Victim-Offender Mediation and Victim s Restoration: A Victimological Study in the Context of Restorative Justice
Katholieke Univesiteit Leuven
In addition to suffering the consequences of the crime, victims are at times exposed to criminal procedures that, instead of contributing to their well-being, increase their suffering. This happens when criminal justice officials treat them with scepticism or when they feel excluded from the criminal proceedings and subsequently marginalised. In the last decades, as a response to concerns manifested by scholars, practitioners and victims themselves, international instruments such as the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principies of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (1985) have served as impulses for creating new provisions (such as victim impact statements or state compensation), oriented not only to improving the situation of the victim within the criminal justice system but also to improving the state response to victims' needs. Unfortunately, and despite good intentions, it has been argued that these instruments have not led to substantial improvements or have created new ways of segregation (see, e.g. Edwards, 2004; Sanders, 2002). Parallel to these initiatives, a new way to conceive "crime" started to emerge. In the 1970's, a Canadian judge proposed two young offenders to meet their victims and to collectively discuss how to repair their losses. At that time, there was no name for the procedure that was about to start (Umbreit et al., 2003). In the same years, a Norwegian criminologist published a controversia! article in which he claimed that the state, through the criminal justice system, had stolen the "crime" from the real owners: the victim and the offender (Christie, 1977). This way, restorative justice started to appear as a new approach that, by conceptualising the notion of "crime" differently, al so re-conceptualised the role of both victims and offenders in the solution of their conflict. Since the beginning restorative justice (RJ) has been understood as an approach that has the potential to address different aspects related to the aftermath of crime. In the particular case of victims of crime, restorative justice appeared to be a promising alternative that could resolve the limitations that other initiatives, coming from inside the criminal justice system, were not able to resolve. Achilles and Zehr describe RJ as "[p]erhaps the boldest initiative to address the roles of victims in justice within the modern era ( ... ). Arguing that the definition of justice underlying the western legal system is itself flawed, restorative justice seeks to refocus the conception of and approach to justice to one in which harm to victims is central to the definition of, and response to, crime" (Achilles and Zehr, 2001, p. 87). The current dissertation focuses on victims and restorative justice, that is, on the extent to which RJ indeed contributes to achieving the task that is at the centre of Introduction its intervention: to restare victims' harms. In order to contextualise the current research, a synthesis of the antecedents that motivated this research topic as well as the main characteristic of the study will be presented in the following paragraphs.