Innovative Service Facilitates Safe Contact Between Adults Who Were Sexually Abused as Children and the People Who Harmed Them

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A unique Canadian social agency facilitates safe contact between adults who were sexually abused as children and the people who harmed them along with family, friends, or others affected by the abuse. Facilitated Dialogues provide a way to recover from sexual trauma that promotes healing and understanding for all who participate. The service can be used instead of laying criminal charges, before going through a court process, or after accessing the traditional justice system. On Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 6:00 pm CJI will officially launch its Facilitated Dialogue Program

The most extensive study of child sexual abuse in Canada was conducted by the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youths. Their 1984 report indicated that among adult Canadians, 53 percent of women and 31 percent of men were sexually abused as children.

A Kitchener, Ontario agency, called Community Justice Initiatives (CJI), has provided support to survivors of sexual trauma since 1982. "Some survivors of childhood sexual abuse do not know how to process their experiences or memories until adulthood," says Jennifer Davies, Program Coordinator of CJI's services for people affected by sexual trauma. Davies goes on to say that when people remember the abuse they often don't know what to do with it. Counseling is helpful to process the personal issues related to the abuse. But if a survivor wants to talk to the person who harmed them, family members or others connected to the abuse; there is usually no safe way to do this.

Pressing criminal charges is one route that survivors of sexual abuse can take. Laying charges can be satisfying for some survivors because they feel the person who abused them has been brought to justice and that they won't be able to hurt anyone else.

But some people don't want to lay charges because they fear not being believed in court, being re-traumatized by having to testify or for other reasons. And even after going through a court process, survivors may want to deal with the interpersonal side of what happened. Up until now there have been few safe options to engage the person who caused them harm.

Through their work with sexual trauma survivors as well as people who have offended sexually, CJI staff members received requests from individuals and groups like churches to facilitate dialogues in situations where sexual abuse had occurred. "Survivors wanted to have conversations about past abuse with family members and with the person who abused them. They wanted to ask questions and to be heard," says Davies.

In 2008, CJI formalized the Facilitated Dialogue program to provide expanded services to people and groups affected by sexual trauma. Facilitated Dialogues are conversations between people affected by sexual trauma that are guided by trained facilitators who create a safe environment where questions can be asked and everyone is respectfully heard. It is a personalized process designed to meet the needs of the participants for healing and understanding.

Facilitated Dialogues are for individuals, families, churches, and community groups impacted by sexual trauma. A dialogue can include the survivor of the sexual trauma, the person who harmed them, as well as others affected by the abuse like siblings, parents, close friends and partners.

A Facilitated Dialogue can take many forms depending on participants' needs including: a face-to-face meeting, letter writing, video conferencing, or conference calling. A good deal of preparatory work happens before any interaction and some people never meet face-to-face. "We tailor the process to the individuals involved. We provide a structure, the participants provide the details," says Davies.

Community Justice Initiatives is a non-profit organization known worldwide for pioneering restorative justice services. In addition to services for people affected by sexual trauma, CJI mediates conflicts between people who have suffered harm and those who have committed crimes against them, and helps reintegrate women returning to the community from federal prisons. CJI staff and volunteers build a safer, more connected community through supporting creative, peaceful solutions in situations of conflict or harm.

On Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 6:00 pm CJI will officially launch its Facilitated Dialogue Program at the King Street Theatre Centre, 36 King St. W., in downtown Kitchener, Ontario.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Jennifer Davies or Judah Oudshoorn.

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Jennifer Davies

Judah Oudshoorn
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