Is restorative justice an effective approach in responding to children and young people who sexually harm?

Lisa Mary Armstrong

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In the UK, Australia, and further afield, restorative programmes have been developed as a response to the failure of the criminal justice system to give victims of sexual violence a voice in the legal process. The restorative justice literature has tended to focus on sexual offences perpetrated by adults and the importance of being victim centred. When it is a child or young person (CYP) who sexually harms, it poses a unique set of challenges for law and society and the restorative practitioner. This article explores the reasons why a different approach may be warranted given the perceived failure of conventional criminal justice in addressing the growing problem of child and adolescent harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) in Scotland. It discusses the difficulties with balancing the rights of the victim with the CYP who perpetrates the HSB and considers the challenges encountered by practitioners in the implementation and application of restorative programmes in HSB cases involving CYP. Although the evidence supports a growing need for a different approach, and restorative justice may offer just that, problems with net widening, the referral process, and resistance from other professionals and victim advocacy groups present real barriers. Consequently, restorative practitioners are likely to find practising in this area more challenging due to a lack of support and cooperation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number86
Number of pages9
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • restorative justice
  • criminal justice
  • harmful sexual behaviour
  • sexual offences
  • children and young people


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