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Restorative Justice at Dalhousie Is a Depiction of Rape Culture

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westphalia via Getty Images
westphalia via Getty Images

The University of Dalhousie is currently facing a scandal regarding some fourth-year male dentistry students who have been caught posting sexually violent and misogynistic comments on a Facebook page. Some of those comments were explicitly referring to raping women and their female classmates, even mentioning the use of anesthetic to do so. It was also revealed that a professor at the same Dentistry School showed a video of bikini-clad women at the beginning of a class earlier this year in order to wake up male students.

While the comments on that Facebook group were highly disturbing, the response of President Richard Florizone is equally troubling. In fact, it was announced last night that the University will proceed with a restorative justice process. While some may think it might be an appropriate response to join together both parties in order to come to a mutual agreement on an appropriate punishment, in this particular case -- and in all cases of violence against women -- this route is likely to favour the perpetrators and disappoint or further victimize the female victims. In fact, restorative justice is a depiction of rape culture, where those incidents are not perceived as significant enough to ensure proper punishment.

Restorative justice and violence against women

Imagine for a moment that you have been the target of rape jokes among your classmates, and that you will have to face those same men and discuss the situation with them. Those men who have been writing about "hate fucking" you. Those men who have discuss how penises should be used to convert women into useful member of society. Those men who most likely have a higher than average IQ, who got admitted into a prestigious school and who are supposed to be the future leaders of tomorrow. Those men are smart enough to know that they can always hire one of the best lawyers if things don't go their way.

Given that some women reported in the media that they do not feel comfortable alongside those men on campus, why would they suddenly feel comfortable in a room discussing rape threats that were made against them? Even though it was reported in the media that female students who were targeted by the misogynistic comments chose to go through the process of restorative justice, how much pressure did they feel in order to agree to this procedure? It may or may not have been a legitimate choice on their part, but given that the university is very likely to want to preserve its reputation, to which extent was this decision theirs to make?

Negotiation when it comes to violence has been shown to have important consequences on the victims. As a matter of fact, a genuine cooperation is very unlikely given that perpetrators will try to get away with as little consequences as possible while the victims will feel let down and disappointed with the whole process. Rape threats can be very worrying and have important consequences on the victims; on that basis, how will they cooperate on an equal basis with those same men who have threatened them? What punishment will satisfy both the victims and the perpetrators in this particular case?

Furthermore, how is it that restorative justice is never thought about when it comes to robbery, drug dealing or fraud, but we somehow find it an interesting alternative when it comes to violence against women? Most likely, it's because we assume that the consequences, i.e. loss of money or goods are important enough to make sure that the issue is dealt with in the criminal justice system, but maybe women are not important enough in our society. In this case, we indirectly ask those female students to forgive by agreeing to go through a restorative justice process. This course of action only contributes to maintaining the privileges of those male students. It provides a snapshot of our society which goes to great lengths to preserves the supremacy of men and the subordination of women.

An easy way out

No wonder all 13 of those male students agreed to participate in the process; it constitutes an easy way out considering the severity of their actions and the risk of expulsion from the school. It's an easy way out in comparison to being charged for sexual harassment or threats; and an easy way out in comparison to having their names revealed and potentially ruining their careers.

As citizens, a few questions remain to be asked. Do we want those men to graduate? Do we want those men to be in a position of authority with their patients, dental assistants, receptionists? Do we feel comfortable knowing our children or a woman we love is under anesthetics in the care of one of those male dentists?

Personally, I would rather have my teeth falling out than having to spend one minute alone in an office with them. I just wish that Richard Florizone could understand this.

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