Beliefs about Victim‐Offender Conferences: Factors Influencing Victim‐Offender Engagement

Date01 September 2017
Published date01 September 2017
C R Q, vol. 35, no. 1, Fall 2017 47
© 2017 Association for Confl ict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21190
Beliefs about Victim-O ender Conferences: Factors
In uencing Victim-O ender Engagement
Gregory D. Paul
William J. Schenck-Hamlin
Victim-off ender conferences provide victims an opportunity to pursue
their justice goals while talking directly with their off ender. Although
research on victims’ conference participation willingness is growing, it
has tended to neglect the infl uence of context factors. Drawing on the
theory of planned behavior, the study reported in this article elicited
beliefs about justice goals, emotions, perceived support, and external
control beliefs related to intent to participate in a victim-off ender con-
ference. Analysis indicated that beliefs about justice goals, anticipated
emotions, social support, and behavior control infl uence conference par-
ticipation willingness.  e article identifi es implications for research
and practice regarding restorative justice and conference participation.
J ustice researchers and practitioners have taken an increasing interest in
the study and use of alternative justice practices grounded in the theory
of restorative justice. Restorative justice (RJ) is “a theory of justice that
emphasizes the restoration of individuals, relationships, and communities
following behavior perceived as harmful, off ensive, or problematic” (Paul
2015a , 100). Among the more prominent examples of such practices is
the victim-off ender conference (VOC). VOCs, which are managed by a
neutral facilitator, bring together victims, off enders, and their supporters
following an off ense (typically a low-level off ense committed by a fi rst-
time off ending youth) to talk directly with each other about the harm
done, negotiate reparation for that harm, and work through what any
future relationship between them could look like (Dignan et al. 2007 ; Paul
2015a ; Paul and Borton 2013 ; Paul and Dunlop 2014 ; Umbreit 2001 ;
Zehr 2002 ).
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
A growing body of research has examined the consequences of par-
ticipating in VOCs (Bergseth and Bouff ard 2007 ; Borton 2009 ; Evans
2006 ; Latimer, Dowden, and Muise 2005 ; Morris 2002 ; Umbreit and
Armour 2011 ; Van Ness and Strong 2010 ). Such research implicitly iden-
tifi es various justice goals or outcomes that VOC participation should or
could accomplish. Working from a similar assumption of VOCs being goal
driven, an emerging body of research has begun to explore why victims par-
ticipate in such conferences (Borton 2009 ; Niemeyer and Shichor 1996 ;
Paul 2015a ; Umbreit 1994 ; Umbreit, Coat es, and Vos 2004).  is research
dovetails with a confl ict goals perspective (Canary and Lakey 2006 ; Fol-
ger, Poole, and Stutman 2013 ; Wang, Fink, and Cai 2012 ; Wilmot and
Hocker 2007 ) in assuming that victims have particular outcomes they wish
to obtain by participating in a VOC.
Although a confl ict goals perspective is useful, it risks overlooking
factors outside the immediate interaction that could infl uence people ’ s
willingness to participate in a VOC. For example, community occupies
a central place in theorizing about RJ (Bolivar 2012 ; Zehr 2002 ), yet we
know little about how and whether it infl uences willingness to participate
in a VOC.  e purpose of this study is to provide a fi rst step in understand-
ing that infl uence. Using the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen 2011 )
as a framework, the study elicited beliefs about factors that likely infl u-
ence willingness to participate in a VOC, including attitudes toward the
prospect of such participation, normative beliefs about participation, and
behavioral control beliefs regarding participation. We assert that VOCs are
not confl ict containers but, rather, sites of group confl ict in which partici-
pants’ practices are functions of individual goals, relationship connections,
perceptions of each other, perceptions of themselves, and the normative
environment in which VOCs occur.
Eliciting beliefs about justice and VOC participation off ers three con-
tributions. First, as noted above, it works to move researchers and prac-
titioners away from approaching VOCs as black boxes or containers.
Second, it off ers a step toward an inductive approach to evaluating the
eff ectiveness and legitimacy of VOCs in the eyes of victims. By asking
participants what goals they would want to see accomplished, not only
can we arrive at a victim-sensitive understanding of VOC eff ectiveness,
but we also can begin to understand the justice discourses that victims
use during VOCs as they work out and negotiate their desired outcomes
(Paul and Dunlop 2014 ; Shapland et al. 2006 ). ird, this research evalu-
ates the extent to which VOC goals, as understood by the public, align

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