Victim offender dialogue
Sep 20, 2011
from the article on JUST Alternatives:
For offenders, victim-centered VOD in crimes of severe violence begins with their acknowledging complete and personal responsibility for what they have done. This means being willing to comprehend the impacts of their actions and behaviors, to face and feel a personal sense of accountability for them, and to feel remorse for the full effects of those actions upon the victims/survivors. It means having a truer understanding of the depth of the pain and grief and suffering they have caused.
Victim-centered VOD for offenders is not merely about apology, especially for what can never be restored or made whole again. There are many victims/survivors who do not even want an apology if it is uninformed by the survivor’s experience. They do not want the offenders in their cases to be allowed the “easy grace” of apology. They alone can tell offenders exactly how what happened has affected them, and they alone are the ones who need and deserve to be in control of when – and whether – to receive an apology.
Most survivors want the offender to understand not only what he did to the victim, but the persistent after-effects of what he did. When a loved one has been murdered, or when innocence has been shattered by sexual assault or other violation, nothing can be done to “pay back” the life, or the innocence lost, or the trauma and post-trauma endured. And it is only through a better understanding of how profoundly victims/survivors have been wounded that an offender can begin to comprehend what apology can – and cannot – be.
This is why VOD can never be merely a matter of an offender’s summoning the courage – as hard as that may be, and regardless of its sincerity – to express an apology. And it’s not about forgiveness for offenders – unless victims/survivors feel within themselves an unequivocal wish to freely offer that forgiveness. This is why VOD must be primarily about the survivor’s needs – not the needs of the offender.
Ironically, it is within this difficult context of reaching a truly personal understanding of accountability that some violent offenders begin to see that bringing new meaning to their future from the devastation they caused in the past is worth changing their attitudes, their behaviors, and their lives for – even while still incarcerated.
This is how a self-actualized commitment to rehabilitation – and to No More Victims – can be ignited within them, as another positive outcome of VOD. For some victims/survivors, continually struggling to make meaning from their own indescribable violation and loss, this realization by offenders can be an important milestone in their determined journey forward.