An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Allen Robert Denton
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Allen Robert Denton
Interviewee:Allen Robert Denton;
Akron, OH
Date of Interview:August 21, 2002
Location:Nashville, TN

Allen Robert Denton




Reverend Bob Denton is the Executive Director of the Victim Assistance Program in Akron, Ohio, and has been involved in the victim assistance field for over 30 years.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

When Allen Robert (Bob) Denton got out of graduate school in 1967, he became a supervisor in a halfway house for parolees and probationers in Akron, Ohio. He was deeply affected by the fact that there was little acknowledgment by offenders that they had injured another person. He began to focus on accountability for offenders rather than just completion of sentences ordered by the state. At the same time, there were several violent homicides by juveniles that devastated the community.

Denton began a doctoral program in social welfare. In 1972, the Chair of his Department became interested in the issue of crime victims and asked Denton to work with him to implement a structured program based on policy and developed from counseling methodology theory. They agreed that proactive crisis intervention with crime victims would be helpful, though few others in the field of social welfare agreed.

Denton soon became Director of the program. He explains that their decision making was proactive:

"We knew as we put the program together that you're not going to be able to list the number and have people call you. They won't do it. They didn't do it then, and subsequent research shows that 80 percent of them wouldn't."
The decision was made to approach a police department to house the program and provide access to incident reports for victim contact information. It was a unique program at the time, according to Denton, because they had the resources to do the services, the services were proactive through a police department and 95 percent of the services were appropriate to any type of victimization.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Denton remembers the criminal justice and social work fields of the time as not being friendly toward crime victims. In fact, he describes the attitude from professionals within the criminal justice system as "hostile." There were not many services available for victims either. He recalls:

"We very early learned there were 25 free services in our county for offenders. You had two if you were a victim--and that was the emergency vehicle and a cruiser. And that was the state of victim services in 1972 in Akron (Summit County), Ohio, and I think the rest of the country."

Denton says that finding other people who thought and believed the way he did was not easy. Victim advocates were few and far between. But those who found each other began to plan for the future and for social change in relation to services and rights for crime victims. They realized that they would have to organize nationally. Therefore, in late 1974, he and three or four other advocates came together and decided a national organization was needed. "That was the birth of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and I was its founding President," he says.

"You have to have the passions, but you have to have somebody to galvanize it, and then you have to have some way to take the message and get that thing where it needs to be on a consistent basis."

Greatest Challenges

Denton believes the greatest challenges early on were from within the system, and not from the other victim service programs trying to also access the criminal justice system on behalf of victims. Attitudes had to be changed within the justice system, and that often was a "hard political development." The greatest challenge among victim service programs, as Denton recalls, was the funding and resources issues that tended to cause competition rather than foster collaboration.

Successful Strategies

According to Denton, when a movement shifts from the grassroots stage to the institutional stage, strategies have to change. There's a socialization process that has to take place for young staff who have not worked in the political arenas of the criminal justice system, so there's a learning curve that has to be allowed for within movements. In terms of strategy, Denton remembers there was the normal kind of business/agency strategy of hiring, socializing, and developing policy procedure. He also thinks another source of success was that the victim advocates were able to begin to move into other boards and committees not only within Akron, but Summit County and the state of Ohio. They were also able to assist other programs around the state with funding applications and work to ensure that programs did not go under when resources were reduced.

At the national level, Denton describes the thinking behind the conscious decision by victim advocate leaders on how to approach social change on behalf of crime victims:

"We knew that high intensity, low frequency conflict doesn't produce social change, but we also knew that high frequency, low intensity, the chipping away stuff is what, you know, down the road brings about change, and it's solid change. And so that was our approach."

Greatest Accomplishment

Denton believes the one greatest accomplishment that has most affected victims' rights and services was the establishment of the National Organization for Victim Assistance--particularly for the networking, training, and collaboration it has provided for the field since 1974. With all that needed to be accomplished and resources scattered from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and state to state, Denton recalls that NOVA "was always there saying, 'Wait a minute, how do we get to these people who are down in the trenches together? How are we going to talk to each other, cry together? How do we get the support to them?' They were there early, and they never went away." He credits NOVA with helping to foster and bring about social change on behalf of victims and those who serve them.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Denton's words to advocates coming into the field are simple: "Learn your lessons well and stay creative." He also recommends that new advocates get in touch with the history of the movement and come to understand "the raw power that drove people into this." His best advice is to "start with a heart first and make sure that the head is very well schooled--and then you think with your head and you feel with your heart and you don't screw those two up."

Vision for the Future

Denton's vision for the future of victim services is that as a field and movement, it is not going to go away. It's too well integrated now, and he describes the fact that it became institutionalized as a success of the field.

According to Denton's vision for the future, social movements go through stages and eventually become formalized. When this happens, then they get into the "system maintenance" stage, and the organization becomes more important than the mission. He says that when that happens, it's time for either a revolution or reform. When it's revolution, the movement is torn down and rebuilt some other way. Where it's reform, then "you go back and you fix it, you take it back to its roots and you see why you are here."

To Denton, one of the potential problems for the future that he believes is true of the criminal justice system and the victim services field as much as anywhere else, is that when the stage of system maintenance is reached, more and more of the resources go to maintaining the system rather than to improving services or broadening outreach. According to Denton, "I think that's the thing we have to watch out for. I think we're moving into that stage, and we must be careful to get through it without losing our sense of mission and purpose."