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When Victims Seek Closure: Forgiveness, Vengeance, and the Role of Government

10 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2000 Last revised: 19 Mar 2017

Susan A. Bandes

DePaul University - College of Law


Victims of horrific crimes, or those who survive those victims, often describe themselves as seeking closure, a way to go on with their lives in the aftermath of unimaginable pain and loss. This article is an attempt to examine the notion of closure in this highly charged context. Looking at the statements of the parents of murdered children in two well known cases - the case of the California Freeway Killer and the Matthew Shephard case - the article notes that different victims (or survivors) may seek closure in different ways. Both forgiveness and the desire for vengeance may play a role in the quest for closure, for example. The question of what victims and survivors need and deserve has a number of components: psychological, philosophical and moral; theoretical and empirical. This article suggests, first, that the notion of closure is complex, and that the needs of victims vary, and that, therefore, we ought to proceed carefully when making assertions about what victims need in order to achieve closure. Second, the article argues that the question of what victims need must be distinguished from the question with which it is often conflated, of what role the state ought to play in assisting victims and survivors in achieving closure.

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Bandes, Susan A., When Victims Seek Closure: Forgiveness, Vengeance, and the Role of Government. Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 27, p. 1599, 2000. Available at SSRN: or

Susan A. Bandes (Contact Author)

DePaul University - College of Law ( email )

25 E. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL Cook County 60604-2287
United States
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