This is a guest post by Professor Mandeep K Dhami, PhD. who is Professor in Decision Psychology at Middlesex University, London. Her research focusses on questions of human judgment and decision-making, risk perception and risk taking, and understanding and communicating uncertainty.
Victim–offender mediation practices bring conflicting parties together so they can engage in a two-way dialogue and ultimately negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution. The fact that apology may be a motivator for participating in the mediation process and that it is often a common outcome of mediation suggests that research on mediation ought to more carefully explore the nature of the apologies that are offered. Dhami’s (2015a) study provides a qualitative exploration of the prevalence and nature of the apologies offered by offenders to their victims during face-to-face mediations. Fifty-nine mediation agreements recorded by the longest running mediation scheme in the UK were analysed. It was found that 50.8% of agreements contained mention of the perpetrator saying ‘I’m sorry’ or offering a partial apology (i.e. acknowledging harm and/or promising forbearance). Full apologies were absent in the mediation agreements. Agreements did not make explicit mention of the offender admitting responsibility or expressing remorse or regret. Finally, although the mediation agreements did not make any explicit mention of offenders offering reparation, they did record efforts at providing solutions to the conflict.
It is stated that full apologies comprise at least five specific components (i.e., admitting responsibility, acknowledging harm, expressing remorse, offering reparation, and promising forbearance). However, full apologies are not commonplace, and wrongdoers are more likely to offer a partial apology. Dhami (2017) conducted an empirical study of how people perceive a partial apology. Eighty young people were asked to rate the extent to which a partial apology comprising one component implied each of the four remaining (uncommunicated) components of apology. Participants believed that when someone offers a partial apology, that person also implies, to the same extent, the remaining (uncommunicated) components of apology (either combined or separately). A partial apology involving either an acknowledgment of harm or offer of reparation implied to a lesser extent the promise of forbearance than some other components i.e., the admission of responsibility and the expression of remorse. In addition, a partial apology involving the expression of remorse or promise of forbearance implied to a greater extent the admission of responsibility compared to some other components i.e., the acknowledgment of harm and the offer of reparation.
Past research on VoM has highlighted the importance of apology for both victims and offenders and the prevalence of apology during the mediation process. Dhami (2012) examined the nature of the apologies that are offered during mediation, as well as the individual-, case-, and mediation-level factors that can affect the offer and acceptance of apology. In addition, the study measured the implications that the offer and acceptance of apology can have on satisfaction with the mediation outcome. The study involved a content analysis of 57 records of mediations occurring between 2008 and 2010 at a UK mediation centre. Perpetrators said ‘‘I’m sorry’’ in over one-third of cases, and full apologies were offered in nearly one-fifth of cases. Apologies were accepted in over 90% of cases, although forgiveness was much less common. The offer of apology was most closely associated with the type of incident/offence, and number of previous mediations in a case. There was also some support for the relationship between the offer of apology and victim age, perpetrator gender, formal sanction, and the number of participants attending the mediation meeting. None of the factors studied were associated with the acceptance of apology. The offer of apology was associated with satisfaction with the mediation outcome, and in all of the cases where the apology was accepted, the victim was satisfied with the mediation outcome.
Finally, the ‘apology-acceptance’ script that may prevail during the victim–offender mediation process suggests that victims may feel obliged or pressured to accept an offender’s offer of an apology. Violations of this expectation in terms of rejection of an apology or no recognition of it may influence the outcomes of mediation in several ways. Dhami (2015b) conducted two experiments examining the effects of a victim’s response to an offender’s offer of a full apology on offenders’ perceptions of the victim’s response, emotional reactions, perceptions of the victim, attitudes towards the dispute and attitudes towards mediation. Experiment 1 compared the effects of a rejection, acceptance and no recognition of an apology, and Experiment 2 further investigated the effects of an acceptance versus no recognition of an apology. It was found that offenders who had their apology rejected considered the victim’s response as least appropriate and were least satisfied by it. ‘Rejected’ offenders felt more anger towards the victim and had more negative impressions of the victim. Offenders who had their apology accepted felt more guilt and shame. They were, however, also more willing to reach an agreement and were more likely to perceive the conflict as being resolved. ‘Accepted’ offenders were also more likely to participate in mediation in the future and more willing to recommend mediation to others. The research also demonstrated that no recognition of an apology has adverse effects similar to a rejection of an apology.
Dhami, M. K. (2017). An empirical note on perceptions of partial apologies. Onati Socio-Legal Series, 7, 408-420.
Dhami, M. K. (2015a). Apology in victim-offender mediation. Contemporary Justice Review. DOI: 10.1080/10282580.2015.1101686
Dhami, M. K. (2015b). Effects of victims’ response to apology in victim-offender mediation. European Journal of Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2145
Dhami, M. K. (2012). Offer and acceptance of apology in victim-offender mediation. Critical Criminology: An International Journal, 20, 45-60.