What Victims Say About Restorative Justice
At Restorative Justice Victoria, we take a victim-centred approach. This means that addressing the harm done to victims informs everything we do. We strongly believe that victims deserve to make informed decisions, as well as have voice and choice in determining how to respond to their victimization. We’ve provided the information below to give victims an understanding of what others who have gone through restorative justice in the aftermath of crime have experienced. The content includes common needs that can be met through professional restorative justice programs, video links to victims sharing their experiences, and information on what victims might find unsatisfying about restorative justice. If you want more information or would like to discuss anything from here, please reach out to us.
Every individual affected by crime and violence will have their own set of needs, which will very likely shift and evolve over time. A great deal of research has been conducted on victims’ justice needs around the world, and the themes listed below are common, though never guaranteed. Every victim has the right to define and meet their needs in whatever ways they choose.
For those interested in exploring restorative justice, they may find that it meets some or all of the following common justice needs:
- A voice; input in the justice response, process, and outcomes
- Order and predictability
- Sharing and receiving information about the offence, offender, and/or aftermath
- Answers to questions (e.g., Why me? How could this have happened? Do you still have any of the items you stole from me? What do you think my life has been like since the offence?)
- Being heard, believed, supported, and understood
- Validation, vindication, and/or denunciation
- Accountability and responsibility on the part of the offender
- Safety and protection
- Transformation, e.g. healing; continuing a spiritual journey; experiencing or conceiving the offender as a human being rather than as a monster; restoring their faith in humanity/community; making meaning from a negative experience
- Restitution (financial, symbolic) and reparation
Below we’ve provided links and a brief description of videos about victims’ experiences with restorative justice. Please note that while these videos are about restorative justice programs outside of Canada, we chose them based on fit with our organization; they best align with how we practice. Some wording in the videos may not match the terms you read on our website, so if you’d like to clarify anything, please contact us. Lastly, everyone’s reasons for participating in restorative justice are different, and some of these stories may not resonate with you. We hope the videos show you a variety of people’s experiences and that they work towards increasing your understanding about how the process may unfold.
- Click here to watch multiple victims talking about their experience with restorative justice, including their hopes and the outcomes (4:08 mins; video by the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance)
- Click here to watch a woman who met the man who killed her son in a car crash (3:28 mins; video by Restorative South Yorkshire)
- Click here to watch videos of victims who have participated in restorative justice in the United Kingdom (videos range from two to 12 minutes; published by the Restorative Justice Council)
- Click here to watch the mother of a murder victim talk about her experience with restorative justice (6:19 mins; video by Restorative Justice Colorado)
- Click here to watch a man talk about meeting the person who assaulted him (2:52 mins; video by Communities for Restorative Justice)
- Click here to watch a woman talk about meeting the man who threatened her (3:38 mins; video by Eye on Crime UK)
If you would like to see quotes extracted from these videos regarding how restorative justice met victims’ needs click here
Victims have the right to choose not only whether they want to explore or participate in a restorative justice process, but also what their involvement may look like. For some, not enough of their needs are met by this approach. Research from a 2003 study in Washington found the following reasons for why victims chose not to participate in restorative justice:
- “Not worth the time and trouble involved”
- “The matter has already been taken care of”
- “Too much time had already gone by since the crime”
- “I just wanted my money”
- “The system just wanted to slap the wrist of the offender”
- “I didn’t want to help the offender”
- “Family or friends said I shouldn’t do it”
At RJV, we want victims to make an informed decision, and we never pressure anyone to participate. If you’re curious about what to expect and are hesitant to commit, we’re happy to talk to you about the options we can offer without any obligation. If you decide to go forward, you may pause or stop the process at any point.
Although worldwide research suggests that victims who participate in a restorative justice process are often either highly satisfied or satisfied, there are instances in which victims’ needs are not met through the process. In a nutshell, there are the four main areas (in order of frequency of victim concern) that victims report feeling dissatisfied with restorative justice:
- Ignoring or compromising restorative justice principles and values; i.e., the restorative justice practitioner and/or program being offender-focused
- Inadequate training of facilitators
- Insufficient preparation of victims for dialogue/communication with the offender
- Pressure placed on victims – to participate, to forgive, to underplay their emotions, to keep moving forward through the process, etc.
Other examples of restorative justice not meeting victims’ needs include:
- Seeming inauthentic or not remorseful
- Not offering an apology or information the victim needs to know
Restorative justice programs:
- Offering their services only as diversion and not in conjunction with court/sentencing
- Rushing victims and offenders to meet, and not offering indirect options for communication such as letter writing or video sharing
- Using a rigid, inflexible model of restorative justice that doesn’t include victim input
Restorative justice practitioners:
- Not fully exploring the victims’ needs in preparatory work
- Making promises about offender behaviours or outcomes that they can’t guarantee
The staff and volunteers at Restorative Justice Victoria are dedicated to being knowledgeable about the impacts of our work, and we incorporate this information into our training so we can be proactive and avoid pitfalls. Our staff and volunteers are highly trained and are able to build processes and work with clients in a manner that is safe and effective. Preventing re-victimization is a priority throughout. Whenever we have concerns about the process we will discuss those directly with you so you can make informed choices about whether you want to proceed in the restorative justice process.