National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is observed every April. Prison Fellowship advocates for criminal justice reforms that help transform those responsible for crime, validate victims, and encourage churches and communities to play a role in creating a safe, redemptive, and just society. The following is a digest from Outrageous Justice, Prison Fellowship's small-group curriculum designed to awaken Christians to the need for justice that restores.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to share God's concern for victims by promoting justice and restoring communities.
There is a good chance that you have been a victim of crime at some point in your life. Millions of Americans experience crime of all sorts every year. That should outrage us, but even more outrageous is that the modern criminal justice system is in some ways ill-equipped to meet the needs of people and communities harmed by crime.
Victims of crime must navigate a difficult system that often exacerbates the trauma they have already experienced. And when victims have a low sense of agency in the process, their satisfaction with the system decreases significantly. They may feel like they are being victimized a second time because they cannot control what is happening to them.
THE POWER OF VALIDATION
When a crime happens, it can't be undone. No one can rewrite the story of what has already occurred. But supporting victims may help them move forward on their journey and perhaps even begin to heal them from the trauma. If a victim of crime is willing to share their experience with you, listen to their story and resist the urge to "fix" them or tell them you know how they feel. You don't have to respond with eloquent words or what you think are biblical answers. Usually the best way to help is simply to listen and to validate their story.
What is validation? In short, it's saying, "I'm so sorry that happened to you. It wasn't right. You've suffered an injustice." It might look like a simple conversation, but don't underestimate how truly listening and validating someone's pain or fear can move them one step forward on their personal journey.
SUPPORT HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
We should walk alongside victims as they navigate the criminal justice system. Partner with them to advance their rights in the system. Allow victims to process at their own pace. This may involve a long-term process of healing, including deep anguish, confusion, fear, challenges, and emotional ups and downs. As with anyone who has survived a traumatic event or loss, there is no exact timetable or "right" way to recover. Instead, we should ask the Holy Spirit for discernment and stay mindful that each victim is on a personal journey. Remember our duty to "mourn with those who mourn," as Romans 12:15 instructs.
We must also understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt, but reconciling is re-embracing the person who caused the hurt. Those are two different things. While some victims may choose to reconcile with the person who has wronged them, this may not be appropriate or safe. As we walk alongside victims of crime, we should respect the boundaries needed for long-term protection and restoration.
God is outraged by injustice. Likewise, Christians should confront evil, including crime, and not excuse it. When we push people who are not ready to forgive or demand reconciliation where healthy boundaries would preclude it, we thwart justice, rather than advocate for it. And even when someone does forgive, it doesn't mean we shouldn't take action against injustice or not punish crime appropriately.
ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE
A restorative approach to criminal justice recognizes that crime is not just an offense against the government; crime damages the security and well-being of the victim and the entire community. In the current criminal justice system, the government and the defendant are the direct parties in an adversarial process, while the victim and the community are often treated as observers.
Justice that restores includes working to promote accountability and transformation of the person responsible. It advocates for the government to serve as a facilitator of justice, rather than acting as a direct party.
No matter how far the government has come in advancing victims' rights, there will always be needs that the government cannot meet. We must stand ready to aid and comfort but also to pursue justice in behalf of victims. Everyone who cares about justice, especially Christians, must continue to advocate.
Article Updated 4/16/19
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