What's it like to meet the man who murdered your brother?

Posted on December 2, 2015

Photo source: Flickr

Traditionally, the criminal justice system has been so focused on ensuring that offenders are suitably punished that the interests and needs of victims are often overlooked. Nowhere is this more of an issue than in murder cases, where the relatives and friends of the victims are dragged through traumatic retellings of the crime.

One approach that seeks to give relatives and friends (known as "co-victims") a voice, and to help address their suffering, is known as "restorative justice" and it involves victims (or, in the case of a murder, co-victims) meeting face to face with the offender.

While restorative justice is becoming an increasingly common practice, psychologically informed research into its effects is relatively rare. Indeed, a recent issue of the British Journal of Criminology presents the first ever case-study investigation into the effects of restorative justice on the relatives of a murder victim (specifically, two sisters of a young man who was murdered). The paper makes for difficult reading but provides some valuable insights.

John (names have been changed), a bar manager in London, was murdered at the age of 30 by two men he'd invited back to his flat one night after work. He'd encountered the men by chance in an area of London where gay men meet for sex. Their plan was to take advantage of his inebriated state and rob him, but the plan went awry, there was a violent confrontation, and one of the men – Michael – strangled him to death. Michael is serving a life sentence for murder, the other aggressor had his sentence reduced to manslaughter on appeal after claiming to have a diagnosis of Asperger's.

Fifteen years later, two of John's sisters accepted an invitation to take part in a restorative justice plan for them to meet Michael. They had both suffered terribly since losing their brother: one sister Janet was diagnosed with clinical depression and missed 18 months of work; the other, Barbara, developed an alcohol problem and attempted to take her own life.

Mark Walters, the author of the case study, explains that these long-term difficulties are common among the co-victims of murders. Often, as was the case especially with Barbara who compulsively re-watched a documentary about her brother's murder, they become "stuck in a cycle of re-living incoherent pain and suffering".

Read the full story at the link below.


Source material from BPS Research Digest

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