Victim-offender mediation (VOM) is an alternative dispute resolution process that brings victims and offenders of crimes together in a secure and private environment to discuss the offense, its aftermath, and come to an agreement on how to move forward. The goal of VOM is to hold offenders directly accountable for their actions while empowering victims and addressing the harm done in a way that promotes healing and closure.
Case studies of Victim-Offender Mediation
A case occurred in 2005 in Portland, Oregon involving a victim and offender who had been strangers prior to the crime. The 17-year-old male offender had broken into the home of the female victim and stolen numerous items. During the burglary, the victim arrived home unexpectedly and was greatly frightened by the encounter. Both parties opted to participate in a VOM program. In the mediation session, the victim was able to directly express to the offender the emotional and psychological impact of the crime, including feelings of being violated and losing a sense of safety in her own home. The offender took full responsibility, sincerely apologized, and agreed to pay restitution. Surveys after the mediation found the victim’s levels of anxiety and fear had been significantly reduced. She reported feeling empowered by the process and believed the offender understood the human impact of his actions. The offender stated meeting the victim face-to-face helped him recognize she was “not just another number” and influenced him to make better choices going forward. No further crimes were committed.
In 2010, a 21-year-old male college student was arrested for assaulting another student during an alcohol-fueled dormitory party altercation at their campus in Massachusetts. Rather than traditional court prosecution, both parties chose to participate in a VOM program facilitated by the school. During mediation, the victim was able to explain how the incident had affected his sense of safety on campus as well as performance in his studies. The offender took full responsibility and offered a sincere apology, saying he had not realized how his actions damaged others. An agreement was reached where the offender would undergo an alcohol treatment program, perform community service, and have permanent marks on his school record. Five years later, interviews found the victim had graduated and felt a sense of closure from the process. The offender had successfully completed his degree, remained sober, and was employed. He reported the mediation experience helped motivate his reform and he committed no further offenses. The school believed VOM achieved accountability and rehabilitation better than harsher punitive measures.
Here are some of the thought leaders and theorists who have helped develop and advance the concept of Victim-Offender Mediation
- Howard Zehr – Called the “Grandfather of Restorative Justice,” Zehr’s seminal work in the 1970s first proposed mediation between victim and offender as an alternative to punitive criminal justice approaches. He emphasized repairing harm over doling out pain.
- Harry Mika – A professor of criminal justice, Mika conducted some of the earliest research evaluating VOM programs in Indiana and Ontario in the 1980s. His findings on high victim satisfaction and reduced recidivism rates helped legitimize the process.
- Mark Umbreit – A social work professor, Umbreit established one of the first university-affiliated mediation centers in the U.S. in 1984. Through empirical studies, he demonstrated VOM’s ability to boost victim healing and offender accountability compared to traditional courts.
- Lode Walgrave – A Belgium criminologist, Walgrave helped develop theories underpinning “reintegrative shaming” used in restorative justice practices like VOM. He viewed punitive shaming as counterproductive versus restoring dignity.
- Gabrielle Maxwell – An Australian mediation expert, Maxwell has advocated bringing restorative principles to domestic violence cases through strictly regulated processes focused on victim empowerment and safety above all.
- Jennifer Llewellyn – A leading legal theorist based in Canada, Llewellyn argues that for VOM to succeed, mediators must uphold social justice and human rights norms for all parties involved in restorative dialogues.
Contemporary insights about Victim-Offender Mediation
- There is ongoing debate around expanding the role of VOM to increasingly serious or sensitive case types, such as domestic violence situations. Proponents argue it can be applied safely with proper protocols, while critics say mediation may not be appropriate in cases involving intimate partner abuse due to power imbalances. This remains an active discussion point in the field.
- Recent research has explored the factors that correlate with and predict the success of VOM programs. Studies have found well-trained mediators, thorough screening processes, voluntary participation on both sides, and discussions focusing on accountability over legal outcomes tend to produce higher victim satisfaction and lower recidivism rates.
- With some VOM schemes being integrated directly into mainstream court diversion programs; questions have arisen around Mission Drift – the possibility that restorative priorities around healing and reconciliation could become obscured by a growing focus on efficiency and throughput. Care must be taken to preserve the integrity of underlying restorative principles.
- Related to this, scholars’ debate whether VOM and restorative justice work best as a supplemental process alongside traditional court interventions, or whether they could/should replace retributive models entirely given the right safeguards. Most experts still favor an integrated, multi-tiered approach for maximum benefit.
- There are calls to extend mediation approaches upstream, for example facilitating restorative discussions post-arrest but prior to formal court processing. Proponents argue this could potentially achieve even higher repair and deterrent effects by intervening earlier in the justice cycle.
Victim-offender mediation has established itself as a valid alternative dispute resolution process with demonstrable benefits when applied appropriately. Compared to traditional criminal justice systems focused solely on punishment, VOM programs anchored in restorative principles have been shown to better serve the multidimensional needs of victims seeking resolution and accountability, as well as offenders attempting to make amends and reduce reoffending behavior.