Victim-Centered Victim Offender/Victim Impact Dialogues (VODs) provide unique and safe opportunities for Victims/Survivors of violence and violation to express directly to Offenders some of the grief, loss, trauma, and devastation they’ve experienced and endured. This is the essential purpose of VOD in Corrections-Based Victim Services. It helps to think of VODs as “Victim Impact Dialogues,” where survivors are enabled to fully describe the impacts and effects to Offenders, and to hear how – or if – Offenders take responsibility for the choices they made. When the preparation for these Dialogues is properly conducted by trained Facilitators, most Offenders, even among those who have committed severely violent crimes, are more able to comprehend some of those impacts and effects. It is a failure of our system that any awareness or understanding of these impacts and effects is largely missing in most Offenders, the majority of whom will serve their sentences and release to communities with absolutely no comprehension of these continuing after-effects. When we actually consider the idea that Offenders may have no understanding of how powerfully their choices and behaviors impacted and affected their Victims and Survivors, and have no effective framework for examining the what and the why of their own choices, it is not hard to see why recidivism rates remain unacceptably high. Victim-Centered Victim Offender/Impact Dialogue offers an opportunity to Offenders to augment this totally insufficiency of understanding.
Facilitated Victim-Centered Victim Offender Dialogues – Victim Impact Dialogues – can provide Survivors with a chance to be heard, clearly and directly, by their Offenders. This can inspire in those Offenders a new understanding, and a new sense of personal accountability. In some cases, it can bring a much-needed change in their thinking, and it can lead to more pro-social choices and behaviors. But while VODs are primarily about Survivors holding Offenders to personal account, and Offenders receiving and responding to what Survivors have to say and ask with sufficient comprehension and awareness, the unique role of the Facilitator in preparing each of them for this emotional and difficult interaction is critical. Facilitators are there from the very beginning of the preparation process to help make it easier for Survivors give voice to all that they want to express, and to help Offenders find the difficult words for explaining what they did – and why they did it. Because they do know; they’re merely unaccustomed to being asked to talk about it. But this is what it means to be accountable. Facilitators are not “mediators,” because violence and violation are not “misunderstandings” to be resolved. Most Survivors simply want Offenders to own, to explain, and to not excuse their choices and their actions. Properly-trained Facilitators can help them do that. Victim-Centered VOD Facilitation is the art of listening where needed, and coaching where necessary, and good Facilitators must have an operational understanding of both the trauma and post-trauma of victimization and the nature of criminal thinking and other criminogenic needs. They must blend their understandings of each in ways that can enable Survivors to feel fully heard, and invite Offenders to account for their choices and actions. It is not enough to believe in “restorative justice” practices if the practitioner is not properly trained in the rigorously Victim-Centered approach. We believe that if the Restorative Justice practice is not Victim-Centered, it is not Restorative and it is not Justice.