Victim & Survivor Rights & Services

Victim Offender Dialogue gives voice to crime victims

Victim Offender Dialogue held in a prison.
A Victim Offender Dialogue can only be requested by the victim or survivor. (Photo taken pre-COVID-19)

CDCR grant funding for VOD restorative justice effort

Victim Offender Dialogue facilitator smiling.
VOD Facilitator Martina Lutz Schneider.

The Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) program gives voice to those harmed by crime, helping them achieve a further sense of justice and healing.

The Ahimsa Collective is one of three non-profit organizations receiving CDCR grant funding to facilitate VOD. The program is a survivor-centered restorative justice practice.

Lead facilitator Martina Lutz Schneider oversees the VOD program at the Ahimsa Collective – a Berkeley-based non-profit using deep trauma healing and restorative approaches to address harm in ways that foster wholeness.

Lutz Schneider has been involved in restorative justice since 2003 serving as a devoted advocate while volunteering in school and prison settings. In 2015, she began facilitating VODs in CDCR institutions.

Victim Offender Dialogue can help heal

While not for everyone, the VOD process can be used as a way for a survivor to:

  • Have the chance to explain how the crime impacted their life
  • Express their thoughts and feelings about the incident in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Get answers to questions about the offense that only the offender can provide.
  • Allow the offender to see the survivor as a real person.
  • Be directly involved in how the offender is held accountable.

The process can only be initiated by the survivor. The dialogue takes place after both sides have completed a lengthy preparation process with a trained facilitator.

The VOD can help the survivor and offender acknowledge and articulate painful feelings. These can range from grief and shame to anger and outrage. This delicate and deeply personal process prioritizes the survivors’ physical and emotional well-being.

Currently, 34 cases are going through the VOD process in California state prisons. As the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services has recently added new staff members to assist with advancing restorative justice offerings, that number will likely increase.

We asked Lutz Schneider to share some insight on her experiences facilitating these dialogues in CDCR institutions. She also explains how this avenue can help survivors receive a sense of healing and justice.

Meet VOD facilitator Martina Lutz Schneider

What exactly is a Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD)?

A VOD is a face-to-face meeting between the person who was harmed and the person responsible for the harm. Talking directly with the responsible party in a safe setting allows the survivor to give full voice to all they endured. People responsible for harm are given the chance to hear the often wide-ranging and complex impact of their actions. Only then can they fully realize and understand the effects of their actions in their entirety and formulate their own response.

Both parties are active participants in a reparative process, tailored to their needs. It allows them to expand on the meaning the tragic event had for them and explore a new purpose in their lives.

Why do some survivors choose to participate in a VOD?

The moment a severe crime occurs, it is immediately life changing for all involved. Their fates are linked.

I had one survivor say, “This person has changed my life like nobody else, yet, I know nothing about them.”

She felt that was wrong, and it was odd not to talk about what had happened.

I agree with this, and recognize the absolute healing potential a dialogue can have for someone impacted by crime. In the aftermath of what happened, one party has a vital piece of information that only the other can provide. They have the opportunity to answer why something happened, offering truth outside of the confines of the court.

Empowering crime survivors

In what ways is a VOD empowering to a survivor?

When one experiences severe harm, there is a level of disempowerment. When working with a survivor to prepare for a VOD, we focus on rebuilding their sense of agency.

Our approach is humanistic and survivor-focused. Survivors are in the driver’s seat. We want them to recognize that they do have power and they get to direct what we are going to do and what we are going to talk about.

What would surprise people about this process?

Often, those who have caused harm actually do want to apologize. We are all innately wired for empathy. It helps us survive as a social species to be able to read each other and be in deep connection. When we go into an institution and work with those responsible for harming another, we help them to be honest about their impact and carry the burden of what they have done. This is about full accountability.

What are some of the positive outcomes you have seen others experience through a VOD?

The potential for healing cannot be understated. Seeing people get to a place where they can let go of anger and reclaim their agency are key experiences. The VOD also presents a crucial opportunity in restorative justice, allowing survivors to speak their truth and tell the other person exactly what harm has been caused.

If you would like more information about the VOD process, please contact OVSRS at
1-877-256-6877 or by email at

Learn more about the Ahimsa Collective.

By Alia Cruz, Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Learn more about the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services.

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