Crime victims series recap: what besides retribution?

Whenever people confront a complex social problem, gut reactions might feel good and right, but they rarely provide true or long-lasting solutions. Few problems are as complex as crime. And so, when we think about crime victims, especially about victims of violence, our first reactions get it wrong so consistently that it’s remarkable we ever get anything about it right.

In the stories that I’ve told at Slate after a year’s work under a Soros Justice Media Fellowhip, I have tried to show that victims are not simply defined by their wound, nor can that wound be healed by lashing out blindly at those who harmed them — or encouraging them to find their only solace in such anger and simple retribution. These are natural emotions. Most of us have them, and no one should ever judge victims for grasping at punishment of their offender as their medicine. But we owe it to victims to understand them and their experience much more deeply than we do when we shed a tear, rage at the “senseless” crime that befell them, and then move on, secure in the belief that punishment is the primary response needed. And we must offer victims more options than just indulging their first reactions.

Though I have admitted doubts that my stories might change hearts and minds about the range of victims’ true experiences, I hope they did.  I plan to continue reporting on these topics. Please keep watching this blog and my social media feeds for updates on my work. Thanks for reading. And thanks to the hundreds of victims and experts whose time and writings informed my work; to Slate and my talented editor John Swansburg for helping me sharpen the telling of these stories and for giving them great exposure; and to my friends, colleagues, and benefactors at the Open Society Foundations for supporting criminal-justice journalism through the Soros Justice Fellowships.

Here are the highlights:

Archive of blog posts on the series in progress, outtakes from the stories, and summaries of the stories as they appeared.

The stories:

Part One: Linda White’s example of extreme forgiveness as the antidote to victim anger

Part Two: Bridges to Life and the victims who enter the belly of the beast to counsel prisoners

Part Three: Bill Otis, tough-on-crime’s last man standing, and the arguments that motivate federal criminal justice policy

Part Four: Susan Herman’s mission to change NYPD culture and serve victims from One Police Plaza

Part Five: Los Angeles’ dedicated cadre of victims who respond to crime by seeking to save others from it

Part Six: The promise and peril of restorative justice as an alternative to America’s punitive system

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