Conference gives voice to crime victims

Giving voice to the victim was the goal of the 12th Annual Restorative Justice Conference at Fresno Pacific University.

The title of the October 20-21 event: "The Victim in Focus" signaled a new approach. "People get focused on offenders," said Duane Ruth-Heffelbower, director of training and services for the FPU Center for Peacemaking & Conflict Studies. "Victims want to know why me, why then, was it my fault. The only person who can answer those questions is the offender and the only process to accomplish that is the restorative justice approach."

Restorative justice is a biblically based method that holds offenders accountable, repairs harm suffered by the victim and engages the community in the search for solutions. The current criminal justice system separates victim and offender. "Victims, offenders and communities who suffer from a criminal offense never get the closure they need," said Jill Schellenberg, CPACS staff member and conference moderator.

But restorative justice allows the offender to see who they have hurt. "You can imagine if you got in trouble: the difference between paying a monetary fine versus sitting and answering the person you hurt and paying them back and making sure the promises you made are kept—that is harder," Schellenberg said.

Speakers were: John Dussich, Ph. D., director of the Tokiwa International Victimology Institute at Tokiwa University in Mito, Japan, and associate professor at California State University, Fresno; Mario Gaboury, Ph. D., director of the Center for the Study of Crime Victims’ Rights, Remedies and Resources at the University of New Haven; Arthur Wint, J.D., professor of criminology and coordinator of the peace and conflict studies program at CSUF; and Bernadette Muscat, Ph. D., assistant professor in criminology at CSUF. The audience was made up of professionals in education, ministry, law, politics and business. Sponsors were FPU and the West Coast Mennonite Central Committee.

"I saw restorative justice in a new light," said Vernon Janzen, conference participant and retired pastor and educator. "Not that it is the easy way out of difficult situations, but that it is the right way, which brings healing and change."

With restorative justice, the offender pays a debt to the victim as well as society.