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"How can a woman want to meet the man who raped her?"
Danish social worker Karin Sten Madsen works at the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault at the Rigs hospital in Copenhagen. She has heard endless variations on this question and similar horrified reactions to the idea of a woman voluntarily meeting the man who raped her.
Earlier this week, Madsen arrived in Israel to participate in a two-day conference at Bar-Ilan University called "Serious Violence and Restorative Justice." The conference was attended by international experts on the subject who discussed some of the ways in which the Restorative Justice model has been applied with much success throughout the world - including in pilot projects within the juvenile justice system in Israel.
"Restorative justice sees crime as something that takes place between people," Madsen said. "Therefore, the damage must be repaired between the people involved and through active intervention."
On Tuesday, the eve of International Women's Day, Madsen spoke to The Jerusalem Post about the potential sense of empowerment that women can gain from establishing a dialogue with the men who raped them.
According to Madsen, 70 percent of the women who have come to the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault chose not to report the identity of their rapist to the police - in part because they felt that no justice would be achieved unless the rapist personally acknowledged responsibility for his actions and showed his regret. In addition, she said, less than 15% of rape cases in Denmark go to court, primarily for lack of sufficient evidence.
Furthermore, the penal process does not support rapists in gaining an understanding of their actions, she said. In contrast, the Restorative Justice model, while holding offenders accountable, also encourages rapists to engage in a dialogue which attempts to repair the harm done not only to the victim, but to a community or society at large.
"One of the critiques of this model," Madsen said, "has been that it is offender-centered, and does not take the victims' needs into consideration. Yet the application of the Restorative Justice model came precisely from the requests of women - those who felt their rapist was a monster and no longer wanted to live within that shadow."
For many rape victims, Madsen said, the interest in engaging in dialogue with their rapist stems from a need to understand why the perpetrator of the crime had chosen them, to confront their fears of it happening again, and to express some of the anger and pain, which in certain cases, has not allow them to go on with their lives.
A full third of the men approached by women cared for at the Centre agreed to meet for direct dialogue in the presence of a counselor, Madsen said, while another third of the men, while refusing to meet, did communicate in writing with the women who approached them.
In each case, the woman and her counselors assess whether approaching her rapist is a good idea. This depends to a large extent on the victim's emotional state and on the degree of support from family and friends that she will have during the process. At the same time, another counselor meets with the man who raped her to assess whether he will be able to speak and listen during the process.
The process, Madsen said, is in no way intended to end with victim and perpetrator walking out hand in hand, but rather to enable women to express their anger and pain and to be heard.
"Rape is often either demonized, marginalized or overlooked, and this is a way to actually deal with it," Madsen said. "As the Norwegian writer Paul Leer-Salvesen wrote, you live with your lovers, offenders and victims all your life. Somehow, they are always there."