Victim Needs and Services in the Emerging Area of Sawbonna: A New Model of Restorative Justice

By Margot Van Sluytman, *Award-Winning Restorative Justice Researcher & Poet



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.

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.

Margot Van Sluytman

Margot Van Sluytman is an internationally-respected and sought-after independent voice in the field of Sawbonna-Restorative Justice. Her lived-experience, of meaning after murder, informs her greatly about justice advocacy. As a result she is invited to widely share her writings, talks, and lectures. She has been invited to several colleges, and universities, including, Ottawa, Dalhousie, Simon Fraser, Kamloops, Guelph, Thompson Rivers, Acadia, Cambridge, Northumbria, Durham, Leeds in Canada and the UK, respectively, and Eastern Mennonite University and St. Mary’s University, US. She is also invited to prisons, healing centres, police headquarters, and homeless shelters to share with participants the power of Sawbonna-Restorative Justice and therapeutic writing to better serve all citizens.

In 2016 she shared an in-person two-hour conversation with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in South Africa where they discussed Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and the vital importance of honouring one’s voice.

Earlier this year, she gave a Sawbonna-Restorative Justice workshop and therapeutic writing process with pre-release inmates at Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town, South Africa, a prison in which Nelson Mandela served eight years.

Canada’s Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, invited Margot to meet with her, to discuss the role of Sawbonna-Restorative Justice in Canada’s changing Justice System. The Minister affirmed her passion for and belief in Sawbonna-Restorative Justice.

Margot continues to receive rich media coverage, including: CBC’s The Current, w/Anna Maria Tremonti; BBC; and, The Forgiveness Project, UK. Her Master’s Thesis entitled,
Sawbonna: Justice as Lived Experience informs researchers, policy-makers, and colleagues globally.
She is a Member of the International Academic Research Studies and a Member of the International Community of Restorative Researchers.
Margot has been nominated for the Premier’s Award, 2017, for her commitment to Sawbonna-Restorative Justice via her foundation, The Sawbonna Project for Living Justice.

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