Recently I’ve had a number of meetings with victims, and worked with them in a variety of places in the Restorative Justice process. Restorative Justice is victim centered, meaning the victims make decisions about participating, about the conference and support them after a restorative experience.
I’d like to offer you my experiences and suggestions for working with people who have experienced harm. I’ve got a few key tips for each of the stages of working with a vicitm.
Each story is individual. Try to keep the neutral mind, being aware and acknowledging your own judgements. Allow the space for a victim to share, keeping the conversation flowing around the conferencing questions. I use questions centering around “how did your feel when you realized what happened”, “what was the hardest part”. Often times I use the IIRP Cards scroll to the bottom of this link to find them. I have often found that it’s not exactly the crime, but things that follow because of the crime are often the hardest. Having these discussions with support people of victims helps the supporters understand a victims needs.
Prepare I often say that “restorative justice is about repairing harm, so we don’t want to cause further harm” and explain that we want this to be healing. I explore to the extend possible, how the victim can prepare for the process without holding on to expectations and outcomes that neither of us have any control over. Be careful not to bring your judgments here and don’t get tempted to be a go between.
Helping vicitms identify motivations for meeting with offenders is crucial and important to be talking about. Give the victim the control, they decide who tells their story first. Try to allow victims control over seating arrangements. Provide all the details to the flow of the conference or circle. Prepare how the conference will end. I did a conference knowing I would walk the offender out, and come back in to process with the victim. Ask and ask if victims have questions, make yourself available for them to be feeling completely prepared.
Monitor Emotional Climate During the conference it is important to hold compassion, yet not interupt the process or get distracted by emotional content. I often clear the path for emotions and emotional expression. When preparing victims if they get teary, if appropriate I comment on observing that. I often ask about the comfort for these emotions during the conference session. I monitor that what we found in the preconference is present in the conference, without pushing.
I have been left feeling amazed at times, when a dialogue and exchange between two individuals takes place. It is very difficult to explain but I would look to Dr. Mark Umbriets work around humanistic mediation to explain it. I’m hardly needed and the process is an honor to be part of.
Supportthe crime victims healing. Victims can experience trauma in unexpected places. Triggers can be identified and avoided, or addressed. Simply telling the story often lifts the stigma, storytelling is healing. Victims may experience new triggers after a conference session. Life happens in layers and we heal in stages. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with a victim, almost 2 months after a conference, then remembered the anniversary date was quickly approaching. We then discussed self-care on this day, and I offered the “normal” response to trauma anniversaries was to feel off center.
When we help victims heal, we heal a piece of the world. Tread lightly and use compassion as your tools.