An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Roberta Roper
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Roberta Roper
Interviewee:Roberta Roper;
Upper Marlboro, MD
Date of Interview:January 10, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Roberta Roper




Biography

Roberta Roper is the Founder and former Executive Director of The Stephanie Roper Committee (now the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center), and serves as Co-Chair of the National Victims' Constitutional Amendment Network.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Roberta Roper and her husband, Vince Roper, became involved in the crime victims' movement after their daughter, Stephanie, was raped and murdered in 1982. Their first "brush with reality" was during a meeting with the prosecutor. When Roberta Roper asked if there was a victim assistance program in place, he laughed and said, "Well, I guess that's me." From that moment on, it was clear to the Roper family that everything that they wanted to know and any role they would want to play would be their own responsibility. Although the family accepted that responsibility, she recalls frequently driving to a location an hour and a half a way for a preliminary hearing, only to discover that it had been postponed and nobody had bothered to inform the family. During the trial, the Ropers were the first witnesses for the State and were called to merely set the stage for the crime, thus excluding the family from the trial. These experiences convinced the Ropers that the system needed to be reformed. As a vehicle for that change, the Ropers established The Stephanie Roper Foundation.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Roper characterizes the field of victims' rights and services as a "virtual wasteland" when she first entered the criminal justice system. She remembers a system in which "victims had little or no role to play, and if they were fortunate enough to survive the crime, they served as good witnesses so the state might win its case."

"We were told that we were literally on our own and we were just astonished that we were outsiders."

Greatest Challenge

Roper identifies achieving credibility as her greatest challenge in affecting change. Throughout her struggle to reform the system, she has been identified as "an emotional mother who wanted revenge," and that she needed to work past that perception to be taken seriously. She also has struggled with maintaining the vision for what she was trying to do and not reacting when political opponents accused her of "creating a monster" and "making a victim of the Constitution."

Successful Strategies

Roper summarizes her successful strategies as the "three P's," passion, perseverance, and patience. She feels that all of these qualities have been necessary to maintain her vision.

Failures

Roper does not characterize her experiences as one of failures, but rather as challenges. She identifies funding to sustain programs as one of the greatest of those challenges in the non-profit sector. She continues to point out that the fact that her organization, The Stephanie Roper Foundation, is still in existence 20 years later serves to exemplify that these challenges can be overcome.

Greatest Accomplishment

Roper identifies the Maryland constitutional amendment for crime victims' rights (passed in 1994) as her greatest accomplishment. She continues to explain that despite the passage of more than 60 Maryland statutes, the Amendment stands alone in establishing and securing victims' rights in the state of Maryland.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Roper identifies the need for a national standard of victims' rights and services embodied in an amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a prerequisite to continue the growth and professionalism of the field. Roper explains:

"No crime victim in America should be deprived of fair treatment, dignity, compassionate support, because a poorly trained service provider or because a prosecutor isn't inclined to create a victim assistance unit or a law enforcement agency is not willing to apply for a grant and to be held accountable for how he or she treats victims. So I think, you know, they go hand in hand, and we have now reached a point where service providers have to reach a level of professionalism."

Roper advises those new to the field to enter into it with an understanding that it is not about fame, fortune, or recognition. She stresses that it is a "calling," and that one of her concerns for the future is that the victim assistance field will forget the purpose behind the work.

"Be prepared to grow old and get bags and wrinkles and gray hair, but reap the highest rewards .....in personal satisfaction and knowing you made a difference in someone's life."

Vision for the Future

Roper hopes that one day the victim assistance field will not be necessary. However, she also realizes that there will always be victims and survivors, and for them she hopes that victims' rights and services will be ingrained and incorporated into the criminal justice system. She hopes that one day victims' rights and services will be routine, and that it "will not be necessary to pave new roads."

Greatest Fear

Roper's greatest fear is that the field will forget whom it serves. She fears that the work will be just another bureaucratized government job, and that in the process, the field will lose its purpose and meaning.