Crime Victims’ Experiences of Restorative Justice: A Listening Project

Needs and experiences in restorative justice

Listening session participants were asked to describe the nature of their experience with restorative justice, what motivated them to seek these options, and to highlight both positive and negative aspects of that experience. Following is a summary of the major themes drawn from these discussions. While these themes are categorized for the sake of reporting, it must be acknowledged that in fact many of the needs articulated by participants were overlapping or even interdependent in a given individual’s experience. For example, an individual’s need for “information” may be vitally connected to his/her experience of “recovery,” yet these topics are discussed separately here for the purpose of clarity and readability. Similarly, an individual’s experience of “support” may be intimately linked with receiving “validation.” The following themes are not ranked in importance or prevalence.

Information

Victims’ need for information was a dominant and overarching theme in the Listening Project. Many participants became interested in restorative justice, even if initially reluctant, because of a desire for information and answers to questions. For example, they had questions about:

  • The person responsible for the crime: This included such information as his/her background, context, or motivation in committing the crime (e.g., why me? how couldyou? what were you thinking?). Many participants explained that they specifically needed answers from the person responsible for the crime, either for symbolic reasons or because only the offender knew the truth. As one participant explained, “The reason why was what I really needed. Why did he choose me out of everyone? I really needed that.” Another said, “I was full of questions—should I have done more? Should I have tried to be violent? What should I have actually done in that situation—that troubled me the most.” Some participants emphasized the importance of receiving ongoing information about the offender’s status within the justice system, or in fulfilling their obligations to the victim or to society. Low trust was generally placed in the criminal justice system as a means to gain this type of information. As one participant reflected, “I knew I was unlikely to learn anything [about the offender] through the criminal justice system.”
  • What happened? Victims often wanted to know details of the offence, especially where the offence was committed against a loved one. As one participant expressed, “I felt so incomplete when I only had pieces of a picture.”
  • The justice system and options for achieving justice: Participants often expressed feeling “left in the dark,” left to their own devices to navigate their situation, not listened to by system professionals, and unaware of who to connect with or how.A strong theme emerging from participants was that they would have appreciated even more information up front (from police and/or restorative justice program staff) before making their decision to participate, or having information repeated to help them navigate their options.  There was generally a perceived lack of available information about the criminal justice system and restorative justice options.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Many participants expressed great satisfaction that their needs for information had been met within the restorative justice process. One participant said, “I left the process with a new understanding and outlook about who this individual was. It didn’t excuse what happened, but it made me aware that there were greater forces at play.” Another expressed that “understanding what led to [the crime], where this person came from, what was happening afterward, it helped me understand and emotionally process what had happened.” Still another stated, “I don’t think I would have had closure without understanding who this guy was and what had happened, and I had no idea until the dialogue.” Some participants also noted with gratitude that they were given information by the restorative justice program about other services available to them that they did not receive at any other point in the justice process. Participants who experienced robust follow-up practices on the part of the restorative justice provider (after the dialogue process was complete) described finding great value in that type of support and ongoing information about the status of the offender.

There were also themes of disappointment noted regarding restorative justice processes and the provision of information. Most notably, a significant number of participants described hearing nothing from the restorative justice program about the offender’s progress toward meeting his/her agreements (e.g., going to counselling or paying restitution), which was experienced as disappointing or disorienting. In the words of one participant, “we never had that feeling of being kept informed by the restorative justice program.” Across sessions participants frequently expressed wanting more information following the facilitated dialogue, specifically about the offender’s progress and wellness: e.g., “It would be nice to know if the journey that he’s taken has actually changed who he is, or if that’s something that faded.” It was also recognized that privacy issues may prevent unlimited sharing of this type of information.

