An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Jeannette Adkins
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Jeannette Adkins
Interviewee:Jeannette Adkins;
Xenia, OH
Date of Interview:January 10, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Jeannette Adkins

Director, Greene County Victim/Witness Program




Biography

Jeannette Adkins began her career in victim services in 1982 when she started the Victim/Witness program in the Greene County Prosecutor's Office, a comprehensive program that also provides on-scene crisis counseling for victim. She helped to found both the Ohio Victim/Witness Association and the Ohio Crisis Response Team.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

In 1982, Jeannette Adkins was working in the juvenile court in Dayton, Ohio. A friend suggested she contact a prosecuting attorney who was interested in starting a victim assistance program in Greene County. At that time there were a few victim assistance programs in some of the larger prosecuting attorney's offices, but they were not at all common, especially in the smaller, rural communities. After meeting with the prosecutor Bill Schenck, and discussing his goals for starting a program, Adkins felt she could deliver on his goals and was hired.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Twenty-one years ago the field was focused on legislative issues. Services and rights really started to move once the state Victims' Bill of Rights was passed in Ohio. Adkins was aware of the grassroots efforts focusing on sexual assault and domestic violence, but there weren't many system-based programs. She felt like she was "standing in a big field all by myself at first." Initially, Adkins' main concern was to provide crisis intervention to crime victims and to make sure they had support and assistance throughout the criminal justice system. She began looking for other service providers from whom she could learn. An advocate from one of the larger programs told her about the Ohio Victim/Witness Association's (OVWA) monthly meetings. The meetings were designed to bring service providers together to talk about what was going on in the state and to help each other create their programs. Adkins not only found great sources of information; she found a group of people that offered support and camaraderie.

"The OVWA was like a Godsend to me and I remember the first meeting I walked into -- I was expecting a roomful of people and there were five people around a table..... the five grew to ten, grew to thirteen, grew to twenty, twenty-five and it just kept going..... today our meetings are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty to sixty people."

Through OVWA, Adkins heard about a national organization called the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA). She began attending its national conferences and learned about the amount of information available at the national level. This was also during the time that Congress was holding hearings on the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). After struggling to find funding to hire more staff, Adkins was excited at the prospect of having VOCA funds to underwrite more staff and services.

"....when I heard about VOCA, I just felt like this is it. This will be exactly what we need to just provide direct services in general."

Greatest Challenge

For Adkins, the early days of the movement were spent trying to get people to understand that they "needed to pay attention to victims." Among the professionals serving crime victims, her biggest challenge came from working with law enforcement officers. It was difficult to get them to look past their biases and treat all victims fairly. According to Adkins:

"If they had what they called, and it used to kill me when they would do this, call it a 'good victim,' then they got excellent advocacy services, support, assistance from the detective or law enforcement officer that was helping them. But if they were, you know, one of the women drinking in a bar, goes out with a guy and ends up in a sexual assault situation, as a result then they were very negative, very biased and they wouldn't take the investigation forward."

She also experienced a similar reaction from other criminal justice professionals who only saw victims as witnesses. The prevailing opinion was if the victim wasn't needed as a witness for the case, then he or she really didn't need any services.

Successful Strategies

One of the first strategies Adkins employed was to attend the Police Academy and become a peace officer in Ohio. She felt that by becoming "one of them," she might stand a better chance of getting them to be more sensitive to crime victims." She also preaches the benefits of being a "diplomat" to win over more criminal justice system employees. Adkins also used the tried and true approach of praising individuals for their good work and making sure their superiors knew what a good job they were doing. Once she began seeing positive responses from these efforts, she created an award for law enforcement officers. Adkins recalls that the award became so coveted, that officers would ask "what do I need to do to get that award'?"

"I think that another thing that was something that I ended up preaching to all of our volunteers... was preaching diplomacy... I felt that was a strategy and it still works for me today, 21 years later."

Failures

The greatest failure in Adkins' mind is not reaching everyone with the message to be sensitive to crime victims' needs and to treat them with respect. Despite her array of successful strategies, she's disappointed that she hasn't reached everyone. Adkins recognizes that there have been improvements in the treatment of crime victims through the programs that have been institutionalized. In her mind, however, we still have a long way to go before people recognize "that crime victims do have a right to be a part of the team in the system".

Greatest Accomplishment

The one development that has had a major impact on Adkins during her 21 years in the field is the creation of VOCA. She feels like it was a "Godsend" because it provided the first funding to serve all crime victims. Adkins also believes that VOCA has helped institutionalize victim services around the country. Without VOCA, Adkins isn't certain how many prosecution-based victim assistance programs would exist today.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Considering the big picture, Adkins would like to see the Federal constitutional amendment passed, which will establish equal rights for crime victims. To support the continued professionalism of the field, Adkins strongly supports credentialing of those individuals who provide services to crime victims.

Her advice to new victim service providers: "Hang in there" because "we need them." Adkins warns that they may run into some individuals who don't readily embrace the role of service providers, but the field needs their input, ideas, and perspective. She encourages the new service providers to get involved with local, state or national networks, coalitions or organizations, because it's important that they have a voice in the continued development of the field. She also wants them to know the history of the field. It's important that new victim service providers understand that victims and their advocates didn't always have a position in the system. Adkins would tell them:

"... we had to work very hard to, and actually beg for, a position in the criminal justice system...... they're gonna' walk right into that accepted role as a part of the criminal justice system..... they need to know that it wasn't always that way... they need to know it, to appreciate it, and to cherish it... and to be very, very, careful with it because it could easily be taken away."

Vision for the Future

Adkins' vision for the future is the establishment of a credentialing program for all victim service providers. For those who come to the field without degrees, from different professions, or who volunteer their time, credentialing would offer everyone an opportunity to belong to a profession recognized for serving crime victims. Her "pie-in-the-sky" vision goes hand-in-hand with recognizing victim service providers as professionals. She hopes for the day that "everybody would recognize victims' rights and respect them......respect the fact that victims deserve a place in the system."

Greatest Fear

Adkins' greatest fear for the victim assistance field is the possibility of decreased funding. As someone who sees the creation of VOCA as the field's greatest accomplishment, Adkins knows all too well what can happen when resources are diminished. She recalls the early years of the field when the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) funding stopped. The funding no longer existed, and neither did the programs that relied on it.