You leave work and approach your car. Someone has tried to break in. You look around, but see no one. You feel angry and frustrated by the damage and inconvenience this will cause. You feel violated. Who was the person who did this? Why did he or she do it?
If someone has vandalized your vehicle you may feel better if you can hold that person accountable yourself rather than allowing a judge to order a fine or jail time. In a restorative encounter with the perpetrator, you would be able to explain the inconvenience and talk about any sense of violation you have experienced. Through a Restorative Justice (RJ) process you have a say in how the offender will provide restitution to you.
This is a most basic example explaining why someone who has been harmed (a victim) may want an encounter with the person who did the damage (the offender). But there is much more to this ‘attraction’ of victims to offenders.
Victims may lose trust in others or even trust in humanity. A potentially deeper benefit of the encounter is the restoration of worldview and sense of trust. Such restoration often occurs from learning about the circumstances of the offender’s life, or hearing an expression of remorse from the offender.
In one process I facilitated with a colleague in Victoria, BC, a family was severely impacted by the death of an adult sibling. We spent about 30 hours meeting and speaking separately with the offender and with the family in order to prepare them to meet each other. The encounter itself lasted a day-and-a-half. In this family, one of five adult siblings died from medical complications following a motor vehicle accident. The offender, who had run a red light while being distracted by her cell phone use, struck him on his scooter.
Paul, one of the surviving siblings, said that meeting the driver allowed the family to know who they were dealing with and begin to collaborate on planning actions steps for a satisfactory outcome. The family didn’t think jail time was going to convey the magnitude of their loss. They wanted to be able to tell the driver in person how they felt. They also wanted the driver to take actions that would prevent others from using their cell phones while driving. One of many requests the family had for the driver was for her to work with them on public education engagements on this issue.
The siblings of the deceased were able to satisfy two common needs that harmed people have. They were able to have a personal impact on the person who had affected their lives in such a personal way. They were also able to transform elements of a painful experience into a positive contribution to society.
Even in circumstances where the offender expresses limited remorse, victims may want to meet him or her. They want more information about why they were hurt and what circumstances led the offender to act as she or he did. Victims can become almost obsessed with the offender and the need to meet him or her in order to let go and move ahead in their lives.
The meeting may also be an opportunity to receive an apology in person. It is sometimes the time when forgiveness begins.
There are also potentially deep levels of connection that can occur in some meetings of offenders and victims. Since both parties have been impacted personally, they may experience a very personal connection. In sharing the events and perspectives from both sides they are able to create a more whole and complete meaning. The pain from each side is consoled through knowing the pain of the other side. Their encounter in the RJ meeting allows them to find connection and support a healing process.
The fabric of human relationships is complex. When harm occurs it is like a tear in the social fabric. Facilitated encounters between well-intended victims and offenders allow repairs of those tears. I view the attraction of victims to offenders as a natural urge towards personal and social healing.