Some participants also expressed a desire for more information leading up to initial contact with the restorative justice program. It was common to hear about participants experiencing “nerves” and “stress” waiting for the restorative justice process to unfold, especially when they were unsure of when the process may take place, what the offender is like, the offender’s appearance, or what attitude the offender will present. For example, one participant described being baffled by how long the referral to the restorative justice program took, and how little information was provided by authorities as to why this delay occurred: “Information is key. None of us came to the incident deliberately; there’s pain because we didn’t know what was going on.” It was recognized that many of these communications are in the domain of the referral agent (e.g., law enforcement) and not the restorative justice program per se. Similarly, participants commonly described a lack of publicly available information about the existence of restorative justice options: e.g., “I had no idea that restorative justice existed.”

It may be concluded based on the listening sessions that there is no such thing as too much information for victims navigating the criminal justice system, and similarly for navigating restorative justice. As one restorative justice practitioner reflected, “We have 30-40 years of research on what victims of crime need—information! Yet so few of the people in [this listening session] had the information they needed.”

Support and Acknowledgement

Participants described a desire for reliable, trustworthy and nonjudgmental support in the aftermath of the crime. Many experienced feelings of isolation from those around them after being victimized. One participant noted that, “[After the crime] . . . support would help but I didn’t know exactly what that would look like – family, extended family, friends – they are not equipped to listen well or give good advice. Sometimes these folks are not the best support as they are offering knee jerk reactions.” Others described disappointment with professionalized supports: “I was so frustrated that victim services really didn’t reach out. I had to advocate for myself.” Gentle and responsive support was described as of utmost importance in the aftermath of crime. Inherent to this support was acknowledgement of their experience, choices and personal dignity.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Participants widely appreciated the personalized support and connection they received from restorative justice practitioners, particularly during the preparation and follow-up phases (when provided) of the process. As one participant expressed, “[My facilitator] helped a lot. She was checking in with me constantly about how I was doing.” Another participant described receiving an initial contact from the restorative justice program as the first time in the justice process that someone seemed to express care about her experience of victimization and a desire to know how she had been impacted. The need for support was often experienced as an independent benefit of the restorative justice process, sometimes surpassing any outcomes (positive or negative) of the encounter with the offender: e.g., “The facilitator helped more than actually sitting down and talking to [the offenders].” Those who did not feel they were supported by the restorative justice process, or those who perceived that the restorative justice process was not truly for them but merely for the offender’s sake, described greater disappointment in their experience of restorative justice. Of note however, participants frequently spoke in positive terms about the “dually partial” role of the facilitator; that is, they appreciated the support of the facilitator despite, or even related to, knowledge that the facilitator was also partial to the needs of the offender. As one participant put it, “It’s nice to talk to someone [i.e. the facilitator] who knows both sides.” Facilitator professionalism, competence and genuine concern were offered as contributing factors to this support.

In a small number of cases, participants described feeling inadequate support by restorative justice practitioners. As one participant reflected, “We fell through the cracks after [the process] was up… why didn’t I have the same level of contact with the program [as other listening session participants]?” Another stated, “I needed to be listened to, but I didn’t feel like [the facilitator] was someone to talk to about my feelings.”

A few participants described being assigned a “mentor” by the restorative justice program, whose role was specifically to support the participant throughout the preparation, dialogue and follow-up stages of the process. This person may or may not have been someone who had previously participated in a restorative justice process. This was described as a powerful contributor to the quality of the experience, and sometimes even transformative in assisting the participant to develop an understanding of their individual needs in the aftermath of the crime.

Many touched on a theme that the restorative justice program supported them in ways that the formal criminal justice system did not. That is, some felt they did not get the kind of victim services they desired, nor did they feel listened to by court officials/other representatives of the criminal justice system or school system. In contrast, a consistent theme was that participants felt the restorative justice program provided them attention, answers and services that they otherwise did not have access to.

