We’re sometimes asked whether the JUST Alternatives approach to VOD is about restorative justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness. The short answer is no, but of course it may vary with each victim/survivor, and depend completely upon what each victim/survivor wants from a dialogue with an offender. This is why we make the distinctions we do between our victim-centered approach to VOD and other approaches. We believe there must be absolutely no expectation of, or pressure toward, anything like forgiveness or reconciliation – unless the victim/survivor explicitly wishes, without ambivalence, for that outcome.
There must be absolutely no expectation of — or pressure toward — forgiveness or reconciliation.
Our hope and expectation for the victim/survivor is that, given the time to explore and understand the deeply personal issues that arise during the preparation process, s/he will come to a clear understanding of what s/he needs from both the preparation process and the dialogue itself. Often, for example, victims/survivors still carry a deep well of grief and anger over the loss or violation that they’ve experienced, even after many, many years. They should not be expected to have to consider whether they will be able to “forgive” or “reconcile with” the one who has caused so much pain and anguish in their lives. Rather, they deserve first the opportunity to give voice to those deepest feelings, in the safety of the preparation process with the facilitator, and/or as part of the dialogue itself. They also deserve the opportunity to see and feel first-hand whether the offender is actually trying to be personally accountable for what s/he has done. After that, other possibilities become viable options.
Victim Offender Dialogue, when focused primarily on addressing the harms caused by offenders to victims, can provide extraordinary opportunities for healing among both victims/survivors and offenders. Unfortunately, it is possible to find practitioners who are unaccustomed to understanding and addressing the deepest needs of victims/survivors, but who are more focused upon “balancing” such needs with those of offenders, and of the communities in which the violence or violation occurred. But offender accountability is not a balancing act. When violence and violation occur, they leave paths of unimaginable and almost unspeakable personal destruction, and until the depth of that destruction is addressed directly, no amount of externally imposed expectation, however well-intentioned, can help in the healing of victims/survivors. Nor, for that matter, in the accountability of offenders. Only when victims/survivors are enabled to hold their offenders personally and directly accountable to them can they begin to find paths to healing and change. And only then can offenders who feel any empathy at all begin to work toward real change in themselves. Not surprisingly, feelings of forgiveness and reconciliation sometimes arise from these encounters. But they should in no way be “expected” of victims/survivors.