The Forgiveness Myth

Crime can happen under a variety of circumstances. The offenses can run the gamut in nature and severity. Regardless of the situation, victims and their loved ones often feel angry, hurt, betrayed and traumatized. Without a productive outlet, these feelings can become toxic and corrosive to people and communities. It’s not pretty.

But there is hope, especially when victims and perpetrators are willing parties in helping each other move forward. The restorative justice process and movement gives victims a venue by which to express those feelings, raise questions and help determine restitution. Under the status quo, the criminal justice system cannot provide this form of healing.

Regardless of the situation, victims and their loved ones often feel angry, hurt, betrayed and traumatized. Without a productive outlet, these feelings can become toxic and corrosive to people and communities. It’s not pretty.

But does restorative justice actually work? Research affirms the efficacy of this approach, if you ask Dr. Caroline M. Angel. A lecturer in criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, Angel studied the impact of restorative justice on post-traumatic stress symptoms in victims of robbery and burglary, according to a piece in the Huffington Post. “What you have here is a one-time program that’s effective in producing benefits for the majority of people” she said. “So instead of focusing on the not-always attainable and sometimes detrimental expectation of forgiveness, we should recognize that restorative justice reliably helps victims, and those who love them, to cope with the trauma of crime.”

In other words, restorative justice per se does not concern itself with assessing whether forgiveness has occurred or is even feasible. Instead, it relies on a shift in understanding of, and relationship to the other person, oneself and the world. This internal change requires an attitude of openness and empathy-driven understanding. Under the latter condition, research shows that feelings of anger and vengeance can be reduced in the afflicted. To that end, forgiveness is expressed as a transformation of sorts that allows the victim to view both his or her own experience and the offense perpetuated against him or her in a different light.

The bottom line? Although forgiveness sometimes happens, none of these benefits of restorative justice are predicated on the victim forgiving the offender. Forgiveness can be bonus, but it’s not a necessary component of justice that has the power to restore.

[Monalisa Johnson is a licensed and ordained minister of the gospel and a certified life coach as well as a mother and entrepreneur. In no way is anything that she writes, speaks or shares considered medical advice or clinical therapy. Consider all that you receive to be life coaching and guidance.]

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