Acknowledgment and support of victims also occurred during facilitated dialogues, by the offender or other participants. Some described that the dialogue alleviated feelings of embarrassment, shame and self-blame because of responsibility-taking by offenders and validating statements by other participants during the dialogue: “I needed to know it wasn’t my fault.” Facilitated dialogue was often observed to help the victim be “seen,” acknowledged, and to experience dignity regarding one’s personal choices. Contributing factors to these experiences were the presence of personally chosen support people, and the skills demonstrated by the facilitators towards all parties during the encounter.

There was a significant community and/or public aspect to some victims’ experience of acknowledgment and support (or the lack thereof), both within and outside of restorative justice programming. A lack of validation by community members or law enforcement personnel, for example through dismissive comments about the severity of the crime, were experienced as painful and profoundly disappointing. On the other hand, acknowledgment by community members and law enforcement of the impact of the crime was experienced as highly validating. From an Indigenous context, involvement of community and community-based ceremonial practices in addressing wrongdoing emerged as a prominent part of a restorative justice process. One restorative justice process discussed in the session led to public reparation by the offender toward the community, which was experienced as “healing not just for us, but for the whole community.”

Validation and Vindication

One clear motivation for participating in a restorative justice process was the need for meaningful action, justice, or for “something to be done.” For some this need was attached to a frustrating conviction that the mainstream justice system would not be equipped to produce meaningful justice, therefore an alternative was welcomed. As one participant said: “I didn’t feel that the criminal justice system was able to appropriately handle it.”

Participants expressed an unequivocal need to experience the recognition of others that what happened to them mattered and were disillusioned where this did not occur. For some this included a deeply unsatisfying police response, and for others the perceptions of a “revolving door” quality of the justice system that did not adequately hold offenders accountable to change their behaviour.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Many participants alluded to experiencing a sense of meaningful justice from their participation in restorative justice. One participant reported having the opportunity to express strong emotions, including anger, during the dialogue with the offender; to challenge the offender’s responses, “which freed me and gave me a sense of security. I liked being able to ask those hard questions.” Another participant reported satisfaction at being able to “to look them in the eye and try to make them accountable for what they did.” For many if not all participants, the need for vindication was linked more to themes of reparation than to themes of punishment: e.g., “I want justice; pay for what they damaged and that’s it. I don’t want them to go to jail.” Some participants said that without the restorative justice program they would have received “nothing” from the system with respect to the crime against them.

On the other hand, several participants expressed uncertainty about whether the consequences for the offender were “enough” through their restorative justice experience. Restorative justice processes were frustrating when perceived as getting offenders “through the system” without ensuring meaningful accountability and behavioral change. Other participants saw a lot of effort (by both justice system and restorative justice staff) going toward the offender (e.g., rehabilitation and reintegration efforts), but not as much effort going towards those who had been victimized.

Feelings of lingering injustice were expressed more strongly in some cases where there was lasting trauma or the loss of a family member or loved-one during the crime. In these cases, some participants expressed that there could be no true justice from either the criminal justice system or the restorative justice process, since nothing could return what was taken.

Making a Difference for Offenders

Some listening session participants were motivated to participate in a restorative justice process out of a desire to make a difference by contributing to a pro-social outcome for the person responsible. Many expressed a desire to see offenders (especially youth) “turn their lives around” and wanted to contribute to that person making better choices. One participant recalled thinking, “I wanted him to be transformed, not punished.” Another said simply, “I felt an instinct to help the offender.” Some participants expressed gratitude that offenders had a chance to stay out of the more formal system, be accountable and possibly have a chance to make better decisions moving forward. Rehabilitation and reintegration goals were emphasized especially in discussions around Indigenous and marginalized communities, in light of the over-incarceration of these populations in Canada. One participant suggested that incarcerated individuals need better access to opportunities to “reform.” Another participant was motivated to become involved in restorative justice in part out of an initial concern for the safety of the offender and out of fear of possible community reprisal.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Some participants described witnessing both immediate and lasting changes in the offender based on the restorative justice encounter and follow-up processes. For example, one person explained that their compassion for the offender increased after witnessing the “vulnerability” of the offender within a dialogue setting, and that they subsequently observed the offender take steps to gain an education and contribute in positive ways to the community. Many participants shared feelings of satisfaction about the responsible party “doing much better” since the restorative justice encounter, or feelings of hope about this being the case. Some were satisfied that the offender was able to avoid punitive sanctions, e.g., “I was glad that he didn’t get as much punishment as he otherwise would have.” Punishment was not spoken of as equivalent to accountability; as one participant expressed, “I didn’t want to punish anyone…it was an accident…but it didn’t feel right to say ‘don’t worry about it.”

