The offer of restorative justice to victims of violent crime: Should it be protective or proactive?
Oct 18, 2011
The victims in our sample suggest generalizing the offer of restorative justice to all victims. Themselves victims of very serious crimes, they experienced the beneficial impact of participation in a restorative intervention. However, while they believe that all victims should be informed about restorative opportunities, they emphasize that victims have to feel ready to participate in such programs.
This means that while they are in favour of a proactive approach, such a general offer should comply with certain conditions. The offer should be flexible and allow victims to accept or refuse to participate at any time. Moreover, victims should be able to revise their initial decision and either come back to a previous offer or withdraw their participation in a program. Participation in a restorative justice program should never be imposed on victims and participation must always be voluntary. Umbreit et al. (2006) argue that in order to be fully voluntary, victim‐offender mediation should be victim‐initiated whenever victims of severe violent crimes are concerned. They view victim‐initiated procedures as a guarantee for voluntary participation.
The importance of flexibility means that restorative justice in the case of serious violent crimes should remain independent of the criminal justice process. As Shapland et al. (2006) point out, “a restorative justice process situated within criminal justice can rarely be sensitive to the stage the victim has reached (p. 519)”. Criminal procedures cannot and should not follow the victim’s timeline, while restorative justice can and should respect the victim’s situation. Therefore, participation in restorative justice, while related to the criminal case, should be independent of the criminal trial.
However, in order for victims to make an informed decision, they need complete and clear information. Finally, victims appreciate being reached out to. They receive a lot of information in the aftermath of the crime and have to deal with many different things at the same time. This can be overwhelming for them. Reaching out to victims enables them to know the different services available to them, including restorative services. The proactive approach, which informs victims, gives them the opportunity to choose to either accept or refuse the offer. Our respondents would rather know about the offer of restorative justice and have the opportunity to refuse it, than not to know about it at all.
....As for who should provide victims with information, victims generally do not know exactly where to turn to with their different questions (Wemmers & Cyr, 2006). Not knowing where to turn, they will often turn to the service‐providers with whom they are already in contact, such as police and victim support services. Hence, while these actors may not provide restorative justice services, they need to know how to inform victims about restorative justice opportunities. Police personnel, judicial actors and victim support services are all important referral agents. They play an important role in acknowledging victims’ needs and in referring victims to the available services. Consequently, this approach requires sensitization and training of key personnel. They need to be familiar with the different restorative services in order to be able to refer victims properly.