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Restorative justice - an empathy building approach

The idea behind Restorative Justice (RJ) is supporting change in behaviour by developing empathy for the target. So for bullying behaviour it's facilitating a meeting between the individuals or group involved and possibly other community members. They all speak about the experience and to explain their feelings. The trained facilitator…
… helps the user(s) of bullying behaviour and target(s) prior to the meeting understand the process and then runs the meeting using a series of scripted questions. The questions allow both sides to discuss the event with the outcome of developing empathy. This helps the user(s) of bullying behaviour change their behaviour in the future. The theory behind it is about using reintegrative shame to want to make change while avoiding negative blaming shame.

Like all approaches it has it's strengths and weaknesses.


  • Focus is on the behaviour and not the person
  • While disapproving of the behaviour the person is still respected
  • Can be used in group situations
  • Relationship building between target and bullying behaviour user
  • Can allow for responses to provocative behaviour
  • Supports both target and bullying behaviour user
  • Complementary to disciplinary system
  • Can involve bystanders and other community members


  • Requires the target to face the bullying behaviour user which can further victimise them
  • Provides no solution if bullying behaviour user does not or will not acknowledge culpability
  • Can create negative shame through blaming to stigmatise the bullying behaviour user
  • Pressure on the bullying behaviour user when reluctant to acknowledge wrong doing can lead to insincere outcomes
  • Can at times be used in combination with punishment thereby confusing the process
  • Confusion regarding underlying theory of using shame
  • Possible unknown outcomes when starting the process
  • No rigorous or systematic support for effectiveness in schools (Rigby, 2010)
  • Misperceptions of process creating resistance in stakeholders

One aspect I really like about this is it offers some very helpful questions and scripts to use. These can be really useful when discussing situations even when it is not a formal RJ meeting or all parties are not present. This is especially the case for targets, as it can help them express their feelings and feel heard.

Another great tool to have in your toolbox but needs to be selectively used for the right job.


Meyer, Luanna. H. & Evans, Ian. M. (2012) The Teachers Guide to Restorative Classroom Discipline

Rigby, Ken (2010) Bullying Interventions in Schools: Six Basic Approaches

Thorsborne, Margaret and Vinegrad, David (2009) Restorative Justice Pocketbook
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