How Much Say Do Victims Really Have in Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice, a system focused on reconciliation and healing, aims to repair the harm caused by criminal offenses. Central to this approach is the involvement of victims in the justice process. The extent to which victims genuinely influence the restorative justice process remains a critical question. This article explores the role of victims in restorative justice, emphasizing the necessity of prioritizing their voices and noting that the expansion of the restorative justice movement has been largely led by crime victims who have experienced and thrived because of it.

Understanding Victim Participation in Restorative Justice

Good restorative justice prioritizes empowering victims by allowing them to express their feelings, ask questions, and participate in decisions that directly affect them. The core principle is to prioritize the victim’s needs and desires, ensuring their voice is heard and valued throughout the process. Many victims who have thrived through restorative justice have become strong advocates, driving the movement forward.

Case Study: A Victim’s Journey Through Restorative Justice

Consider the case of Sarah, a survivor of a violent assault. Engaging in a restorative justice process, Sarah had the opportunity to meet her offender, Mark. Through facilitated dialogue, Sarah expressed her pain and anger, and Mark, in turn, acknowledged his actions. The experience allowed Sarah to find closure, demonstrating the potential power of victim involvement in restorative justice when their voices are given prominence. Sarah’s positive outcome led her to become an advocate for restorative justice, sharing her story to inspire others.

Thought Leaders and Their Insights

In the realm of restorative justice, renowned thought leaders like Susan Herman and Kathleen Daly have emphasized the importance of empowering victims. Herman, in her book “Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime,” advocates for a balanced approach, ensuring that victims have an active role while maintaining the offender’s accountability. Daly’s research highlights the transformative potential of victim participation, both for individuals and communities, fostering empathy and understanding. Both emphasize that the voices of victims should not only be included but prioritized. Many of these leaders have been inspired by the experiences of victims who have thrived through restorative justice.

Historical Context: Victims’ Rights Movement

The Victims’ Rights Movement, which gained momentum in the late 20th century, played a pivotal role in shaping the involvement of victims in justice processes. Laws and policies were enacted to guarantee victims’ rights, emphasizing their participation in trials and hearings. While this movement marked significant progress, it also raised questions about the depth of victim involvement in restorative justice, beyond mere legal proceedings. The movement underscored the importance of prioritizing the victim’s voice in any justice process. Many victims who found empowerment through restorative justice have continued to champion these rights, further driving the movement.

Contemporary Insights: Challenges and Opportunities

In contemporary restorative justice practices, challenges persist. Victims often face emotional hurdles and might feel pressured to conform to societal expectations of forgiveness. Furthermore, power dynamics can sometimes overshadow the victim’s true agency. However, initiatives such as victim-offender dialogue training and victim support services are providing vital resources, ensuring victims are informed, supported, and able to make genuine choices about their participation. These initiatives are crucial for prioritizing the victim’s voice. The advocacy of victims who have thrived in these processes continues to shape and expand these supportive measures.

The Academic Perspective: Navigating Victim Empowerment

From an academic standpoint, understanding the nuanced dynamics of victim empowerment in restorative justice is crucial. Research must delve into the psychological, social, and cultural factors that influence a victim’s ability to engage meaningfully. Moreover, scholars should explore ways to balance victim participation with the need for offender accountability, ensuring that restorative justice processes remain fair and just, with a clear emphasis on prioritizing the voices of victims. The contributions of victims who have successfully navigated restorative justice are invaluable in informing this research.


Victims play a pivotal role in restorative justice, offering the potential for healing and closure. The extent of their influence in the process remains multifaceted, influenced by historical, social, and psychological factors. Thought leaders like Herman and Daly offer valuable insights, emphasizing the need for balanced victim empowerment and offender accountability.

The contemporary landscape sees ongoing efforts to support victims through training and services as essential. From an academic perspective, rigorous research is imperative, shedding light on the complexities of victim participation and guiding the evolution of restorative justice practices. By acknowledging these challenges and opportunities, societies can strive towards a restorative justice framework that truly empowers victims, fostering genuine healing and reconciliation, and creating a justice system that is both empathetic and just. The expansion of the restorative justice movement, led by victims who have been positively transformed through the process, highlights the enduring value of the voices of those most affected.