An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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John Dussich, Ph.D.
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from John Dussich, Ph.D.
Interviewee:Dr. John Dussich;
Mito, Japan
Date of Interview:April 14, 2003
Location:Japan Via Telephone

Dr. John Dussich




Biography

John Dussich is a Professor of Criminology and Victimology at the Tokiwa University in Mito, Japan. He is a founding member of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and a Co-founder of the World Society on Victimology.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Dr. John Dussich was a graduate student at Florida State University in 1962, where he had the privilege of being a student of Hungarian criminologist and victimologist Stephen Schafer, one of the earliest victimologists. At that time, only three universities even offered degrees in criminology and, as Dussich recalls, "It was really an unusual thing to hear about victimology at that point."

While victimology was not yet taught as a subject, Dussich remembers hearing of Romanian lawyer Benjamin Mendolsohn who had begun writing in the 1930s about "the role of the victim in the defense." In 1962, the only book that included victimology was The Criminal and His Victim by Hans vonHentig, which devoted a chapter to the relationship between the offender and the victim.

"At that point, victimology was primarily trying to understand the dynamics between the victim and the offender -- mostly looking at the perspective of 'how does the victim assist in the criminal justice process?' And it was about culpability, 'to what extent does the victim's behavior impact on the culpability of the offender'?"

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Dr. John Dussich recalls "the early days of trying to convince people how important it would be to provide special programs for victims."

Greatest Challenges

"The big challenge was how to make changes, and how to convince people to do things in a better way," Dussich says. He notes that a difficulty was "to communicate to decision-makers who were pretty conservative," yet was ultimately successful in meeting and collaborating with decision-makers "on a fairly regular basis."

Through his longstanding international research and work on behalf of victims, Dussich also stresses the importance of being "sensitive to other people's ways of thinking, to be sensitive to how victims can be treated." He believes that sharing creative approaches to victim assistance and new information among nations is critical to the success of the field.

Successful Strategies

When Dussich completed his doctorate degree in criminology at Florida State University, he joined the State Planning Agency within the Florida Governor's office, focusing primarily on corrections. He describes thinking:

"It was amazing how much money and time and energy we were putting into improving the plight of offenders. We fed them. We were educating them. When they left, we gave them a new suit of clothes and money for their spending and a bus ticket. And for the victim, we did zero."

This epiphany led him to develop the concept of a "victim ombudsman," and he was asked to present this at the First International Symposium on Victimology in Israel, which he attended one month later at his own expense. Dussich tells how the session was enthusiastically well-received, and went on for a day-and-a-half. Upon his return to Florida, he included the concept of the victim ombudsman in the Florida State Comprehensive Plan. In 1974, he convinced Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Leo Callahan to create this program as an experimental project.

Another strategy was to utilize Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) funding to sponsor a three-day conference about the Victim Advocate Program in Fort Lauderdale. As Dussich describes this first national conference,

"It was dynamite. It was magic to share this information with people who have also been working in different aspects of victim assistance."

"I call it 'the victim advocate feeling' because it was so electrifying to find someone who you could share this stuff with, because there were no other forums where this was ever going on."

Another successful strategy was the creation of the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA). He describes meeting Dr. Marlene Young in 1976, and joining forces at a conference held in Fresno, California that year from which NOVA emerged.

According to Dussich, the creation of the World Society of Victimology in 1979 -- for which he served as its first Secretary General -- was a powerful strategy that continues its positive impact today. He stresses the importance of "this thread of international victimologists meeting every three years, and trying very hard to keep a balance between the theory and practice of our craft."

Failures

Dussich thinks "there were many failures." As he describes the early days of the movement:

"We were experimenting. We were trying new ideas that had never been tested, and we were making a lot of guesses about what would work and what wouldn't work....We tried a lot of things and they didn't work because they were based on unsound premises which we didn't know at the time."

He also points to the dichotomy of increased media attention to the plight of the victim, which resulted in increased expectations from the community about what could and should be done to assist victims of crime. "The expectations of the community were so much disproportionate to what they were able to deliver that a lot of programs just went down the tubes," he says.

Greatest Accomplishments

Dussich describes NOVA and its progress as a significant accomplishment, and one that represented the voices of victims and those who serve them, as well as "the voice of a new profession."

He cites the establishment of the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles for Justice for Victims of Crime and Abusive Power as another great accomplishment, as well as "the whole movement of getting something internationally accepted on behalf of victims."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

There is a "next level" he describes that involves doing "the hard work of convincing people to change." As Dussich notes,

"the problem is really one of priority. The problem is one of resources. The problem is perhaps even one of the democratic process and human rights."
He believes that the world must realize that "good crime prevention really comes from good victim assistance."

Following his work in war-torn Bosnia and responding to victims of the massive earthquake in Kobe, Japan, Dussich believes that victim advocacy outreach must extend far beyond offices:

"We need to add a dimension to the victim services process that goes beyond just setting up programs and offices and hanging out a shield, and expecting people to come to the office. We need to develop to a much greater extent the process of what I call 'victim advocacy outreach'."

He also believes it is important to emphasize the relationship between theory and practice:

"I think theory gives practitioners a view, it gives them a framework, it gives them a kind of future perspective. Conversely, people who are in academia and who have had minimal or no contact with victims directly don't really understand the reality and the emotional devastation that victims go through, because they're dealing with victimology in the abstract. They're dealing with it as statistics."

Vision for the Future

His vision for the future is that at the international level, "we continue to push for a greater understanding of the plight of the victims, and push for programs that will reduce suffering and prevent crime and facilitate recovery."

Greatest Fear

Dussich's greatest fear is simply "that we would not use the lessons of the past." He also fears that the field will remain narrow in focus and "only deal with crime victims" when "victimology is defining itself as the study of people who suffer in significant ways. And how that suffering came about is secondary."

"Advances in other countries have not been as vast or as complete as they have been in this country (the United States)."