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

Picture from Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D.
Interviewee:Dean Kilpatrick;
Charleston, SC
Date of Interview:January 11, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D.


Dr. Dean Kilpatrick is the Director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Dean Kilpatrick's first exposure to the crime victims' rights movement was in 1974 when he was invited by a friend to attend a "speak out on rape event" that was being sponsored by the National Organization for Women in Charleston, South Carolina. At the event, he learned about how victims were treated in the justice system and decided to take action. Kilpatrick remembers:

"...there were a few hot heads in the group who decided that something needed to be done about it, one of whom was me, and so probably a core group of about six to eight people signed this piece of paper and then decided that we would get together to decide how Charleston was going to deal with this rape problem. And People Against Rape emerged from that. I was one of the founding members."

Interview Summary

At the time of People Against Rape's inception, Kilpatrick was the only man in the organization.

In 1992, Kilpatrick was principal author of Rape in America. The project was initiated because there was ongoing disagreement in the field about the prominence of rape. In conjunction with the National Victim Center and that National Institute of Drug Abuse, Kilpatrick conducted two studies, one was a survey of rape crisis centers and the other was a large national sample of women. The results of the study were that almost 13% of adult women in the United States have been raped.

Context of the Era

Kilpatrick remembers that there were no victims' rights in the mid-1970s. There were only a few victims' rights groups, and no literature. He remembers it is an issue "that was just absolutely not on the radar screen" until national women's organizations began speaking out about violence against women.

Greatest Challenges

Kilpatrick remembers the challenge of needing to convince policymakers and the general public that rights for victims of crime were important and that many of the stereotypes about victims and victimization are not true.

Successful Strategies

One of Kilpatrick's most successful strategies throughout the course of his career has been recruiting people and organizations to tackle certain issues. Although he admits that it can be difficult to mesh different philosophies on how to change the world, Kilpatrick has found that the benefits of including numerous parties and viewpoints far outweigh the difficulties. He also believes that the successful use of the media has really contributed to the movement's success.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Kilpatrick cites the need for secure, stable funding as a prerequisite to continue the field's growth and professionalism. He feels that funding is essential to not only provide the madated services, but also monitor that those services are being provided. Kilpatrick stresses that this is necessary for the services to not be viewed as optional "frills." He also believes that for the field to continue to grow, national victims' organizations need to establish credentialing programs.

Kilpatrick would caution those new to the field to "hold onto your seats, it's going to be a bumpy ride." He would also communicate that although the field has already learned a lot, there are still so many more things that the field still needs to know. He would also make it clear that the field gives you the opportunity to really make a difference.


Although Kilpatrick believes there have been more successes than failures, he views the movement's "fragmented" nature as its major failure. He believes that because many in the field have defined their interests so narrowly (for example, MADD advocates, domestic violence advocates, and child abuse advocates), it has been difficult to build a coalition large enough to enact the large-scope changes that need to be made.

Kilpatrick believes that a second failure is that after making so much progress, that the victim assistance field has stalled. He stresses that the field must acknowledge that establishing the infrastructure is just half the battle, and that enforcing it needs to be a focus as well.

Greatest Accomplishment

Kilpatrick believes that one of the greatest accomplishments has been that people now recognize that there are a lot of victims, and those victims should not be treated as merely evidence. Vision for the Future

Kilpatrick believes that the future of the victim assistance field is what its advocates will make of it. He points to terrorism as a possible "dark cloud out there," and thinks that to meet this, as well as other challenges, will require institutionalizing victim assistance services.