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Difficult conversations: What do victims and survivors say about taking part in restorative justice?



This booklet is for anyone who is thinking about having contact with someone who committed a crime against them. It is based on interviews with people who were victims and survivors of lots of different types of crime. They describe why they wanted to communicate with the offender, what they got out of it, and how they felt when things didn’t go to plan. The people we interviewed wanted to talk about their experiences to help other victims and survivors. The booklet was written by Diana Batchelor, based on PhD research at the University of Oxford in collaboration with Thames Valley Partnership, from 2015-2018. The project was made possible by the Thames Valley Restorative Justice Service facilitators who worked closely with the interviewees, and offered their support and expertise. Production of the booklet was sponsored by the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner and the ESRC, with help from Megan Davies and several Thames Valley Partnership associates. Above all, many thanks go to the generous victims and survivors who were willing to give their time, energy and advice, so that others can learn from their experiences.
Does it
Do I have
to meet the
How can I tell the
offender what it’s
been like for me?
How can I get
answers about what
Will it help me
feel better?
Will I
be safe?
Why me?
Will they
Can I meet the
Will they
be punished?
What do victims and survivors say about
taking part in restorative justice?
We are going to use the words ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ in this booklet, to mean the person
(or people) who have been affected by a crime. This is for clarity, although we recognise
that you might not think of yourself this way.
We are going to use the phrase ‘the offender’ throughout this booklet but this could be
your child, partner, parent, friend, co-worker, etc.
In general, we will talk about restorative justice after a criminal justice process has ended.
However, the offender may or may not have been arrested, charged, or convicted. If there
hasn’t already been a criminal justice process in your case, just skip those bits of this booklet.
This booklet is not about the practical aspects of restorative justice: if you are in the UK
and want to know who to contact, how long it might take, or who your local restorative
justice organisations are, then please visit
If you are in the Thames Valley (Buckinghamshire, Berkshire or Oxfordshire), you can visit or call 01844 202 001.
If you are thinking about having contact with the person who committed a crime
against you, you may find it helpful to read about other people’s experiences
before making your decision.
This booklet is based on interviews with 38 people who were victims and survivors
of lots of different types of crime. Some met the person who committed the offence
against them, others didn’t. Some of the crimes were very serious, others caused
less harm. Some people were related to the person who committed the crime
against them, others were strangers. Some were young, others old. Some people
were completely satisfied with the restorative justice process, others weren’t.
The people we interviewed said they didn’t want anyone to persuade them to take
part, or persuade them not to take part. They wanted information about what it was
like for other people – both the good and the bad experiences – so they could make
up their own minds. That is why you will find victims and survivors’ own words in
the coloured speach bubbles, like this (their names have been changed):
What is this booklet
You can explain both sides, what
you got from it and what you
didn’t. It arms the next person
with more knowledge of whether
it’s the right thing for them.
In the whole preparation
stage there just needs to
be much more information
really, for people deciding
on getting involved.
There are three main sections of the booklet. The first section covers five types
of things that people want from restorative justice, and whether or not they got
them. The second section is a number of ‘what if…?’ questions. In the third
section victims and survivors offer advice to others who are considering taking
part in restorative justice. The next page shows you where to find each section.
People have lots of different reasons for wanting to meet the offender. Most
people we interviewed wanted at least one of the following five types of things.
You can read about them all in turn, or just go straight to the one that is most
important to you.
What is most
important to you?
…to have my say
Go to page 4
…to stop it from
happening again
Go to page 8
…to know the
offender has been
Go to page 6
…to find out about
the crime or the
Go to page 10
…to not feel like a
victim anymore
Go to page 14
Do you have questions about what will happen if it doesn’t all go well? Maybe
they have been answered in this section.
…What if I start the process then change my mind? 17
…What if the offender won’t take part? 18
…What if I don’t want to meet the offender or they won’t meet me? 19
…What if the offender is denying the offence or part of the offence? 20
…What if the offender isn’t remorseful? 21
People were asked what advice they would give to others thinking about taking
part in restorative justice. Here is what they said about…
Deciding whether or not to take part 22
Managing your own expectations 23
Timing 23
Can it make you feel worse? 24
Dealing with other people’s reactions 24
Preparing for a meeting with the offender 25
What do
people say about...?
Many people turn to restorative justice in the hope that the process will be fair,
that they will be listened to, and that they will get the information they need.
Casey, who was sexually abused as
a child, said she appreciated having
the chance to tell someone what she
needed, and get help.
