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Growth of Victim-Offender Mediation

A growing number of communities in North America and Europe now provide opportunities for victims of certain crimes and their offenders to meet face-to-face to talk about the crime, to express their concerns, and to work out a restitution plan. In the late 1970s, only a handful of VOM and reconciliation programs existed. Today, more than 1,000 programs operate throughout North America (N=315) and Europe (N=707) (see table 1). Although many VOM programs are administered by private, community-based agencies, an increasing number of probation departments are developing such programs, usually in conjunction with trained community volunteers who serve as mediators. Victim services agencies are beginning to sponsor VOM programs as well.

Table 1 Many thousands of property-related offenses and minor assaults, involving both juveniles and adults, have been mediated during the two decades since the first Victim Offender Reconciliation Project was initiated in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, in 1974, and replicated in the United States in Elkart, Indiana, in 1978. Some victim-offender mediation programs continue to receive only a relatively small number of case referrals. Many others consistently receive several hundred referrals each year. Some of the more developed programs receive more than a thousand referrals per year. During the past several years, two specific community-based programs in the United States (in Orange County, California, and Portland, Oregon) have received county grants of up to $300,000 to divert 1,000 or more juvenile cases from the overcrowded court systems.

Perhaps the clearest expression of how the field has developed and been recognized for its work is seen in the 1994 endorsement of VOM by the American Bar Association (ABA). After many years of supporting civil court mediation, with limited interest in criminal mediation, the ABA now endorses the process and recommends the use of "victim-offender mediation and dialogue" in courts throughout the United States.

The manner in which the ABA endorsed victim-offender mediation reflects the concerns of many victim service providers that victim-sensitive language be increasingly used in the mediation process. The ABA was initially challenged by a number of its members to consider endorsing "victim-offender reconciliation programs." The victim caucus on the ABA subcommittee examining this issue could not accept the term "reconciliation," because it seemed to diminish the legitimate anger that most crime victims experience. The term "reconciliation" might also suggest to victims that they are expected to forgive the offender, even though they may not be ready to do so. The phrase "victim-offender mediation" was later inserted into the ABA debate, as it emphasized the process rather than the expected outcome of mediation. For many, this seemed far more acceptable. The resolution to endorse the field, however, occurred only after the victim caucus recommended the use of the phrase "victim-offender mediation and dialogue" to clearly distinguish this type of mediation from the more settlement-driven civil court mediation, in which both parties are considered disputants and are encouraged to compromise in finding an acceptable agreement. It was the intention of the ABA victim caucus to clearly state that the losses experienced by victims are not open to negotiation, even though the manner in which those losses are restored can be negotiated. The caucus also wanted to ensure that issues of guilt or innocence would not be open to debate.

The discussions within the ABA mirror discussions that have occurred frequently throughout the country over the past 10 years within the VOM field. As a result, a number of programs that formerly identified themselves as VORPs (victim-offender reconciliation programs) have changed their program name to incorporate the new terminology, such as victim-offender mediation programs, mediation services for victims and offenders, victim-offender meetings, or victim-offender conferences. Regardless of how they identify themselves, the majority of programs express a concern for victim sensitivity and appear to value the importance of genuine expressions of remorse, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

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National Survey of Victim-Offender
Mediation Programs in the United States
April 2000
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