We know that when we experience harm, one of the first words that can be associated with “what do we do next?” is justice.
But this word is tricky. It means different things to different people depending on their perspective - who they are and what they have experienced. The terms and conditions of justice for those who have experienced harm can be very different to those who haven't.
As feminists have begun to look at systems of oppression, we’ve begun to understand justice does not look one specific way. Finding a route to justice should prioritise what makes a survivor of sexual assault feel secure and in control.
We think it starts with owning our stories and how we want to define ourselves. We might want people to know we are a survivor; we might want people to understand that we feel like a victim. We might want no one to know at all, but what is important is that it is our personal decision if and how we share our experiences. And that we have the right to change our minds at any time.
It can be very scary to share our experiences of harm for a multitude of reasons, so it is totally your decision if and when you want to talk about it. In this article on Daily Trojan, Judy Cai and Allen Pham discuss how some survivors choose not to speak out or report their assault to achieve justice: “Many survivors decline to speak out, fearing they will be discredited or blamed. And even with a multitude of resources and treatments available, recovery can be painful because survivors are required to reflect on their experiences, however painful or traumatic.”
Regardless of whether you choose to share your story or not, you have complete autonomy over how you describe or identify yourself. One survivor, Victoria, said that she “really didn’t want to be labeled as any sort of victim”, explaining that she “didn’t want to put myself in that emotionally vulnerable state.” For those like Victoria, seeking justice can be an elusive pursuit. While some believe in taking legal action, others may turn to alternative routes to find closure.
Support processes to help you find closure
When we think about processes that exist within our communities to help us find justice, we hope that they are going to help us find a sense of closure. Whatever course you decide to take, we’d recommend finding structured support to help you through it.
Routes to justice may include:
includes justice with a criminal punishment and is the basis of most criminal justice systems. This involves a punishment given to the perpetrator, usually by the state. In order to seek retributive justice, we often have to contact the police or local legal enforcement.
provides the opportunity for the survivor of a crime to communicate with the perpetrator of that crime about how the crime has affected their life. This communication can take place in person, or through other media such as video calls or letters. Restorative justice is done through a mediator and can help survivors find closure in a formal way outside of criminal punishment. Unfortunately, restorative justice opportunities and proceedings are not yet available in all countries.
We may also find a personal sense of justice that does not involve an organized or formal process. This can be taking steps to achieve goals or living our lives without fear. Personal justice is varied and specific to what each of us needs or visualizes justice as. Some survivors do not believe legal justice is fundamental to a full recovery. Some simply choose to never take action.
No form of justice is superior to another, as each is up to us to decide what best fits our own needs and definition of justice. The main focus should be on finding closure that suits us best.