Restorative justice

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January 2014
Dominic Barter in Bordeaux

Marshall Rosenberg at NVC in restorative settings

London 13th june 2002

Transcript of role-play

Restorative justice 'conference' between victim and perpetrator of sexual offence

Background information

In this role-play, Marshall was demonstrating how a facilitator can use NVC to help both victim and perpetrator to reach a point where healing from their respective pain becomes possible.

As facilitator, he made reference to, but did not specify, the request that the victim would be invited to make of the perpetrator. He also recognised all the work the perpetrator might have to do to get in touch with his feelings and needs at the time of the offence, before taking part in the 'conference' with the victim.

Marshall was playing the three roles of:

  • Restorative justice facilitator
  • Victim of a sexual offence
  • Perpetrator of the offence

NVC in RJ: outline of the process

Step 1: In advance of the meeting, the facilitator coaches the perpetrator to express himself in terms of feelings and needs and to hear the feelings and needs behind whatever the victim may say. Wherever possible, the facilitator will coach the victim in a similar way.

The amount of coaching needed will vary from one person to another.

Step 2: The victim articulates the pain that he/she feels in relation to the perpetrator's actions. The perpetrator, with the support of the facilitator, reflects back to the victim all those feelings that are still alive in the victim in relation to the perpetrator's action(s).

In Nonviolent Communication, this is described as giving empathy. This process can take some time but should continue until it is clear that the victim feels satisfaction at being fully understood. Until this happens, we predict that the victim will not be able to hear the perpetrator's feelings and needs, and this will restrict the depth of the healing process.

Step 3: The perpetrator goes deep inside himself and articulates what he feels in response and his own needs that were not met by his actions.

In Nonviolent Communication, this is described as mourning, and is fundamentally different from any process that encourages the perpetrator to feel guilt or shame.

Step 4: The perpetrator says what was going on in him when he did what he did, that is, the feelings and needs that led him to act in this way.

This is very different from explaining or justifying what he did: for example, 'because I was abused as a child'.

The victim reflects back to the perpetrator the feelings and needs that were alive in the perpetrator that led him to act as he did.

In other words, the victim gives the perpetrator empathy. Step 4 provides the foundation for further restorative work with the perpetrator: it can help the perpetrator to find new, more constructive ways of meeting his needs in the future.

Step 5: The victim and perpetrator make specific requests of each other.

We believe it is vital for the facilitator to check whether either party needs to do this in order to complete the healing process.

This cycle of empathy and understanding for the victim's pain, mourning for the perpetrator's actions and understanding how the perpetrator came to do it, maximises the chance of healing taking place for both parties.


My preference is, if we have the opportunity, to get victim and offender together.

Let's say the victim is a woman who has been raped. There are two ingredients: expressing from the heart, and empathy. Here's how it's going to look. The first thing I'm going to do is get the perpetrator to empathically connect with what's alive in the victim. I give the victim a chance to express herself and get empathy from the perpetrator.

Most of the time, when people think they want to punish somebody, I think the 'need' behind it - punishment - is a strategy not a need. I think one of their needs is that they want the other person to know how they suffered. But where in our society do we ever see that happen? The only thing that people can think of is just to be victimised - and nothing happens - or punishment. Those are the only two options that we see. I've yet to see any victim who's gone through what I'm going to demonstrate now that afterwards would rather have seen the other person punished. The victims all they want very often is to see the other person suffer.

Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to start by helping this perpetrator to empathise with the person who he raped. (NB: this corresponds to Step 2)

Victim: Do you know what it was like to be held down and have this happen to you? Do you know how much I suffered? How horrible that is? You monster, you ass hole. I'd like to see you dead.

Facilitator to perpetrator: I want you to connect with what she saying. What is she feeling right now?

Perpetrator: I'm sorry.

Facilitator to perpetrator: No apologies. Apologies are too cheap. I want you to tell her what you heard her say she's feeling.


Facilitator to perpetrator I'm going to tell you what I heard, and then I want you to repeat it.

Facilitator to victim: If I heard you correctly, you've got a whole bunch of feelings. You feel rage that anything like this could happen to you and you want some understanding also for how frightened you were to have this happen to you.

