One of the things I always told offenders was that when we do something which harms another, we need to apologize for our harmful actions. I emphasized that the ultimate apology is how we live the rest of our lives (have we learned from the harm we caused so that we don't repeat the act?).

Almost two decades after I was assaulted I learned I had misidentified my assailant, who spent over 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Following the advice I always gave to offenders, I sent him an apology letter and subsequently met with him in person to apologize. In this victim/offender conference, I was the offender. I don't think I would have been able to accept the fact that I had made an error if I had not been involved for so many years with the restorative justice movement.

I am also a trained facilitator of v/o conferences, including those involving crimes of severe violence. As Lisa Rea points out in her article, the key is in proper preparation of both the victim and the offender. This often includes multiple meetings with each party separately before they are brought together. If any red flags appear during these pre-conference meetings, the facilitator may decide the conference should not take place.

In addition, there are ground rules which prohibit such behaviors as shouting matches. Although both parties are encouraged to express their emotions honestly, this must be done in a way which does not cause harm to either party. The facilitator has the power to stop the conference at any time if it appears that additional harm will occur.

Victim/offender conferencing is just one manifestation of restorative justice. I believe it should always be victim initiated, but that it is beneficial to both parties involved. If an offender better understands the harm he/she has caused, he/she is less likely to reoffend in the future. That in itself is a victim service!