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Victims of Severe Violence Meet the Offender: Restorative Justice Through Dialogue
Both restorative justice in general and victim offender mediation specifically continue to be identified with primarily, if not exclusively, addressing non-violent property crimes, and perhaps even minor assaults. This article will challenge such assumptions by providing empirical evidence that suggests that many of the principles of restorative justice can be applied in crimes of severe violence, including murder. Some would even suggest that the deepest healing impact of restorative justice is to be found in addressing and responding to such violent crime. An increasing number of victims of sexual assault, attempted homicide, and survivors of murder victims, in Canada and the United States, are requesting the opportunity to meet the offender to express the full impact of the crime upon their life, to get answers to many questions they have and to gain a greater sense of closure so that they can move on with their lives. In most cases this occurs many years after the crime occurred and the actual mediation/dialogue session is typically held in a secure institution where the offender is located. This article addresses four topics. First, the case development process of victim sensitive offender dialogue (VSOD) in crimes of severe violence is described, with an emphasis of how the process is far more intensive in such cases. Second, the specific type of victim sensitive mediation employed in such cases is briefly presented. Humanistic mediation is ‘dialogue driven’ rather than ‘settlement driven’ and is essential to the application of restorative justice principles in cases of severe violence. Third, a review of the few current studies of such an intervention is offered, including preliminary data that is emerging from a two state multi-year study by the author. Fourth, two specific case studies related to the above research are presented with an emphasis upon implications for practitioners. Finally, several conclusions are offered, including a number of unanswered questions and the need for further research.