An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Harold Boscovich
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Harold Boscovich
Interviewee:Harold Boscovich;
Oakland, CA
Date of Interview:August 20, 2002
Location:Nashville, TN

Harold Boscovich

Director, Victim/Witness Division, Alameda County District Attorney's Office




Biography

Harold Boscovich has been the Director of the Victim/Witness Division of the Alameda County District Attorney's Office for 30 years.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Harold Boscovich served as a police officer in Oakland, California from 1963 until 1972. He then came to the District Attorney's office in Alameda County. The District Attorney, Lowell Jensen (who later became a Federal judge) announced that the office would be applying for a grant to better serve crime victims. Boscovich recalls that upon announcing his plan to apply for the grant, Jensen summarized what would become the focus of the early victims' movement by stating, "I am sick and tired of victims being treated as pieces of evidence. And I think it's time we treated them as people. And I'm hoping this grant will allow us to treat them as people." Boscovich requested to be involved in the effort and, upon securing the grant in 1974, he became the unit's victim advocate.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

In 1974 there were only eight victim/witness programs in the United States. Boscovich credits the successes of the women's movement as the driving force behind the establishment of these early programs. He describes the tactics of the women's movement employed by Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) in the East Bay, including picketing in front of rapists' homes. Such groups were enraged by the way rape victims were treated and sought to implement changes in the system.

Greatest Challenge

Boscovich summarizes the greatest challenge to the victims' rights movement as "selling it." He believes that the field has had a difficult time educating prosecutors and law enforcement about the vital and valuable role of the victim advocate. He feels, however, that this process is getting easier, and that people involved in the system today actually request victim advocates.

Successful Strategies

Boscovich credits the field's success to a process of give-and-take as programs around the country borrowed and adapted other programs' procedures. He recounts:

"In fact, the nice thing about it is when you go to a national conference they'd be at and they'd look for you or something and say, 'gee, my program's working great,' and it was maybe a year a half later -- 'gee, I thank you for, you know, for that.'

And I'd say, 'well, tell me about your program,' -- and I'd say, 'well, gee, that's something I didn't try, let me go back and add that to mine.' So, I think we borrowed from each other, all of us, nobody has a lock on anything you did."

Failures

Boscovich identifies turf issues as the field's biggest failure, both in the past and the present. He believes that many programs become territorial about providing services and feel threatened when other programs seek to provide the same or similar services. He credits this mentality with the constant need to be "putting out fires" rather than moving forward to better serve victims.

Greatest Accomplishment

Boscovich points to the presence of the sheer number of victim assistance programs today, in comparison to 30 years ago. He feels that the field's biggest accomplishment is that people know about victim services and that the justice system has finally recognized the need for such services.

"Think of all of the cases that we have tried since we became a country in 1776. Think of from 1776 to 1974. All the people -- all the victims and witnesses that went through it (being victimized.) It wasn't like all of a sudden someone was raped in 1974."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Boscovich believes that the victim assistance field needs money and leadership to continue the growth and professionalism of the field. He feels that those who have been in the field a long time have a responsibility to mentor those who have recently entered, and identifies a need to look back at the history to see what has succeeded and failed in the past to determine how the field will accomplish its goals in the future.

Boscovich also urges newer victim advocates to tap those with experience in the field as resources. He notes that those who have been in the field know who specializes in certain issues, and that forming and maintaining a network in the field can be a powerful tool. He also advises:

"And look for the help -- any time you can get the help, do it Don't be afraid to ask for help.....don't feel that you are weak because you called someone and said, 'gee, what are you doing with such and such'?"

"Listen and move. Go. Go as fast as you can, do whatever you can, educate, learn, train, network, and talk to people who have been around for awhile."

Vision for the Future

Boscovich's vision for the future is one in which victim assistance programs are fully funded, and a future in which doing so is a priority. He believes this vision requires that people do not wait for tragedies such as the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 to prioritize funding for victims or to "wake people up." Rather, he would like to see a world in which people are "already awake."

Greatest Fear

Boscovich's greatest fear is that programs will be cut to the point where victim assistance professionals will lose interest and no longer be willing or able to serve victims. He fears losing trained, qualified, professional advocates because of a lack of funding, and feels if this happens it will be because leaders and administrators can be short-sighted and prioritize in order to be "cost-effective." Although Boscovich understands the push to be cost-effective, he feels that agencies can not prioritize cost-effectiveness over providing services to victims of crime.