What to do in situations of abuse?

There has been much discussion publicly regarding immoral acts, such as sexual misconduct, defamation, and abuse of power. Traditional ways to handle these might involve the police, the courts, punishments, and public shaming. It is also very common to just ignore it, sweeping this under the rug, hoping it would “sort itself out”.

Traditional justice systems (police, court, punishments, public shaming) tend to create more separation and defensiveness, reinforcing victim-villain associations. Moreover, revenge can be a relief in the short term, but in the long run, venting feelings of anger doesn’t decrease those feelings. Not to mention that exposing the abuser publicly without giving them the opportunity for redemption can lead to unintended consequences for the accused, such as depression and even suicide.

Sweeping the story under the rug doesn’t help either. On the contrary, the silence allows abusive behavior to perpetuate in the shadows. To stop abuse, it is fundamental to speak up about it.

Opening Pandora’s Box

We know it is very hard to open Pandora’s Box and take the initiative to speak about the past. After being exposed to a distressing experience, it is quite understandable that people want to move on with their life and refrain from talking about the episode.

“Avoiding” is a smart coping tactic that protects the nervous system, and it works for a time. However, it is counterproductive in the long run, often leading to isolation, numbness, addictions, or compulsive behaviors, such as overeating, gambling, and unsafe sex, which give immediate rewards but are chronically damaging to the self.

How to know if I am avoiding it or I am over it?

The abusive experience is no longer a wound once negative feelings such as guilt and shame have completely dissolved, and you no longer blame yourself for letting that happen to you. Recognizing any cope mechanisms you have used to avoid or suppress traumatic experiences is an important step to integrating them. If you catch yourself in avoidant mode, be kind to yourself and thank your mind for trying to protect you.

Restorative Justice: a healthy response to offense

There are healthy and effective ways of tackling situations of abuse. Besides engaging in relaxing activities such as yoga, and seeking the support of trustworthy friends and therapists, it can be also beneficial to take an active role in speaking up your boundaries against abusive behavior.

At Safe-Mediation, we offer an alternative avenue, based on Restorative Justice. It is a process centered on healing, accountability, and transparency.

Restorative Justice is an innovative, participatory, and inclusive approach to situations of abuse that enables those harmed and those accountable for the harm to communicate about and address their needs in the aftermath. Those accused can better understand the impact of their action, take responsibility for it, and shift their behavior, therefore preventing harm from happening again. Meanwhile, those harmed have the opportunity to take an active role in the process, reducing any feelings of anxiety and powerlessness.

While traditional justice focuses on law-breaking and sentences, restorative justice expands the issue beyond legality by looking into underlying causes to promote change with fierce compassion. There is evidence that those who suffered abuse feel more relief, and abusers are more accountable (less likely to re-offend) under restorative justice when compared to other systems.

A transparent, mediated dialogue is a core principle in Restorative Justice. The process requires both the abused and the abuser to share with each other their direct experiences of what happened, their primary intentions, and the actual impact on their lives. Such conversations bring up the opportunity to stretch out people’s comfort zone. It is like cleaning an infected wound; at first, it can burn and cause pain, however, it stops the spread of infection and allows healing.