- 28 Sep 18
In The Meeting, Ailbhe Griffith recreates her mediated encounter with the man who sexually assaulted her, as she sought restorative justice. The result is one of the year’s most powerful films.
In the summer of 2005, Ailbhe Griffith was 21. Having graduated from college, and waiting to begin her Masters in Law, she was working and saving to travel to America – the typical student experience. But one summer night, her life would change. While she was walking home, a man grabbed Griffith by the throat, dragged her behind some bushes. and spent the next 50 minutes strangling, biting and sexually assaulting her. Surviving such a horrific attack is difficult, but Ailbhe Griffith became determined to transform her experience into something that might benefit society as a whole, and advocate for victims of sexual assault. In Alan Gilsenan’s film The Meeting, Griffith plays herself, in a recreation of a meeting she had with her attacker nine years after the event.
The mediated conversation Griffith had with her attacker was an example of restorative justice, which aims to negotiate between victims and offenders for a form of emotional or active resolution. While Griffith’s attacker had pled guilty and been imprisoned, she didn’t feel that the criminal justice system helped her to heal. “It’s not fulfilling its entire role,” Griffith opines. “It opened the door towards healing, but it didn’t provide any healing itself. There was still the pain, still the suffering, and I needed to find an additional way to find closure. I don’t think that, long-term, you help victims by sheltering them and grouping them all together as if there’s one experience, or speaking on their behalf. I think you help people to heal and to not become victims by empowering them and giving them a platform to use their voice. And that’s what restorative justice means to me. I don’t think restorative justice and the criminal justice system are enough on their own, they need to exist together – both are necessary.”
Griffith struggled with depression and eating disorders in the wake of her assault, and found herself unable to trust the world around her in a way that she once had. As the years went on, she realised that she wanted to meet with her attacker as a way to help her process and exorcise some of her painful feelings. “It was about empowerment,” she explains of her decision to meet her attacker. “It was also about forgiveness and the reduction of fear. After years of suffering, I came to the conclusion that the only person who was actually suffering in my anger and sadness was me, because he wasn’t aware of it. Even if he was, he wouldn’t care. So I needed to find a way not to feel that pain anymore. I had gone down every other avenue, but realised that I needed to meet him. It was to forgive him and move on, and also to see that he was just a man, when he had been a monster in my eyes for so long.” After meeting her attacker, Griffith was inspired to adopt an advocacy role, and she has travelled to restorative justice conferences to share her experience.