Philip, whose house
was burgled, said about
restorative justice:
If the criminal justice process has finished, you might feel completely satisfied with
the process and that you don’t have any outstanding issues. Some people feel,
however, that they didn’t have a chance to say what they wanted to, that they weren’t
listened to, or that they still have
unanswered questions – either
about the process, the outcome,
or maybe even about the crime
itself. Kaitlyn, who was raped by
someone she had thought of as
a friend, said:
To have
your say
‘Through the court process... I didn’t really
have any control over anything, I didn’t get
to say what I wanted to say… it seemed
like the barristers were just playing a game
with each other.’
‘Just someone to say “Look, I’m
gonna do my best for you to get
what you need”. People say that,
but their actions prove different
- but [the facilitator] seems to be
doing everything she can.’
‘It allowed me to look him in the eye and really
have a go – “you have made my life so much
more difficult because of your crappy choices”.’
Terri, whose father abused
her as a child, said she was
glad to have considered
restorative justice even
though she decided in the
end not to go ahead with
the actual meeting:
Restorative justice service providers do not force anyone to engage in the
process, including the offender. The main reason for this is that an offender who
is not there voluntarily is unlikely to behave in ways that are helpful for the victim.
However, some people feel that this is unfair
because the offender has the final say about
whether restorative justice goes ahead.
Rose, who was assaulted at knife point,
spoke about the offender’s decision not to
meet with her:
In Kaitlyn’s case, the offender also
effectively ‘had the last word’ about
whether there would be communication
between them. However, despite her
disappointment that her questions
would not be answered, she was
pleased she had been listened to and
taken seriously.
Overall, the people we interviewed tended to feel that they could achieve at least
some of their goals even when the offender refused to take part.
This is discussed further on page 18: ‘What if the offender won’t take part?’
‘Restorative justice is an option open for the
rest of my life if I wanted it. And, it’s nice that
I feel that I had control of all that. That I had
somebody who respected the way I felt, and
didn’t tell me I was stupid.’
‘I felt that he had the last
word... He has got his way,
he knew I wanted to do it,
but he’s chosen not to do it.’
‘I just felt like I had more say in
what was happening… rather than
somebody saying “right now you do
this”… When the facilitator came
she said “how do you feel about it?”
whereas no one had ever done that
- the police hadn’t done that, the
justice system had never done that.’
You may or may not feel the offender has been appropriately punished for the crime.
Even when the offender had been sent to prison, most of the people we interviewed
felt that the sentence wasn’t long enough. For some of them, a meeting with the
offender was an opportunity to see for themselves what the punishment was like.
Hannah, who was sexually
abused as a child, said:
Oliver said he was glad he met the man who
stabbed him because he got to hear about the
prison sentence.
Anger, and the desire to know that the offender has been punished, are natural
responses to wrongdoing. Taking part in restorative justice will not provide you
with a chance to physically hurt or insult the offender, because the facilitators
have to look out for the safety and wellbeing of all concerned. However, you will
be given the opportunity to tell them how you feel, and many of the people we
interviewed said that the meeting was a chance for them to express their anger.
Gemma met with the young man
who violently assaulted her son:
To know the offender has been
‘I needed to see [him in prison] because
I needed to see that I’ve put him there….
And I was able to walk out and go home.’
‘To know that he
wasn’t having the time
of his life in prison did
feel good for me.’
‘I thought he was going to start crying,
and that was the best bit for me. It
sounds evil, but that was the best bit.’
If seeing the offender punished is important to you, restorative justice may give
you the chance to hear about the way the offender has suffered as a result of the
crime and/or express your anger. Sometimes, though, it may be difficult to meet
this goal through restorative justice. Some people said that even after hearing in
person about the offender’s sentence, they were still unhappy with it. One person,
Faye, decided to meet with the man who had sexually abused her instead of going
to the police, in the hope of getting
justice. After the process, even though
she said the meeting had been good and
she was pleased with how it went, she
wasn’t sure if it had achieved ‘justice’
for her and gave this advice to others:
Faye wished that she had reported the crime to the police, but it is not right for
everyone. Even if you do report it, there is no guarantee that the case will go to court,
as the police may not have enough evidence to arrest the offender. Overall, the people
we interviewed said that being part of a criminal justice process was very hard,
sometimes even traumatic. Yet most of them also were pleased that some form of
justice had been done. Only you can make this difficult decision, but if you haven’t yet
decided whether to report the crime to the police, you may want to talk through your
options with your facilitator and/or one of the agencies listed on page 28.
Punishment was not important to some people, and a couple of people who said
they forgave the offender even wrote to the judge to ask for a lower sentence.
About 1 in 5 of the people we interviewed mentioned forgiveness, but most did
not mean that they wanted less punishment. On the contrary, more people forgave
the offender if they were satisfied with the sentence than if they were not satisfied
with the sentence. Forgiveness was instead a personal process of letting go of
their anger – a way to feel less of a victim (see page 14).
