Victim Offender Mediation

Victim-Offender Mediation

What is Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM)?

Victim-Offender mediation is a type of mediation where it is determined prior to mediation that one party is clearly the victim, an innocent person against whom some wrong has been committed.  In such cases, the offender, or guilty party, has also been identified and has admitted to her wrong doing.  Unlike most mediation where some type of disagreement is generally involved, Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM) involves an opportunity for the offender to learn how his mistakes have affected the victim and work to find a solution to help correct the past.

How is VOM different from other common types of Mediation?

Mediation can include many types of conflicts: road disputes between neighbors, long-lasting disagreements between grown siblings or truancy cases at local schools. Any situation where two individuals are having a conflict they are unable to resolve on their own can generally be mediated, as long as both parties are willing to give it a try and each party feels free to speak and is willing to negotiate an agreement.

In most mediations the parties come with differing opinions about which person is at fault and how the issue should be resolved.  Generally each party feels he is justified in taking the stance he is taking.  Mediators are neutral and help the parties voice their concerns in a respectful manner, leading to an agreeable solution for all.  What makes VOM different is that it is decided ahead of the mediation process that one party is clearly the victim and the other the offender. The mediation process begins with this assumption as part of the dialogue.

Can VOM be used with youth?

Juvenile VOM is common and allows the offender to gain a better understanding of the consequences of her actions.  The process teaches problem-solving and decision making skills for situations in the future.  Many VOMs involve restitution, or a type of payment owed for damages, that the offender agrees would be fair to pay, to help compensate the victim.  In some cases this may be fairly straightforward; the youth that damaged the victim’s garden fence may end up repairing and painting it to restore it to its former state.  Solutions may be less direct, however.  In some cases, the victim and offender may decide that the damages done in the past would be better “repaired” through a learning experience or some other form of community service or volunteer project.  Perhaps the youth that was once in trouble decides instead that he would like to become a big brother at his local high school and help a younger child not make the same mistakes he has made.

How can this type of mediation help the victim?

In Restorative Justice, the field of thought and practice from which VOM originates, the emphasis is on learning from the past and moving into the future with new hope and closure.  For the victim this form of mediation can be helpful.

Victims often attend court and stand before a judge to bring charges or to be a witness to the actions of the offender.  Within the justice system there is an adversarial relationship encouraged where one party is trying to prove that the other is guilty and needs punishment.  Often, the victim does not get to actually learn or understand why the offender chose to act in the manner he did.  It is a system that keeps the two parties separated and responding to questions within the confines of the justice system.  Neither side is given ample time to thoughtfully consider and share the choices made in the incident and consider the ways those choices hurt the victim.??

This is the role of Victim-Offender Mediation.  In this setting both parties are given time to listen to one another and hear how the choices of one party affected the life of another.  Using VOM with youth, many programs work with the offender prior to mediation, helping her think through her actions and brainstorm possible consequences those actions may have had on the other party.  This process helps build awareness before the official mediation process begins, and helps make the mediation session more productive.  It helps the offender give some important questions some thought: “how did my actions affect another?”, “why did I make this choice and what other alternatives could I chose in the future?” or “what are some ideas I have that could help show the other party that I am sorry for my actions and would like to take responsibility for my actions?”

VOM: Making National Headlines!

While many local mediation centers have been offering these and other types of mediation services for years, a similar technique for restorative justice is now making national headlines!  Newsweek Magazine recently featured a story about a circle process learned from the Maori people of New Zealand, where juvenile offenders listen to the affects their actions have had on those involved and work together toward a written agreement.  This technique is being used in several cities across the United States.  Below is a link to a website where a copy of the article by Lauren Abramson in the September 19, 2011 edition of Newsweek can be found:  http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-266761809.html

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