“In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), Jesus made it clear that crime victims are our neighbors; that it is our responsibility to bind their wounds and care for them until they are healed.” – Pat Nolan, Director of Nolan Center for Justice
It is important to remember that crime is far more than law breaking – it is victim harming. With all the headlines about crime, it is easy to forget that crime harms real human beings, and that these individuals need our help. Our justice system often ignores these victims and their needs. In the last thirty years, victims’ rights have gained greater traction, but there is still much that should be done to provide these victims with relief.
Because our criminal justice system defines crime as an offense against the state instead of an offense against a victim, our justice system tends to narrowly focus on the legal aspect of the crime instead of the victim’s needs. You can see this in the way criminal cases are titled: State v. Defendant. Crime is defined as “law breaking.” Regrettably, our system’s limited view of crime as a broken law causes it to focus on punishing offenders and trying to ensure that they don’t break the law again, leaving the victim out in the cold.
Victims can sustain physical injury, monetary loss, and emotional suffering. The crime may disrupt their lives temporarily or indefinitely. To be victimized is to feel powerless, and victims often need help regaining an appropriate sense of control. Victims also need to be vindicated and reminded that they are not responsible for what happened to them. Churches and ministry organizations can provide practical, emotional, and spiritual assistance to victims of crime.
Occasionally, victims want to meet with their offenders and are sometimes even moved to forgive them. There are several excellent programs that prepare victims and offenders for such an encounter. These Victim-Offender programs are called by various names: reconciliation, mediation, or dialogue. These programs give victims who choose to participate the opportunity to express their true feelings about what occurred, ask questions of the offender, and suggest ways that the offender can begin to make things right. Victims who participate in these programs often want to recover losses, help the offenders stay out of trouble in the future, and feel included in the criminal justice process. This is something to be encouraged—but not rushed. Careful groundwork needs to be laid lest an insincere or unapologetic offender cause further damage to the victim.