Victim Offender Dialogue

In June of 1991, the Polk County Attorney's Office initiated the Victim-Offender Dialogue (VOD) to allow crime victims the opportunity to confront offenders in a controlled setting with the assistance of a trained facilitator.

More than 200 VOD programs operate throughout North America, but most operate outside of the criminal justice system. What sets Polk County’s VOD program apart is that it is an integral part of Polk County’s criminal justice system. Prosecutors from the Polk County Attorney’s Office initiate most referrals to the program. Judges order the offenders to participate in VOD with the victims. 

VOD is first and foremost a program of healing for the victim. Participation is voluntary for victims. If victims choose not to participate, the offender will meet with a surrogate community member to explain the impacts of their actions. 

Trained facilitators procured by the Polk County Attorney's “Restorative Justice Center” mediate the VOD sessions. The facilitator/mediator, in traditional mediations and VOD mediations, serves as a neutral third party, someone who has no stake in the outcome and does not represent the justice system.

Most VOD sessions begin with an overview of the status of the case in the justice system. The session then proceeds with a recounting of the facts surrounding the crime, as understood by the victim. Generally, the victim moves fairly quickly to a discussion of the emotions surrounding the crime, the resulting anxieties and fears that can linger for months or even years. The offender is confronted about his or her involvement in the crime, to what extent it was planned, why the victim was chosen, etc. Following a full review of all issues relevant to both the victim and the offender, the victim and offender discuss restitution. If there is to be financial compensation, a dollar amount is agreed upon and a payment plan is established. The agreement is written and later presented to the court for approval either prior to sentencing or following sentencing, as a supplemental order.

Theoretically, there are no crimes that are not appropriate for VOD (other than domestic abuse assault cases because of the Iowa Code.) The primary determinant of whether a session will be held is the readiness of the victim and the offender. Routinely, sessions are held ranging from shoplifting and minor property damage cases to burglary, robbery, car theft and embezzlement. Offenders have met with their sexual assault victims and with the surviving family members of homicide victims. VOD is even available in so-called “victimless” crimes. 

For more information about the VOD program, call the Polk County Attorney's Office (515)286-3737.


What is VOD?

VOD stands for Victim Offender Dialogue, and it is one aspect of the Restorative Justice approach to crime. The program attends to some needs of the victim that are not addressed by the criminal justice system.

VOD is a meeting between the victim and offender in a safe, respectful environment with a trained facilitator to discuss:

  • What happened
  • Why it happened
  • How it felt when it happened
  • How it feels now
  • What needs to happen now

The facilitator helps the parties communicate and assists with the process. A written agreement for restitution or settlement may be developed during the process. However, the facilitator does not impose an agreement and will not take sides.


How Does VOD Work?

VOD can bring peace of mind and a sense of restoration to all parties involved.

Victims, offenders and community members meet face-to-face to talk about the crime. The victim can choose to have a victim advocate at the meeting to provide support.

In VOD, you may:

  • Be seen as a person
  • Express feelings and opinions about what happened
  • Ask questions
  • Talk about your future and ask others about theirs
  • Reach a better understanding of the crime
  • Work out a written agreement about what needs to happen now

As participants share their stories and listen to one another, they begin to discuss what needs to happen now to repair the harm caused by the crime.


Why Is This Important?

  • Everyone Benefits When Restorative Justice Works!
  • Victims have an option to participate in the justice process in a meaningful way.
  • Offenders can understand the impact of their behavior on others and can take responsibility.
  • The Criminal Justice System has a process which holds offenders accountable.
  • The community plays an active role in the process of healing and restoration.

How Does VOD Benefit Victims?

  • Offers a chance to talk about the crime and its effects on the victim and the victim’s family
  • Allows the victim to take an active role in the outcome of the case
  • Enables the victim to obtain answers to questions such as “Why me?”
  • Provides an opportunity for victims and offenders to create a restitution agreement and establish a payment plan
  • Allows victims to obtain “closure” and put the crime behind them

How Does VOD Benefit Offenders?

  • Offers a chance for offenders to understand the trauma caused by their crime
  • Enables offenders to discuss accountability and responsibility
  • Personalizes the crime for the offender
  • Provides the offender an opportunity to express remorse and make amends with the victim and the community

How Does VOD Benefit the Community?

  • May reduce future criminal behavior
  • Provides opportunity for community involvement
  • Strengthens the teachings of nonviolent techniques to resolve conflict
  • Resolves conflict outside of the court system, making resolution faster