Child Sexual Abuse and Restorative Justice

by Aliza Khan


Restorative justice allows those affected by all forms of crime to explain to the offenders the impact their criminality has had on them. It gives victims a voice. The damage caused by the sexual abuse of children is incalculable. The practice of restorative justice emerged in various countries as a way of dealing constructively with those legally or morally responsible for the abuse. It can aid victims of abuse in their recovery, but also the rehabilitation process for offenders.


The Ministry of Justice defines restorative justice as “the process that brings those harmed by crime, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.”


According to the Ministry, there are numerous processes of restorative justice, including:

  • Victim-Offender Conferencing – this involves bringing the victim(s), offender(s) and supporters (such as a partner or family members) together in a meeting.


  • A Community Conference – this includes bringing together the members of a community which has been affected by a particular crime and the offenders.


  • “Shuttle RJ” – this consists of a trained restorative justice facilitator passing messages back and forth between the victim and offender. The participants do not meet.


  • Neighbourhood Justice Panels – this involves trained volunteers from a local community facilitating meetings between victims and offenders for low-level crime and antisocial behaviour.


  • “Street RJ” – is usually facilitated by police officers between offenders, victims and other stakeholders in attendance at the time of the incident.


Today four main types of child abuse are generally recognised including (1) Physical Abuse (2) Emotional Abuse (3) Sexual Abuse (4) Neglect.  According to the NSPCC sexual abuse is defined as (but not limited to) the following:


  • Sexual abuse occurs when a child is forced or tricked into sexual activities. This can include using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child, making a child undress or touch someone else, exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor, making, viewing or distributing child abuse images or videos.


The Office for National Statistics estimates that 3.1 million people aged 18-74 were sexually abused in childhood. The use of restorative justice with victims of child sexual abuse is much debated. People point to the dangers of re-victimising the victim, others point to the benefits of empowering the victim (Penal Reform International, 2016). Taking this into consideration: How beneficial is restorative justice in addressing child sexual abuse?


One noticeable benefit is that it provides a valuable context and rich insight into the circumstances of both victims and offenders. The restorative process shines a beacon on the issues and vulnerabilities the offender is facing (Catch 22, 2020). Child sexual abuse isn’t limited to geography, social class, religion, culture or ethnicity. There are several deeply rooted, complex and interrelated societal factors that can contribute to sexual abuse. Research demonstrates that social problems such as domestic violence, substance misuse and poverty can play a factor in the facilitation of abuse (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2004). Knowledge like this helps victims to understand what led that person to crime. In a randomised trial Victims First, highlight that restorative justice provides an 85% victim satisfaction rate. For many victims, meeting the person who has harmed them can be a huge step in healing and recovering from the crime.  They demonstrate:

  • 72% of victims said their conference had provided them with a sense of closure.
  • 78% of victims would recommend to others.

In reverse, the offender begins to see the impact of their actions on the lives of their victim. Child sexual abuse has numerous potential consequences that can last a lifetime and span generations, with serious effects on health, education, employment, and the economic well-being of the individual (Media Kit on Sexual Assault, 2020).


Statistics published by Darkness to Light  indicate:

  • Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to report a suicide attempt.
  • Female adult survivors of child sexual abuse are nearly three times more likely to report substance use problems.
  • Male sexual abuse survivors have twice the HIV infection rate of non-abused males.


The Restorative Justice Council note that restorative justice has been shown to help reduce re-offending by 14%.


This article has examined the potential of restorative justice programmes to facilitate conflict resolution for victims of child sexual abuse and the rehabilitation of offenders. Meeting face to face can be a powerful and rewarding experience for both. There is clear evidence that restorative justice can provide tangible benefits and is a powerful tool in developing cohesive and democratic societies. However, it’s important to note that restorative justice can have its limitations too (Penal Reform International, 2016). Notably, some concerns include:


  • The victim can be re-victimised by the process.
  • Psychological harm may be brought to the victim especially if the offender shows no empathy towards them.
  • It relies on voluntary cooperation from the victim and the offender. Criminals may not want to participate or take responsibility for their crime.
  • The safety of victims, particularly in a situation of power imbalance.


