Help for the victims of crime -- and the offenders
Jul 12, 2010
From the 10 July article in The Vancouver Sun by Peter McKnight:
In 2006, the newly elected Conservative government announced, with much pomp and ceremony, the appointment of the first federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Four years later, Steve Sullivan's role came to an unceremonious end.
Upon leaving office earlier this year, Sullivan condemned the Conservatives for failing to address victims' needs. "The tough-on-crime agenda will not meet the needs of victims of crime," he told Canwest News Service, while emphasizing that imposing stiffer sentences on offenders doesn't amount to serving victims.
Instead, Sullivan argued that victims desire greater participation in the justice system: "If they are engaged in the process, if they understand why decisions are made and are given a voice, they are more satisfied with the result, regardless of the sentence given."
This is something victims' groups have stressed for decades. The justice system fails to give victims and their families a voice, because the system is entirely focused on the offender.
And this is something Suman and Manjit Virk know intimately. The parents of Reena Virk, who was murdered by Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski in 1997, spent more than a decade following the trials of Ellard. And it was Ellard, rather than the Virks, who was the focus of the justice system's attention.
But that's only half of the story. The other half involves Glowatski, who was convicted in 1999 and last month received full parole. Yet in contrast to other cases involving high-profile murderers, there were no angry protests, no photographs of anguished parents condemning the system for releasing their daughter's killer.
There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the strength of the Virks. But there is more: Before Glowatski's receiving parole, and at his request, the Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives Association arranged a meeting between Glowatski and the Virks.
In Heartspeak Productions' The Reena Virk Story, Manjit recalls that this was "the hardest thing" for them, but that they went ahead with the meeting. During the meeting they were able to communicate to Glowatski what he did to them, but also to experience Glowatski's remorse and to accept his apology. Largely as a result of this meeting, they forgave him
... it's curious that RJ hasn't gone mainstream, since it aims to do exactly what politicians and others claim they want from the justice system. Rarely a day goes by that we don't hear politicians stressing the importance of meeting victims' needs or of ensuring offenders take responsibility, yet the system, focused as it is on punishment, has never been very good at doing either. Restorative justice, on the other hand, aims to make this rhetoric a reality.
...Since the biggest difference between RJ and conventional justice is the former's emphasis on victims, let us consider victims first. The U.K. Restorative Justice Consortium, which has analyzed many studies of RJ and produced a series of reports, notes that well over half of victims wish to participate in RJC, and 85 per cent of those who participate are satisfied with their experience. Indeed, of 152 people interviewed, only six expressed dissatisfaction with face-to-face conferencing.
Not surprisingly, these levels of satisfaction are far higher than those of people who experience only the conventional justice system. But the really dramatic results come from the research of Caroline Angel, a nurse-criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Angel discovered that victims who participated in face-to-face conferencing experienced significantly lower levels of post traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms such as fear, anger, anxiety, irritability and obsession with the crime than controls did. And women were particularly likely to benefit from lower levels of PTS symptoms.
This reduction in PTS symptoms is particularly important, given that, if untreated, such symptoms can lead to both psychological and physical problems.
Read the full article.