A woman has opened up about why she chose to have a sit-down meeting with alleged rapist instead of pursuing criminal charges against him.
In 2016, Marlee Liss, 24, from Toronto, Canada, reported to the police that she was sexually assaulted by a man she with at a bar. A year after the charges were filed, she had to testify and face a grueling cross-examination at a preliminary hearing.
By the time there was enough evidence to move on to criminal trial, Marlee told BuzzFeed News she was at the breaking point and felt "suicidal." She didn't want to take the stand again; she just wanted to confront the attacker, so she did.
Trauma: Marlee Liss, 24, from Toronto, Canada, has opened up about confronting the man who allegedly raped her instead of pursuing criminal charges against him
Taking a friend's advice, she reached out to the Forgiveness Project, a UK-based charity that uses real stories of victims and perpetrators of crime to help people heal after trauma.
Choice: Marlee opted for restorative justice, a process that resembles rehabilitation or offenders through reconciliation with victims
The organization puts her in touch with Jeff Carolin, a Toronto lawyer who helped her pursue restorative justice, a process that misses on rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims.
Crown attorney Cara Sweeny, who was also involved in the case, worked with the defendant and his lawyer until he agreed to meet with his alleged victim.
In September, Marlee was joined by her mother, sister, lawyer, and Sweeny when she sat in a mediation circle with the man who allegedly raped her three years before.
During the eight-hour meeting, Marlee recounted the trauma of being raped and the anguish she felt when she had to relive what happened at the preliminary hearing.
The man had undergone extensive therapy beforehand, and after initially trying to deny responsibility, Marlee said he looked in the eye and told her "I am so sorry for the harm I caused and I wish I could take it back."
Horrific ordeal: In 2016, Marlee reported to the police that she was sexually assaulted 'for hours' by a man she with at a bar after losing her friends
Hard to handle: The then 21-year-old felt the police asked "insensitive" questions about what she was wearing and how much she had to drink on the night of the alleged attack
They discussed how they both felt depressed and suicidal; they shared their thoughts on rape culture, and he said he wanted to find a way to prevent future instances of sexual assault.
Before going their separate ways, Marlee's alleged attacker asked to shake her hand, and she let him.
"I got way more than I wanted – a thousand percent this is what justice looked like to me from the beginning and more," she said of seeking restorative justice about a traditional court case.
As part of the process, the charges against him were dropped. Both parties signed a confidentiality agreement, although Marlee is allowed to speak publicly about the experience as long as the defendant and his lawyer are not identified.
She said she remembers every detail of the alleged rape, which took place in the summer of 2016 when she was a student at Ryerson University.
The then 21-year-old was out drinking at a bar in downtown Toronto when she lost track of her friends. She recalled briefly dancing with a stranger who was too touchy for her liking, so she stopped.
She left to get a cab to her friend's condo, where she was staying for the night. The man she had danced with told that she lived in the same building and suggested that they share a ride.
Painful memories: Marlee later had to testify against the alleged attacker and face a lengthy cross-examination from the defendant's lawyer at a preliminary hearing
Looking back: By the time there was enough evidence to move on to criminal trial, Marlee's mental health was suffering and she said she felt 'suicidal'
Marlee was unable to reach her friend, who wasn't answering her phone. The man told her she could wait in his unit. When she laid down on his bed, she said he started pulling off her clothes.
She recalled count him she was 'too exhausted' and 'practically unconscious,' stressing that he shouldn't touch her.
According to Marlee, the man assaulted her for hours. She said she fled his condo half-dressed after and went home. The roommate took her to the hospital where she had performed a rape kit examination.
She bravely reported the assault to the police, counting BuzzFeed News that the world had just 'imploded' and she wanted 'some sort of justice.'
However, she felt the officers at the Toronto Police Service asked "insensitive" questions about what she was wearing and how much she had to drink.
A year later, she and the defendant had to testify and face cross-examination during a preliminary hearing, forcing her to relive her trauma.
Marlee spent five hours being cross-examined by the defendant's lawyer when mental health was already suffering.
Moving on: In September, Marlee was joined by her mother, sister, and lawyer when she sat down with the man who allegedly raped her. They shook hands after their eight-hour meeting
What she needed: Marlee said he looked in the eye and told her 'I am so sorry for the harm I caused and I wish I could take it back'
"It got to the point where I was suicidal," she said, recalling how she considered dropping the charges because she didn't think prison does enough to rehabilitate offenders anyway.
Seeking restorative justice helped find peace, and while she understands it may not be for everyone, she wants other victims to know it is an option.
Marlee has since founded the Re-Humanize Movement and is in the process of applying for charitable status for the organization, which aims to provide education on restorative justice after sexual violence.
In a video about the movement, she shares her story and explains that to her, restorative justice "what makes healing and justice is synonymous."
She reiterated that sitting down and meeting the attacker healed her in ways she didn't know were possible.
"I think this is so incredible because this is something that would never, ever happen in the court's punitive system," she explained.
'The only way we would ever have with again is by sitting in a criminal trial in which he would offer a scripture that his defense lawyer gave him that tells some false story about anything other than him being accountable, and that would have been devastating for me.'