An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive
Beth Rossman began her career as a police officer and has spent the last 17 years directing a victim witness program. She has served as a member of the Florida State Crisis Response Team and the National Organization for Victim Assistance National Crisis Response Team, responding to Hurricane Andrew, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the World Trade Center attacks, among many others.
Beth Rossman graduated from college with a degree in criminal justice in 1980. She then entered the Broward County Law Enforcement Academy as one of four females in her class and became one of Cocoa Beach's first female police officers. As such, she was often called to the scene of violent crimes to provide the "female perspective." After working with the Cocoa Beach Police Department for six years, Rossman worked her way up in the Detective Bureau and, in 1986, was recruited to start a victim/witness unit.
In the early to mid 1980s, there were only a few State Attorneys Offices in Florida that had victim/witness programs. Rossman looked to shelters and rape crisis programs for information and guidance.
Rossman believes that her greatest challenge early on was that prosecutors did not want to work with the victim/witness unit. Rossman remembers it being a real challenge to convince prosecutors to buy into the fact that victims should not just be witnesses. She witnessed similar problems with police officers, and believes that one of her greatest challenges was getting both prosecutors and police officers to be honest with victims.
Rossman's most successful strategy was having her unit within the State Attorney's Office, so she had an "inside track" to him at all times. She would also "bribe" those in the system, and she remembers that the littlest gestures would sometimes have the greatest impact. Rossman reflects:
"Some other things that I found helpful: I would bribe, I mean I literally would bribe. Such as when we were having trouble with our crime compensation collection. The judges weren't ordering (it) in the state of Florida -- $50 per case that's ordered into the crime compensation trust fund -- and they weren't doing it and our statistics were low. So at their judiciary meeting I sent them the most expensive sheet cake I could possibly get my hands on that said "don't forget crimes compensation'."
Rossman believes that the field's greatest accomplishment was the 1982 President's Task Force on Victims of Crime and its landmark Final Report. In Florida, she believes that the passage of the state's constitutional amendment in 1988 has been the most noteworthy accomplishment.
".....some of the old timers need to really work with the newcomers so they get that passion, to know that 'yes it is a profession', but it is still a movement....."
Rossman views the judiciary as the field's real stumbling block. In the state of Florida, judges run for four- year terms, and once on the bench, rarely have any opposition. This creates a situation in which judges who "don't appreciate victims' rights" remain on the bench
Rossman stresses the importance of the movement retaining its passion, and believes the victim assistance field's future growth will be tied to the ability of different agencies and networks to continue to move forward together. Also, she stresses the importance of credentialing and degree programs to involve individuals at the university level. Finally, she feels that the victim assistance field needs to pass the Federal constitutional amendment.
Rossman would advise those new to the field to always be honest with victims. She would also tell advocates to "work from their hearts" and think about how they would want to be treated.
"I worry for this profession that we are getting so caught up in red tape and bureaucracies now that we aren't back there on that level where we're just giving them services and working from our hearts."
Rossman's vision for the future is that those assisting victims will be seen as professionals, with some sort of credentialing or training.
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|