Bitterness, hatred, and lifelong repercussions — is there a better way?

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By Sandy . . . Messages of hate and revenge and eternal punishment for Brett Kavanaugh are filling the media outlets and creating excessive unrest in our country.

I have just heard an audio of an interview on The Daily, a PBS podcast, titled, “A High School Assault.” It is brief, slightly over twenty minutes, and in it a very soft-spoken and articulate young woman describes a time in her life that led to an assault somewhat similar to that described by Christine Ford.

In it the young woman wonders why a brief episode so many years ago has haunted Ms. Ford all these years while her own at the hands of a young man in her school, whom she does not name, has not had the same effect on her. At the end she reveals the answer. Finding her several years after the incident, he apologized to her and begged her to forgive him for his abominable behavior.

Her words describing that are so powerful. She says that she is eternally grateful to him for giving her the opportunity to forgive him, and that has made all the difference.

This is not to suggest that such a happy outcome is likely for the Ford-Kavanaugh situation. He maintains his lack of culpability in the situation that she describes, and that is a possibility.

This is to suggest that there may be a better way to restore healing to victims, a way that focuses on reconciliation and peace for those involved in even violent sexual assaults. Experts now recognize that, in almost all cases, those who commit such acts need and crave healing as much as do their victims.

As the majority of these assaults occur between people who have close, often familial, relationships, this type of restorative justice could dramatically shift attitudes and outcomes. The current attitude is that justice for the victim necessitates hanging the perpetrator from the highest tree and leaving him twisting there forever. This leaves victims, perpetrators, families, and society still broken and hurting and puts an enormous strain on state and national resources.

Nor is this to suggest that no judicial punishment should occur when victims press charges, but the excessively long sentences meted out in many cases, followed by lengthy periods of supervision followed by lengthy, often lifetime, sex offender registration do not heal victims. What heals victims is having the opportunity to hear their abusers or assaulters tell them they are sorry and ask to be forgiven and having the power given to them to forgive.

A reasonable sentence followed by a reasonable period of supervision in which therapy and treatment are focused on this model would do more to heal than anything done now. Not all would benefit; not all perpetrators would ask forgiveness; not all victims would forgive. But should that become the norm rather than the rare exception, would not the guilty, the victims, and society as a whole benefit?

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