n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Victim-offender dialogue : an analogue study examining the impact of apology on anger

Volume 23, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



In the extensive literature on restorative justice, victim-offender dialogue, which refers to a face-to-face meeting between the offender and the victim, is increasingly portrayed as a new form of victim support. In particular, it is regarded as a tool to reduce anger and feelings of revenge among crime victims. Post-traumatic anger is a common symptom among victims with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although not much research has been conducted on this aspect. The evidence base for therapeutic effects is generally weak and anecdotal in nature. An impressive attempt to enhance that base was made by Sherman et al. (2005). Diminished anger, assumed to reflect the presentation of a sincere apology during a meeting, was confirmed in their study. However, because internal validity appears to be rather problematic, their findings are regarded as inconclusive and controversial from a victim-support perspective. Subsequently an analogue study was conducted among students who were involved in an anger-provoking incident to enhance internal validity by means of a simulated, imaginary dialogue. The students were randomly assigned to participate in one of two anger-release conditions, in which they were given the opportunity to write about their emotional responses. Writing instructions were derived from Pennebaker's (2004) written disclosure protocol. In one of these conditions a sincere apology was presented after the first writing session. Findings revealed significant progress with regard to anger and forgiveness in both conditions, but did not support a general mediating role for apology. Although apologies were shown to diminish anger if the respondent found the apology helpful, it had an adverse effect when this was not the case. A significant proportion of participants showed regression with regard to anger acceptance during follow-up sessions. In line with these findings a psychological moderator model is presented that explicitly includes a pathway to harmful victim-offender dialogue outcomes. Suggestions are offered for further study of the therapeutic effects of shuttle mediation in an ecologically richer experimental setting.

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