International Responses to Victims in Criminal Justice Research Paper

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In recent years, victims of crime have moved from the peripheries of both academic and policy discussions concerning criminal justice to become at least rhetorically “central” in modern criminal justice policies in many developed states (Hall 2010). This research paper examines some of the newest territory into which victims and victimology are now moving, and, in so doing, it is argued that traditional criticisms espoused by victimologists, namely, that official recognition of victims often fails to account for victims’ own perspectives, remain extremely pertinent to this debate. In addition, this research paper examines how the scope of “victimization” is expanding, with many commentators now adopting a “social harm” approach to the question of victimization rather than limiting themselves to restrictive, legalistic categories. Nevertheless, it is argued that the classification of such individuals and groups as victims of “social harm” (as opposed to “criminal harm”) raises the concern that criminal justice systems may shirk their responsibilities for such victims. It can be argued therefore that notions of social harm represent a challenge to justice processes to better incorporate these “new” victims through the continued development of victims’ rights and restorative justice.


Expanding Notions Of Victimhood

“Criminal Harm” Or “Social Harm”?

Over time, the ambit of both academically and politically recognized “victimhood” has tended to expand. That said, much of victimology (and criminology) continues to be centered on notions of victimization espoused by official sources. Indeed, some go further to argue that society’s narrow conception of victimization is brought about by selective definitions of crime, construed for political purposes (Elias 1986). Such arguments have led to the development of “critical victimology” and its expanded notions of victimhood beyond straightforward, criminal classifications to include categories of “real, complex, contradictory and often politically inconvenient victims” (Kearon and Godey 2007, p. 31). This in turn has prompted some authors to approach “victimization” from a cultural perceptive and to focus on “social harms” as experienced by victims and their communities, as opposed to harms necessarily caused by breaches of the criminal law (Hillyard and Toombs 2003).

The conceptualization of victims as those who have suffered harm (as opposed to more technical, legal, or prescriptive definitions) has two key implications. Firstly, it gives scope for a wide cross section of individuals or organizations to be included within the ambit of victimhood. Criminal law, as argued by Hulsman (1986), “fails to capture the more damaging and pervasive forms of harm” (Hillyard and Toombs 2003, p. 12). Focusing on harm thus has the potential to include the often legally ambiguous activities carried out by big corporations or the state, and also activities which the state or its agencies choose not to regulate. This approach also allows for the consideration of “mass harms,” whereas traditional criminology has struggled to fully embrace mass victimization, largely remaining focused on the individual. Of course, “harm” similarly is a fuzzy concept, with strong cultural roots, and definitions of it from a state’s, a victim’s, or a community’s point of view are likely to differ. This notwithstanding, a social harm approach also potentially allows victims to be self-defined, something which at present is usually reserved for a small subset of victims (e.g., victims of hate crimes) – though victimization surveys take a victim’s eye view. This implies that prosecutors should seek the view of individuals and groups who feel they have been harmed.

The adoption of “harm” as the central element of victimization has been witnessed in many jurisdictions (Hall 2010). In this respect, many jurisdictions have followed the definition set down by the 1985 UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (hereafter the 1985 UN Declaration):

‘Victims’ means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power. (para.1)

The 2001 EU Framework Decision of the Council of the European Union on the Standing of Victims in Criminal Proceedings [(2001/220/ JHA, at¼CELEX:32001F0220:EN: NOT) follows a similar model (Art.1(a)] as does the South African Victims’ Charter and its Dutch equivalent. The US Justice for All Act of 2004 defines a victim as “a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a federal offense” (18-USC-3771). This includes victims of white collar and financial crimes.

There are numerous examples of this broadening of victimhood among policy makers and government actors (see Hall 2010). In this research paper, two pertinent examples are considered, victims of state actions and victims of environmental crime, to illustrate the complexities inherent in this development and, in particular, the difficulties when such developments occur without direct consultation with victims.

