Should We Seek Healing or Closure?
When someone has been victimized by crime, we often hear how important a trial and conviction are to provide closure for the victim, or the victim’s family if the victim died. This trite word, closure, treats what has happened to the victim as nothing more than a chapter in a book, something isolated that one can move on from with the simple turn of a page. As in the relationship of a chapter to a book, I’m sure well-meaning people do not intend to imply that the story of the victim’s harm is unrelated to the victim’s life; yet, too often we expect victims (or their families) to simply find closure and move on with their lives. 

Closure has a sense of finality to it, as if that chapter is never to be reopened; never to be referenced again as an essential part of the broader story. But that is rarely the case. Crime causes deep and lasting scars to those who suffer from it. It is neither isolated in its reach nor final in its conclusion at the conviction of the person who caused the harm. Victims often want to know answers to questions like, “why did the offender target me?”, “is the offender sorry for his or her behavior?”, “what is the offender doing, besides prison time, to change so nobody else is harmed by him or her again?”, and “what is the offender doing, either concretely or symbolically, to repair his or her wrongs?” These and many other questions are often left unanswered by the traditional criminal justice system. In other words, a conviction simply cannot provide closure for victims of crime. Instead, it often feels like an unsatisfactory finality to the adversarial process of “justice.”

Restorative justice practices do not discount the necessity of holding an offender judicially responsible for his or her crime, but it also seeks to provide more than closure for the victims of crime. Restorative justice seeks to provide healing by recognizing that crime is first and foremost a violation of relationships and that those violations need healing, not simple closure. Victims deserve to have their questions answered, to participate in defining the obligations the offender has because of his or her crime, and to communicate the outcomes that would help to heal the harms they experienced. 

Crime causes harms, and those harms often result in life-long scars for the victim, the offender, and the communities of support for both the victim and offender. Focusing on healing the harms of crime does not mean that the scars of the harm are removed, but it seeks to repair the harms caused, as much as possible, through giving the victim a voice in the process and empowering him or her to help define what would best lead to healing. Until we begin to embrace a more restorative approach to crime, we will simply be asking victims to find closure, not true healing. 

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Author: Bryan Noonan
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.