Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM)
What is Victim Offender Mediation?
Victim Offender Mediation is a face-to-face meeting, in the presence of a trained mediator, between the victim of a crime and the person who committed that crime. The practice is also called victim-offender dialogue, victim-offender conferencing, victim-offender reconciliation, or restorative justice dialogue. In some practices, the victim and the offender are joined by family and community members or others.
In the meeting, the offender and the victim can talk to each other about what happened, the effects of the crime on their lives, and their feelings about it. They may choose to create a mutually agreeable plan to repair any damages that occurred as a result of the crime.
Victim Offender Mediation is a form of restorative justice, and is VOM programs are sometimes called Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programs.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is a systematic response to wrongdoing that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders and communities caused or revealed by the criminal behavior.
Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:
- identifying and taking steps to repair harm,
- involving all stakeholders, and
- transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.
Some of the programs and outcomes typically identified with restorative justice include:
? Victim offender mediation
? Victim assistance
? Ex-offender assistance
? Community service
Three principles form the foundation for restorative justice:
- Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured.
- Those most directly involved and affected by crime should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response if they wish.
- Government's role is to preserve a just public order, and the community's is to build and maintain a just peace.
Restorative programs are characterized by four key values:
Encounter: Create opportunities for victims, offenders and community members who want to do so to meet to discuss the crime and its aftermath
Amends: Expect offenders to take steps to repair the harm they have caused
Reintegration: Seek to restore victims and offenders as whole, contributing members of society
Inclusion: Provide opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific crime to participate in its resolution
What are the origins of Victim Offender Mediation?
The idea of bringing together a victim of a crime and the person who committed that crime is based on age-old values of justice, accountability, and restoration.
The first Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (referred to here as VOM) began as an experiment in Kitchener, Ontario in the early 1970's when a youth probation officer convinced a judge that two youths convicted of vandalism should meet the victims of their crimes. After the meetings, the judge ordered the two youths to pay restitution to those victims as a condition of probation. Thus, VOM began as a probation-based/post-conviction sentencing alternative inspired by a probation officer's belief that victim-offender meetings could be helpful to both parties.
The Kitchener experiment evolved into an organized victim-offender reconciliation program funded by church donations and government grants with the support of various community groups. Following several other Canadian initiatives, the first United States program was launched in Elkhart, Indiana in 1978. From there it has spread throughout the United States and Europe. It has been estimated that 400 VOM programs exist in the U.S. alone, and similar numbers in Europe. While VOM was not initially viewed as a reform of the criminal justice system, those involved in it soon realized that it raised those possibilities and began using the term restorative justice to describe its individualized and relational elements.
In 1990, there were approximately 150 VOM programs; in 2000, there were more than 1200 programs world-wide.
Who Benefits from VOM?
Through this process, crime victims have an opportunity to get answers to their questions about the crime and the person who committed it. They take an active role in getting their material and emotional needs met. Research indicates that victims who participate in VOM receive more restitution than those who do not and feel safer and less fearful afterwards than those who do not.
Offenders have an opportunity to take responsibility for what they have done. They learn the impact of their actions on others. They take an active role in making things right, for example, through restitution, apology, or community service. Research indicates that offenders who participate in VOM feel they were treated more fairly than those who do not, and have a higher rate of restitution completion than those who do not.
A victim offender mediation will give the victim of a crime the opportunity to:
- tell the offender how the crime has affected them
- ask questions to which only the offender could give answers
- receive an apology
- discuss how the offender can repay any losses
- feel that they have a role within the process of justice
- discuss how the offender can compensate society back for the crime
- discuss what is going to reduce the likelihood of the offender re-offending.
For the offender, mediation can play a vital role in giving him or her an awareness of what they have done, and a motivation not to re-offend. This in turn can give the victim a sense that something positive has come from their distress.
Mediation also offers the offender a chance to:
- tell the victim why the crime was committed
- offer an apology
- take responsibility to make things right
- paying the victim back for their losses
- take responsibility for actions
- express a wish to be seen as more than just the perpetrator of a series of criminal acts.
Victim offender mediation focuses upon repairing harm, an approach that is often referred to as 'reparation'. Reparation can take many forms. It may be financial, or require the offender to work on community projects that the victim values, for example. Above all, victim offender mediation offers a unique opportunity for emotional repair.
Research has found high levels of participant satisfaction in victim-offender mediation, conferencing, and circles.
Elements of VOM
A basic case management process in North America and in Europe typically involves four phases: case referral and intake, preparation for mediation, the mediation itself and any follow up necessary (e.g., enforcement of restitution agreement). Often, a case is referred to VOM after a conviction or formal admission of guilt in court; but, some cases are diverted prior to such a disposition in an attempt to avoid prosecution.
The mediator then contacts the victim and offender to make sure that both are appropriate for mediation. In particular, the mediator seeks assurances that both are psychologically capable of making the mediation a constructive experience, that the victim will not be further harmed by the meeting with the offender, and that both understand that participation is voluntary.
The parties then meet to identify the injustice, rectify the harm (to make things right or restore equity), and to establish payment/monitoring schedules. Both parties present their version of the events leading up to and the circumstances surrounding the crime. The victim has a chance to speak about the personal dimensions of victimization and loss, while the offender has a chance to express remorse and to explain circumstances surrounding his/her behavior. Then the parties agree on the particular nature and extent of the harm caused by the crime in order to identify the acts necessary to repair the injury to the victim. The terms of the agreed reparation (e.g., restitution, in-kind services, etc.) are reduced to writing, along with payment and monitoring schedules.
About the Victim Offender Mediation Association (VOMA)
VOMA (the Victim Offender Mediation Association) developed out of an informal network of practitioners, researchers, and theorists in victim-offender mediation and restorative justice in the early 1980s. Originally called the U.S. Association for Victim-Offender Mediation, the organization became VOMA in 1997. There are currently 350 VOMA members (individuals) and 30 agency members, in 40 states and 7 countries. We are an international organization.
Since 1990, the number of victim-offender mediation programs around the world has increased eightfold, to more than 1200. The exponential growth in this field ? and its influence on criminal justice systems ? has created a pressing need for professional support and continuing education for those who put restorative justice into action. For over 18 years, VOMA has provided leadership in promoting and providing best practices, ethical guidelines, and peer support.
Learn more about Victim Offender Mediation
VOMA?s restorative justice bibliography
Restorative Justice Online (a service of the PFI Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, www.pficjr.org)
Victim Offender mediation page: http://www.restorativejustice.org/rj3/Introduction-Definition/Tutorial/Victim_offender_mediation.htm
Links to restorative justice sites: http://www.restorativejustice.org/rj3/web_tour_default.htm
The Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) Information and Resource Center
Guidelines for Victim-Sensitive Victim-Offender Mediation: Restorative Justice Through Dialogue
Mark S. Umbreit, Ph.D., Director, and Jean Greenwood, M.Div., Former Training Coordinator, Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking (formerly Center for Restorative Justice & Mediation) at the School of Social Work, University of Minnesota. 2000.
European Forum for Victim-Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice
?Victim-Offender Mediation Programs: An Exploration of Practice and Theoretical Frameworks?
Gehm, John R. 1998. Western Criminology Review 1 (1).
?Restorative Justice Through Victim-Offender Mediation: A Multi-Site Assessment?
Umbreit, Mark S. 1998. Western Criminology Review 1 (1).
Case study: victim-offender mediation
Mediation UK website