Victims Of State Crime And The International Criminal Court

While much of the policy and academic focus on victims has rested on traditional breaches of the criminal law, there has also been growing awareness of victimization at the hands of the state. “State crime,” itself a markedly underdeveloped concept, is generally used to describe criminal actions carried out by state employees, such as the police, as well as by governments. Academic focus on victimization by the state or state employees has been similarly limited, although it was included under the 1985 UN Declaration in the guise of victims of “abuse of power.” The inclusion of omissions under the definition of “abuse of power” used by the Declaration clarifies that a state is responsible for failure to regulate activities within its borders which lead to trans boundary harm. This is particularly significant given the proliferation of cross-border crimes such as human trafficking and international terrorism.

Kauzlarich et al. (2001) characterize victimization by the state as a manifestation of attempts to achieve organizational, bureaucratic, or institutional goals of state agencies. They note that victims of state crime tend to be among the least socially powerful, are often blamed for their suffering, and rely on the victimizer, an associated institution, or civil social movements for redress. Such victims also tend to be easy targets for repeat victimization. From the victimizer’s perspective, the nature, extent, and harmfulness of institutional policies tend to be ignored or misunderstood. If suffering and harm are acknowledged, the authors contend that it is often neutralized through a sense of “entitlement,” which the authors illustrate by drawing on what they see as “the long history of U.S. abuses in Latin and Central America” (p. 185).

In relation to victims of crime, the 1985 UN Declaration has prompted significant criminal justice reform in multiple jurisdictions (Hall 2010). Notwithstanding this, Bottigliero (2004) argues that the victims’ movement (at activist, academic, and public policy levels) has focused on what she calls “ordinary” crimes like assault and theft, which can be dealt with in the domestic context, while ignoring the victims of more “severe” crimes such as war crimes, human rights violations, or genocide. At the international level, one significant development is the creation in 2002 of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Constituted by the Rome Statute of 1998, the purpose of the ICC is to try war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity which, by their nature, are often perpetrated by those in positions of authority within governments. In most cases such activities will also constitute breaches of domestic criminal laws, but when such crimes are committed within the ambit of wider atrocities by representatives of a state, they are rarely prosecuted. This means that the ICC rarely deals with “abuses of power” as defined by the 1985 UN Declaration, which only includes activities not officially prescribed as crimes, although Wemmers (2009) characterizes the inclusion of “abuse of power” within the Declaration as “a source of inspiration” (p. 124) for the ICC.

Significantly, the Rome Statute legislates for the participation of victims within the ICC process, and the court has adopted a judicial code of ethics which includes judicial obligations to have regard to the interests of victims. The court has also ruled that the definition of “victims” within the Statute is a wide one and “cannot be interpreted as limited to certain categories of individuals” (ICC-01/04-01/06-1119, para.27).

From a victimological perspective, the ICC is a rare example of a discrete judicial system developed from the outset with an appreciation for the arguments of the victims’ movement. The Court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence contain many safeguards to what are called the rights of victims: including the right to participate in proceedings as a party with legal representation. The rules often bring together an “interests of justice” test with an “interests of victims” test. Perhaps most significantly, the rules provide the general principle that “a Chamber in making any direction or order, and other organs of the Court in performing their functions.. .shall take into account the needs of all victims and witnesses” (Rule 86). There is however a limitation inherent in the Rome Statute in that the court is not required to establish what may be “in the interests of victims” through consultation with the victims themselves but rather, under Rule 93, may seek the view of victims or their legal representatives. This leaves the procedure open to the criticism that judges are only taking into account what they think the interests of victims may be.

Bottigliero (2004) argues that the infrastructure set up by the ICC begins the process of addressing the needs of victims of state crime, particularly their need for restitution. Of course, the true impact of the ICC on victims will only become clear as the number of cases it deals with increases. On this point, Wemmers (2009) conducted qualitative interviews with court personnel to determine how they felt its engagement if victims would operate. The results indicated serious engagement with the “victim issue” as well as a recognition that the success of the court as a whole to a large extent relied on victims’ perceptions, especially at the community level of it as a credible and legitimate institution. A view generally held was that the true test of the ICC was whether it can “effect real changes in the communities, such as restoring the safety of victims and preventing further violence by arresting and punishing offenders” (p. 124). One theme which did not emerge in many of the interviews, but which Wemmers sees as crucial, is victims’ relationship with their legal representation at the ICC given the reality that the vast majority will never attend the court.

