The session focuses on the victim and offender. A facilitator is present to help make that possible, but normally remains in the background. The idea is to assist the victim and offender to exchange information, ideas and emotions and to build a mutual understanding of the events and of each other as human beings. Once the parties are satisfied that they have had their say, the facilitator helps the parties think through options for making things right.
Participation in VOM is voluntary for both victims and offenders. Of
course, some offenders must choose between mediation and a court
sentence that could include imprisonment, so they have some incentive
to volunteer. But it is important that
neither the victim nor offender be coerced into participating. This is not only because voluntariness is one of the values of restorative justice, but also because meetings between people who are forced to be present are not as successful.
In North America and Europe in particular, VOM has three phases. The
first phase involves assessing whether a referred matter is a good
candidate for VOM. Referrals may come from police, courts, prisons and
from community members.
Suitability is determined not only by the kind of offence, but also by an assessment of whether the parties would benefit.This means ensuring that each party understands that participation is voluntary, is psychologically ready for mediation,
and has realistic expectations of what may come from the meeting. The goal is for the VOM process to be a constructive experience for both victim and offender, and that the neither will be harmed by the process.
The second phase is the meeting itself (or, sometimes, series of meetings). The third is follow-up. This includes not only helping the victim and offender process what they experienced, but also monitoring completion of the agreement.
VOM can take place at any time during the criminal justice process, but only after guilt is no longer an issue. Either the offender has admitted guilt or been found guilty. It can take place before or after sentencing. Depending on the relevant laws, it may or may not affect the offender’s sentence.
Victim Offender Mediation is the oldest of the modern restorative
justice processes. Its history is typically traced back to a 1974
experiment in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Two young men had gone on a
vandalism spree, damaging over 20 people’s properties in a single
night. The probation officer convinced the judge to order the offenders
to meet with their victims, apologize and promise to pay restitution.
This experience, although certainly not reflecting what would
now be considered best practice, was positive for victims and offenders alike, and over time VOM became an established process.