I first heard this interview on ‘Reckonings’, a weekly radio program broadcast on Oaklands WGPC. Follow this link for more information on the broadcasts, their mission and programs: http://www.reckonings.show/episodes/24
In this episode, author and playwright Eve Ensler, discusses her recent book, The Apology’. In it, she imagines the apology her father never gave her for the abuse he inflicted on her as a child. In doing so she says ‘… I moved him from monster to apologist…and in doing that, he lost power over me.’ It is a story of terrible abuse perpetuated for years. As a Restorative Practitioner her account resonated deeply.
Some of my colleagues have responded with concern to Ensler’s approach, fearing that survivors could be re-harmed, worried that the burden be on survivors to ‘rescue’ and transform those who have so seriously and deliberately hurt them. Elements described in the podcast are indeed harrowing and I can understand how what Ensler describes as her way of dealing with her trauma could be confusing and disturbing to many.
I also understand why the process Ensler describes fulfilled her goal of regaining her freedom from the spectre of her father that had dominated her life for so long. As a writer and playwright, Ensler used her creativity to devise a process that she instinctively felt would help her confront the years of abuse and the consequences this had on her life. By the time she was ready to confront the abuse directly her father was dead. There was no opportunity to explore a face to face meeting with him or some other form of communication. What is striking about her choice of process is the abuse she experienced is described, by way of her imagination, through her father’s eyes and heart which, for her, amounts to him taking responsibility. As we know, this taking of responsibly by the perpetrator (if that is possible) is one of the keys to repair for a great many survivors – Eve couldn’t get that from her father since he was dead, so she creates it for herself. This creative act frees her. It gives her back her agency and helps free her from him and his power over her. This painful ‘excavation’ leads her to step back, to contemplate the root cause of his actions, however horrific, which results in a growing kind of empathy for him. This deep ‘excavation’ includes her mother as well, as she too was not only deeply harmed by the father’s abuse but complicit in that she did nothing to address it.
Not everyone who has been traumatized would choose this process. Each survivor is unique in what they need and each has unique capacities to figure out what these needs are and how best to address them. This is where the RJ practitioner has a key role. The role is essentially to understand what the survivor has experienced, how they’ve been affected, and explore with them what process would help them reach their goals. I have worked with survivors who knew the perpetrator would NOT apologize but nevertheless wanted to communicate with them, in some cases face to face. These interventions invariably left the survivor, by their account, freer, more liberated and able to engage in life on their terms.
Engaging with the survivor reveals what the survivor needs, what is possible and what kinds of actions would help them in order to regain their power. All survivors want accountability whether in the form of apology or not. Some survivors choose to write a letter to the person who harmed/abused them; some request a letter from the harmer addressing specific questions and concerns. Some are not ready to do anything. All these options are valid and depend on the needs of the survivor and the external circumstances – is the perpetrator alive? Do they have an awareness of the trauma/harm caused by their actions? Are they remorseful? Are they willing to address the harm they caused? If not, then what? All these factors influence the nature of the RJ intervention and careful preparation (of both the survivor and the harmer and others affected) is critical to determining the what, when, and how of the process.
One of the most common wish/need of people harmed is that what they suffered will not happen again to another. A restorative process is humanizing for both for the perpetrator and the survivor. In any effective RJ intervention where the harmer has expressed a desire to not re-harm, elements are put into place to support them to make good on that pledge. As Ensler says ‘if the perpetrator has gone through a deep enough journey of accountability they couldn’t imagine doing what they did to someone else’.
Aspects of the RJ process are mysterious; one can never tell if or when shifts and changes will occur – in perceptions, perspectives, connections and understanding – all the elements that make the restorative process so powerful and sometimes life changing.
By giving people choices and supporting them to be as honest, authentic and courageous as they can be, unexpected and transformative things can happen.