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Restorative justice as a response to sexual harm in schools: Youth perspectives and reasoning

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
Concerns regarding positive youth development in schools are increasingly tied to the use of technology. The ability to easily share explicit photos and/or videos adds complexity to the issue and can leave young people vulnerable to sexual harassment, coercion, and the non-consensual sharing of their images (Dodge & Spencer, 2018). A growing body of research supports the use of Restorative Justice (RJ) as a means of preventing and responding to bullying and violence in schools (Morrison & Riestenberg, 2019), while socio-moral development has been identified as a factor in the efficacy of RJ interventions (Recchia, Wainryb, & Pareja Conto, 2022). This mixed-methods study examines student perspectives on using RJ in response to peer-to-peer sexual harm in schools, and how these perspectives are informed by the processes of socio-moral reasoning. Data was collected from 145 students in ten classrooms, in five high schools across British Columbia. Student perspectives were surveyed using multiple-choice and short-answer questions focused on scenarios that depict common behaviors among youth that can lead to sexual harm. These include sexualized bullying, image sharing, and misunderstandings about consent. The survey was developed using a socio-moral development lens, drawing on social domain theory (Nucci & Ilten-Gee, 2021; Turiel, 1983). To answer the third research question, descriptive methods were used to analyse multiple choice survey data, and an inductive approach was used to analyse short answer data. To answer the first and second research questions, descriptive, inductive, and deductive methods were used in a sub-analyses of 100 survey respondents from Schools A, B, and C. Results reveal that students across a range of schools and grades do not want school staff to ignore peer-to peer sexual harm, even when occurrences are minor or ambiguous. A mix of restorative and punitive measures was preferred in response to four out of six sexual harm scenarios, and preference for punitive versus restorative measures appeared to be influenced by the intent of the harm doer, and relational factors between the harm doer and the person who was harmed. Along with situational influences, considerations relating to youth socio-moral development guide youth reasoning on this topic, such as privacy, social image, and a desire for perpetrators of peer sexual harm to understand the harm they caused and learn from their behavior.
128 pages.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
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Thesis advisor: Ilten-Gee, Robyn
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