Victim: Not only that, but it's two years ago and there's not a day in my life when I don't live my life without suffering.

Facilitator to victim: So in addition to that, you want some understanding for the amount of suffering that goes on every day, for the fear that stays in you.

Victim: Yes

Facilitator to perpetrator: OK. Say back what you heard her feeling. What is she feeling and needing? (Pause) You want me to say it again?

Perpetrator: No, let me try. (Addressing victim) You think I'm a monster.

Facilitator to perpetrator: That's the easy part. I want you to hear her feelings and needs. What feelings and needs is she expressing to you?

Perpetrator: She's furious. She wants me to know what it was like to be forced to have sex, and to be held down.

Facilitator to perpetrator: What else?

Perpetrator: I don't know

Facilitator to perpetrator: Let me tell you what else I hear her say. She wants you to hear how terrified she was and how that terror stays with her and she hasn't had a day free of pain since then. Say it back.

Perpetrator: She was terrified then, and she's been terrified every day since then.

Facilitator to victim: Is this what you want you wanted him to hear?

Victim: More than that, more than that.

OK, so we go on for a while. This pain can be very deep, so I help the perpetrator hear that. That's the first step. Until this person feels fully understood.

Facilitator to victim: Do you feel understood?

Victim: Yes.

Now the next thing I'm going to do is help the perpetrator mourn - not apologise, mourn. Mourning requires going deep into yourself. Apology is cheap. It's easy to say you're sorry, but what does that mean? People have learned since the time they've been a child that you say that just to get forgiven. There need be no sincerity in it, no real feeling in it. But in what we call mourning, we want this person to go deep inside. (NB: this corresponds to Step 3)

Facilitator to perpetrator: So tell her what you feel right now, hearing what she's gone through.

Perpetrator: I think I should be punished.

Facilitator: Not what you think should happen to you - what you feel right now.

Perpetrator: I feel like I'm an asshole.

Facilitator: Calling you names isn't the answer. I want you to go inside and tell me how you feel.

Perpetrator: Don't make me do that.

Facilitator: It's terrifying to go inside and really see how it feels to do something like this. It's so much easier to call yourself a name. Or to say she asked for it, or to justify yourself. That's easy, but to go inside after you've seen how the other person has suffered. To go inside and to really express how you feel - it's scary. So I want you to go inside and tell me how you feel now that you see how she's suffered.

Perpetrator: I feel sad. I feel sad.

Facilitator: What needs of yours were not met by your behaviour?

Perpetrator: That's not how I want to treat people, man. That's not how I want to treat people.

OK, that's what we call mourning. I'm shortening the process, but that's mourning: going inside and really looking at how you feel about what you've done. And connecting it to needs of yours - your own - that weren't met by your own actions. That's far scarier but more sincere than an apology.

(NB: This next part corresponds to Step 4 in the summary above.)

Facilitator to Perpetrator: Now I want you to tell her what was going on in you when you did it. What were you feeling when you did it. What needs of yours were you trying to meet when you did it?

Now it's interesting how in this part, the victim, before I even ask for it, after they get the understanding for their suffering, almost always they're screaming something like this: How could you do it? How could you do it?

For healing to take place, there first needs to be the original empathy, the understanding, but then we also need to know 'how could this person do it?'. Because until we can really understand the other person and see why they did what they did, we can't forgive them and we can't heal until we can forgive them.

Now in NVC empathy and forgiveness are the same thing. When we empathise, there's nothing to forgive. But we also stress in our work: don't go too quickly to getting the victim to understand the other person. Almost from the very beginning, some people in their lives have been encouraging them to forgive, to understand the other person. And if they do that before the first part, before they get fully understood for their suffering, the understanding they give to the other person can only be superficial. And it cuts their own healing. But when they've had the understanding they need, they are usually hungry to understand what could have been going on in the other person when they did what they did.

Facilitator to perpetrator: So I want you to tell her now what was going on in you at the moment you were doing this. What was going on?

And now I help the prisoner to identify and articulate what feelings and needs were alive in him when he did it. And then I ask the victim to empathise with that, to tell me back what she hears was going on in him when he did it. What was he feeling? What was he needing?

