Quick Takes: A Case of Restorative Justice

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* As someone who has been a strong supporter of Al Franken for many years now, today’s news about him has been disturbing. But a couple of things happened after that news broke that I would like to highlight. First of all, Franken initially came out with a statement, and then released a longer response. Here is part of the latter:

The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry…

But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.

For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.

* Later in the day, Jake Tapper talked to Leeann Tweeden for over a half hour. You can watch the whole thing, but I want to emphasize the fact that she accepted his apology. Then take a look at what she said when asked whether she wanted Franken to resign and if she wanted him to be punished (from 16:25 to 18:15)

First of all, she said that her intention was not for Franken to resign. When asked whether or not he should be punished, she said this:

I just wanted him to apologize for that and say he was sorry…I think that is where change is going to be driven from, not from the victims coming out and talking about it. I think it’s going to come from the people who may be do the abusing and don’t even realize they’re doing the abusing because it’s so a part of the culture…When you think you can do it with impunity and get away with it, that’s what’s wrong with the culture. So if we can have the people doing the abusing change, that’s when the change is going to occur.

What happened in this case is about restorative rather than retributive justice. In the latter, a harm done to someone(s) is responded to by determining guilt and meting out punishment. Restorative justice is based on three concepts:

1. That when crime (or wrongdoing) occurs, the focus is on the harm that has been done to people and relationships
2. When harm has been done, it creates obligations and liabilities
3. The way forward involves wrongdoers, victims and the community in efforts to heal the harm and put things right

What we witnessed with Franken and Tweeden was that he did some soul-searching, apologized and demonstrated that he was aware of the harm he had done. She accepted his apology and then suggested that their process is how real change could happen in the community/culture.

The problem with retributive justice is that there is no process for repairing the harm that has been done to the victim by the perpetrator’s actions and, other than a fear of punishment (which is often ineffective), nothing changes in the culture that created the opening for the offense.

I recognize that in Franken and Tweeden we are dealing with two mature adults who are capable of participating in a process that can reach this conclusion. But it’s worth noting how that was done. At this point, the ethics committee investigation will go forward and our retributive justice system will play itself out. But these two have already done the real work.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.