‘I’d say actually go to court
first. And then go to restorative
justice. So you’ve got justice.’
‘The worst thing [for the offender] is actually to tell them
face to face that you forgive them. Because that’s you
releasing their control, and they’ve got no control of that.’
stop it from happening again
It is never your responsibility to stop the crime from happening again. That is why we
have a criminal justice system, including the police, probation and prisons. Having said
that, many people want to do everything they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen
again - either to themselves, or to other people. Some people find restorative justice
can be a way to do this.
For some people it is a way for
them to feel safer – to hear that the
offender is not going to come after
them again. For example, Gemma,
who met with the young man who
assaulted her son, said:
Others wanted to know what the offender looks like now, to stop them fearing
everyone they see in the street. Sam, who was abused by her father, said that she
often had panic attacks, and didn’t go out of her house for fear that she would
bump into him. She felt that meeting him would stop her being afraid ‘because I’ll
know what he looks like now’.
Others saw restorative justice as a chance to
stop the offender doing it to other people. Razik,
whose savings were stolen from his house in
a burglary, said he was motivated to help the
burglar because of his Muslim faith.
Similarly Dorothy, whose son was
murdered, said she wanted the offender to
know she forgave him, so that he could go
on to live a good life.
‘I said “So you’re not going to come out
and go for [my son] again?” And he said
“No”… so I am quite relieved to hear
that. I just hope they keep their promise.’
‘I hope that one day he
could turn his life around
and think about other
people’s emotions.’
‘I can’t be angry with him. I’ve
forgiven him, and that’s that. And I
just pray that he makes something
of his life. And learns something.’
Kathy, who had been violently
assaulted, said that after her
meeting with the offender:
Some people wanted to meet the offender
to stop them from doing it again, but were
not convinced by the end of the process
that it would make much difference.
Despite his doubts, Philip still thought the process might have been a ‘helpful
thing to do’ because ‘I think it would be incredibly hard, if I was a criminal, to go
through this… Because I think it just personalises it much more.’
Lots of people want to know whether taking part in restorative justice will stop the
offender from doing it again. There is evidence that communication with victims
makes offenders more aware of the impact of their crime, and it can reduce the
frequency and severity of reoffending. However, it is not possible to know which
offenders will change, so there is no guarantee that a meeting with the victim will
stop any particular offender from committing crimes. Sometimes people assume it
helps most with minor crimes, but in fact there is evidence that restorative justice
makes a bigger difference to offenders who have committed serious, violent
crimes. If stopping the offender from committing further crimes is something
important to you, you may want to discuss this with your restorative justice
facilitator. You may also want to read more about it:
• A systematic review of the evidence (Strang et al., 2013) summarised by
the College of Policing:
• Home Office research (Shapland et al., 2008. Does restorative justice
affect reconviction?):
Summarised by Why Me?:
Summarised by the Restorative Justice Council: www.restorativejustice.
‘He sounded as if he had actually learned a
lesson… And I came away feeling hopeful.’
‘I didn’t feel that I’d completely
impacted in the way that I was
hoping... I didn’t feel [the offender’s
remorse] was absolutely genuine.’
To find out about the
crime or the offender
For many people, the choice to take part in restorative justice is about making sense of
what happened. Some people find themselves trying to replay events to work out what
really happened, whether it might
have been different, or how much
the offender intended to do what
they did. Replaying these questions
in your mind can be exhausting and
can affect your recovery from the
crime. Lisa, who was attacked by
her partner, said:
If the person who committed the crime was a friend or family member, the crime can
be even more confusing. Often the person affected by the crime is left desperate to
understand why someone they should have been able to trust would do such a thing.
Sadie, whose father raped her
sister and mother, was left
trying to understand who he
was as a person.
Some people describe the offender as a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ – someone who could be
loving and kind one minute, but violent and abusive the next. Restorative justice may
not be able to completely answer the questions, but it is an opportunity to find out –
who are they now? Is this someone I ever want to see again? Is it someone I can trust
in future? How do I feel about them being in prison?
‘I couldn’t sleep at night, because I’d be
thinking “What if that night we’d stayed
at our friends’ house?’ ... And I’d think -
just go to sleep! But the cogs in my head
were going round and round and round.’
‘I think about that a lot, who he really is, and
if he’s completely crazy and doesn’t have any
emotion, or he does have emotion he’s just ill...
So I want to figure him out a little bit.’
Barbara was violently attacked and
threatened by her son, but felt guilty
about having called the police.
Barbara described how hearing her
son apologise helped her deal with
her feelings of guilt and shame.
