In 2004 Jo Nodding was raped by a boy she knew. At first he didn’t plead guilty to the rape, so Jo was faced with the extra stress of the trial. That changed, however, once Darren was presented with the DNA evidence and admitted his guilt. The first time Jo faced Darren was in Court when he received a life sentence. More information can be found at http://www.restorativejustice.org.uk/.
For weeks after the rape I was in a daze trying to cope with what had happened not only to me, but also to my family. Almost a year later I had a visit from the probation Victim Liaison Officer and she mentioned the possibility of restorative justice (RJ) – of a meeting with Darren. From that time on it was always at the back of my mind. I knew as soon as she said it that I wanted to meet him because this was about me taking control of the situation, re-balancing what he had taken away from me that day. The judge had said to Darren in Court ‘you have destroyed this woman’s life’ – but that wasn’t what I wanted, and that wasn’t how I saw it.
Nearly four years later, in 2009 I heard that Darren had agreed to meet me. There were lots of preparation meetings with the RJ workers over the next nine months, and some of it was emotionally exhausting, but I knew it was something I had to do. The meeting took place at the end of January 2010. I wasn’t nervous beforehand as I had waited so long, and I’d made sure I didn’t have any expectations, so I couldn’t be disappointed.
When I walked in our eyes met straight away. He looked a lot older, but still looked like a child as well. I started by thanking him for agreeing to meet me as I knew it must have been a difficult thing to do. I asked why he had agreed to meet me and he said “I did something really bad and now I can do something good.”
Then I went straight into telling him what it had been like for me on the day of the rape, how scared I had been and that I thought he was going to kill me. I went through every detail of the attack from start to finish. I could see the impact that what I was saying was having on him. As I told him the impact of the offence, the terror and confusion I felt that day, he actually cried. And I could see it was genuine. I could see for myself he found it really hard, but he listened to everything I had to say, and didn’t try to make any excuses. He heard it from me that day, what he’d done to me, not from someone else saying how I might feel. I think if they hear it from the victim themselves they get a much better understanding.
I knew it was hard for him to listen to, so a couple of times I changed the conversation to what he was doing now and what he was hoping to do once he was released. We even had a laugh together, something which a few people have found difficult to understand.
I hadn’t gone to the meeting expecting him to apologise, but towards the end he said “I’m sorry, and that’s a proper sorry” – and I could see for myself he really meant it. He told me would never do anything like it again.
As the meeting was finishing I was asked if there was anything else I wanted to say, and I gave him what I’ve later come to think of as ‘a gift’. I said to him “What I am about to say to you a lot of people would find hard to understand, but I forgive you for what you did to me. Hatred just eats you up and I want you to go on and have a successful life. If you haven’t already forgiven yourself, then I hope in the future you will.” I didn’t say it to excuse what he did, or to minimize it, but because I wanted myself to be free of that burden of grievance, and as importantly for me, I hoped Darren could learn, move on, and forgive himself.
This had a massive impact on Darren – I could see he was shaken by the parting ‘gift’ I had given him. As I was leaving I wished him good luck for the future. His step mum who was there with him looked at me and just said “Thank you”.
As I left that room I felt on top of the world. Meeting him gave me closure, because I had said everything I had wanted to say and I had taken back some kind of control over my life. I know it had an impact on him. I’m not a victim any more, I’m a survivor. I’ve been able to make sure something good has come out of something bad.