Graduate explores interdisciplinary approaches to restorative justice
Mackenzie Leclaire (MA ’23) challenges misconceptions and brings humanity to the forefront of her graduate research
Mackenzie Leclaire (MA ’23) challenges misconceptions and brings humanity to the forefront of her graduate researchBy Zoe Tipper Faculty of Arts
Mackenzie Leclaire's academic journey exemplifies the value of interdisciplinary learning and qualitative research. A new graduate of the MA Sociology program at the University of Waterloo, Mackenzie's research intersects sociology, legal studies, and psychology in exploring the impact of a restorative justice peer support group for people who have offended sexually.
“My research connects to the broader restorative justice ethos by looking at the support group’s effectiveness in helping the group members fulfill their obligations, meeting their needs, and repairing their relationships.”
Mackenzie's own experience with sexual assault sparked her passion for restorative justice. She describes a shift from viewing her experience through a lens of curiosity rather than fear that inspired her to investigate the root causes of sexual abuse. This research led her to work with a support group for men who have sexually offended, delving into the underlying causes of sexual assault and the influence of restorative justice on offenders.
She describes the community-led support group as cost-effective, accessible, and safe. Mackenzie's research revealed that the group offered a platform for accountability, facilitated reintegration into society, and promoted personal growth among offenders.
“I developed a passion for their humanity and willingness to show up to a space where they can hold each other accountable as they work toward a life free of sexual harm,” says Mackenzie. “While I cannot change the causes of the harm or its impacts, I realized I could play a role in preventing more harm. By being present in the group as a community member, I gave the members a sense of connection to their community and hope that someone believes in their ability to change.”
Mackenzie's research faced significant challenges, specifically emphasizing the public’s perception. She recalls being labeled an 'offender apologist,' a term she found hurtful as a survivor of sexual abuse. Countering the misconceptions about her work, Mackenzie stresses the danger of perceiving people who have caused sexual harm as a uniform predator group. Mackenzie points out the necessity of addressing the root causes of sexual offending – unhealthy attachment bonds, deficient social and decision-making skills, and unresolved trauma – as the best way to treat people who have caused sexual harm, to have them successfully reintegrate into society and reduce recidivism.
With her MA completed, Mackenzie will soon be attending the Juris Doctor program at Western University and references her Sociology background as helping her prepare for her future in law. “Sociology is the study of human society and the social problems embedded within it. My degree has given me a strong understanding of the social determinants of physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and economic health and has taught me how to approach people from diverse backgrounds.”
Mackenzie has her sights on a promising career in family law and plans to establish a restorative justice organization to support those affected by sexual harm. Her goal is to take a collaborative approach to handling disputes, and help individuals address their needs in a trauma-informed capacity that prioritizes their accountability, safety, and collaboration.
Looking back on her MA experience, Mackenzie speaks fondly of the community she found amongst faculty, staff, and fellow students. “My favourite parts about being a grad student at Waterloo were the life-long friendships I built and knowing that I always had support around me. I was able to find a sense of community which helped propel me through my graduate studies.”
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within our Office of Indigenous Relations.