If you are trying to find out why the crime happened and who the offender really
is, there are lots of possible answers. Many people were surprised at what they
found out. Most were pleased to know one way or the other, even if it wasn’t what
they wanted to hear.
Kaitlyn was told by the facilitator
that the person who raped her
was still denying the offence,
despite having been convicted.
While this was disappointing, she
said that knowing something was
better than not knowing anything.
Sometimes, it is hard to make sense
of the crime when the offender can’t
explain it themselves. Michelle, who
was sexually abused, said:
‘The relief of the guilt [being] lifted - it
wasn’t me, it was you, cos I heard you
say it. It was absolutely amazing.’
‘I do feel a little bit more ready for him to
come out [of prison]. I’m not quite sure
why... I suppose because I know what he’s
still saying... So at least I know kind of
how the land lies now. So that’s helpful.’
‘I think a lot of the offenders, unless
they’ve had a lot of treatment, they
can’t articulate what they have done,
what led them to do what they did. I
never got that from my father’
‘The shame that I had, not only because
[my son] was in prison, but because it
was me, it was my fault he was there.’
Most people said their view of the offender did change when they met the
offender or received letters. There were three main ways it changed:
1. Less powerful than they thought: After a crime, the person who did it may
seem like a ‘monster’ – someone larger than life, big, scary and powerful. Often
seeing the person in the flesh reassures people that the offender is actually
more vulnerable, powerless or even physically smaller than they thought.
Mike who was physically and
emotionally controlled by the offender
for many years, said the restorative
justice meeting made him realise the
offender was not so powerful.
2. Less of a bad person: After a crime the person who did it may seem completely
evil – it seems impossible to believe there is any good in them at all. For some
people this can make the world seem
like a scary place, making it hard to trust
anyone. Some people found out through
meeting the offender that they had a
good side. Owen, whose house had been
burgled, said:
Dorothy said she found out that her son’s
murderer was not the angry young man she
assumed he would be, and she was pleased to
learn that he felt bad about what he had done.
Occasionally people continued to have contact
with the person who committed the offence, but
usually even seeing their good side didn’t mean
they wanted to rebuild a relationship. Rose, for
example, said:
‘In different circumstances he’d
just come across as a nice young
man… But he seemed to have
everything sort of set against
him from the day he was born.’
‘Now I know that I have been
talking to a person. And there
was no outburst, instead he
broke down. So he has feelings.’
‘I want to say something
along the lines of, I forgive
you for what you did, but I
don’t want to see you again.’
‘So instead of being a big man, he
was like a little man. You know, he had
nothing. I would say a broken man.’
3. Confirms the offender really is a bad person: Sometimes people find out
that the offender is not remorseful, or is more responsible for the crime than
they thought. Although this is not usually what people are hoping to hear,
sometimes it can help to stop people from blaming themselves or feeling
ashamed that they were taken advantage of.
Karen was robbed by a young man who had been
staying with her. After the crime, she wondered
how she had been so taken in by him.
Willow was raped by her older
ex-boyfriend. She wanted to meet
him to find out whether he was
remorseful. Her mother said:
‘It came back that he said no to restorative
justice. And that kind of changed her whole
world on it. She was quite angry at him for
that, and then after that she actually got
much better… She kind of took it as, well
he’s not very remorseful if he’s saying no.’
Willow’s mother
‘That was the real positive
thing about that meeting.
It confirmed that he was a
liar. Absolutely a liar.’
Do you want acknowledgement that the crime happened and it had an impact
on you? But at the same time you want to feel that you are not just a victim –
that you are a strong person who has overcome or is currently overcoming the
effects of what happened? If the
answer is yes to either or both of
these questions you are not alone.
Many people want both of these
things from a restorative justice
process, and sometimes there
is a tricky balance between the
two: For example, Sam, who was
abused by her father, said:
Most people said that it was very important to talk about the crime and its effects,
even though it was difficult to do. Barbara’s son had stolen from her and made
violent threats towards her. She felt that in order to move on from feeling like a
victim, she first needed her son to acknowledge that she was one.
To not feel like
a victim anymore
‘I want to show him that despite what
he’s done I have come out the other
side. I am still standing. Yes, I can’t take
a lot of painkillers because my body’s
so used to them. I’ve only just started
getting feeling back in my left arm after
12 years of cutting and everything. But,
you are who you are. You know your
own strength.’
‘I didn’t want to just go on a normal
visit, handshake, that’s it… I have been
a victim, and you were the person that
committed the crime. Regardless of
whether you’re my son.’
Hearing that the offender acknowledges what happened,
and listens to the effects of the crime, can make a big
difference for a lot of people. Michelle, for example, who
had been sexually abused by her father, said that what
she liked about the restorative justice process was that
she was believed by the facilitators and by her family.