A further issue raised by Wemmers (2009) and examined in more detail by Bottigliero (2004) concerns the selection of cases for trial by prosecutors working at the ICC. As Wemmers notes:

The selection of cases by the Prosecutor is a central point in the decision-making process. It is vital that the Court be seen as neutral and fair and that its choice of cases is both a-political and representative of the atrocities committed. (p. 225)

Clearly this reflects a concern that prosecutions at the ICC may be seen as politically motivated. Bottigliero (2004) however has shown that major selection by the prosecutor as to which cases should proceed to the court seems to be based on which cases are most likely to succeed rather than the needs of victims. Prosecutors at the ICC are bound to consider the position of victims, and Article 53(c) of the Rome Statute notes that a prosecutor may decline to pursue a prosecution if it is in “the interests of victims” to do so. The question remains however as to whether prosecutors will approach victims directly for their views or work on their own assumptions as to their needs and the perceived seriousness of the crime.

Environmental Victims

In recent years, progress made in our understanding of the causes of environmental degradations has posed a number of challenges for lawyers, as questions are increasingly raised concerning the responsibility of corporations and states for so-called environmental harms. Indeed, following the previous section, the increasing prevalence of “green” debates among criminologists has rekindled notions of “mass victimizations” and state crime. Lynch et al. (2010), for example, have exposed complex interactions between state and corporate liability following what they call the “politicization of global warming.” White (2008) has discussed state crime in relation to the environmental effects of the use of depleted uranium munitions in the Gulf wars. Of course, much environmental crime is committed by corporations against governmental regulations or legislation. In such cases the question becomes one of enforcement, and whether the prosecuting agents of the state approach such transgressions in the same manner as they do other crimes. A large body of literature now suggests that the enforcement of regulatory or criminal instruments against corporate offenders is highly variable (Hutter 1997), especially in relation to environmental degradation (Bell and McGillivray 2008).

“Environmental harms” can include direct impacts on human health and economic impacts on a range of industries (fishing, agriculture, tourism, and significant social and cultural damage to traditional ways of life). The implications of environmental harm for issues such as energy security and food security are equally significant. As a consequence, criminal justice systems (at the national and international levels) are increasingly called upon to incorporate “environmental victims” into their procedures. This is a challenging proposition, given the vested economic and political interests inherent to the industrial practices which can foster environmental damage (although it should not be assumed that all industrial or commercially viable practices lead to environmental degradation). As such, environmental victimization encapsulates many of the problematic issues addressed by the critical school and covered by notions of “social harm.” Unfortunately, specific empirical research even on the human victims of environmental degradation is scarce, although the first call for the development of “environmental victimology” came as early as 1996. For Williams (1996), victimology represents a solution to what he perceives as an environmental justice movement dominated by activists and relying too heavily on subjective understandings of victimhood. Certainly “environmental justice” is usually acknowledged as a wide concept which emphasizes the involvement of people and communities in decisions (apparently meaning state decisions) which impact upon their environment. “Environment” tends to be defined broadly to include cultural norms, values, rules, regulations, and behaviors (see also Bryant 1995, p. 6). “Intergenerational justice” is often cited as a core component of the environmental justice model, highlighting responsibility to future descendents.

Examples of how criminal justice systems are now being obliged to adapt to meet the challenges of environmental victimization can be drawn from a number of sources. At a national level, for example, the US Crime Victims’ Rights Act 2004 has been applied to victims of environmental harm in Re: Parker; U.S. v U.S. District Court and W.R. Grace & Co. Nos. 09-70529, 09-70533 (9th Cir). In Europe the EU has adopted Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through the criminal law. Though the enforcement of environmental legislation by means of the criminal law is by no means novel, it has often played a secondary role to administrative sanctions and civil penalties. Indeed, Bell and McGillivray (2008) have drawn on the “enforcement pyramid” posited by Ayres and Braithwaite (1992) to describe enforcement tactics of many jurisdictions in relation to environmental “crime.” Essentially this pyramid puts “persuasion” at its apex (and, interestingly, does not have criminal recourses there), principally because revocation of a company’s license to operate is in fact far more damaging than a relatively small fine. The 2008 Directive is thus indicative of a hardening of attitudes over breaches of environmental law, albeit the response of the EU so far to environmental crime has neglected the impact of such crime on victims. Potential for greater involvement of such victims can be identified within the earlier 1998 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Environment through Criminal Law. Though this treaty has not yet entered into force, and indeed has secured little support, Article 11 provides for the participation of environmental groups in relevant criminal proceedings. This has the potential to be a ground-breaking article, raising the possibility of opening up environmental criminal proceedings to wider participation.

