Good and bad victims?
Dec 02, 2011
It is tempting for restorative justice advocates, consciously or not, to differentiate between “good” and “bad victims.” Good victims are those who are ready to forgive and reconcile; bad victims are those who are angry, punitive and unforgiving.
“How do we react to such victims?” asks Heather Strange in her essay, “Is Restorative Justice Imposing Its Agenda on Victims?” (Critical Issues in Restorative Justice, Zehr & Toews, eds.). “Probably most often by dreading and discouraging the one and encouraging and welcoming the other,” she observes. Strange goes on to suggest that “bad” is often a function of the emotional harm they have suffered and that they may have the most to gain from an encounter.
An attitude of forgiveness is a lovely thing, and a restorative encounter that results in some measure of forgiveness or reconciliation is wonderful. However, I would suggest that this is not a goal of restorative justice and is not a measure of whether an approach qualifies as restorative justice. For me, restorative justice is about addressing harms and needs, and helping those who have offended to understand and accept the resulting obligations. To the extent possible, it implies a collaborative and dialogical process. As long as an encounter can be engaged in respectfully and safely for all participants, whether a victim is angry or forgiving is not the decisive factor. And in an encounter, the choice to forgive and reconcile is totally up to the participants; forgiveness is not a measure of whether a restorative justice approach has occurred or is worthwhile.
It is important that we as practitioners welcome those who have been harmed into our midst, regardless of their orientation. Restorative justice calls us to listen to their harms and to the extent we can, help them identify and address their needs, regardless of whether they are forgiving. That, to my mind, is essential to being a restorative justice community.