous as computer screens and keyboards.

In this article, I will be discussing why we need healing homes for crime survivors and that those healing homes are not to be in-place of nor in opposition to healing homes for offenders. Within the context of Sawbonna, which is an award-winning model of restorative justice, shared-humanity and human-rights, are foundational. Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice is predicated upon building bridges and fording chasms. Predicated upon shining a light on the fact that we all matter; indeed, are on the same team whether we acknowledge that or not. A team that is focused on, tenacious about, and driven by not relegating justice to one camp or the other, fully aware that services available to those who have been harmed by crime and those who have harmed are necessary to address their specific needs.

Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors, currently in virtual iteration, is a healing home that addresses a particular kind of victims’ needs. Victims’ needs, not from the perspective of the heinous and pernicious injustices that have occurred in society because of colonization, because of race, gender, and income barriers that swell prisons here in Canada and internationally. Swelling those prisons with humans that are treated in often the most inhumane manner. And though the line is oft-time blurred between who is the victimized and who is the criminalized in light of the demarcations of: victim and offender, Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is for those who have been or had loved-ones affected by a specific criminal action.

The fact that it is impossible to have persons who have been harmed share a space with the person who has done the harm, is clear. Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is for those who have been harmed. In days of yore, penitentiaries were so named for they were supposed to be a place for those who caused harm to go to address their crime, in order to know penitence, in order to find a manner to restore their self-worth, and if possible to understand and be accountable for the harm their actions caused. A place to be penitent. A place where restoration of and understanding of shared-humanity and human-rights could occur. This paper is not about addressing penitentiaries and the work that must be done to affect change in those places. I note it here because another question arises. Arises not in opposition to the need for prisons to be places of healing and support. A question that arises from the fact that no places exist for victims.

The question then is this: where do those who have been victimized go to find restoration of their understanding of their human-rights, care and support for their savage ache, anger, and grief? To have their trauma addressed? No such places, yet, exist. In my recently published paper, *Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice, commissioned by The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime under the auspices of The Department of Justice Canada, I address the fact that victims’ services must include bricks-and-mortar homes where crime victims can go, where services specific to their needs are offered.

Getting this to occur means forming relationships with like-minded people who know that choosing a side means dishonouring and disrespecting our very humanity. My admiration stretches out to those who choose to be allies in this work. And though feeling at times as a slow-moving possibility, a growing and powerfully inspiring list of individuals who do not articulate justice from an us versus them dynamic, grows. To be a victim attending a justice conference, particularly a criminal justice or restorative conference, is akin to what my Argentinian cousin, Laura terms, “a cucaracha/cockroach on a chicken farm.” The humour of these words assists in understanding that at both criminology and restorative justice conferences, expectations and understands are often pre-set, and if not adhered to, assumptions, if not downright disrespect, can be levelled.

It, therefore, behooves each of us to ask what our understanding and expectation is for our research and policy decisions; for who, how, what, when, where, and why they are being addressed.

Victims must be included in policy-making decisions at every level of government, as well being included in academia and each of the contexts where decisions about their needs and rights are being discussed and designed. Because Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice is clear that retribution and revenge are unacceptable synonyms for victims-services, meaning a foundational ethics for victim needs is unwavering.

That the government must address the creation of healing homes across Canada for victims of crime, is a must. The prevalent focus is, as yet, on building more prisons and punishing offenders, rather than shifting focus on how to not only offer more humane focus on healing of offenders, but to address in concrete ways how to build and support healing homes for crime survivors, which is trauma-informed justice within the crucible of Sawbonna. Those who have been victimized and those who have been criminalized must receive support, bearing in mind that those services and supports offer to society, as a whole, deep and profound richness and possibility for human dignity to be maintained.

The flawed view that unless a victim forgives, unless a victim chooses the side of the offender, they do not care about human-rights, about shared-humanity, is limited, limiting. And wrong. Those who work with and for and because of justice are called to continue our commitment to challenge entrenched presuppositions. To continue to change the narrative. The simplistic narrative of needing more jails, considering this “victim services,” considering this “justice served,” denies human-rights and ignores the fact that one of the services that victims require are healing homes which offer a wide range of supports.

This is what Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice calls for. The model I have developed, and upon which the virtual Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is based, is explained in my recent publication by the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.