After the meetings with her father, she said:
Many people wanted to show the offender that
they were strong, that they were the ones in
control now. People achieved this in a number
of different ways. Some didn’t want to focus
on the ways they had been hurt by the crime,
instead it was about facing their fear. Hannah,
who was sexually abused by her stepfather,
said that meeting him made her feel stronger.
For others it was about confirming that
they were not specifically targeted and not
to blame for the offence. Zoe, who was
attacked and left with serious injuries by
someone she had thought of as a friend,
had spent more than two years wondering
why it happened. After the meeting she said
she felt relieved…
Several people said that their way of moving
on was to forgive the offender. For example,
Kathy, who was attacked by someone she had
considered a friend, said that forgiving the
offender made her feel better.
‘I’m not afraid of him anymore…
I feel like that’s gone.’
‘[The abuse] left me even years
later still feeling quite weak. So I
needed to be able to look him in
the eye and see him in prison,
to be able to get my strength,
well my power back really.’
‘because I know it was nothing
that I did…it wasn’t because
it was specifically me, it could
have been anyone. It was just
time and place, circumstances.’
‘I’m not being totally
altruistic. If you don’t forgive,
bitterness will eat away at
you, and damage you.’
‘It is this feeling of
not being believed
that has haunted
me my whole life.’
Some people wanted the offender to see them
as more than just as a victim. Mona, who had
been burgled and had been quite scared for
a long time afterwards, said that she wanted
the offender to see her as a real person.
Many people pointed out that taking part in a restorative justice process is taking
a risk, because even though facilitators will assess the risk and make it safe for
everyone, no-one can really guarantee what the
offender will say or how it will go. Many people
also felt that it was precisely by taking a risk
that they could stop feeling like a victim. Taking
part tended to make people feel strong.
‘[I’m] proud of myself for
doing it, cos it’s not an
easy thing to do.’
‘To be brave around him and
not to run off for a change,
to be near him and not be so
scared of him.’
‘I think you have to be brave
full-stop to go through any of
this anyway.’
‘I want him to see me as a
human being. And I don’t want
him to see me as that laptop
or the bike that he picked or
the window that he smashed.’
Ideally, the person who committed the crime admits it, is remorseful, and is willing
to do whatever you want them to do to put things right. Sometimes, however, this
is not the case. Does that mean restorative justice is not for you? Here are some
of the things people said about how to get the most out of the process even when
it doesn’t go exactly to plan.
…what if I start the process then change my mind?
Sadie said the main thing she would want
other people to know is that you can
explore the possibility and if you decide
not to go ahead with it that’s up to you.
Zoe, who suffered serious injuries
from a violent attack, said:
Brenda said that she thinks
everyone should know that
you don’t have to pay for
restorative justice.
‘It’s helpful to know that I can
stop at any time. So I think I’d just
say, you know, you can stop at any
time… It’s not like you’re signing
up for it and that’s it.’
‘You can walk up to that door and think
“no, not for me, can’t do this” and turn
back around and go away. But until you
give it that chance you don’t know what
benefit it would give you in your life.’
‘You don’t have to pay! … Honestly, because
I’ve paid for counselling and bits and bobs,
it’s quite a lot of money… But tell people
restorative justice is nothing to be fearful of.
You are guided and helped so much.’
…what if the offender won’t take part?
Sometimes the offender wasn’t willing to take part in restorative justice, and this was
disappointing because the victim didn’t have the opportunity to ask questions, get an
apology or tell the offender about the impact of the crime. Most people said, however,
that they were still able to achieve at least some of their goals – either through the
restorative justice process or in some other way. If their main priority was ‘having their
say’, for example, some people felt
better after talking to the facilitator
or joining a campaign for victims’
rights. Casey said she felt more
confident because the decision
to try restorative justice had been
hers, even though it was not
possible in the end:
For those who wanted to make sure the offender had been punished, it was
sometimes possible to find out more about their sentence or licence conditions.
There may be some information that cannot be passed on because of
confidentiality, but your restorative justice facilitator will advise you on what is
feasible and who to ask.
People whose priority was to stop it from happening again sometimes found other
ways of doing this. To feel safer, they explored other ways of finding out what the
offender looks like, installed extra security measures, got safety advice from the
police, or got help from friends and family. To prevent future crime, people spoke
about their experience to other offenders (e.g. through a Youth Offending Team or
prison programme) or joined community safety organisations.
It was difficult to get answers to questions about the crime and the offender
without the offender’s involvement, but it was not impossible. Some people
took the offender’s non-cooperation as an answer to whether or not they were
remorseful. Others found out information about the crime through the Victim
Liaison Unit, the police, the CPS, a barrister, or a hospital where they got medical
treatment. It may be difficult to know who to approach for information, but your
restorative justice facilitator will be able to help you with this.
