Graphic by Abraham Navarro
Graphic by Abraham Navarro

Take Back the Night coordinators raise concerns about event speaker

A rocky presentation by Rachel King sparks discussions about restorative justice and if it can truly empower survivors.

by Matthew Taylor

Corrections: The event was not hosted by CAT or the North Coast Rape Crisis Team but instead the Women’s Center at CPH, they were important guests and coordinators there.

Cal Poly Humboldt’s Campus Advocacy Team (CAT), along with the help of the North Coast Rape Crisis Center, hosted the annual international event known as Take Back the Night last Friday. This college campus-focused event looks to empower women and other vulnerable minorities. This year’s event began with a presentation by Dr. Rachel King, a specialist in issues of sexual misconduct within higher education. Her presentation explored the usage of restorative justice in situations of sexual assault on college campuses.

Restorative justice focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with their victim(s) and the community at-large. The framework often assumes that the offender committed their crime due to a perceived need in their life that wasn’t being met or a lack of knowledge towards the harm they inflicted. Proponents say that restorative justice has the capability to be incredibly effective and healing to all parties involved in a crime. However, should we assume sexual assault falls into this category of effectiveness?

An hour into the presentation, many participants were disheartened, disgusted, and frustrated. At multiple points in the Zoom-based presentation, King implied that many perpetrators of sexual assault did so based on a simple ignorance or misunderstanding of the situation. While this could be true for a minority of cases, statistically, the vast majority of sexual assaults are done with the explicit understanding that these actions were unwanted.

“It’s not about ignorance, it’s about power and control,” an event coordinator said after the presentation.

Many of the event coordinators present refused to speak on the record regarding their feelings on the hour-long speech. Their reasons ranged from the sensitivity of the topic to a perceived backlash from the administration.

“I personally have a very hard time with restorative justice as a survivor myself, working as an advocate, and hearing survivors on a daily basis,” another event coordinator said. “I’m not saying that the normal system is [made] to protect the survivors in any way. It’s not. The traditional justice system is very re-victimizing and very re-traumatizing for survivors, but the model that was shown today could also be set up for survivors to be re-victimized and re-traumatized.”

Whether intentional or not, restorative justice processes can put the offender and the victim on equal levels of legitimacy. In the case of sexual assault, this makes little to no sense. As advocates in this area, the members of CAT and the North Coast Rape Crisis Center know that these actions predominantly come from an abuse of power or a complete apathy towards the victim, not due to innocent miscommunication.

“I feel like this presentation weighed a bit too heavily on the perpetrator and their choices,” a coordinator said. “It just wasn’t all that comfortable for me to hear, it’s like ‘if they get this little bit of accountability, then they’ll never do it again’ when we know that that’s not true.”

The event ended four hours earlier than its intended conclusion, in part due to the extremely low turnout. It is unknown if CAT and the North Coast Rape Crisis Center will continue to use Rachel King as a resource for sexual assault trainings, especially in light of the negative reaction towards her presentation.

Both teams stand firm in their mission to empower survivors on campus, whether they wish to take a restorative justice approach or a traditionally retributive one. Their concern lies solely with the victims and their personal well being.

The Campus Advocate Team runs a 24 hour anonymous support line for any and all student victims of sexual assault that can be reached at (707) 445-5881.

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