Taking this into consideration restorative justice can be highly beneficial as long as victims’ needs are placed at the forefront and securing redress remains the central objective.


Alysa Khan




Catch 22, (2020), Why restorative justice matters for victims, offenders and communities,


Child Welfare Information Gateway, (2004), Risk and Protective Factors for Child Abuse and Neglect,


Media Kit on Sexual Assault, (2020), CONSEQUENCES OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE,


Penal Reform International, (2016), What can restorative justice offer victims of domestic violence?,



I have, for as far back as I can remember, struggled in public situations. My mind, adept at sowing doubt, places blind suspicion in the motives of others, imagines boredom in those I talk to, attacking me with every blink, or gap in the conversation. At nights I lie awake convincing myself to borderline certainty that all those I love or care about see me as something to be tolerated, or with outright disdain. 

There is no evidence for this, you understand, and lived experience has generally taught me otherwise. But, since 2013, I have worked hard to chip away at these spectres. At a time when my mind demanded I stay inside, I walked across Spain. When it demanded I avoid large gatherings and talk, I went to conferences and spoke. When it demanded isolation, I sought community. I have built a structure of confidence and self-support that has held me up in spite of everything but standing atop it now, I see the surge of this virus coming towards me, ready to wash it all away.

I will not bore you (and nor do I have space) with my experiences of what preceded this (which I’ve documented here, here, and here). But given the current, unprecedented times we live in, marking it with some words about the impact it is having on mental health could prove to be productive. I believe that there is still very much stigma around mental illness. Although in recent years the topic has been discussed more openly, and with appropriate sincerity, suicide remains globally the second leading cause of death in males. The suicide rate in the UK amounts to roughly one every half an hour. Although of course, not every suicide can be directly attributed to mental illness, those with mental illness have been found to be at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts. It is a killer that predates COVID-19 and will outlast COVID-19, so, continued honest discussion of the topic is vital, both as a method of raising awareness as well as addressing the stigma.

As the situation surrounding COVID-19  is ongoing, it is probably too early to perform any form of academic analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on those with mental health conditions. So, with this in mind, here are a few paragraphs of my own perspective and observations of the daily functioning (or lack thereof) of my mind. After all, it’s difficult to interview others about the topic right now.


On a day-to-day level, perhaps because of my natural introversion, the pressure of forced isolation or quarantine has not hit me yet. Instead though, I find myself living in a peculiar sense of emotional numbness. A general, blind sense of… not much at all; no happiness, nor sadness, no lethargy, nor excitement. I feel merely awake. 


This, I suppose, is to be expected, being stuck inside is not a condition that exactly sparks the imagination, but this degree of anhedonia can be a symptom of depression, which may turn into something more severe.

Of course, depression and anxiety are conditions that distort thoughts as much as they poison emotion. At its worst, even the most delusional thoughts borne from depression can seem purely reasonable, the depressed mind seeks confirmation and validation at all times. I can recall inspecting every item of food I came into contact with for signs of ‘tampering and poisoning’. 

So, when the news is filled with stories of mass panic, deaths, photographs of emergency field hospitals being created in Central Park and in conference centres…the mind jumps at the possibilities. It is natural and it certainly doesn’t take bad brain chemistry or a few misfiring neurons to get concerned about this. Yet, in a mind already tilting towards dread, the constant barrage of news of COVID-19 and the consequences it has had on us all has felt like validation and confirmation of some of the thoughts that only weeks ago would have felt like paranoia. It is no surprise then that there was a spike in depression and anxiety immediately following when the lockdown was put in place.

I am, of course, not saying that lockdown should be lifted to relieve this added depression, but we should recognise that the long-term health problems stemming from this global lockdown are unlikely to be limited to the virus itself, and once the world’s doors open again, many of us will find ourselves still, mentally, locked away.

Arthur Peirce