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Help for the victims of crime — and the offenders

July 11, 2010

This is something victims’ groups have stressed for decades. The
justice system fails to give victims and their families a voice, because
the system is entirely focused on the offender.

And this is
something Suman and Manjit Virk know intimately. The parents of Reena
Virk, who was murdered by Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski in 1997,
spent more than a decade following the trials of Ellard. And it was
Ellard, rather than the Virks, who was the focus of the justice system’s

But that’s only half of the story. The other half
involves Glowatski, who was convicted in 1999 and last month received
full parole. Yet in contrast to other cases involving high-profile
murderers, there were no angry protests, no photographs of anguished
parents condemning the system for releasing their daughter’s killer.

are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the strength of
the Virks. But there is more: Before Glowatski’s receiving parole, and
at his request, the Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives
Association arranged a meeting between Glowatski and the Virks.

In Heartspeak Productions’ The Reena Virk Story, Manjit recalls that
this was “the hardest thing” for them, but that they went ahead with the
meeting. During the meeting they were able to communicate to Glowatski
what he did to them, but also to experience Glowatski’s remorse and to
accept his apology. Largely as a result of this meeting, they forgave

The Virks therefore experienced two kinds of justice: First, the conventional justice system, which focuses on offenders and punishing wrongdoers for their transgressions. And second, the Virks experienced restorative justice (RJ), which focuses on giving victims and their families a voice, on ensuring that offenders take responsibility for their actions and on attempting to heal the harm that has been done by crime.

… it’s curious that RJ hasn’t gone mainstream, since it aims to do
exactly what politicians and others claim they want from the justice
system. Rarely a day goes by that we don’t hear politicians stressing
the importance of meeting victims’ needs or of ensuring offenders take
responsibility, yet the system, focused as it is on punishment, has
never been very good at doing either. Restorative justice, on the other
hand, aims to make this rhetoric a reality.

…Since the biggest difference between RJ and
conventional justice is the former’s emphasis on victims, let us
consider victims first. The U.K. Restorative Justice Consortium, which
has analyzed many studies of RJ and produced a series of reports, notes
that well over half of victims wish to participate in RJC, and 85 per
cent of those who participate are satisfied with their experience.
Indeed, of 152 people interviewed, only six expressed dissatisfaction
with face-to-face conferencing.

Not surprisingly, these levels of
satisfaction are far higher than those of people who experience only the
conventional justice system. But the really dramatic results come from
the research of Caroline Angel, a nurse-criminologist at the University
of Pennsylvania.

Angel discovered that victims who participated in
face-to-face conferencing experienced significantly lower levels of
post traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms such as fear, anger, anxiety,
irritability and obsession with the crime than controls did. And women
were particularly likely to benefit from lower levels of PTS symptoms.

This reduction in PTS symptoms is particularly important,
given that, if untreated, such symptoms can lead to both psychological
and physical problems.

Read the full article.


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