Every time we meet Rahil, he exudes warmth and has a smile on his face. His sense of responsibility and capacity to love his family is uncommon for an 8 year old boy, especially with how much hurt he has already experienced.
Rahil was raised by his mother because his father abandoned him. His mother died, so he and his brothers were placed in a shelter home. That’s where Rahil was sexually harmed the first time, by another boy a few years older than him. Later, the father who had been absent most of Rahil’s life reappeared. When Rahil went to stay with him during a short vacation, his father sexually abused him too.
Despite all this, Rahil longs for his family’s brokenness to be restored. “His ever present smile and warmth is inspiring,” CSJ advocate Avaantika says of Rahil. “Despite all that has happened to him, he talks about forgiving his father.”
This resilience–an unextinguished capacity to love and forgive–is light from an unexpected source. “Rahil’s resilience makes us never want to lose faith in people,” CSJ social worker Deborah says. “Because no matter what he’s been through, he continues to want to forge new relationships and repair broken ones.”
As our team helps prepare Rahil to tell the truth in court, we struggle with how to handle Rahil’s longing to forgive his father. His capacity to forgive is beautiful. But the reality is criminal proceedings offer no space to forgive; its objective is to establish a person’s guilt and assign punishment. A person has no incentive to admit what he has done, because it would lead to punishment.
Yet Rahil wants his family restored, and the starting point would be for his father to admit what he’d done and he was wrong. It would shine light on the wrong and validate Rahil’s story. Indeed, such a conversation would give space for Rahil to forgive and for his father to receive forgiveness, either then or at some point in the future.
Restorative justice gives space for these conversations because it views justice as more than punishment. It’s about repairing individual harm, rebuilding relationships and as much as possible making things right.
While restorative justice creates conditions that could lead to forgiveness, it does not mandate it. Rahil’s desire to forgive is beautiful because it’s unique and flows from a childlike innocence free from anger and hatred. He wants his family back and for things to be okay.
More often, people who’ve been harmed participate in a restorative justice processes because it empowers them and helps them regain control of their lives. They can share their story, ask questions and explain how much they’ve been hurt. Those who have caused harm must take responsibility for what they’ve done and admit they were wrong. In some cases they apologize without deflecting blame or minimizing responsibility. This helps the person harmed feel validated and supported. Often it helps them heal. At some point, maybe even long after the restorative justice process, if ever, a person may choose to forgive.
CSJ seeks justice that fosters healing, including forgiveness if that’s what a person wants. At some point after the trial is over, we hope Rahil can meet his father and hear him admit his crime and sincerely apologize. At that point, we hope Rahil still has the courage and will to forgive.