‘I feel that I’m more confident within myself
because I’ve gone through the necessary
channels, and I’ve tried my best. Yeah, I
would say that just knowing that I’m doing
what I can, has helped to bring me out.’
Finally, many people came up with their own ways to stop themselves from
feeling like a victim. Almost everyone said that it was useful to have another
source of support, whether it was from a
counsellor or therapist, a victim-survivor
organisation, or friends and family.
People mentioned that opening up to
others was difficult because it made
them feel vulnerable, but it was worth it:
Sometimes people needed help talking to someone else about the crime – their
family or friends, someone else who was with them at the time, their boss or
teacher, or someone who supported them. Restorative justice facilitators are
experts in having difficult conversations, so there may be ways they can help you.
People said that the most important thing was working out what their own
needs and priorities were, and then asking for help. To help you do this, you
may want to contact one of the organisations for victims and survivors listed
at the back of this booklet.
…what if I don’t want to meet the offender or they won’t meet me?
Sometimes, it was possible to communicate with the offender but not to meet
them directly. This happened for a number of different reasons (e.g. the victim or
offender didn’t want to meet, or the restorative justice service felt it would not be
safe for it to go ahead).
There were many different types of communication between the victim and the
offender. Sometimes, the facilitators got permission to pass on information – e.g.
if someone wanted to know what the offender thought now about the crime, or
about the sentence. In some cases people were relieved to hear that the offender
did not intend them any further harm.
Sometimes the victim wrote a letter to the offender, giving them a chance to get
things off their chest and have their say. Sometimes, the offender wrote to the
victim. The purpose of this was usually for the offender to answer questions.
‘Because I worked through it a
lot, I feel I got closure. Whereas if
I hadn’t, in a couple of years’ time
it might come back to haunt me.’
Sometimes, people wrote letters back and forth, giving both a chance to ask and
answer questions. Naomi, whose ex-boyfriend had distributed indecent images of
her, said:
Beatrice, who exchanged several letters
with the offender, said that this worked
well for her. She was able to say much
of what she wanted to say, and to hear
from the offender about what happened.
There were some things she was not able to achieve, however, and her advice to
others was that they think about the ‘chance that you will never get the answers
you need from that person.’ She advises everyone to make their own plan for
recovery, saying she had to ‘find some sort of resolution within it for myself, for
my sanity, for my future…I knew ultimately that it was me getting myself out of
bed every morning.’
…what if the offender is denying the offence or part of the offence?
Most of the time, if the offender denied the offence entirely, the people we
interviewed felt that there would be no benefit from meeting the offender.
Sometimes, however, even though they thought the offender might be lying, or not
taking full responsibility for what happened, they still felt that communicating with
the offender would be worthwhile. This was usually when they wanted to face the
offender in order to stop them from doing it again, or because they felt it would
help them to not feel like a victim anymore.
‘The restorative justice facilitator helped me draft a letter up and I wrote
down all the questions I had that I wanted to ask him in person. And he
wrote back, and it was hard to read it… but I was pleased that he’d written
back…and that he apologised that he was wrong. And it finally kind of
shut it down, that I was believed.’
‘It was really quite extraordinary
to read that he was suffering
because of [my daughter’s] death,
and what that said to me was that
it mattered, her life mattered.’
In order to make restorative justice successful when the offender is denying what
happened, it is important that they at least agree to listen to what you have to say.
The facilitator will explore their reasons for agreeing to meet with you, to check
they are not intending to say anything hurtful.
…what if the offender isn’t remorseful?
In general, if the offender is not remorseful it will be up to you whether you still
want to communicate with them. The facilitators will let you know in advance
what the offender is saying about the offence.
Some people only wanted to go ahead if
the offender was remorseful. Nita, who
experienced voyeurism, was dissatisfied with
the meeting even though he apologised:
Others felt that they could still get a lot out of the restorative justice process
even if the offender was not remorseful. In particular, people felt they could still
have their say, find out about the
offender, or stop feeling like a victim.
Some people achieved this by having
specific questions answered, facing
the offender, or telling the offender
about the impact of the crime.
Once again, people emphasised the need
for a support network outside of the
restorative justice process, and for people
to have their own ways of dealing with what
happened that didn’t rely on the offender.
‘He couldn’t look me in the eye,
and so it couldn’t convince me
that he was at all sorry.’
‘I really hope he’d say sorry. But that’s
the best possible outcome which
I don’t think will happen. But even
just by sending a letter, it would help
me… to be able to say how I feel.’
