I began thinking about this after reading New Zealander Kim Workman's recent article called "Positive Justice and Forgiveness" ( RECAP Newsletter, Issue 54, Feb. 2009). Here are some things that came to mind.
First, no one can ever force a victim to forgive an offender of any crime, especially a violent offense. I think most advocates in the restorative justice movement understand that. But often the words we use to maybe "coax" a victim towards forgiveness can be offensive. I would be offended, too, if I had had a loved one murdered and someone came to me and said, "You know, you'd be a lot better off if you forgave that man for killing your loved one." Do some of us in the RJ movement do that? Yes, sometimes. I do not think we intentional try to offend but we need to be aware of this and perhaps take stock.
Second, the sequence of accountability and forgiveness is complex. Professor Miroslav Volf from Yale University is a native Croatian who has written about his experiences teaching in Croatia during the war in former Yugoslavia. He has also written extensively about justice and forgiveness. Is there to be forgiveness first (by the victim) and then accountability by the offender? What comes first? Do victims need to see an offender take responsibility for their actions and then they forgive? He examines this topic closely. But it is as complicated as the human experience.
Third, a powerful place to begin is to listen closely to the stories of victims who have experienced a measure of healing in their lives after violent crime. Their stories are interesting and meaningful; we can learn from these. We can then apply what we learn to how we work to implement the principles of restorative justice. One thing I've learned is that for victims restorative justice is not a one-size fits all experience. Some victims experience a type of healing even without meeting directly with their offenders. That surprised me. I also have learned that some victims forgive their offenders without knowing that their offender took responsibility for their crimes. That really surprised me and I have wondered how many victims are in that category. I would still think that one on one victim offender dialogue is the best case scenario allow for direct contact and interaction.