At the international level, the most progressive source of legally binding environmental obligations is found in the 1998 UNECE (“Aarhus”) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The convention requires governments to bring individuals who may be affected into the decision-making process when environmental issues are at stake. What is significant about the convention is that, almost uniquely within international law, members of the public are able to refer possible breaches of their rights under the Convention to its Compliance Committee. Of course, while the Aarhus convention offers something of a “way in” to the international legal order for the individual in practice, this compliance mechanism can be subject to criticisms. There is a lack of real compulsive power on behalf of the Compliance Committee to really address victims’ complaints and ensure restitution/apologies from perpetrator states are forthcoming. That said, there is presently a dearth of empirical research on what victims of environmental crime might actually want from a criminal justice (or other) process (Williams 1996). Consequently, moves to increase the attention paid to such victims in many jurisdictions is once again progressing without reference to the victims they are purporting to help.

Addressing The Needs Of Victims

To summarize the preceding section, the scope of officially recognized victimhood is expanding. However, it appears to be doing so without asking victims what their perceptions and needs might be. The second section of this research paper examines the development of victims’ rights and the place of victims in restorative justice processes, both of which provide cogent examples of a more evidence-based process and, as such, shed light on how the above developments might be adapted.

Victims And Criminal Justice: The Perennial Question Of Rights Or Services

Should victims have legislated rights which they can use to demand better treatment in relation to criminal justice – or should criminal justice agencies be mandated to provide services to improve the victim experience? The question of “rights or services” has been a perennial one since the first empirical research into victims and criminal justice, in both the USA and the UK, showed how they were essential to the system’s operation but ignored in terms of their needs and expectations. Subsequent research has continued to reinforce the same needs and expectations of victims, but has also documented the reluctance of criminal justice personnel and policy makers to provide for those needs, partly through a continued focus on professionalism and reducing delay, partly through a misapprehension that meeting victims’ expectations disadvantages offenders. In fact, the research on offenders’ views shows they would also like to be treated with respect, given information on what is happening and generally feel they were being treated fairly – just like victims.

The slow pace of change has spurred international bodies to promote action to produce a more helpful environment for victims. Following a review of the “patchy” implementation of the 2001 Council Framework Decision, in May 2011 (see Press Release, “Victims” rights: Frequently asked questions,’ at rapid/¼MEMO/11/310&format¼HTML&aged¼0&language¼), the European Commission is introducing a Directive on minimum standards for victims, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, Vice President Reding saying, “Victims of crime need respect, support, protection and to see that justice is served. That is why I am putting victims at the heart of criminal justice in the EU by making sure they can rely on minimum rights and support” (Press release, “European Commission ensures better protection of crime victims,” 18 May 2011, IP/11/585, at¼IP/11/585). The EU sums up the needs of victims as being to be recognized, to be treated with respect and dignity, to receive protection and support, and to have access to justice, compensation, and restoration.

It is suggested that the answers to the question of “rights or services?” depend on ideology and on evaluated effectiveness. Criminal justice and legal scholars, seeing criminal justice as primarily a matter for the nation-state and the offender, are loathe to grant any more than service rights to victims, primarily focusing the burden of providing such rights on personnel at the entry to criminal justice: the police, welfare agencies, and volunteers, such as Victim Support. Given that, for victims, most contact with criminal justice is with the police (and Victim Support) – because offenders are rarely apprehended – this is indeed the way to supply most victims with most of what they need. It is underlined by social activists who wish to widen the idea of victim to embrace other harms, including traffic accidents and disasters, as discussed above. For the police or support agencies to help victims, what is key is political (rather than justice) prioritization to victims rather than the multitude of other tasks required of the police and money. Both, however, are currently rather in short supply in this time of recession and fears over public disorder and terrorism.

