Victim-offender mediation (VOM) is the most common form of restorative justice used in violent crime cases and in cases involving adult perpetrators. Sometimes referred to as "victim-offender dialogue" or "victim-offender conferencing," VOM generally involves an in-person meeting between victims and offenders so that they can talk about the impacts of the crimes on their lives, providing victims and offenders with a sense of healing and justice that might not have been possible otherwise.
VOM is conducted under the close supervision of a trained mediator. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the three most important tasks of the mediator are, in order of significance:
- facilitating a dialogue between the victim and offender;
- making the parties feel comfortable and safe; and
- assisting the parties in negotiating a mutually acceptable plan for restitution for the victim.1
|It is becoming increasingly clear that the victim-offender mediation process can serve to humanize the criminal justice experience for both the victim and the offender. It holds offenders directly accountable to the people they have victimized, allows for more active involvement of crime victims and community members (as volunteer mediators and support persons) in the justice process, and reduces further criminal behavior of offenders.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Guidelines for Victim-Sensitive Victim-Offender Mediation: Restorative Justice Through Dialogue (April 2000)
It is important to note, however, that victim-offender mediation in the aftermath of violent crime normally does not involve a sense of "negotiation" or "mutuality." Rather, survivors often find their sense of reparation and healing through the offenders' newly acquired personal understanding of and accountability for the crimes they committed.
The potential for VOM to foster justice and healing is enormous. However, it is important to understand that there are potentially very serious risks for victim re-traumatization and that the goals of one VOM program may differ significantly from another. For example, some programs operate on the premise that healing and justice for victims and offenders are of more-or-less equal importance, while others maintain that the needs of victims are supreme, no matter the circumstances and even at the expense of offenders' healing, if necessary. When considering VOM, victims should consider discussing their individual needs, goals, and concerns with any potential mediator.
Like many restorative justice programs, VOM takes place only after the offender is convicted, and many programs do not accept cases when offenders are in the midst of an appeals process. VOM takes place outside the jurisdiction of the courts and typically has little, if any, effect on the judicial process (e.g. post-incarceration parole or probation determinations, sentencing guidelines, etc.). Instead, VOM is simply an option available for victims seeking a more personal sense of justice which might also facilitate healing.
Directory of Victim-Offender Mediation Programs in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice
Victim-Offender Mediation Association
- U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Survey of Victim-Offender Mediation Programs in the United States (April 2000)