Victim-Centered Victim Offender Dialogues (VODs) can offer a safe and powerful pathway to a greater sense of justice and even of healing for some survivors. As follow-ons to Victim Impact Statements, these might be called Victim Impact Dialogues, steered by the survivors themselves – wherein rests much of the power of Facilitated Victim-Centered VOD. But one of the most important keys to successful outcomes lies in the quality of the training and experience of the VOD Facilitators – who serve as “guides” or “coaches” for survivors and offenders through the lengthy and intricate preparation process. VODs are not mere “conversations;” they are deeply complex interactions that follow a thorough, sensitive, trauma-informed, and discerning process of Preparation – which is where the quality of a Facilitator’s training is most critical.
As a Corrections-Based (post-conviction) Victims Service, VODs have been conducted in crimes of severe violence and violation (murder, attempted murder, sexual assault & exploitation, aggravated assault, domestic & intimate partner assault, and other traumatizing crimes) for more than two-and-a-half decades in the U.S. Survivors who have chosen to initiate requests for VOD have found in this process effective ways to express and release a measure of their grief and anger and pain, and to get answers to questions only the offenders in their cases can provide. At the same time, properly prepared and engaged offenders have gained a greater understanding of the impacts of what they have done, and especially what it means to finally be directly and personally accountable to the survivors for the choices they made to cause such devastating harms. Offenders’ ways of thinking may even begin to change through Victim-Centered VOD Preparation and Dialogue.
Again, much may depend on the training and experience of the Facilitators. The JUST Alternatives approach to VOD facilitation and training is rigorously victim-centered, as distinct from practices where “reconciliation” or “forgiveness” might be seen as ideal objectives. Violent crime and violation are not mere misunderstandings to be reconciled, and Victim-Centered VOD practice insists that the needs of victims/survivors are always paramount, and requires that the Preparation and Dialogue process always remain firmly anchored in addressing the needs of those victims/survivors. On the other hand, the work of VOD preparation requires willing cooperation – and some trust – from offenders. So, the Victim-Centered VOD Facilitator must also be capable of applying an authentic sensitivity to earnest offenders, while simultaneously understanding the nature of criminal thinking and other criminogenic needs. Without a requisite measure of trust from the offender, a successful Dialogue outcome may be much less certain, but without a requisite level of discernment in Facilitators, offenders may find it all too easy to subtly evade responsibility for the traumatizing choices they made.
Properly facilitating the Victim-Centered VOD Preparation process takes months of conversation, exploration, and reflection as each survivor and each offender prepares to give voice to what needs to be expressed. This need for time in the Preparation is especially true for offenders, who may tend to be “removed” from their feelings, and who are usually unable to fully grasp the impacts of their crimes, or the real meaning of personal responsibility and accountability. But the Preparation and Dialogue processes can carry risks, especially for emotionally re-victimizing victims/survivors, if they are not managed with understanding and care; thus the absolute need for proper Facilitator Training. This is the very point and purpose of the JUST Alternatives Five-Day VOD Facilitator Trainings.
Far more laboratory than classroom, these Foundational Trainings provide an experiential and transformative understanding of the deeply complex and sensitive work of facilitating Victim-Centered VOD in Crimes of Severe Violence with a variety of crime types, survivors, and offenders. Offered only to Corrections professionals on the Victim Services and the Custody/Community Supervision sides together, these Trainings always enhance understandings of the victim/survivor experience and the offender experience, even for veterans of their fields. Former participants will attest that the JUST Alternatives Victim-Centered VOD Facilitator Trainings add a richly enhanced perspective not only to the principles of Facilitating Victim-Centered VODs, but to the various ways they see their day-to-day jobs. Participants leave these Trainings with a much deeper sense of the purpose and need for a rigorously Victim-Centered Perspective and Practice.
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