It is argued that procedural rights (see Edwards (2004) for distinctions between service rights and procedural rights) for victims become more essential further into the criminal justice system. Criminal procedure in all legal systems is shaped and operated through legislated rules. If victims are to receive consideration during prosecution and at court (and in relation to compensation), then the rules need to provide them with those means, and key decision makers within criminal justice must be appointed to ensure they are operationalized. It is notable that the relatively recent provisions for vulnerable witnesses in courts in England and Wales have come into force and been effective for victims in a short time frame (Hamlyn et al. 2004) – with few qualms (other than the technical ones of shortage of court space and learning the technology). The provisions include familiarization visits and giving evidence via video link or from behind screens. They were enacted through legislation (Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999), and decisions are made by the presiding judge.

In contrast to the speed of action over vulnerable witnesses – which may be linked to them being for witnesses, rather than victims perse – provisions which depend upon individual police officers, prosecutors, or politicians taking action seem to be more tardy and patchy. Victim personal statements (statements made by victims about the effects of the offense on them, also called victim impact statements (in the USA, Australia, etc.) or victim effect statements), for example, though mandated in case law and by government (Shapland and Hall 2010), depend on the police officer giving them to the victim at the right time, and in England and Wales, less than half of victims recalled being offered that opportunity (Roberts and Manikis 2011). Nonetheless, of those offered the opportunity, the majority took it, victims of more serious offenses being particularly likely to participate. Research in Canada, the USA, Australia, and the UK indicates that those who made a statement were generally satisfied (see summary in Roberts and Manikis 2011). Victims, in the studies carried out in Australia, Canada, and the UK, seem to make a statement primarily for expressive reasons (desiring a voice at court), though instrumental reasons, such as affecting sentence, are also important (Roberts and Manikis 2011). Though the introduction of victim personal statements for nonfatal cases seems to have been welcomed by the judiciary (as providing more information), it does not often seem to have affected sentence to a significant extent. However, this would be expected if judges are sentencing primarily on a deserts basis to an “average” range of sentence (only more unusual cases can be affected). In death penalty cases, its use has been far more controversial. Paternoster and Deise (2011), in a randomized controlled simulation experiment with potential jurors in the USA, found that jurors who viewed a victim impact statement were more likely to impose the death penalty, because they sympathized with the victim’s family. This has been the fear, but of course most jurisdictions do not have sentence pronounced by juries – and it is highly unlikely professional judges would do the same (Shapland and Hall 2010).

There has always been a dysfunctional tension between criminal justice system personnel’s reluctance to provide services (or rights) to victims and their dependence on victims, both for the immediate case and for political support. The public’s confidence in the system is mediated through victims’ views, with a key determinant of comparative confidence between countries being victims’ treatment (van Dijk et al. 2007). This has recently been tested empirically. Bradford (2011), analyzing the national victimization survey for England and Wales, the British Crime Survey, found that victims who did have contact with Victim Support had more favorable views of the fairness of the criminal justice system and higher levels of confidence in its effectiveness. The link between contact with Victim Support and confidence in the criminal justice system was mediated by trust in the fairness of the system; it appears that if victims have someone who listened to their concerns (and may take action in relation to them), they trust the system more and have greater confidence in it. This continues to support Tyler’s theory of procedural justice: that those members of the public who have contact with the system view the system through the lens of their perceptions of how fairly it takes decisions and how it treats them (with respect, sensitivity, and dignity scoring highly).

It is interesting that the European Commission, introducing the proposed Directive, mentions the need for both services and rights, though it is clearly moving towards procedural rights. It specifies its reasons for needing a Directive as improving provisions on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis, enhancing trust in the justice system, improving the quality of justice, that minimum standard must apply in all Member States, and that “fundamental rights must be respected” (Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, COM(2011) 274, at, in which it links victims’ rights to the EU Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, in terms of victims’ human dignity, private and family life, and property.

