An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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David Beatty
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from David Beatty
Interviewee:David Beatty;
Washington, DC
Date of Interview:January 13, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

David Beatty

Executive Director, Justice Solutions




Biography

David Beatty is the Executive Director of Justice Solutions, Inc. and formerly served as the Director of Public Policy for the National Victim Center.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

David Beatty's interest in crime victims' issues began in law school while taking his first criminal justice course. Beatty recounts:

"I was actually a law student taking my first criminal justice course. And of course the professors started talking about the process and saying what rights a prosecutor had and what rights the defendants had and who could do what in the trial. And.....and I actually asked the.....the rather naive question, 'Now doesn't the victim have the right to testify during the trial?'

And of course after the laughter died down, I was informed that 'no, victims are really there just to provide testimony and really didn't have a place in the process.' And even at the moment I was offended by the notion that someone who clearly to me was so affected by the crime would have no role in the process. And that sort of simmered on the back burner for a long time....."

After graduating from law school, Beatty worked in the political arena until the late 1980s, when he began working as the Director of Public Policy for the National Victim Center.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Beatty recounts that in the late 1980s most of the states were putting the basic policy pieces in place. The era was characterized by a process of "fine tuning" laws to guarantee basic rights and expanding those laws to include new categories of victimization. For example, he points to stalking as a crime "discovered" during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He also describes a process beginning around 2000 in which the field's focus shifted from trying to establish laws on the books that guarantee victims' rights to making sure those laws were implemented.

Greatest Challenge

Beatty identifies two greatest challenges when implementing the laws -- ignorance and attitude. He believes that the first real challenge was simply informing people that victims' rights existed, and that even among individuals who knew the laws, there was widespread failure in implementing them. He believes that the fundamental attitude of seeing victims' rights and services as an "afterthought" is going to require a real change at the seminal level.

"So the bottom line is if you don't know what the law is, and if you don't know you have the duty to implement that victims' rights law, chances are you're probably not doing it."

Successful Strategies

Beatty reflects that the field's "least secret weapon was victims themselves." From his experience over the years, Beatty has also found that the field's other successful strategy has been the public. He points out how Americans agree about rights and services for crime victims in large numbers, and that clearly sends a mandate to legislatures. Although he believes that the support is out there, he identifies the need for the field to be able to better tap into it.

"I had never seen anything that has moved the hearts and minds of policymakers more effectively than victims telling their stories."

Failures

Beatty believes that the victim assistance field has been quite successful "preaching to the choir." He feels that it has also succeeded in discussing the issues with paraprofessionals and allied professions. However, he believes that the field's failure has been its inability to communicate the specifics of what needs to be done. He thinks that the public assumes that crime victims have certain rights that they do not, and that is why people are not marching on legislatures across the country to enact change.

Greatest Accomplishment

Beatty believes that the field's greatest accomplishment has been "the sheer number of statutes and laws that we were able to get on the books with a paltry amount of resources and support." He continues to reflect that there are more than 30,000 victim -related provisions and statutes and 31 states have passed constitutional amendments. He feels that as a nation we have reached the point where it is not politically acceptable to not be for victims' rights, and views that as a major accomplishment.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Beatty believes that the victim assistance field must provide clear career tracks, and that being a victim advocate must be seen as a commonly accepted profession. He believes that bar exams should have a question about victims' rights and that undergraduate institutions of higher education should offer victimology programs and degrees. He reflects:

"I'm convinced that this next generation of kids coming up through school have a renewed sense of social justice and they're simply looking for an opportunity to do good in the world. And it's not presented along with going and being a teacher in the inner city or going and doing the Peace Corps, if it's not presented along side of that as an option to do justice and do good in this country, people won't take it. So we need to do a better job of showing that there's a clear track."

Beatty stresses that those new to the field need to ask themselves why they are there, and also to provide leadership to change things. He believes that this includes taking risks to broaden and improve the field.

Vision for the Future

Beatty's vision is that victims will receive the "three Rs" - rights, resources, and respect." His vision is that the system will grant victims the same respect and rights that it provides to offenders, and he wants people to not have to think twice to come to the conclusion that victims deserve those rights.

Greatest Fear

Beatty's greatest fear is that people have begun to think of the victims' field as "past its golden age." He believes that this is dangerous because it could preclude any additional advancement to providing additional services to crime victims. Another fear is that the field may be losing ground and that individuals may be rethinking their priorities in terms of financing. He feels that cuts to victim assistance programs send a clear message that policymakers do not view victims' rights as a priority.