Hundreds of crime victims have made use of a tiny 17-year-old Texas program called the Victim-Offender Mediation/Dialogue in which victims meet with their assailants, reports McCune-Miller magazine. The program is used extensively worldwide in lesser conflicts, often involving juvenile offenders, as a core part of a movement called restorative justice.
It's one thing to sit a kid down with the homeowner whose windows he broke to make apologies and work out a restitution plan. It's quite another to expect the victim of a rape – or the parent, spouse, or child of a murder victim – to heal by talking to the criminal who brought pain to them. Texas' victim-offender dialogue program does indeed expect that result, and, if more than a decade of research is to be believed, the program delivers. Now that half the states in the U.S. have followed Texas' lead in one form or another, enough experience and evidence exist to take stock of a technique that astounds believers and repels skeptics. That the program has persisted in a tough-on-crime state like Texas teaches volumes about how criminal justice policies take shape. Even more intriguing is the question at the root of the entire process: Why do certain victims experience great relief by coming face to face with the criminals who victimized them?