Causing & Experiencing Harm

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In some courses that focus on criminal behavior, I use this in-class exercise at the beginning of the semester to build class interaction and to get students thinking about victims and offenders. I find this activity particularly useful in my community-based corrections, where many of the crimes we discuss are nonviolent. This activity is adapted from a former professor of mine, who used this exercise often and learned it from the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

Causing and Experiencing Harm

The actual activity does not take much time to prepare as long as you have the Causing Harm handouts and a small bag or box (a hat or Tupperware you found in the graduate student office works fine too).

  • Pass out the worksheets, and let students know that you will not be collecting them, and that no one else will be seeing them, so they can be honest in their responses.
  • Instruct students to fill out the side on causing harm about ONE TIME they caused someone else harm, and on the other side about ONE TIME they experienced harm.
  • I remind students that not all harms are criminal, and to go wherever they feel “comfortable” emotionally. I usually suggest somewhere between having your blocks stolen in kindergarten and bursting into tears during class.
  • While students fill out the worksheets I fill out one too, this usually takes about 15 minutes, sometimes more, other times less.
  • Have students rip a piece of paper into four small pieces
  • On the first piece of the ripped paper have students write one word describing:
  •         -How they felt when they harmed someone?
  • I do this part of the activity too, and suggest if students are writing about personal topics to use a neutral colored pen or pencil.
  • Then collect the folded pieces of paper, place them in the bad and give it a shake, and then hand them out. I have each student read the word on the piece of paper they picked out loud, and I write it on the board.
  • REPEAT! Three more times for the questions:
  •        -How did it feel when you were harmed?
  •        -What did you lose when you harmed someone?
  •        -What did you lose when you were harmed?
  • Once all the one words are on the board (I use tally marks for repeats) ask students to look for commonalities between the lists. Usually, the feelings of being harmed and causing harm are very similar, and what was lost is similar. (This is why I participate too, just incase it doesn’t pan out as it should).

To wrap up I relate the commonalities back to victims and offenders and discuss how often offenders have been victimized and vise versa. Then I have students write a brief reflection on the exercise, commonalities, and what they thought about them.

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