I want to offer some lessons for people who do restorative justice. These lessons are for working with victims in either a victim-offender dialogue or a talking circle. I think its important to keep up our compassion towards victims skills. To really do our best, I have 5 things to work really hard at:
1.) Stay grounded in the parameters of the process. I decided that the Circle would flow better if we had the offender going last. That’s not what Restorative Justice guides us to do. You let the victim decide, and you give the victim that option. You talk about it before going into the session, not at the meeting – prepare-prepare-prepare. I caught myself, and the session went with the offender speaking first, as the victim requested. In one session, the victim was given the choice, and she wanted the offender to decide. On this particular point, remember you are giving the victim choices.
To stay grounded in the parameters of the process, means to also stay focues on core mission, values and vision of Restorative Justice. Sometimes it takes hard work, to hold your care and concern for vicitms, and the values at the same time.
2.)Convey the intentions and limitations of Restorative Justice. I think each person victimized deals with it in a very unique and personalized response. It would be hard to develop programs, for specific reactions that victims have. Some victims, justifyible so, are very angry. Some hold large quanities of self-blame. Others experience deep trauma because the incident was sudden and could have been prevented. Some victims withdraw, from the system and the situation. Other take on a crusade and want to change the world because of what happened. My point is that each person has a unique reaction.
Is restorative justice going to get to the outcomes that a victim really wants? As practitioners we owe it to everyone involved to fully share what the intentions of restorative justice are. I say the “conversation creates the outcome”, that we don’t go in with a detailed agenda for others. But what if the victim wants and needs to see remorse in the offender? Share and disclose the limitations of the process, use stories and examples of other victims. Often times the process is the start of a new layer of healing for vicitms. Empower people that their journey is their personal discovery and growth. Be honored to be a part of it, but a restorative session has limits and is often times a place on the path of healing. It takes alot of hard work as a practitioner to put these things “in the air” and not offender or confront vicitms.
3)Remind victims about core RJ values. I try to make a point of mentioning that “listening for understanding” does not mean “accepting the behavior”. I try to discuss with each side before a meeting, things like body language and eye contact. Victims can feel disrespected for not getting eye contact, yet an offender is feeling shame and is embarresed to make the eye contact. Its important to meet people where they are at. Dicuss a simple element like ‘respect’ and come to understanding and build a strong positive relationship with people before facilitating their session. Remember strong, positive relationships are hard work. Especially with people who have just been hurt.
4.)Negotiate the “owning of the offense”, carefully. I had a consequential stranger experience. In a gift shop, playing with an item, and outloud I mentioned “I do a thing where use a talking piece, I wonder if this might work”. The person behind the counter said “Do you mean like Restorative Justice”. I nearly fell over. If the words “restorative justice” come up in a conversation, the first person to do it is me! I said, “yes” and moved in to learn all I could about how she knew these words.
She had participated in a session. She was very nice to me, and suggested maybe the facilitator was “new”. Her son had been a victim, an item of his stolen at school. So she took her time to go to a session, they used a talking piece, at a table. She shared feeling really bad for the offenders Mom, she was lied to by her son. Offenders Mom, was a school staff person, and that added to her shame. Apparently, the offender did not say sorry to his mother, he didn’t appear remorseful in the session. I went into helper mode, offered a few examples of knowing people that didn’t get it at the time, but later were touched. She offered that, yes maybe later in private he could have said those things. I saw her be empowered in that outcome, and take that option under consideration.
Some offenders still fear getting in trouble, and will “self-preserve” over telling the truth. They acknowledge they caused the harm, but full disclosure of the story, the details, the telling of the incident from start to finish, doesn’t happen. Sometimes the anxiety of the meeting causes people to not remember or become frightened to speak much. As practitioners, tread lightly, prepare victims for how this portion will go, and how they will respond to it going not at well as expected.
I am accepting of grey, and I can take offenders where they are at, except the “I didn’t do it”. Realize that as a practitioner where you are at, may not be shared by others. Work hard to make sure what is likely to happen in the session, is safe for everyone.
5)accept you can’t meet everyones needs. As Restorative Justice people, we deeply and earnestly want to help victims with their needs. They were harmed, something was taken from them, we want to balance that by giving them what they want.
So when Restorative Justice is victim-centered, guess what, we don’t even really know what that means, because we don’t know the victims wants and needs are. We don’t really know what they are going to want or need as the preparation process evolves. Victims are humans first, and as human beings sometimes we identify our wants and needs and they aren’t exactly reasonable.
I did this, working on my masters degree, trying to study. I wanted my kid to respect that I needed quiet time. I was frustrated when my need was not met. That is human behavior. Luckily when complaining to someone, they point blank told me: “She’s 3, no way she gets your needs”. That was all it took for me to realize my need, was out of line. You can’t exactly be that blunt with a grieving victim. You can put in the hard work, to help people understand their wants and needs.
Do the best you can upholding the principles of restorative justice, consult with others, co-facilitate and communicate directly.