Though the lives of many victims/survivors of violence and violation have been devastated, these survivors have enormous capacity for moving forward with strength and purpose. And though the loss and traumatic stress survivors endure are “sentences” of their own, Victim-Centered Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) can offer a pathway to justice and even to healing, for some. As a Corrections-Based Victim Service, VODs have been conducted in the U.S. for more than two decades between victims/survivors and convicted offenders in cases of murder and attempted murder, sexual assault and exploitation, aggravated assault, and other crimes of violence or violation. But VODs are not merely “conversations;” they are deeply complex interactions that follow a sensitive and rigorous preparation process for each with a properly trained facilitator. Survivors who choose to initiate VOD find in this process new and powerful ways to express and release some of their grief and pain, and to get answers to questions only the offenders in their cases can provide. At the same time, properly prepared offenders gain a much more personal 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’ve made. 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 VOD.
The JUST Alternatives approach to VOD facilitation and training is rigorously victim-centered, as distinct from restorative justice practices where “reconciliation” or “forgiveness” might be held as objectives. Violent crime and violation are not misunderstandings to be worked out, and Victim-Centered VOD practice holds that the needs of victims/survivors are always paramount, and requires that the preparation and dialogue process always remain unassailably 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 be able to apply an understanding of, and sensitivity to, offender and criminogenic issues and thinking. Without such a measure of trust from the offender, a successful dialogue outcome may be much less certain.
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 is especially true for offenders, who often feel “removed” from their feelings, and who are often unable to grasp the full impacts of their crimes, or the real meaning of personal responsibility and accountability. But the preparation and dialogue processes can carry risks for emotionally re-victimizing victims/survivors if they are not managed with understanding and care by properly trained facilitators. This is the very point and purpose of the JUST Alternatives Five-Day VOD Facilitator Trainings. These Trainings offer a powerfully transformative “experiential” introduction to the complex and sensitive work of facilitating Victim-Centered VOD in Crimes of Severe Violence in a variety of crime types, with a variety of survivors and a variety of offenders. Many potential facilitators bring to the Training a requisite combination of self-awareness, the ability to listen deeply, a capacity for empathy, and an understanding of accountability. As former Trainings participants will attest, the JUST Alternatives Victim-Centered VOD Facilitator Trainings add new and enhanced understandings of both the victim/survivor experience and the offender experience to their abilities, and thus to the sensitive, rigorous work of Victim-Centered VOD.
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