Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Aftermath of Violence: Victim Offender Dialogue, Forgiveness Processes, and Other Paths to Healing
by Melcher, Janet, Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 2013, 399; 10947964
Abstract (Summary)

This study was designed to learn about what is helpful to people who have lost a loved one as a result of some unlawful act (for example, murder or manslaughter). Those affected by the loss of a loved one due to violent crime are called survivors. Of particular interest in this study was the survivor’s decision to use or not to use Ohio’s restorative justice program known as Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD), a carefully structured procedure that allows the survivor to meet with the offender to ask questions and share information. To provide the context for this qualitative research, literature on forgiveness as a mental health intervention, restorative justice procedures and forgiveness, moral development with its connection to forgiveness, religious coping, and after death communications was reviewed. In this study, survivors’ views about forgiveness were explored with attention to ideas about and experiences of forgiveness for survivors who did participate in VOD and for those who did not. Participants also were asked generally what helped them after the loss and specifically what role spirituality played in their response to the crime. In addition, participants were invited to tell if they had a sense of presence of the deceased or some communication with the deceased loved one.

Research participants included: eight survivors who completed VOD and were recruited through the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Office of Victim Services; seven survivors who have not gone through a VOD process that were recruited through various support groups in Ohio; six VOD facilitators; and key informant Ken Czillinger, one of the founders of Parents of Murdered Children. Data were gathered by conducting an individual in- person semi-structured interview designed to encourage each participant to tell her own story about the crime and how she coped. Also, VOD facilitators participated in an individual in-person interview and VOD files were reviewed. Each participant was available for a brief follow-up phone contact as well. Narrative methods were used to analyze the data.

While most survivors remained acutely aware of the absence of the lost loved one, many also reported a return to a day-to-day good emotional functioning. Positive emotional functioning was associated with achieving emotional detachment from the offender. Survivors arrived at this state by various means such as forgiveness, positive religious coping, and refusing to allow the offender to take their lives, too. Differences in the approach to healing were observed between the two survivor groups with five VOD survivors stating that they forgave the offender and no Support Group survivors claiming definitive forgiveness. With regard to communication from the deceased, overall ten participants indicated that either they or a family member had a sense of having some kind of communication or unusual experience that they connected to the deceased, mostly of a helpful nature. Finally, details of the paths to healing with an eye toward fairness thinking and empathy for the offender are highlighted along with suggestions for possible helping interventions based on the experiences of these exemplar participants.

Indexing (document details)
Commitee: Gibbs, John, Greene, Gil, Lee, Mo-Yee
School: The Ohio State University
Department: Social Work
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 79/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social work
Keywords: After death communications, Forgiveness, Homicide survivors, Religious coping, Restorative justice
Publication Number: 10947964
ISBN: 978-0-438-19582-0
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