Source: (2006) Victims and Offenders. 1(2):123-140.
The crucial dimension of victim forgiveness of an offender is a shift in the victim’s perception of the offender as having a worth beyond the behavior that harmed the victim, as well as the victim’s perception of himself/herself as having an identity beyond that of being a victim, i.e., as a person capable of unconditional love that transcends the anger, suffering, and harms stemming from the offender’s actions. Such forgiveness benefits the spiritual, mental, and physical health of the victim and potentially that of the offender who is open to receiving and benefitting from such forgiveness. Such forgiveness is an internal transformation of attitudes, perceptions, and feelings rather than compliance with a rule or sense of obligation. Restorative justice settings structure the opportunity for experiencing and expressing forgiveness between a victim and offender, but forgiveness occurs only if the victim is freely open to it. Forgiveness cannot be coerced by the mediator. There are few empirical studies of the occurrence and effects of victim forgiveness in restorative justice settings. Theories and findings from clinical and experimental studies, however, have repeatedly shown relationships between forgiveness-related expressions (apology, remorse, empathy, and victim forgiveness) and positive changes in crime victims and offenders. Methods for studying the presence and impact of forgiveness in restorative justice settings could include analysis of participants’ experiences of themselves and each other, analysis of videotaped mediations, retrospective interviews with victims and offenders about emotional reactions to each other, and the use of instruments that measure psychophysiological effects of emotional changes during restorative justice dialogs. Abstract courtesy of National Criminal Justice Reference Service, www.ncjrs.gov.
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