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
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.
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