Victims of particularly serious crimes should not be pushed to forgive the perpetrator simply because it can be therapeutic, a new study from WA researchers has suggested.
Murdoch University researcher Courtney Field said although many victims ultimately forgave their attacker as part of "moving on", traditional theories of forgiveness that focused on reconciliation did not always work when it came to victims of crimes such as violent assault, sexual assault or those whose loved ones had been murdered.
Findings from the research, published in the English journal International Review of Victimology, could have applications for the way in which psychologists or counsellors dealt with victims of crime.
Dr Field said almost all WA victims of serious crime he spoke to for the study had made some progress towards forgiving the perpetrator but all agreed it could not forced. He found victims of crimes that happened 20 years earlier said they still had bad days despite speaking "very authoritatively about forgiveness".
"People evolve into it in their own way and one of the things that everyone was adamant about was that it (forgiveness) couldn't be forced," he said.
Much of the literature on forgiveness talked about forgiveness as an example of altruism or "a gift that is given by a victim to an offender to set the scales back into balance somehow".
"What I found is that when there's been a significant trauma, when the offence is orders of magnitude above a workplace dispute or a marital affair, the victim's inner psychological experience becomes so overwhelming and so negative that they reach a point where they come to the conclusion that they have to forgive because it's the only way for them to move on with their own lives," Dr Field said.
"So it's very strongly a gift they give to themselves rather then the offender."