Sheffield mum hugged shoplifter who hit her in the face
Anyone unfortunate enough to be a victim of crime will know the devastating effect it can have.
Whether it be anxiety, depression, reduced confidence, fear, anger, broken trust – the impact can be deep and long-lasting.
Faced with that situation, how would you feel about meeting the person who wronged you?
While it may seem like the last thing a victim of crime would want to do, restorative justice can actually be the very thing that starts the healing process.
For the many victims – and offenders – who have taken part in the process, it can offer a level of closure like no other.
At a restorative justice showcase this week, organised by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings, victims gave first-hand accounts of meeting their offender.
Restorative justice enables victims to meet or communicate with their offender to explain the impact of the crime.
In suitable situations, a facilitated restorative meeting can be held. This enables individuals and groups to work together to improve their mutual understanding of an issue and jointly reach the best available solution.
Mum Shannel Johnson became a victim of crime while working at a convenience store in Totley, Sheffield.
As she was making the final checks before closing at 11pm, two young men walked into the store and went to the alcohol aisle.
Shannel approached them and asked for ID. When neither produced any, she told them they would not be served any alcohol and carried on with her duties.
But then she noticed the pair walking towards the exit carrying a large – rattling – handbag.
“I followed them towards the exit and got to the door before they did,” said Shannel, of Totley.
“I said, ‘Whatever you have in that bag – hand it over.’”
But the shoplifters were not giving up that easily.
Shannel said: “The one carrying the bag picked it up, swung it round and hit me straight in the face. The blow caused me to fall into him and we both fell out of the door.”
The shoplifters then fled, leaving the bag of alcohol behind.
Luckily, the incident did not cause Shannel any serious injuries.
“Afterwards I felt very vulnerable, especially when I was working late at the store,” she said. “But it also affected my family. My partner was very angry and worried.”
A few months after the incident, Shannel was approached by the restorative justice team to see if she would like to meet the person who assaulted her.
Despite being anxious, she agreed and came face-to-face with the offender in September 2014.
“When we got there I was told the young lad, who was about 17, was very nervous and wanted me to speak first,” said Shannel.
“So I began by talking about the experience from my point of view. When I said that he had hit me, I could see his face drop.
“I honestly don’t think he had realised what he’d done as he was in such a hurry to leave the store and it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“I explained how the incident had affected me, my anger, and I could tell how sorry he was. At the end of the meeting we got up to shake hands – but ended up hugging as it just seemed like the right thing to do. I know he was old enough to know better, but I have a teenage daughter and I know we all make mistakes. I actually felt quite sorry for him.”
Shannel was so inspired by the meeting that she began working as an administrator for the restorative justice team, a job she continues to enjoy almost two years later.