Engaging (In)Justice Stories

“My experience of ‘justice seeking’ has been de-humanizing and demonstrated that my rights and experiences of violence are irrelevant to every social institution involved.” Mandi Gray made these remarks in a public statement after a judge found her rapist guilty of sexual assault. In spite of this outcome, Ms. Gray had not experienced justice. Her sense of injustice was exacerbated by a successful appeal of the verdict this past summer. Her experience is all too common. We seem unable to change these (in)justice stories.

We will be exploring what might be called victims’ “justice values.” Researchers have documented victims’ negative experiences, and the gap between what the system provides and what they want to achieve. Researchers have paid less attention to victims’ deeper sense of justice. Be the Peace Institute wants their work informed by victims’ justice values, rather than complaints about bad experiences. As Holder and Daly (2017) point out, efforts to help women get justice have focused on reducing harm of criminal justice interventions and “in the process, the meaning of justice for victims became lost in searches for responses that were least harmful.”

We will produce research that explores what “justice” means to those who have experienced gender-based violence. Three research questions guide the project:

  1. What does justice look like for those who experience gender-based violence? 
  2. What principles and values must underpin any processes or outcomes for gender-based violence victims to experience them as “just”? 
  3. How can an improved understanding of these victims’ sense of justice motivate effective system change?

We have chosen “participatory narrative inquiry” (PNI) (Kurz 2014) to help us achieve this goal. As a research method, PNI focuses on stories rather than opinions. In interviews with victims we will explore “what happened?” when they sought justice, rather than ask for opinions about what went wrong. These interviews will help us answer our first research question. Workshops with victims and stakeholders will help us deduce “justice values” from the stories and answer our second research question. At the end of the project we will organise a large workshop that will include victims, community agencies, government and criminal justice officials. This workshop will help answer our third research question and generate options for deep system change.

Nova Scotia has embarked on two major efforts to change how justice is done in the province: specialized domestic violence courts and restorative justice. With these initiatives ongoing, our partnership, and the research it produces, might help change (in)justice stories for victims of gender-based violence in our province.

Principal Investigator: Diane Crocker, Saint Marys University

Partner: Sue Bookchin, Be the Peace Institute

Collaborators: Heather Ternoway, Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and Deborah Norris, Mount Saint Vincent University

Funders: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Change Lab Action Research Institutes Saint Marys University

CLARI Report 2018-page-001