Escalating verbal and emotional abuse erupted into sexual and violent physical abuse at the hands of her partner. Charges were laid and the man was sentenced to three years in prison where he participated in a life-changing program that addressed his violent behaviour. The woman, compelled by her need to face her past and her concern for the future of their son, requested a face-to-face meeting through a victim-offender mediator. At the meeting, the woman questioned her abuser at length about his behaviour and the changes he had undergone. For his part, the man took full responsibility for his crime, and reassured her that she had done nothing wrong to bring on the assault. The woman verbalized her forgiveness, and they discussed how they would parent their child. Both the man and woman agreed that mediation was the best thing that had happened between them.1
The victim-offender mediation or conferencing model incorporates values espoused by the restorative justice movement. Howard Zehr, a pioneer in the field, has defined restorative justice as “a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offence and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”2 While these values have been applied successfully to property and juvenile cases, limited attempts have been made to address the crime of domestic violence from the restorative justice prospective. A question to ask ourselves is whether or not an alternative justice approach that emphasizes the identification of harms, meaningful accountability and healing in a community atmosphere, could serve as a tool in restoring families and marriages where domestic violence has taken place.
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