Victims And Restorative Justice

The European Commission refers to restorative justice, in its Communication (COM(2011)274 final) in its section on compensation and restoration:

Restorative justice, which is a relatively new concept in criminal proceedings, goes beyond purely financial compensation to focus on the recovery of the victim. As an alternative to, or in combination with formal justice, it aims to restore victims to the position they had before the crime by giving them, if they so wish, an opportunity to confront their offenders face to face and for the offenders to take responsibility for their acts. (p. 6)

Reparation has certainly been one key element behind the growth of restorative justice in many countries, particularly in mainland Europe and Scandinavia. However, restoration of the victim, in the fuller sense of acknowledging the victim has been damaged by the offense, showing how the victim and others have been affected, allowing apology by the offender and determining what best to do next, has been one of the key purposes behind mediation and conferencing as opportunities for interaction between victim and offender.

From a recent survey of key knowledgeable informants, it seems that mediation (victim-offender mediation: in which a mediator meets with victim and offender) is now available in at least 39 countries worldwide, including almost all of Europe (Zinsstag et al. 2011). Conferencing (in which the victim, offender, and mediator are joined by victim and offender supporters, and sometimes community representatives) is now available in at least 48 countries, more frequently outside Europe. Though more commonly used (and legislated for) in relation to young offenders, both mediation and conferencing are growing in relation to adult offenders as well. Mediation is starting to be used widely by the police, more informally, as part of neighborhood or community policing (Gunther-Moor et al. 2009), where police officers either act as mediators themselves or refer cases to community mediators or specialized mediators employed by the police. Mediation can thus be available at many stages of the criminal process (or even outside it altogether): as diversion from prosecution, presentence, post-sentence, or while the offender is in custody. Though widespread, at least in theory, and increasingly backed by both European and national authorities (see the Council of Europe’s Recommendation No. R(99)19 on Mediation in penal matters), its implementation has, however, like many initiatives for victims, been patchy, constrained by money and a lack of trained mediators/facilitators.

Restorative justice needs to be voluntary, both for the victim and the offender. What proportion of victims, then, when offered it, decides to take part? Mostly, victims will be offered one “take it or leave it” choice between participating in restorative justice and not participating. It is uncommon for victims to be offered several formats (e.g., conferencing, a direct mediation meeting or “shuttle” mediation, in which the mediator passes questions and answers between victim and offender), though increasingly, schemes are offering several possibilities, depending on the type of offense and the circumstances of the parties. In England and Wales, a recent large-scale evaluation of three schemes found that the percentage of victims offered restorative justice where they agreed to participate was between 30 % and 89 % (Shapland et al. 2011). Victims were more likely to agree where the case involved a young offender (all these sites had agreement rates of 75–89 %), but there was no difference between victims offered mediation and victims offered conferencing. Victims offered indirect mediation were more likely to choose it over a direct meeting with the offender, but the overall rate for conferencing was the same as for indirect and direct mediation combined. Even very serious offenses with adult offenders offered conferencing presentence in the higher courts found a majority of victims prepared to participate. Restorative justice is not, though, suitable for offenses in which there are considerable power imbalances between offender and victim (domestic abuse, some sexual assault cases).

The evaluation results for victim reactions to restorative justice are almost uniformly positive – providing that the offender acknowledges responsibility for the offense and the victim is invited to attend. Processes and the extent of victim participation vary considerably between schemes and countries. In early New Zealand family group conferencing, victims were not always informed or invited at helpful times, but in Northern Ireland youth conferencing, based on the New Zealand model, victims have attended in around 70 % of cases (Shapland et al. 2011). In the Thames Valley diversionary police-run conferencing, victims also tended not to be invited (Hoyle et al. 2002). In family group conferencing, victims may be asked to leave after they have talked about the effects of the offense and before the family and young offender decide with the mediator what should happen thereafter. In contrast, in conferencing based on the Australian RISE model, victims (and their supporters) are active participants in all stages of the conference, discussing what happened, what effects it had, and what should then be done (Shapland et al. 2011). In this model, the conference is intended to end, where possible, with an outcome agreement signed by all present (and 95 % of conferences in the evaluation did so). Despite all these differences between models, victims in all these evaluations were positive about their experiences. However, it is highly likely that these positive results depend upon the process being suitable for the seriousness of the offense. If restorative justice were to be used to replace criminal justice as a diversion measure (as opposed to being offered in addition, as is normal), then particularly for serious offenses, victims would be highly likely to feel offended.