In other cases, victims’ motivations to assist offenders led to disappointing results because of re-offending or other recurring negative behaviours. In some cases, this led to feeling “used” or misled by the offender, and sometimes by the restorative justice process itself. One restorative justice practitioner reflected that, in the experience of that program, cases in which victims entered the process primarily out of concern for offenders often led to less satisfying results because neither the victim nor the program could ultimately control the offender’s future behaviour. However, it is also noteworthy that many victims of crime were initially led to understand restorative justice as an opportunity to “help” the accused person, whether by referral agents, community members, friends or the restorative justice program itself.

Rebuilding Trust and Safety

Some participants described the experience of crime as eroding or destroying feelings of trust and safety within their own community. At least two participants, for example, described feeling betrayed by bystanders’ lack of response during the crime. Sometimes the decision to participate in restorative justice was motivated by attempts to restore a more trusting relationship toward the community. Some participants spoke of an underlying desire to relieve their isolation and to feel connection with others and community. They expressed a need to know they were not alone. For some in fact, this lingering need was direct motivation to participate in the Listening Project: “[A hope for today] is to hear other stories and to know if other people feel the same as me.”

For others, loss of trust was more specific to the offender, and restorative justice represented an attempt to resolve lingering concerns about the offender’s intentions. Sentiments such as “I want to be able to look at them in the street and not feel scared,” and “I was worried about my kids... I didn’t know if [the offender] was aggressive,” were expressed.

In addition, participants expressed that loss of trust can be felt after victimization as a general sense of mistrust in the order of the world, and how supported one is:

When a harm happens, our reality changes. Before the crime, you assume and you trust that things will be a certain way. Your home is safe, you are safe, but after the crime that trust is broken . . . after a trauma, you need to settle yourself. The harm needs to be acknowledged first and you should not be told to “get over it”.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Restorative justice processes, especially those explicitly involving community members, were frequently described as contributors to rebuilding trust with one’s community. The care, concern, and acknowledgement of community members in the process was experienced as meaningful: “Part of what I needed also was to have my sense of community rebuilt . . . so having members of the community at that dialogue was really important as well.” As trust was built or rebuilt with community members, this often led the way for increased feelings of safety. Similarly, encounters often led victims to view the offender in a less threatening light, thereby increasing feelings of safety.

While some participants reported increased feelings of safety after the restorative justice process, some victim advocates noted that some victims do not participate in restorative justice in the first place due to being unconvinced that the process will be safe for them. One victim advocate noted: “Her need was to feel safe, which is why in her case she didn’t want to see them face to face. Which is too bad because I think it would have helped her!” Another victim noted that “getting a sense of safety would be a reward for me” but, after an unsatisfying dialogue with an offender who was perceived to be  remorseless, this was not achieved.

