An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Janice Harris Lord
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Janice Harris Lord
Interviewee:Janice Harris Lord;
Ft. Worth, TX
Date of Interview:January 11, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Janice Harris Lord




Biography

Janice Harris Lord is a victims' rights consultant and noted author who served for many years as the Director of Victim Services for the National Office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Janice Harris Lord first became involved in the victims' movement through her work with abused children during her field placement as a Masters of Science and Social Work student at Parkland Hospital's Child Abuse Clinic in Dallas, Texas. From this experience, Lord became "totally emotionally hooked" on working with child abuse, and soon realized that battered children also often had battered mothers. After working in the domestic violence arena, she went to work for the National Office Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1983.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

In acknowledging the "preludes" to the beginning of the victims' movement in the 1970s and 1980s, Lord stresses the importance of not forgetting the efforts of early advocates such as Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams. She describes the convergence of the law and order movement, the women's movement, and the anti-war movement in the 1970s as the force that set the stage for the country to be ready to embrace the beginnings of the victims' rights movement in the mid 1970s.

She reflects on one instance in particular that she feels exemplifies the attitude of the era. Lord remembers recommending to a prosecutor that he hire a staff member whose job would be to prepare victims for trial. She recalls how "foreign" this concept was for the prosecutor. In 1984, Lord attended her first NOVA Conference and became exposed to the broader victims' movement. She continues by crediting the personal stories of MADD co-founders Cindi Lamb and Candy Lightner as propelling the movement forward.

"I don't think that without that personal, heartfelt voice of the victim making its way through the nation, the movement would have grabbed hold."

Greatest Challenge

Reflecting on her experiences with MADD, Lord believes the organization's greatest challenge was achieving balance. The organization had charismatic leaders who could capture the nation's attention, but those same leaders had little knowledge or information about how to run a national, non-profit organization. Also, many times those leaders were so focused on their mission that they didn't care about lacking any business sense. She believes this is still a challenge in the victim assistance field today -- some organizations becoming too corporate and losing passion, while others have passion but no business sense.

Successful Strategies

Lord believes that MADD's most successful strategy has been its skilled use of the media, which she credits with informing the public about victims' experiences and needs. This, in turn, has created greater awareness and sensitivity to crime victims' issues.

Failures

Although Lord believes there have not been total failures, she believes there have been some "normal adolescent development issues" that have slowed the victim assistance field. She believes that the most noteworthy of these issues has been, and continues to be, fighting over limited resources:

".....This is a field that I think has just gone through probably its adolescence and I think as we move now into more professionalism, we're moving into our adulthood, we're more mature, we are a little softer. Still compassionate, but a little softer."

Greatest Accomplishment

Lord believes the greatest accomplishment of the victim assistance field has been amplifying victims' voices through the media. Media coverage of victims' experiences and their stories has heightened awareness about the issue.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Lord summarizes:

"I want my grandchildren to feel that a victim assistance provider is as of due of respect as a profession as is a social worker or a psychologist or lawyer or doctor. And if we don't do these other pieces, the good research, the skilled teaching and education, we need our own professional journals. I know it's going to take a little bit more time but we have to do that if we're going to have the respect of these other care giving professions."

Lord advises those new to the field to not "lose sight of the basics", like listening attentively and giving victims signals that show that you are paying attention. She believes that taking the time to do this is the first step to help someone heal.

"You have been given two ears and one mouth for a very good reason."

Vision for the Future

Lord sees the need for strong charismatic leadership at the national level through which the victims assistance field can speak with one voice.