Victim offender dialogue (VOD) is a restorative justice practice which can be used in place of or in addition to traditional criminal justice sanctions. VOD offers the opportunity for victims to meet face to face with the perpetrator of the crime under the guidance of a trained facilitator. The dialogue emphasizes offender accountability, victim healing, and restoration of losses where possible. Few studies explore the impact of High-Risk Victim Offender Dialogue (HR-VOD) with serious, violent crimes. The goal of this study was to determine the impact of HR-VOD on victims of serious or violent crimes.
This study utilized a longitudinal, cohort-control mixed-methods design to compare the wellbeing of victims who participate in a facilitated restorative justice dialogue to the wellbeing of those who do not participate at three points in time. The sample consists of 18 participants in the treatment group and 15 victims in the control group. During the time period for the study, only 8 of the 18 participants progressed to dialogue, therefore, the sample consists of 8 participants in the treatment group and 15 participants in the control group. Qualitative data was collected from the sample of participating victims at three points in time: T1 (enrollment), T2 (within 72 hours of the dialogue), and T3 (six months following the dialogue). Responses were recorded using a digital recorder, then transcribed verbatim. Data was analyzed using Atlas.ti following a process of initial review by two members of the research team.
The qualitative results indicate that participation in a VOD had a meaningful, positive impact on victims. Participants described the experience and process to be helpful and emphasized the healing that occurred after being given the opportunity to have contact with the offender. Post-dialogue, victims often expressed care and concern toward the offender, seeking to contextualize their actions in a way that facilitated understanding and ultimately enabled their humanization, rather than demonization. Others talked about changes in their experiences of anger or fear. The experience of the dialogue typically resulted in feelings of connection and gratitude for study participants
Conclusions and Implications:
Findings suggest that HR-VOD may be a valuable tool in improving the wellbeing of victims of violent crimes. However, the role of practitioners and community organizations is essential. Without these partners, individuals would not receive high-quality facilitation and may have a less positive experience with HR-VOD. This study was possible in part because of Colorado’s unique political landscape, which supports justice processes such as HR-VOD through bodies such as the Restorative Justice Council.
One implication of this research is that collaborative networks at all levels - local, state, and national, need to be strengthened. This study can contribute to the evidence supporting HR-VOD as a justice process and inform policy makers as to the needs of victims. While Colorado has enacted many policies that encourage the use of HR-VOD and other restorative processes, there is still a need to build system-level infrastructure.