What is Victim Offender Mediation?

 by Janet M. Powers

Also known as VORP (Victim Offender Reconciliation Process), VOM is another promising development in the justice community and the world of juvenile probation. Victim Offender Mediation, just as the name suggests, brings together both the victim and the offender in the presence of specially trained mediators. VOM mediators must have 25 hours of training beyond Basic Mediation and Conflict Resolution Training.

A VOM mediation differs also in requiring that the mediation team visit both the victim and the offender in their home settings prior to the mediation, in order to determine what issues might be uppermost in the mind of the victim and what external events might be impacting the perpetrator. In the case of juvenile crime, these pre-mediation visits can sometimes be very enlightening.

Sometimes a victim has something special that he/she wants to say to the offender: a story about how the crime affected his/her life or a piece of advice that might benefit a young person starting off in a bad direction. Sometimes the offender has been influenced by peers or comes from a problematical home situation. It is the job of the mediators to make sure that these issues are covered in the mediation.

As in standard mediation, victim and offender listen to each other, but in a VOM, listening may be the most powerful part of the encounter. With the mediator’s help, the victim and perpetrator then brainstorm for possible solutions that will specifically address the offensive acts and make necessary reparations. A good VOM agreement will speak to the juvenile’s guilt and the victim’s sense of violation. Often, community service is part of the agreement.

In national studies, VOM has been shown to reduce recidivism, both for juveniles and adults. Why? Because it puts a face on so-called “victimless crimes” which involve destruction of property, theft from strangers, or nuisance acts. Such crimes are committed carelessly by those who rarely stop to think about the impact their acts are having on others. Meeting their victims face to face and hearing about the pain they have caused can be a powerful learning experience. For victims, the encounter brings much needed closure.

In Adams County, Judge Kuhn has suggested that Victim Offender Mediation would be a particularly good approach for first-time juvenile offenders whose crimes are relatively moderate. Although Juvenile Probation has experimented with several VOM mediations, the process has been less satisfactory than it could be — used only for very minor infractions that didn’t require usual probation procedures. Predetermined punishments, which rob victim and offender of the opportunity to come to a meaningful agreement, have also been a problem.

Lancaster County has a very successful VOM program (there it is called VORP) and has much to teach us about how we could more effectively use VOM in Adams County. Judge Kuhn has gone so far as to suggest that VOM might also be useful for adult perpetrators under certain situations. As the Justice system in our county undergoes study, we have an opportunity to experiment with VOM and to incorporate it as an alternative way to handle juvenile offenses. .

VOM is not for every offender or every victim. But in instances where “throwing the book” at a young person might be ineffective or too heavy-handed, it is an ideal process. Many churches support this compassionate approach because it increases the likelihood that an offender will make an unselfish choice the next time around.