A few recent events pulled this post together.
1.) At the IIRP Conference, I teased the Prosecuter in attendance, asking him if he was lost. It was just a little sarcasm about the different philosophies sometimes held by ‘prosecution’ and ‘restorative justice’. I then shared with him how I appreciated prosecutors that took initiative in using Restorative Justice. I told him I was hopeful that this would bring more victim-witness advocates to Restorative Justice and Restorative Justice Conferences, like the one we were attending.
2.) I was told I smell like an offender. The sentance, is out of context. In a powerful presentation by Wilma Derksen, she shared that victims can smell when an offender is in the room, she said they can smell when a offender advocate is in the room. She also shared impressions that Restorative Justice, and it’s practitioners smell like offenders. She went on and had a captivating story, and experience that showed the victim-offender trauma bond, cannot be ignored. (I plan to shower, and work on smelling a little more neutral)
3.) Howard Zehr’s most recent blog post is titled: Restorative Justice and Victim Services Collaboration. He points out the need to find out where gaps exist and why.
A few observations I made along the way. Don’t go around people. I saw isolation grow for a practitioner who decided that if victim-witness was not going to provide victim contact information then it would be sought out from a probation officer. This did nothing to build a relationship with victim-witness.
Ask. I have asked others for permission to explain restorative justice to victims. I use the line, “I get to do this full time”. If you are working with a victim and you have never attended therapy, support groups or restorative justice. It’s hard to explain to a vicitm what those services might look, feel and be like. Most people have some sense of therapy and support groups. The shortcoming is in explaining something you’ve not ever seen.
When I ask to explain to victims, I also make sure my partners in service, know, that victims are given the choice. A choice to participate, a choice to send information, a choice to send someone in their place, a choice to meet the offender. Not all Restorative Justice means victim/offender encounter.
Our first victim participant in Victim Empathy Seminars, had never met his offender. He saw him in court. He wanted to help him. It was an interesting case of identity theft, they never caught the people that stole the identity by using stolen checks. They had the young man that stole the checks. So his crime was liason to the bigger crime, where no offender was apprehended. This victims path to healing, included helping others. So that’s what he did. He came and shared his story, he offered his experience to younger offenders with hopes of teaching empathy. Teaching empathy that would protect the community.
My experience with victims, the 40-60% that do choose restorative justice is that they are TRUE Community Hero’s! They make such an impression on the offender. Its amazing to see. Its like they are the ones least likely to divert crime, and yet they are the most powerful ones to do it. AND, they do it after being harmed. IT’s amazing. Its my favorite part of restorative justice. When victims input so much, its hard not to get pushy wanting them to participate.
I work hard at relationships within the system of people that work with victims. I also make sure some of my time and resources as a non-profit is spent, trying to reach vicitms who don’t have an offender apprehended. I’d like to end this post with some advice I got from Kay Pranis.
Work on the relationship with victim services. Understand what they do, how and why they do it. It was simple, and I think as a movement, restorative justice should spend a little more time repairing these relationships.