An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Susan Hillenbrand
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Susan Hillenbrand
Interviewee:Susan Hillenbrand;
Washington, DC
Date of Interview:April 14, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Susan Hillenbrand




Biography

Susan Hillenbrand staffs the Criminal Justice Standards and Amicus Curiae Brief Committees for the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Susan Hillenbrand's work in the movement began when the American Bar Association received a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) to conduct a project on Bar leadership for victim/witness assistance and asked her to work on the project. The overarching purpose of the project was to encourage Bar Associations and attorneys to recognize that victims have an interest in what goes on in the criminal justice system.


Interview Summary

Greatest Challenge

From Hillenbrand's perspective, one of the biggest challenges was to address the real needs of victims in ways that would not be offensive to both the defense and criminal justice communities.

Successful Strategies

One of Hillenbrand's more successful strategies was to enlist people well-respected in the field to work on behalf of the movement. Also, over time she feels that high quality and effective victim assistance programs have spoken for themselves, and many prosecutors now realize that having victim/witness programs in their offices is a great thing.

"They would rather just not think about the victim, but if the victim can be presented as a person with needs and concerns and not as somehow trying to thwart what the criminal justice system is trying to do, I think it is a lot more acceptable."

Failures

Hillenbrand believes that there have not been any failures because the victim assistance field has "... ..always moved forward somewhat," even if it has not been at the speed that activists would like. However, she believes that people in general still do not like to think about victims because they do not want to be victims themselves:

"I mean, if we read the newspapers or look at our friends.....we're potential victims. And so I think what the movement needs to do is to make everybody, including our politicians and our criminal justice people, understand that. And deal with that, (and stress) not that these people are looking for handouts or they're looking for vengeance."

Greatest Accomplishment

Hillenbrand believes that the field's greatest accomplishment has been the mobilization of committed individuals by national organizations such as NOVA and the National Victim Center.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Hillenbrand believes that the first step towards continued growth and professionalism is to make the public more aware of what is going on in the field.

Hillenbrand's advice to someone new to the field would be to talk to victims to get their perspective about how they have been treated in the system. Next, she says to look at the players in the system and see what their concerns are. Finally, she would stress the need to always try to build a consensus among the various players.

Vision for the Future

Hillenbrand's vision for the future is one in which there is more involvement at the law school stage to get future attorneys thinking about victims' issues early in their careers. She would also like to see the victim assistance field as an integrated part of the criminal justice system that does not have to fight each time a new case surfaces, but rather would be recognized and respected.

Greatest Fear

Hillenbrand believes that as long as there are dedicated people on the front lines, that the victim assistance field will survive. However, she does fear that "it is growing to be victims against the system... .." and she does not feel that this will work towards the victims' advantage.