An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Christine Edmunds
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Christine Edmunds
Interviewee:Christine Edmunds;
Deerfield Beach, FL
Date of Interview:August 21, 2002
Location:Nashville, TN

Christine Edmunds




Biography

Christine Edmunds is a victims' rights and criminal justice consultant, who formerly served as Director of Program Services for the National Victim Center, and as Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the National Organization for Victim Assistance.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Christine Edmunds joined the movement in the early 1980s while working for the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C. At that time, she was also taking a graduate course at night about how to effectively change the law, where she met fellow students Marlene Young and John Stein. They would share notes and discuss their ideas; after the course ended they asked Edmunds to join them for a summer to help lobby for the passage of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Edmunds feels that a major change in the victim assistance field is the widespread use of technology. She remembers a time when early advocates hand-wrote all documents, and had to go the Library of Congress to gather information about bills and laws. Edmunds recalls a small field that was very divided in attitude:

"There was a great split at the time between the justice side and the grassroots advocacy side, (such as) domestic violence programs and sexual assault programs. And then there was the law enforcement side of it. There wasn't as much communication as there is today, as much camaraderie and collaboration. Things were more split."

She also remembers going to conferences where she would be the only female in a room full of men from the criminal justice system, and would be asked if she was someone's secretary. Edmunds shares that her response was often to accidentally spill coffee on people, and then they would never ask her for it again.

Greatest Challenge

Edmunds views funding as a problem throughout the history of the victims' movement. She remembers during the Reagan administration when the philosophy was "less government, not more." The field needed to devise a very "creative" funding mechanism to support the Victims of Crime Act. The result was fines and fees paid by Federal offenders into the Crime Victims Fund.

Failures

Edmunds stresses the need for the victim assistance field to begin looking at the cycles of violence and abuse and to begin addressing prevention.

"We spend a lot of time on intervention. And we really need to look at prevention."

Greatest Accomplishment

Edmunds believes the fact that the victim assistance field even exists is a great success. She also cites the National Victim Assistance Academy (NVAA) sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime as something she "was proud to be associated with." Prosecutors have their college, the judiciary have The National Judicial College, and the FBI has Quantico, yet "there was no foundation-level Academy for victim services." Edmunds speaks with pride of the more than 90 NVAA faculty and 1,500 graduates who have participated in the NVAA since its inception in 1995.

"So, I think the fact that we exist, that the system has changed so dramatically -- when you think about it, people say this is the greatest movement since the Civil Rights Movement."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Edmunds would apologize to someone just now entering the field for the fact that he or she will not have a clearly defined career path ahead of them. She would then tell them to educate themselves -- to attend every training program and conference possible, and to read every publication they can find. She would stress to them the importance of meeting people and letting those people help them. Edmunds would also tell a newcomer to be good to themselves, and try to achieve some sort of balance.

Vision for the Future

Edmunds is optimistic about the future. She sees a lot of young people with spark and vision entering the field, and while she hopes that some aspects will be more institutionalized for them, she also hopes that the victim assistance field maintains its character.

Greatest Fear

Edmund's greatest fear is that it will take the next 50 years to change the U.S. Constitution to include victims' rights, while many laws that are currently in place are being ignored.

"How many more people have to suffer before we write this great law, before we balance the system and do victims' rights just like defendants have rights?"