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Good and bad victims?

Dec 02, 2011

from Howard Zehr's entry on Restorative Justice Blog:

It is tempting for restorative justice advocates, consciously or not, to differentiate between “good” and “bad victims.” Good victims are those who are ready to forgive and reconcile; bad victims are those who are angry, punitive and unforgiving.

“How do we react to such victims?” asks Heather Strange in her essay, “Is Restorative Justice Imposing Its Agenda on Victims?” (Critical Issues in Restorative Justice, Zehr & Toews, eds.).  “Probably most often by dreading and discouraging the one and encouraging and welcoming the other,” she observes.  Strange goes on to suggest that “bad” is often a function of the emotional harm they have suffered and that they may have the most to gain from an encounter.

An attitude of forgiveness is a lovely thing, and a restorative encounter that results in some measure of forgiveness or reconciliation is wonderful. However, I would suggest that this is not a goal of restorative justice and is not a measure of whether an approach qualifies as restorative justice.  For me, restorative justice is about addressing harms and needs, and helping those who have offended to understand and accept the resulting obligations.  To the extent possible, it implies a collaborative and dialogical process.  As long as an encounter can be engaged in respectfully and safely for all participants, whether a victim is angry or forgiving is not the decisive factor.  And in an encounter, the choice to forgive and reconcile is totally up to the participants; forgiveness is not a measure of whether a restorative justice approach has occurred or is worthwhile.

It is important that we as practitioners welcome those who have been harmed into our midst, regardless of their orientation.  Restorative justice calls us to listen to their harms and to the extent we can, help them identify and address their needs, regardless of whether they are forgiving.  That, to my mind, is essential to being a restorative justice community.

Read the whole entry.

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lisa rea
lisa rea says:
Dec 05, 2011 09:01 PM

Thank you for re-posting Howard Zehr's blog commentary. I am in complete agreement with his views here. We do judge crime victims as he described. Often we judge them based on whether or not we view them as compassionate or willing to forgive their offenders. As Zehr said restorative justice should be available to all victims of crime regardless of where they are in their &quot;journeys&quot;. <br /> <br />I wrote more on this topic at Zehr's blog. But those of us in the justice reform movement need to more towards enabling all to participate in restorative justice. Some kind of healing can come from these processes if they participate. Forgiveness might come in the life of the victim, and then potentially be expressed towards the offender, but that is never a goal of restorative justice. One thing is for certain all victims deserve restorative justice; they should have the &quot;right&quot; to meet with their offender. <br /> <br />Lisa Rea <br />Rea Consulting <br />Victims-Driven Restorative <br />U.S. <br />

John White
John White says:
Jan 03, 2012 01:31 AM

Of course, there's no such thing as 'good' or 'bad' victims (or 'good' or 'bad' offenders, for that matter). In psychotherapy there is a saying that 'there's no such thing as a resistant client, only insufficiently flexible therapists'. That flexibility facilitates appropriate intervention. This may be a decision not to attempt 'therapy' because the client, although willing, may not be able to engage as yet. The same is true of a person struggling with an addiction. There is, what is termed in the jargon a 'pre-contemplative' phase in which the person may be wanting to give up his addiction but is yet not committed or able to do whatever it takes to do so. I suspect 'bad' victims are those for whom the wounds are still too raw and painful for them to engage effectively in the RJ work. It is incumbent upon RJ facilitators to be sufficiently 'healed and whole' in their own personal Selves not to need their personal agenda to be run. 'Good' and bad' are the subjective evaluations of an immature humanity and have no place in RJ if lives are to be restored to health. If a victim is not able to engage with the process and respond effectiely, it may be they need to do more personal healing work before entering this highly charged and demanding emotional/psycho-spiritual arena. We need to be very careful about using any labels. They constrain, restrict and disempower everyone involved in the encounter. Get rid of good and bad; deal with people. In this world there is no 'them'; there is only 'us'.

Ronelle Moehrke
Ronelle Moehrke says:
Jan 31, 2012 05:23 PM

Reply to John White's comment...John's comments are so to the point - I AM SO impressed. &quot;Immature humanity&quot; - yes indeed. Some years ago I was a correction officer in a jail in a southern city. I was able to change the punitive attitudes of the watch I was on - I pursued the best possible programs for &quot;inmates&quot; - but the attitude of the rest of the jail was more than I could handle - after 2 years I left. There needs to be attitude change all through the authoritarian/punitive corrections system. Thanks you so much for your comment John - Ronnie Moehrke

James Church
James Church says:
Feb 13, 2012 12:55 AM

I have worked in Prisons for well over half of my life. It took some time but my opinion of punitive vs restorative responses have changed dramatically. I am involved in providing restorative opportunties to offenders and have a goal of creating a restorative prison where I work. I see the differences in the offenders when they are offered a more restorative response to rule violations and sanctions then the past response of punitive actions which only made them less responsive to changing their behavior. My goal is to create a culture within the prison that is skilled in handling conflict and practices restorative values and philosophy within the prison community.

jackdisonrj says:
Feb 20, 2012 09:34 PM

Of course official prison culture and social structure in most settings are resistant to change toward more restorative approaches. Please, James Church, elaborate on what you are doing, how it is working, and what resources you are drawing on. I am most interested in what you are doing.

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