‘You need to have that
knowledge that whatever you do
or say [in the meeting with the
offender], you’re going to get up
and walk away from them, and
deal with it away from them.’
Everyone was asked what advice they would give to someone else who was
thinking about talking to or meeting the offender. Here are a few areas that people
suggested are good to think about when considering restorative justice. This
booklet can’t cover everything they said, but the most important thing is for you to
consider how you want to approach things.
How to decide about taking part
Some people said unreservedly
that they would recommend it
to everyone:
Most people answered that it was hard to give advice because it depends so much
on the person, on the crime, and on the circumstances. Most importantly, everyone
said that the decision should be entirely up to the person affected by the crime:
What do
people say about...?
‘I would say yes - definitely do it! …No
matter how hard it seems… You might find
that you get back more than you’re expecting
in the long term. You have to be heard.’
‘You’ve got to know what you want out of it, whether you want answers
or whether you just want to look him in the eye… It doesn’t make you
stronger or weaker for doing it or not doing it… Not everyone wants to
do it, some people think it’s insane! And it is, kind of! Why would you
want to go and see the person that’s done that to you?! But if you’ve
got to do it, you’ve got to do it.’
Managing your own expectations
Most people said that restorative justice had achieved some of the things they
wanted, but that keeping their expectations low was the best way to deal with
setbacks in the process. Casey wanted to meet with the offender but he refused.
Even so, she was able to achieve some of her goals; she said this was because
she had realistic expectations from the beginning.
Timing & Preparation
Dorothy said she wasn’t ready when
she was offered restorative justice two
years after her son’s murder, but she
was ready six years after that. Asked
what advice she would give others
about when to communicate with the
offender, she said:
The people we interviewed said they were pleased that the facilitators spent time
preparing them and the offender, so they could be confident that the restorative justice
process would go well. People met with the facilitators as many times as they needed
until they felt ready. For a number of reasons, the process often took a long time. Some
people said this was helpful, because it gave them time to get ready.
Owen, whose house had been burgled,
advised being prepared for it to take
longer than you might imagine. He was
very pleased with the process, but was
surprised it took so long.
‘Expect the best, but prepare
for the worst. … because it’s
the one bit of advice that has
helped me get through it.’
‘I think a tip would be - try and
be realistic. If you have problems
with your family before, this
won’t magically reset the button.’
‘Don’t force the issue. Because it
takes time. Because I had thought
about it much earlier on, and I
couldn’t. So it takes time. You have
to be ready in yourself, to take
that step. And move forward.’
‘The whole process is a bit long
winded… there seemed to be a series
of hiccups, like the offender getting
moved from one prison to another.’
Can it make you feel worse?
Many people said that the process itself was difficult, and a few people said they
felt angry or sad during or immediately after meeting the offender. However, no-
one we interviewed said that they felt worse long-term because of the restorative
justice process. On the contrary, nearly everyone said that it made them feel
better; some just a little bit better, others significantly so.
Most people said they got some of the things they wanted out of the restorative
justice process, but were not able to get some other things. For example, Brenda
met the man who sexually abused
her son. She was very satisfied
with the meeting and it resolved a
lot of her concerns. However, she
wanted others to know that it is
not a miracle cure that guarantees
you will feel better.
Dealing with other people’s reactions
Most people said that
they had a variety of
reactions from friends
and family.
‘I just feel like a different person. I feel like the me I would
have been if the crime had never happened… Cos I’ve gone
in there and dealt with it my way… It’s not for everyone but
for me it was the best thing I think I’ve ever done.’
‘It’s just that the situation is so sorrowful...
I’m glad I could say what I wanted to say.
It was all done calmly, no-one hit anyone
or anything like that, it was all very good.
But yet, inside I don’t feel much better.’
‘They’d all be different, it was funny! One person
would be like “What on earth are you doing, what
do you want to see him for?” Another person
would be like “Oh yeah, I suppose, to get a closure
and that, get some sort of ending.”
Willow, for example, had very different reactions from her parents. Her dad was
against it because he was worried that it would set her back, whereas her mum
understood the reasons she wanted to do it.
Most people found that there were some people they wanted to tell and others
they didn’t want to tell. Francis, who experienced a hate-motivated attack by a
large group, was worried that his friends wouldn’t understand why he wanted
to take part: ‘I don’t want people to be judgemental and think that I’ve lost my
marbles’. However, like others, he recommended that people choose at least one
person (as well as the facilitator) to support them through the process. In his case
he got valuable support from his alcohol and drugs worker.
Preparing for a meeting with the offender
Everyone had different ways to prepare for a meeting with the offender. There
is no right or wrong way, but here are a few things that people said they found
helpful. The most important thing is for you to think about what you personally
need, and ask for it. Do you need more information? More time? A visit to the
prison before the meeting? Someone else to come with you? Someone to wait for
you outside? Of course, in some cases the thing you want may not be possible,
but the facilitators will do their best to fit the process to your needs.
