An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive

Carol Lavery
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Carol Lavery
Interviewee:Carol Lavery;
Harrisburg, PA
Date of Interview:April 13, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Carol Lavery


Carol Lavery is the Director of the Office of Victims Services at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Carol Lavery started as a full-time volunteer working with sexual assault victims in 1974 in Wilkes-Barre, PA. She and some others had recently read an article in the local paper about rape crisis centers starting up in New York City and Philadelphia, and they decided to do the same thing in their community. The program was completely volunteer-based until she wrote their first funding grant in 1979 for Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) funds through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD). She became the program's first director and stayed there for 17 years. She was a founder of the PA Coalition Against Rape and the PA Coalition of Crime Victim Organizations. In 1996, she began working for PCCD as the first director of its Office of Victim Services, which was a brand new office begun when the Crime Victims' Compensation Program and the VOCA Administration were merged into the PCCD. She also has served several terms as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Victim Assistance.

Lavery believes every person who works in state compensation and VOCA assistance should be required to have served as a victim advocate. She credits her work in direct services as the basis for her having acquired the necessary skills and understanding to manage VOCA and compensation at the state level--skills such as tenacity; knowledge of how to work in systems and outside of systems and having to advocate for victims in those systems; knowledge of what working directly with victims is all about; knowledge of how to work in coalitions; knowledge of what it's like for a victim service program, what their needs are, and having to raise funds. She believes that anyone who works at an agency that processes grant applications should have had the experience of writing a grant, and have learned firsthand the importance of networking at the local level. Being able to bring all that knowledge to government allows a state-level advocate to be able to better understand and talk about what it is like for a victim. As she states: "I think valuing the voices of victims and victim service providers and how to bring them together through PCCD was something that I learned in the field before I ever came to the agency and government."

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Lavery describes her early days in the field as "lonely," with few other people or foundations for the work. Yet she also remembers it as a time of creative ideas and strong-willed people who were very eager to learn how to help others, even though there were no literature or real training available. She describes reading a training manual for police officers during that time, and it talked about how officers need to be aware that most rape victims' testimony was suspect because most female rape victims would lie and that victims of child abuse very often participated in their own abuse. Therefore, advocates "had to start from scratch--there wasn't something that you could adopt from somewhere else, so the first training programs you created were the first training programs."

Since she started in rape crisis services and it was part of the women's movement, she recalls there was a great deal of conflict and discussion among those early pioneer volunteers:

"..... what are we doing? Are we doing this on behalf of women? Are we doing this on behalf of victims? Is this a rape service or domestic violence service and is that victim services or is it something else?"
She remembers an urgency among advocates to interact with others, to learn from each other, to talk to police officers and mental health professionals so they could glean from each of them the best of what could be used and adopted for victims.

Lavery recalls that it was also a time when although volunteerism was very strong, the sense of community policing or crime watches wasn't there yet, at least not in smaller communities across the nation, and this negatively affected the creation of partnerships. As she describes the situation:

"So you were meddling if you in any way wanted a voice within those kinds of systems... ..every little step was a battle, and their doors were slammed shut over and over again, so the need for tenacity was... ..was real, real strong."

Greatest Challenges

Lavery also recalls that at the grassroots level where she first served, there was a lot of "animosity" between those considered to be within the criminal justice system and those without the system, and how there was a concentrated effort to try to overcome that. She states that

"sometimes we'd talk about just waiting for people to move on, waiting for people who'd worked as police officers or in mental health just to retire because that seemed to be the only way that you could make some headway, and to some extent that's what happened."

"I feel that the networking is critical, and it's one of the important components of victim services--and it is a component that has really moved the field along."

Successful Strategies

To build relationships with justice system professionals, Lavery feels the most successful strategy was "trying to learn as much as you possibly could about each one of those professions and trying to see their point of view." The strategy was to then try to translate that into how advocates could help them do their job and benefit victims. With that approach, over time there was a certain level of acceptance. Lavery says, "that was a tremendous victory to have some form of acceptance, so we could work side by side but at the same time not be co-opted by those particular professions, no matter what they were." Over time, she says, the advocates were seen as the one entity that, in fact, interacted with each of the allied professions, so they eventually became the intermediary between the others.

Another successful strategy in the early days of the field was working in collaboration so advocates learned from each other. Lavery describes programs sharing funding applications that they "just kind of duplicated, changing the name of the city or town or county," learning what the challenges were for each other's program, and at the same time being supportive of each other. For example, she points out that there are people in the PA Coalition Against Rape who are responsible for first standing up to a court subpoena for records and having the first state legislation that created confidentiality of records for rape victims in the nation, and how proud every rape advocate in the Coalition was to have worked on this issue with the strength of character that would say to a judge, "You know, I'm going to jail before I'm going to give you this victim's records." She says this was something that she some years later had to go through herself when a judge said, "Turn the record over or bring your suitcase and your toothbrush because you're going to jail."

Lavery believes that Pennsylvania has quality victim services, particularly in the areas of rape and domestic violence, because of their strategy of working as coalitions to fight on behalf of victims. Together, they have a strong, collective voice, and also make resources available by working with the legislators and making sure there was foundation funding there year after year. She points out that they did that very early on in the late 1970s while other states were struggling just to have some money available so they could do the work everyday.


Lavery observes:

"...if you look at where we probably could be by now, and we compare that to some of the successes, such as the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in many ways the entire victims' movement on behalf of all victims could be in the same place, but we're not and so that to some extent is a failure."

She feels that it is a failure that more people are not aware of victim compensation, and that service providers and programs do not recognize compensation as a part of victim services and the victim assistance field, but rather as just a part of government and not an "integral" service. She believes we should be setting policy and consistent standards through victim compensation and VOCA assistance--that compensation and victim services should be so integrated that when a victim calls a compensation program, they get crisis services at the same time and are immediately referred to other forms of services.

"I don't think we've paid enough attention to compensation, and we've let it kind of develop a little too separately so that we see it on the outside, and I think that's a tragedy for victims and for the field."

Greatest Accomplishment

To have gone from a mere "concept and conscious-raising movement" to the point where people can walk into a center and receive services is what Lavery feels is the greatest accomplishment in victims' rights and services. The fact that so many people on a daily basis are able to receive crisis intervention, have someone sitting with them in court and receive other customized services is "an incredible accomplishment from a movement that came 30 years ago." She points out that the fact that victims can have a voice, that those people who have gone through horrific experiences have a way and a means and a voice to express that so it can become part of their healing, is also a great accomplishment for the field.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Lavery strongly believes that in order to have quality services, there must be consistent standards that describe how victim service programs should operate--standards that really look at the diversity of the needs of victims based on the victimization, their cultural background, everything--so no matter where programs are or what types of crime victims they serve, at least a certain basic level of services is guaranteed for crime victims. She also believes there must be standards for individual advocates--some type of certification, whether it is a training-level certification or a testing-level certification.

"Unless we set the standards for professionalism within this field, somebody else is going to do it for us."

Vision for the Future

Lavery describes her vision for the future as one where victim services are so integrated into the fabric of our society that every professional who comes in contact with crime victims knows through their professional training exactly what to do. Then the job of victim advocates is to "just reinforce it for those who really need something beyond that helping care that is provided by everybody else." Her hope is that every victim advocate will be able to look back as she does and say:

"I think about being blessed in that I found this work and that I know that I can look back someday and say, 'Oh, that was tough. It was really tough. But in the long run, everyday was worth it. Every smile was worth it. Every time there was a small victory on behalf of one victim, that it was worth it.'"