Having a Voice

Many participants entered the restorative justice process out of a need to have the offender and/or others hear the impacts of the offence . For example, a participant who lost a loved one in the crime said they “wanted the offender to understand who [the deceased victim] was.” Another explained, “I wanted to convey emotion, and I wanted to hear emotion.” As is woven into themes above, the opportunity to have this emotion and experience heard in a meaningful way was perceived as limited—there was little trust that talking about the impact would be appreciated by justice stakeholders within the mainstream justice system, and additionally there was little confidence from participants that they would be adequately heard by those close to them. One participant additionally noted that discussing the crime required “protecting” the feelings of the offender (who had been a friend) as well.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Storytelling and expressing emotion were frequently named as a benefit experienced through the restorative justice process. As one participant noted, “I was really able to express myself . . . having the space to be asked the questions so s/he could really hear how deep the [impact] went.” Another said, “The most meaningful and important thing for me was having an opportunity to talk to the [offender] and to tell them what their actions cost me.” This sentiment was echoed on numerous occasions, where participants described in various ways having the freedom to speak truthfully and be heard.

Some participants also found meaning in having input and influence over offenders’ reparation plans. “We got to say what we wanted the perpetrator to do,” recalled one participant. “He had to find a job, see a therapist, appreciate diversity. We could see him be accountable.”

Not all participants experienced a satisfying opportunity for having a voice. For example, one recalled, “I never had a chance to say how the crime impacted me per se.” In these cases, it was perceived that the restorative justice process was focused on assisting the offender.

Choices

Participants emphasized the need to be involved, included and given choices in the justice process concerning the crime against them, rather than having processes dictated to them by others. One participant noted about the experience of conventional criminal justice, “I never had a chance to write my own victim statement…it was written on my behalf!” Choice-making included deciding whether or not to pursue restorative justice. As one participant said, “I was so glad to learn there was another option [besides punishment] from the Crown.” Or in the words of a victim advocate, “restorative justice is another thing we can offer a victim . . . to give people choices because when people are traumatized, they need to have choices.”

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Here restorative justice programs were strongly and favourably contrasted with other parts of the criminal justice system, which were often perceived to decide “for” victims what they may or may not need. Similarly, participants who had previously experienced other diversionary programs  contrasted their current experience with those previous, less restorative experiences. Those diversion programs (sometimes also under the banner of “restorative justice”) were perceived as mainly centered on the needs of the offender and offered fewer opportunities for involvement on the part of the victim. As one participant reflected, “The restorative justice practitioners went to every effort to include me, to educate me what was going on, to ensure my voice was heard…as much as I was willing to. In contrast… the other [diversion] processes were focused primarily on the offender and helping him with his life and making sure no more harm came to him.”

Participants’ experiences of inclusion and choice within their restorative justice program involvement included factors like “ensuring that my voice was heard in the process,” “educating me on what was going on,” and offering a range of ways to participate in the process. One participant said, “When I compare restorative justice to the criminal justice system…[with restorative justice] I felt like I was at the centre, I could put the brakes on, I could tell the offender to get lost, I could tell the facilitators to get lost.” Another participant reported that the facilitators chose to speak very little during the face to face encounter, having “sensed that we knew how to carry this process by ourselves.” Participants also reported regaining control by having a choice over bringing a support person to the facilitated dialogue. Participants generally found it important to have numerous options of how to communicate with the offender (e.g. by letter, video, in person, using a surrogate or proxy, etc.) in cases where more indirect forms of communication were desired.

Process flexibility was strongly valued by participants. As one reflected, “It’s so helpful that the process is adaptive; there were some things I knew we’d disagree on, so I’m so glad we didn’t have to talk about those things.” On the other hand, a few participants recalled having little or no input into the way the restorative justice process was conducted. e.g., “It was presented to me as: this is the process, do you want to participate or not?”

One area in which participants found their range of choices to be less satisfactory was with respect to restorative justice process timelines and duration. Several participants explained that they would have benefited from more time in making their decision to participate, or from a longer duration of involvement. A few participants perceived pressure to make their decision to participate based on a timeline over which they lacked control. As one person said, “I felt a little rushed at times [in restorative justice]. I remember I wanted to slow down but I felt I was working on someone else’s timeline.” Others expressed that they would have benefited more from the restorative justice process now (significantly after sentencing) than they did at the time when they were eligible for the program, because only now did they realize the full impact of the crime. Participants expressed strong desire for “being able to choose when [a restorative justice process] is beneficial to you, not when the system decides. I’m told I’m supposed to go on with my life, even though I still need services, tools, support, care ongoing throughout my life and my journey.”