There has been a significant amount of evaluation of restorative justice, most of it concentrating upon whether it reduces re-offending, but including victims’ views and the effects on victims. In terms of satisfaction ratings, Latimer et al. (2005) did a meta-analysis of 22 studies which had a control group of 35 schemes and found there was significantly more satisfaction among those who had experienced restorative justice. Sherman and Strang (2007), in a further meta-analysis, concluded that restorative justice with adult offenders reduced crime victims’ posttraumatic stress symptoms and related costs, provided both victims and offenders with more satisfaction with justice than did criminal justice alone, and reduced crime victims’ desires for violent revenge against their offenders. It is difficult to measure whether restorative justice (or any other initiative taken in conjunction with criminal justice) reduces the harmful effects of crime on victims, because many psychological, social, and financial perceived effects of crime on victims reduce with time (Shapland and Hall 2007), so one would be measuring the “extra” effect of restorative justice beyond that of time and other justice processes. Victim perceptions, however, are that it is helpful in reducing negative effects of the offense as well as enabling victims to have their questions answered about the offense and to communicate with the offender. In the major recent evaluation of conferencing in England and Wales, where conferencing occurred in parallel to the normal criminal justice process and cases were randomly allocated, victims participating in restorative justice said they felt significantly more secure (Shapland et al. 2011). In addition, over half the victims said that it had helped them have closure, with another 20 % saying it had done so to some extent. Victims of more serious offenses were as likely to feel closure and were significantly more likely to feel satisfied with the criminal justice system as a whole.

The extent of satisfaction and the generally positive effects of well-run restorative justice, particularly conferencing, are now so prevalent in evaluations that, in the evaluation authors’ view, it would be difficult ethically to justify running further random controlled trials between the presence or absence of restorative justice. It would be difficult to put victims into a control group and so deny them the benefits of restorative justice. That evaluation also found that, at whatever stage of criminal justice the restorative justice was offered, participants were fine about it being done then. However, it is not known exactly which forms of restorative justice are best to offer for which groups. Having a “future-oriented” stage to the restorative justice where participants can discuss what should happen next seems to be important for both serious offenses and neighborhood disputes (Shapland et al. 2011). Supporters bring extra voices and resources to the debate and can help to mitigate any power imbalances (Strang 2002; Shapland et al. 2011). Indirect mediation seems to lead to less satisfaction than a direct meeting, because communication, prized by victims, is circumscribed (Shapland et al. 2011) – but if this is the only kind of contact victims want, should it be withheld?


The development of scholarly interest in victims of crime, as well as policy interest among the world’s governments, looks set to continue well into the new century. In the above paragraphs, a number of key areas of development have been set out which will no doubt raise a whole host of questions and challenges for victimologists and criminologists in the coming years. A key concern however is that at least some of these developments are occurring in the absence of detailed research or engagement with victims themselves. Indeed, it is truly fascinating how in both state crime and environmental crime fields, the definition of victims by victims themselves is largely being ignored. In these two fields, detailed victimization studies are absent possibly because they would mean confronting what victims themselves say and think, rather than “using” them as exemplars of damaged people. Of course, in this sense, victims are threats not only to lawyers and the state but also to activist groups wishing to attack states if, for example, it turns out that they desire only respectful treatment, information, understanding, and an apology as opposed to more retributive outcomes. The research into what kind of services or rights victims actually want, as well as their response to restorative justice processes, seems to bear out this hypothesis – although actual answers can only follow detailed empirical work. In sum, while the expansion of victimhood and the development of concepts like “social harm” may benefit those victims still ignored by governments and criminal justice actors, it also places obligations on those actors, and the academy, to find out what these people actually need – and only then consider how best it may be achieved and the extent to which it is valued by victims themselves.


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