In normal circumstances, we would have 16 cases in mediation every week in Estonia, that’s an average of 860 per year. Due to the spread of COVID-19 and the need to abstain from physical contact, we among many countries have been forced to shut down victim offender mediation and other restorative justice services.It is troubling to see rise as well as transformation of conflicts in communities, families and among juveniles while being unable to provide mediation services due to the isolation requirements.
Examples of the most pronounced conflicts are:
Juveniles disregarding the requirement to stay indoors, isolated from their peers, are raising the risk of spreading the virus. Moreover, we are seeing transformations in delinquent behaviour where youngsters approach people in the public space, cough in their face and threaten to infect them. Domestic disputes between spouses or partners escalating due to the need to stay isolated from others except the the immediate family. Intensifying arguments between parents and children, notably teenagers, and the inability or lack of skills to solve these without an outside mediator/facilitator. Restorative justice is considered an effective way to solve conflicts and restore peace in the community. In normal circumstances – which is not where we currently are - mediation involves preparatory meetings with all the relevant parties separately and a common meeting with all the parties present. With the help of trained mediators, the parties strive to resolve the conflict and come up with a common understanding on how to achieve justice and healing in the face of their particular crime or conflict. All parties are given the opportunity to express their feelings and perceptions of the offence, with the meetings aiming to reach an agreement on the steps the offender(s) will take to repair the harm suffered by the victim(s). For mediation to work, the mediators need to create a safe and supporting atmosphere during the meeting. We have seen remarkable results with this model involving face-to-face meetings. But how could we do it now, when physical meetings are not an option? With the stress levels rising due to isolation and the threat of infection, there is a need to find a solution for providing restorative services, most particularly mediation, without physically meeting. The solution we are looking for, should enable us to create a safe and functioning online environment that is easy to access, enables identification, does not require high-level IT skills and provides protection of personal data and online security.