Essex Police is using face-to-face meetings between victims and offenders to address hate crimes.

The force employs a what is known as Restorative and Mediation Service to facilitate a resolution between the two parties, overseen by service counsellors.

Service manager Nikki Essex said: “Restorative justice is a process used alongside the criminal justice system, giving victims the chance to have a voice about how a crime has impacted them. It also gives them the opportunity to ask questions and have a real say. For offenders, it allows them to understand the consequences of their actions and make meaningful amends.

“It has the potential to break down barriers between victims of hate crime and perpetrators and could benefit both sides. It empowers them to have their say, express the impact and educate the offender. Research with more than 3,000 victims of hate crime show that, when given a choice between restorative justice with the offender or the offender serving a longer prison sentence, 60 per cent of victims would rather restorative justice.”

Essex's police commissioner Roger Hirst added: "Roger Hirst said: “Any crime committed against someone because of their race, religion, race, religion, sex, parental or marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability is totally repugnant and wholly unacceptable in modern society. I encourage all victims of such crimes to report the incident and seek any help they need from one of the various organisations who are able to assist.”

Case Study (names have been changed):

One Saturday afternoon, Gulshan was returning from a counselling session which had been a particularly difficult one. She had stopped to pick up some shopping on her way home and was fixing her headscarf while she waited at the till when she heard a member of staff in the shop comment into his headset “Watch out, this one’s from ISIS”

Gulshan initially brushed it off as a misunderstanding, she must have not heard him correctly. As she made her way home, she kept thinking about the comment and began to feel more and more fearful for herself and her children. What other abuse would she face living in this area? Do her children suffer from this kind of comment?

When she got home, Gulshan reported the incident to a charity who encouraged her to contact the Police. The officers who contacted her suggested that restorative justice (RJ) may help – she could face the person who had made her feel so uncomfortable and frightened in a safe space and tell him how she had felt and ask him questions. Gulshan felt that although this could be a difficult process, she wanted to confront this man and have her voice heard. The Police issued a community resolution and referred the case to the RJ team.

The RJ team met with Gulshan, and then John, the member of staff who Gulshan had reported to have made the comment. John was distraught – he had no recollection of saying what had been reported and was adamant that he wouldn’t say something like that. Although John felt this was a misunderstanding, he didn’t wish to cause any further harm to Gulshan and said he would do anything to help her to feel that she was welcome and safe in the shop and community.

Gulshan and John met one evening for a restorative justice conversation, supported by two facilitators from the Essex Restorative and Mediation Service. John made a sincere apology to Gulshan for the stress he had caused over a comment he made into his mic. It was never his intention to cause any harm and he explained that the comment he made had been misheard. He had been communicating with a colleague and the discussion had been related to an issue in the store and had nothing in common with Gulshan’s presence.

Gulshan was able to explain how she felt and reported that the process had a positive impact on her. She was left feeling welcome to return to the store, which she continues to do, and didn’t go forward feeling that the community was an unsafe place for her and her children.

This incident has taught John to remove his mic when he is dealing with a customer and he is now very conscious how only hearing one side of a conversation can be misconstrued. This discovery has also become a part of the company’s training course for new staff.

Both parties said that RJ had a positive impact on them and that they would recommend it to others.

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