Reparation and Compensation

A number of participants were motivated to participate in restorative justice processes, at least in part, out of a desire for some form of symbolic or material reparation. Symbolic reparation included hopes for the offender to perform work service toward the victim or community, write a letter of apology, treat addictions, engage in counselling, participate in cultural or ceremonial activities, and/or other provisions. Across sessions, there was often an ambivalent relationship expressed surrounding the need for financial compensation. Some noted that they had not initially identified financial compensation as a need, but toward the end of the process felt empowered to acknowledge this need and accept an agreement containing financial reparation provisions. As one participant expressed, “It’s hard for us to say what we want—no amount of money is going to fix our broken heart. It’s a big risk to ask for what you want. But still money is something.” Other participants entered restorative justice with specific hopes of gaining material or financial reparation for their losses.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Several participants reported satisfaction about receiving reparation and compensation through the restorative justice process. As one participant recalled, “[the offender] was very humbled by that experience [of community service] . . . and she learned a lot. She saw the faces of the people she hurt.” Another reflected, “We just wanted an apology . . . but we got above and beyond. All the offenders are going to [compensate my daughter] and they’re also going to do some community service and volunteer work.” Still another shared that “. . . it was really nice to have support to acknowledge that the money could go to help me, even though I couldn’t [bring myself] to ask for it.” Appreciation was also expressed for the restorative justice program’s role in coordinating restitution payments.

There were also themes of disappointment surrounding reparation and financial compensation. As one participant recalled, “The only sentence I remember [the offender] saying was ‘Do you mean I have to pay it all back?!’ . . . the girl felt it was unfair maybe. Payment didn’t come, but that’s ok, that’s ok . . .” Another lamented that the promised compensation had never been paid: “If I get him alone ever, I would ask him to pay the bill that he owes us.” Sometimes disappointment was expressed because the possibility for financial compensation was dismissed within the restorative justice process, on the basis of an offender’s perceived inability to pay.

Acknowledging and Attending to the Victim-Offender Relationship

Some participants commented that their reason for involvement in restorative justice stemmed in part from a need for recognition that crime and justice involve an acknowledgement of the “relationships” (meant in the broadest sense) created by criminal acts. Some participants expressed feelings of “relief” to be participating in a process that outwardly acknowledged an inherent (even though unjust) relationship between victim and offender, even if they were strangers to one another. This was not interpreted as implying any specific obligations toward this relationship on the part of the victim, but merely as an acknowledgment of its existence. Others articulated this relationship as a deep need to hear and see that the offender is remorseful for the harm that was inflicted upon them. In this way, there was a common desire among many participants to personally see the person(s) responsible for the crimes against them demonstrate clear accountability for their choices. Accordingly, some participants expressed a need for personal connection with the person who offended against them. Connection was seen, in part, as a result of learning about each other. The need for connection was an initial motivator for some, and for others emerged as a need only after the process was underway.

For those experiencing crime in the context of a small Indigenous community, there was often a strong need to address the reality of ongoing relationships, to ensure that relationships were mended to the extent possible and that life could go on without anxiety about inevitable encounters with the other person in the community.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Restorative justice processes seemed to contribute to more positive and less threatening relationships between many victims and the people who offended against them. As one participant put it, “[restorative justice] changed my experience of being assaulted into something that was, well, beneficial. It gave me a chance to make a connection with someone else.” Another commented: “We’re in a relationship with the person who harmed us, and being part of a program which recognizes that is so much more meaningful than one which does not.” Generally, the dialogue was seen as positive even if that need was not initially identified by the victim: “I didn’t think it would help me as much as it actually did. I did need to talk about it [with the offender].”

