Across the country, campus sexual violence has been recognized as a pernicious social problem that universities must address. The confluence of student activism, policy support, and social movements has led to a period of unprecedented public outcry on the issue of campus-based sexual misconduct. As a result, campuses are increasingly turning to informal resolution options, including restorative justice (RJ).
RJ is a process for addressing the harms and needs of the survivor though their participation in a voluntary conference with the responsible party. While RJ may provide healing for individuals, RJ processes often fail to address the larger systemic inequities that allow campus sexual misconduct to continue. Transformative justice (TJ), a political framework and approach for responding to violence, harm and abuse grounded in the prison industrial complex abolition, offers a model of repair that goes beyond the quasi-carceral Title IX structure in higher education settings.
Little is known about the use and impact of RJ and TJ to address campus sexual misconduct. Thus, this scoping review examines the academic and grey literature on RJ and TJ for campus sexual misconduct to understand who has been the focus of any campus-based RJ and/or TJ efforts; proposed or reported outcomes of RJ and TJ practices; and facilitators and barriers to the implementation of RJ or TJ approaches for campus sexual misconduct.
This scoping review on RJ and TJ for campus sexual misconduct is part of a larger scoping review on RJ and TJ responses to sexual violence that followed the Joana Briggs Institute methodology for scoping reviews (Peters, Godfrey-Smith, & Mcinerney, 2017). This scoping review includes both peer-reviewed and grey literature. The researchers used a standardized extraction form to collect and analyze sources from academic and grey literature published in English between 1999 and 2020. Data were collected, organized in EndNote, and those labeled “campus-based” were exported to a separate file for review. The final stage involved collating, analyzing, and summarizing the extracted data relevant to campus sexual misconduct.
Eighty sources were included in the scoping review. While both RJ and TJ emphasize the voluntary nature of these practices, the need for a whole campus approach, and a shared interest in the needs of students, RJ and TJ approaches differ significantly in terms of approaches to implementation and outcomes. While RJ processes are focused on the students who formally report sexual misconduct to their institutions, TJ does not rely on the state in any way to address harm. TJ also focuses on developing creative partnerships with campus and community groups to meet the needs of survivors across a range of settings and actively cultivate conditions to prevent violence such as healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved.
Conclusion and Implications
Social workers should understand the fundamental differences between these approaches in order to advocate for solutions to campus sexual misconduct that center historically marginalized survivors, transcend narrow reporting requirements, and demand structural change to prevent future sexual violence. Our findings have implications for practice, policy, and research.