Volume 7, Number 1 : Winter 1995-1996
A Publication of the Victim-Offender Mediation Association
A Victim Offender Mediation Model of Neutralityby Marty Price, J.D.
Co-Chair, VOMA Board of Directors
Neutrality, as we understand it in the vast majority of conflict resolution settings (civil settings, rather than criminal), requires that the mediator will not "agree" with either party in regard to the issues of the dispute. The role of a "neutral" requires that the mediator in no way favors one disputant over another. The mediator does not "take sides" and does not make judgments of right or wrong as to the actions of the parties that led to the dispute.
The mediation of most crime situations, however, presents a unique set of circumstances for the mediator. When a crime has been committed, the same concept of neutrality is not appropriate. In the majority of juvenile/criminal cases, a wrong has been committed against another person. The parties, therefore, come to a victim offender mediation program as a wronged person and a wrongdoer. If no wrong had been committed (in the majority of cases), these people would not have been referred to the program.
Restorative justice is about righting these wrongs in a more healing and meaningful way.
For these reasons, as well as to guard against the possibility of re-victimization at the mediation, victim-offender programs seldom mediate with an offender unless the offender has admitted the wrongdoing at some level, or has been convicted of the offense. Absent an admission or a conviction, the individual is an "accused person" or a "defendant," but not an offender.
Being sensitive to the needs of victims requires us to directly acknowledge the wrong to the victim. Victims need to hear, "You were wronged; this should not have happened to you; it's not your fault; you didn't deserve this." The process of facilitating meaningful accountability in offenders often requires us to help them acknowledge their wrong and their responsibility for it. We are neutral as to the individuals-we are there for the benefit of both victim and offender. But we are not neutral as to the wrong. It is a different model of neutrality.
There are scenarios that some victim-offender mediation programs see that are different from what I have just described. The classic cases are the mutual assaults and the neighborhood disputes that have led to police involvement. In some of these cases, it is difficult if not impossible to determine who is the victim and who is the offender. Sometimes the distinction is based on no more than which party called the police or filed the complaint. In these kinds of cases, where there is not a clear wrongdoer, what is before us is a dispute rather than a wrong. In these cases, the appropriate model of neutrality is the traditional one. The victim-offender mediator must be able to "shift gears" according to the kind of case being handled.
This distinction between models of neutrality is also important because new victim-offender mediation trainees have often had mediation training in other mediation settings. They have been trained in the traditional civil dispute model of neutrality, which is by far the more common one. Victim-offender or criminal mediation is unique in this respect. I have found that unless this distinction is clarified, previously trained mediators often have difficulty directly approaching and acknowledging a "wrong." They believe they should be neutral in all respects, when they should be addressing the righting of a wrong.
Marty Price, J.D., an attorney and social worker turned to mediator, is the founder and director of the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) Information and Resource Center, in Asheville, North Carolina. He is the founder and former director of the VORP of Clackamas County, Oregon. He is a former Board Member and former Co-Chair of the Victim-Offender Mediation Association (VOMA), a non-profit, international, educational and advocacy organization that promotes restorative justice and supports victim-offender mediation and reconciliation programs.
The Center provides information, training, public education, technical assistance, consulting and victim-offender mediation and reconciliation services. We serve non-profit organizations, governmental agencies and individuals. The Center specializes in juvenile justice and the mediation of drunk driving fatality cases and other crimes of severe violence.
Our mission is to bring restorative justice reform to our criminal justice system, to empower victims, offenders and communities to heal the effects of crime, to curb recidivism, and to offer our society a more effective and humanistic alternative to the growing outcry for more prisons and more punishment.
Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP)
Information and Resource Center
2826 Azalea Hills Dr. Charlotte, NC 28262
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