Does Restorative Justice Mean Forgiveness?
This is a pretty controversial topic: forgiveness and restorative justice. Do all crime victims who support restorative justice therefore forgive? Does one come then the other? I don’t think so. I know many victims of violent crime who have forgiven. Many of their stories are here at RJI (see victims stories) and many stories I have told through Restorative Justice Online (www.rjonline.org: see the blog and look for my blog posts under Lisa Rea). What is problematic to me is when advocates, experts, volunteers in the restorative justice field (or prison reform field) “expect” victims to forgive or worse they “urge” victims to forgive. To me, it is a journey that only the victim can make. Forgiveness can flow out of participating in a victim offender dialogue (i.e. a restorative justice meeting) but we cannot assume it will. It is rather presumptious for anyone to expect a victim of violent crime to forgive the offender. It’s wonderful when it happens but it is not a necessary outcome of restorative justice.
It is very important that all crime victims feel they can explore restorative justice and find the value it provides them if they choose to participate. Experiencing restorative justice can mean participating in a victim offender dialogue but it can mean other things as well. Restitution is certainly an important part of restorative justice. RJI believes restitution is a key ingredient in paying back the victim or restoring the victim, as much as possible. The offender should pay that restitution directly if at all possible, even if the process takes a long period of time. However, no victim of crime should turn away from what restorative justice could offer them because he/she has not forgiven the offender. There should be no blaming of the victim here. But at the same time, it is important to tell the stories of victims. Many of those stories include stories of grace—stories of forgiveness. I also think crime victims can benefit from hearing these stories. All crime victims want to know they are not alone. When they hear the stories of other victims of violent crime who benefitted from restorative justice then they are more likely to explore it as well. Healing can come through restorative justice processes. That healing, on whatever level, and empowerment is available for all victims who choose restorative justice for themselves.