Most people recommended keeping a note of
what you want to say, or at least telling the
facilitators in advance so they can prompt
you. Karen said that in the time leading up
to the meeting:
‘It was really important for me to have control over
the meeting. And I went in there with three pages of
questions… Because you’re concentrating on not
breaking down, and keeping your hands still, and all
these things, you don’t want to have to concentrate
again on - or even think about - what you have to say.’
‘I wrote down every time I
thought of something, “Oh I’ll
say that to the offender when
I see him” - I jotted down.’
Hannah also suggested that
it may be useful to have
indirect communication
with the offender before
meeting them:
Some people wanted to take someone with
them into the meeting with the offender, others
didn’t. The choice is entirely yours.
A lot of people recommended that even if you don’t want someone to actually
attend with you, it is still a good idea to have someone drive you there or meet
you afterwards. Faye regretted that
she hadn’t arranged for someone
to support her on the day of the
meeting with the offender:
‘I asked the restorative justice facilitators to
ask him to write me a letter - because I wanted
to be able to gauge my reaction. I didn’t know
whether I was going to get really angry, or just
get really upset or what.’
‘I was offered if I wanted
to take anyone. But I didn’t
want to just in case it sort of
altered what I wanted to say.’
‘Get support around you… Just
somebody who’s going to drive you
there, be a part of the process, sit with
you afterwards, have a cup of coffee.’
We hope this booklet has given you the information you were looking for. It
includes a range of different people’s experiences, in particular, whether they
were able to reach their goals: to have their say, to know the offender has been
punished, to stop it from happening again, to find out about the crime or the
offender, or to not feel like a victim anymore. A lot of the people we interviewed
were able to achieve these goals when they met the offender, particularly when
they had a chance to ask the offender questions, receive an apology and tell the
offender about the impact of the crime. Some people were able to do this by
letter or through the facilitator. Yet others were able to reach these goals even
when it was not possible to communicate with the offender. In all three cases,
most people said they reached some, but not necessarily all of their goals.
Taking part in restorative justice is about having difficult conversations. We may
prefer not to have the conversation, and that is fine. We may want to have the
conversation but the other person might not agree. The conversation might be
painful. But just like the difficult conversations we have in everyday life, these
conversations are often worth a try, because they can make us feel better, more
in control, and allow us to move forward. And unlike an everyday conversation,
they are made easier by a controlled environment and experienced facilitators:
‘I had a lot I needed to say, and get to the bottom
of… because it is a very difficult conversation,
it’s really difficult. You want people who’ve done
it a lot… they know what they’re doing, and I
felt like I was in really good hands with them.’
For more information about restorative justice, you might also want to read:
- Restorative Justice Council (RJC)
Includes FAQs; ‘Introduction to RJ, is it for you?’ and case studies
- Thames Valley Restorative Justice Service (TVRJS): Information for Victims
- Victim Support RJ Guidance
- Why Me? Includes stories from victims of crime who have
taken part in RJ.
Other places you can get support and information if you have been a victim of crime:
- Victims First Provides support to victims of all crime
across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. You can search their
service directory for support in your local area (for victims of any type of crime)
- Victim Support guide to Coping with Crime
- Cruse Bereavement Care, if you have lost a loved one
- Government Support and Advice for Victims of Crime
- Code of Practice for Victims of Crime
- Rape Crisis Support and counselling for those
affected by rape and sexual abuse
- The Survivors Trust Support for all survivors of
rape or sexual abuse
- Women’s Aid Domestic Violence charity that helps
women and children
- Survivors UK Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support
Are you thinking about having contact with someone who committed
a crime against you? If so, this booklet is for you.
It is based on interviews with people who were victims and survivors of lots
of different types of crime. They describe why they wanted to communicate
with the offender, what they got out of it, and how they felt when things
didn’t go to plan. The people we interviewed wanted to talk about their
experiences to help other victims and survivors. Only you can make the
decision about whether restorative justice is right for you, and we hope that
the information in this booklet helps you decide.
The booklet was written by Diana Batchelor, based on research at the
University of Oxford in collaboration with Thames Valley Partnership, from
2015-2018. The project was made possible by the Thames Valley Restorative
Justice Service facilitators who worked closely with the interviewees, and
offered their support and expertise. Production of the booklet was sponsored
by the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner and the ESRC, with
help from Megan Davies and several Thames Valley Partnership associates.
Above all, many thanks go to the generous victims and survivors who were
willing to give their time, energy and advice, so that others can learn from
their experiences.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.