A row erupted last week when it was revealed that thousands of young offenders are avoiding prison simply by saying sorry to their victims. Yet, Jo Nodding argues that restorative justice was an essential part of her healing. In this week’s issue, she tells Grazia how meeting her attacker and forgiving him finally gave her back a sense of power…
“I was certain Scott* would kill me,” Jo begins. “His eyes were wild. He was feral. In my mind, as he raped me, I silently said goodbye to my family, one by one. I knew I would never leave that room.”
Ten years ago, Jo was working as a teacher at a school in the North-East. She was 32, married, and happy. Then, one Monday morning, Scott walked into her empty classroom.
“I can remember everything about the attack,” she continued. “When he finished, he got up and ran straight out of the door without a word. I ran to the toilet and hid, frantically dialling 999.”
Jo was left badly beaten and traumatised. Scott was arrested later that night, but didn’t plead guilty until weeks later when indisputable DNA evidence was presented to him.
“From that night I was barely living,” Jo said. “I didn’t want to go out anywhere and I couldn’t be on my own. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I would smell him and start screaming.”
Because of the brutality of the attack, Scott was ordered to be detained indefinitely in a young offenders’ institution. But whilst the legal trauma was over, Jo was struggling to recover.
She explained, “The judge told Scott whilst he was sentencing him that he had ‘ruined my life’. Those words rang round in my head - the judge had given Scott power over me again. I imagined him, sat in his cell, gleeful in the knowledge that he’d got power over me.
“I decided to do something about it.”
It wasn’t until five years later that Jo was finally able to get justice for herself. And that meant sitting, face to face, with her attacker.
She arranged it through her liaison officer, who got in touch with the restorative justice system. Recent figures showed that up to 30,000 young people had escaped prosecution after apologising to their victims. Some called it alarming and heavy criticism ensued - but in fact, restorative justice is used alongside prosecution, not simply as an alternative.
Five years after he attacked her, Jo sat in a prison room opposite Scott. And at the end of their two hour conversation, she said the unimaginable - "I forgive you."
"He began crying immediately," Jo said. "People think that restorative justice is the easy way out, or a soft option - but facing me was one of the hardest things he'll ever do.
"And since that day, I've been told he now feels he has a future - and if he believes that, I believe he won't destroy it again.
"As for me, I've realised I'm no longer scared of him - or anyone. I walked out of that room with a huge smile on my face, confident and happy again. That day was what I finally needed to get past what he had done to me and get on with my life."