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

David Osborne
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from David Osborne
Interviewee:David Osborne;
Sacramento, CA
Date of Interview:February 25, 2003
Location:Sacramento, CA

David Osborne


David Osborne was a Special Assistant to the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, and currently works for a public policy think tank in Sacramento, CA.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

David Osborne describes his initial involvement in the field as a "political accident." During the first year of the Clinton Administration, Osborne was staffing a commission to examine the drug problem in America when he was invited to interview for a position in the Justice Department. Given his recent experience as a researcher at the Kennedy School, he thought the position would be in the Bureau of Justice Assistance. When he learned that it would be with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Osborne remembers taking a deep breath and thinking, "I have no idea what that is, but it sounds interesting." He was hired as a Special Assistant to the Director, Aileen Adams, and subsequently worked on special projects such as the development of the crisis response program and a technology grant that looked at ways to increase the use of technology in the field.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

When Osborne began working at OVC, the field was already well established. VOCA had been in existence for close to 10 years and OVC had a fairly streamlined grants process in place. As Osborne looks back on that time, the energy and support of a new Administration set the stage for their next priorities. Osborne recalls,

"Fine collections had become stagnant by that point and so there's a leveling off of revenue coming into the program to assist crime victims' programs. There was interest in victims' rights, but nothing necessarily pushing that agenda forward. But at the same time there were these tremendous opportunities. We had a new Administration in Washington so that brings new ideas. We had a new Attorney General, Janet Reno who is obviously very committed to crime victims' issues."

Under the direction of Aileen Adams, OVC worked to increase the Crime Victims Fund fines collected by U.S Attorney's Offices, and expanded the Crime Act to include provisions for the Violence Against Women Act.

"It was a field that was on the brink of many things and nothing necessarily catalyzing any movement forward."

Greatest Challenge

For Osborne and the other OVC staff, the greatest challenge came from trying to change how the justice system treated victims, while being a part of the Justice Department. Their task was a bit easier with Janet Reno as Attorney General. He recalls, "sometimes it was everybody along the way saying, 'no,' until you got to Janet Reno and then she says, 'yes.' And then that changes things."

Successful Strategies

Osborne recounts how OVC believed in forming partnerships to move an issue or project forward. They would bring groups together to discuss areas of "common interest" and sometimes "it took a little bit of conversation and then a little bit of seed money to get their attention or at least bring them to the table, but then that allowed us to work in partnership and then bring them into the process." OVC also worked to ensure that major crime victims' organizations had stable resources so they could help OVC to promote victims' rights and expand training opportunities.

"We believe very strongly in partnerships. We know that we can't do it by ourselves and so we did everything we could to align ourselves and work closely with major crime victims' organizations, to work with organizations of allied professionals, whether it was police organizations, prosecutorial ... and judicial councils, corrections officials, to see where we had areas of common interest..."


Osborne doesn't like to talk about failures, but would rather talk about areas that need improvement. The first area is in providing services for people of color and low-income communities. According to Osborne, we've reached the "mainstream people," but we need to expand our focus on the underserved populations. He acknowledges the tremendous efforts expended to get the Federal constitutional amendment passed, but knows that "we're not there yet." Finally, he recalls how during his tenure, OVC fought "like the devil" to fend off numerous raids on the VOCA fund and that now, unfortunately, the Crime Victims Fund has been capped.

"...we've done great work, domestic violence, sexual assault, some mainstream issues that kind of hit mainstream people, but I'm not convinced, for example, that we have developed a full and comprehensive network in low-income communities and communities of color..."

Greatest Accomplishment

Osborne sees the establishment of VOCA as the greatest accomplishment. He states:

"Just having a stable funding base that victim service programs, that state programs (and) state compensation programs can rely upon from year to year to support what they're doing is the most important thing because that's where the services are being provided."
Osborne sees OVC as continuing to provide leadership for the country, especially in bringing funding to the field.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Osborne's advice to the new service providers and the field is to persevere:

"Perseverance more than anything else will continue to move us forward. It's a hard line of work. I mean you're seeing and dealing with the worst that humanity sometimes has to offer and so in perseverance it's everything. So at a personal level being able to take these horrible things that are happening to crime victims and use that in a way that you're supporting them, providing them with the services that they need, but not getting burned by it yourself so that you can turn around tomorrow and help more people who are similarly situated. ...
"....Perseverance also on the political front. We have to keep fighting for the things that we believe in to keep pushing the agenda forward."

Vision for the Future

Osborne relates his vision for the field to a passage from Toni Morrison's essay on the 200th birthday of the United States. Morrison talked about the slow progress of civil rights and rights of African-Americans as a "slow walk of trees," using the analogy of how you can track the slow progress of trees from the Savannahs up into the highlands to track the progress of social movements. From Osborne's view,

"it's a slow process. In 31 years, we have accomplished a great deal. ...we're not there yet, but we'll get there."

Greatest Fear

Osborne's greatest fear is "that we'll plateau and this is, you know, as good as it will get." He asks the hard questions about sustaining funding and implementing rights that will make a difference. Osborne wants the field to continue moving forward, and to build on all that it has accomplished to date.