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

Michalene McCann
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Michalene McCann
Interviewee:Michaelene McCann;
Salem, MA
Date of Interview:January 10, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Michaelene McCann


Michaelene McCann began working with crime victims 40 years ago when she as an emergency room nurse. Over her career, she has been a leader in victim services in Massachusetts and on the national level. She has served on the National Organization for Victim Assistance Board of Directors. She recently retired as the Director of the Essex County District Attorney's Office, Victim and Witness Assistance Program after 18 years.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Michaelene McCann traces her involvement in the movement back to her experiences as a "naive"19 year-old nursing student in an emergency room. She recalls:

"...a police officer came in with a 12-year-old girl and her mother and her mother pulled her husband, the father of this child, off of the daughter; he had been raping her. And so I can remember being very horrified and...I can still see the looks on both the mother's face and the young girl's face, and I think that stayed with me for years until I was asked by a colleague in nursing if I was interested in getting involved in a community group that was looking at services for rape victims in our community, and I immediately said 'yes'."

McCann became co-chair of the group (which would later become a group of volunteer rape crisis counselors) and discovered that she needed to learn more. She enrolled in her first course about sexual assault in 1975. Later, McCann worked under a human services grant that required rape prevention and treatment be provided to victims. She recalls that she was paid for working ten hours a week, but really worked more like 60. In the late 1970s, she accepted a job as a victim/witness advocate in Middlesex, Massachusetts. From that program, she then went to law school to continue to ensure that victims are granted rights.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

McCann remembers people being threatened -- police and hospital personnel did not like outsiders involving themselves in the process. She also remembers a time in which there were no hotlines, so police officers called advocates at their home phone numbers. She reflects that the field in the 1970s had such a "hunger for information and education" that 65 people signed up for the first sexual assault course she taught. As time progressed, the 1980s were an era of establishing and expanding services.


McCann stresses the importance of education, and, in particular, judicial education. She feels that the victim assistance field needs to better educate judges about victims' rights. While acknowledging the importance of judicial impartiality, she feels that the quest for impartiality often keeps judges from being as aware as they should be about services available in the community. She also stresses that the field must shift its focus and resources to prevention programs.

Greatest Accomplishment

McCann views the passage of the various state Victims' Bill of Rights as the movement's most significant accomplishment. She believes that the Bills are very effective tools to ensure victims' rights.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

McCann thinks that to continue the field's growth and professionalism, there needs to be widespread recognition that being a victim/witness advocate is a "real" profession. She believes that the move towards certification and credentialing will aid that effort. McCann stresses that as the field becomes more professional and institutionalized there needs to be a structure in place:

"And I also think that as a field in general we have a responsibility and (must) include the top people at states and local governments and prosecutors...there needs to be a structure in place to provide supervision and support for doing this work. This is heavy work and people need to have a supervision structure in place...It needs to be supported. It needs to be an okay thing that is built into the program. And I think those of us who've been in the field awhile have a real strong responsibility to really promote and to do it ourselves wherever we can to effect that kind of change to make sure that there's some continuance that...we keep that up, that we mentor, that we supervise, that we put structures in place that create that possibility and that we can create a ladder for people."

McCann also advises those in the field to never be afraid to ask questions and to watch and observe more senior victim assistance professionals. She stresses the importance of really absorbing all of the information one can gather and constantly asking for feedback.

Vision for the Future

McCann's vision for the future is the victim assistance field becoming more institutionalized and working more with community-based programs. She would like to see a future in which there are no turf issues and various groups helping victims can learn from each other.

Greatest Fear

McCann's greatest fear is that the victims assistance field will stay in "maintenance mode for too long," and by doing so will fail to learn and adapt to serve new types of crime victims, for example, cyber stalking or anything Internet-related. She is fearful that the field will grow complacent, and that a ladder of professionalism will not develop.