Liam*, aged under 16, phoned a restaurant and racially abused a member of staff. The victim called the police, and Liam was given a non-custodial police intervention. Liam has made such prank calls before, but this was the first time there has been an element of police involvement.
In this case, it was felt that Restorative Justice posed an opportunity for the young person to learn from his actions, as he had shown significant remorse whilst engaging with the police. We hoped that by helping Liam understand the impact of his language and by focusing on his remorse, it would reduce the likelihood of repeat behaviour and possibly even lead to him calling out hate speech by others.
The victim decided that they did not want to be directly involved in Restorative Justice, however, they recognised the young age of the offender and were keen for Liam to participate in educational work, as an alternative to prosecution. We felt that Restorative Justice could be impactful for Liam, as it is often a useful tool for early intervention work. The overarching aim was to focus on the reduction of reoffending.
Fortunately, we were able to use relationships with our partners in the Bristol Hate Crime and Discrimination Service (BHCDS) to identify someone with lived experience, who had been a victim of racism, to act as a proxy victim.
What’s a proxy victim?
In restorative justice, a proxy victim is where someone acts on behalf of the victim, so that their thoughts, feelings, and questions can still be expressed, as well as being someone that the offender is able to interact with and relate to, so that the restorative process can still be impactful.
The value of the proxy victim having lived experience is that it means they’re able to connect with how the incident might have been felt more deeply and therefore respond appropriately and sincerely.
We have often used proxy victims when a crime is committed against a business, so someone will act on behalf of the company. However, this was an opportunity to develop this practice in responding to hate crime.
Two of our trained practitioners met with Liam and helped explore how he felt about what happened. He was able to recognise the potential hurt caused and that what was he had described as a ‘joke’ wasn’t funny.
If I could turn back time, I never would have said it.Liam
This meeting also allowed for Liam’s parents to share how they felt. They told their son that they felt ashamed, as they hadn’t brought him up to behave in this way. We have found that parents are incredibly influential when the restorative process involves young people. Their contribution had a significant impact on Liam.
Liam and the proxy victim met face to face, so that the proxy victim could express to Liam directly, what it was like to receive racist comments. The proxy victim shared how it made him feel, how it impacted his sense of safety and the long-term impact on himself, his family and his friends.
Liam demonstrated empathy in response to the proxy victims’ account. He made a commitment to not using racist language in the future and considering challenging others who did. By creating a safe environment, Liam felt able to ask more about the proxy victim’s experiences and thoughts; he was able to question behaviour by the people around him, that he’d not previously recognised as inappropriate.
This was a great example of how effective the use of proxy victims can be in hate crime cases. We received positive feedback after this restorative process ended, not just from the proxy victim, but also from Liam’s parent.
The practitioners were fantastic. I want to thank them bothLiams Mother
As a result of this case, Resolve West are now working with partners in the High Support Services Tackling Hate and Discrimination group to train up new proxy victims to work on our future hate crime cases.
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.