When that happens, it's amazing the transformation that has occurred. These two people at that point are joined in a way that's going to make the next step much easier. The next step is now the restorative process. What in addition is needed for both parties to feel healed in this? And that's simply a matter of what request do you have of one another now?

So that's a quick overview of how we do restorative justice using NVC.

Question from the audience: What is the difference between an apology and mourning?

Here's what the person always wants to do:

Perpetrator: 'I'm sorry, I'm an asshole. Kill me.'

Facilitator: 'That's what I call an apology - saying 'I'm wrong, I deserve to suffer'. That's how people have been educated. How long have you thought you were an asshole?

Perpetrator: 'My whole life.'

Facilitator: 'Has that kept you from doing this?

Perpetrator: 'No'.

Facilitator: 'It's not what I'm asking you - how you think you are. I want to know how you feel. How do you feel?'

Perpetrator: 'I'm sorry'

Facilitator: 'No, that word doesn't tell me anything. You've probably been saying you're sorry for everything you've done. You've probably been educated to do that by rote. If somebody thinks you're wrong, you say you're sorry and then you're forgiven. No, that's too cheap. I want you to go inside and really tell me how you feel now that you see who's suffering.'

Almost always, they say 'don't make me do that'. It's painful to go inside and really see how painful it is to have done things to another person. It's not shame. The shame comes by self-violence - by thinking that what you did was wrong. That's too easy. Shame is too superficial. And it's a form of violence towards self. I want this person to go in and suffer naturally but deeply. It's a natural feeling when we see that we have done something that didn't serve life. We have strong feelings but never shame or guilt. The feelings are often a deep sadness. A deep despair. A deep fear. Very often it's: 'I'm scared to death to think I could have done something like that to someone.' Deep, deep feelings. But not shame, guilt.

Shame and guilt come about through self violence. Thinking that what you did means there's something wrong with you.

Perpetrator: 'But there is something wrong with me, man. Look what I did to her'.

Facilitator: 'We're going to get later to why you did it. It's too easy to think there's something wrong with you. I want you to go inside now and tell me how you feel about having done it. I don't want to hear you judge yourself. Judging yourself is only going to make you more violent. I want you to mourn, I don't want you to apologise.'

And then after the mourning, we go inside and then we empathise with the reasons why the person did it. You see, the reason a person does this is always to meet a human need or one or more needs.

Now, very often in the work we do in prisons, we don't have the victims available. So I play the role of the victim, and the work we do with the prisoner is to get them to empathise with their victims, to role-play - so we go through the process even when we don't have access to the victims. But we want them to empathise with the suffering created by their acts. We want them to mourn it and then we want them to forgive themselves by empathising fully with what needs of theirs they were trying to meet by doing that. It doesn't justify the behaviour. It just means that when they can see the good reasons why they did it - the good reasons mean they were trying the best they knew how to meet human needs. Then we can start trying to find other ways of meeting those needs that don't violate other people.

Transcription and translation procedure

Dominic Barter and Restorative Justice in Brazil

Dominic Barter, CNVC Restorative Justice Project coordinator, has been developing Restorative practices in Brazil since the mid 90's. Since 2005 his Restorative Circles process has been at the centre of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice pilot projects in Restorative Justice.

Introduced in high schools, youth courts, youth prisons, municipal shelters, police departments and in local communities the Circles have brought about a profound paradigm change in the way justice is done - creating healing and security where conflict and crime had brought division and fear.

In the last three years RC have been shared in 11 countries and projects are underway in families, courts, prisons, schools and communities

Restorative Circles are deeply aligned with the principles and practice of Nonviolent Communication, creating shared power and engaging with the underlying meaning in conflict and crime in order to produce measurable acts that heal and connect. The Circles bring together the three parties involved in painful acts: those who committed the act, those who bore its brunt, and those who form the community of those indirectly impacted.

Using a needs-based dialogue process the participants are invited to recover the ability to understand each other, to learn from what happened, and to make a specific plan for the future, designed to bring benefit to all and change in the social conditions in which the conflict arose. More than a methodology, Restorative Circles are the centrepiece of a systemic response to community safety which bring nonviolence into public life in a tangible, constructive form.

External links