Of those who participated in facilitated dialogue with the offender(s), many shared positive comments about the need and opportunity to communicate face to face with those individuals. In some cases, participants expressed dissatisfaction with the level of responsibility or remorse shown by the offender(s) in their case. For example, in one session a participant in the group had a truly transformative experience with the offender, and others in the group were quite interested and inspired by what might be possible with respect to offender accountability and the transformation of that victim-offender relationship. Hearing this experience seemed to spark a lot of interest in the potential of restorative justice. At times, there was a sense of frustration that youthful offenders are struggling to understand the impact and take meaningful responsibility—this divide seemed to make helpful connection between victims and offenders unlikely or even impossible in these cases. At other times, participants said they were extremely fulfilled by the level of remorse and accountability demonstrated by the perpetrator in their case: “He wasn’t a bad kid. We shook hands…I got a letter about three months afterwards that the kid was successful, he hadn’t committed any more crime.”

Overall, while relatively few participants reported being in ongoing contact with the offender, those who did keep in contact described it as meaningful or even transformational for both parties. Those who were not in any further contact with the offender frequently expressed lingering questions regarding how that person might be doing and if further contact might be possible to find out their progress.

Recovery from the Impacts of Crime

An overarching motivation for engaging in restorative justice was a hope or perception that the process could offer a means toward recovery from the effects of the crime, including elements of psychological trauma. Many of the other needs listed in this report were spoken of as aspects of recovery. For some, recovery had to do with making meaning out of negative events. For others, restorative justice represented a hope for finding a way out of silence, disempowerment and/or isolation.

Reflections on the Restorative Justice Process

Many Listening Project participants spoke in passionate and positive terms about the contribution of restorative justice toward their recovery. For example, one participant described the experience of repeated face-to-face meetings with the person responsible as “overwhelmingly life changing.” Another said that restorative justice “completely changed” a narrative of hopelessness about the justice process. Some participants used the word “forgiveness” (which it was acknowledged carries multiple interpretations) to describe a personal choice not to “carry that pain anymore” or “let this negative energy into the rest of my life.” Still another spoke of learning to stay curious rather than cynical. Another noted that although personal growth/transformation was not an explicit goal of entering the restorative justice process, “the experience brought me so much joy,” and described the restorative justice experience in terms like “healing,” and “mind-blowing.” Still another summarized the experience by saying, “What I learned from the restorative justice process…was how much the crime affected me, and I hadn’t given myself the space to heal.” Another noted: “Restorative justice works better than the alternative. It was incredibly difficult, but incredibly necessary. Doing something positive seemed important.”

Other language used for recovery-related outcomes included “tying loose ends” and “closure.” Participants expressed varying perceptions of these and other related terms (for example, some liked the term “healing,” while others utterly rejected it). In many cases, the restorative justice experience seemed to play one meaningful part in a much longer-term (and often non-linear) process of psychological, social and emotional recovery.

Some participants did not find restorative justice to contribute meaningfully to their recovery. For example, one participant shared that “to this day, I’m startled by noises at night.” In some of these cases, participants cited factors like a lack of adequate support and information from the restorative justice program, and a process that was focused primarily on assisting with the offender’s recovery or avoidance of a criminal record. Upon reflection, some participants felt disappointment with the restorative justice process as they simply had not experienced the type of justice they had hoped for: “I feel I was misled by how [the offenders] would benefit. I felt like I was told it was all for me, but it doesn’t feel like it was. Especially in the end. Wasn’t fair.”

A Note on Cultural Responsiveness

Some Listening Project participants discussed the use of traditional Indigenous practices and ceremonies (e.g., sweat lodge) as powerful and challenging experiences that can be rewarding for both victim and offenders. It was suggested that these ceremonies can be integrated into a restorative process to powerful effect. One participant noted that “Having an elder present made a big difference,” while a restorative justice practitioner observed value in “giving options to help them engage such as having a smudge.”

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