Part B – Advantages of victim-offender dialogue

Having I presented in the first section of this essay some Biblical support for direct interpersonal offence resolution I will now outline some of the advantages of victim-offender dialogue in schools over the traditional sort of teacher-directed, court-type processes, where the teacher acts as police, detective, magistrate and correctional services.  The exceptional quality of the information conveyed about the harm done:   

  • No intermediary can match the quality of information the actual victim can give in terms of detail, accuracy, ability to clarify apparent anomalies, as well as the non-verbal demonstration of the worry, distress, grief, anger, etc of the victim.

The induction of empathy:

  • Because of the previous point, more empathy for the victim is likely to be evoked in the offender – especially if the offender is not overly troubled by their native shame or any (misplaced) shaming of them by others.

A check on the accuracy of the allegations:

  • Given an opportunity, the offender is likely to contradict anything in the victim’s account that is fabricated, exaggerated or honestly mistaken.  Witnessing the victim and offender come to an agreed understanding of the facts (including clarification about which particular points of contention remain if any) is an excellent way of all stakeholders establishing what happened.  From this process, information new to the victim or to the offender may emerge and significantly affect attitudes to the incident or to the other person.

Teacher left free to be supportive of both students:

  • Having the victim state their complaint directly to the offender excuses the teacher from taking the role of interrogator of the alleged offender (or worse, proxy accuser).  In victim-offender dialogue, the teacher is not required to act as judge;  i.e. they are not required to decide guilt, to take sides or to determine punishments.  Thus the teacher is much more free to be caring and supportive to both students.

Teacher has an effective strategy always and immediately available:

  • Memorising four basic questions* for the alleged offender and another four for the alleged victim provides the teacher with an effective strategy to approach any interpersonal hurt, even though teacher hasn’t witnessed the incident, sees the matter as trivial or serious, or has no idea otherwise what remedy to suggest for the victim’s distress.

Students will grow in the ability to resolve conflict:

  • The practice of victim and offender dialogue provides practical training for students in the art and skill of discussing issues assertively, respectfully and maturely, building emotional intelligence and resilience.

Victim-offender power imbalance is redressed:

  • To respectfully ask another to account for their behaviour is a very powerful thing to do even when the one requiring it is requiring it through a teacher, and even if the victim is comparatively small, shy, inarticulate and nervous.   Having a teacher present will help the alleged offender take the requirement that they account for their behaviour seriously.   Both the alleged offender and the victim themselves are likely to view the victim with more (self-) respect after such a process.

Minimises the occurrence of subsequent tension and retaliation:

  • Relying on a “truth and reconciliation” process that invests little in judgment, punishment, positional power or shaming to maintain standards and “control”, means outcomes are seen as fair, respectful, contributed to by both parties, and in the interests of both parties.  Whenever genuine reconciliation and understanding are achieved the offender is left with good feelings – not with feelings of shame or anger, and not therefore with vengeful impulses to target the victim for “dobbing” afterwards.

The complex and mutual nature of conflict is better recognized:

  • Where the subject incident was actually a retaliation for an earlier incident, the previously unacknowledged offence can also be discussed and resolved.  In that case the initial roles of “victim” and “offender” are then reversed.  Victim-offender dialogue lends itself to the uncovering of this complexity, which also leads to greater satisfaction and resolution of the matter by both parties, again with reduced chance of any lingering tension or further retaliation.

The establishing of an emotionally warm classroom & school community:

  • As students become more accustomed to the victim-offender dialogue in place of teacher-directed court-type processes students will become more cognizant and respectful of both their own and other people’s feelings.   This will help them relate to a wider cross-section of people with more warmth, good humour, patience, curiosity, dignity and creativity.  Instead of a classroom being composed of many small cliques of students – enclaves of emotional security – the students experience great emotional safety and acceptance from the whole group.  Such an accepting and engaging group will lead to further excellence, including in service to others and in their academic achievements.  (e.g. see the outcomes of the 2005 SA DECS pilot study)

Better teacher-student and school-parent relationships:

  • Happier students are more engaged learners, which makes for less stressed and more engaged teachers as well as for happier parents.   It’s a win/win/win outcome.

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 *Standard questions (from Terry O’Connell, IIRP)

Standard questions for the alleged offender (usually asked before questions directed to victim for reasons beyond this paper):

  • What did you do?
  • What were you thinking at the time? (often the answer will be that they weren’t really thinking!  i.e. that they meant no harm. )
  • What have you thought about since?
  • What can you do to make things better?

Standard questions for the alleged victim:

  • How did it effect you and others?
    • What did you think when you first realised what happened?
    • What was the hardest part?
    • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

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