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
















Anne Seymour
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Anne Seymour
Interviewee:Anne Seymour;
Washington, DC
Date of Interview:February 25, 2003
Location:Sacramento, CA

Anne Seymour




Biography

Anne Seymour has been a national victim advocate for 20 years. She has served as Director of Public Affairs for the National Office of MADD, Co-founder and Director of Communications for the National Victim Center, and currently as a Director of Justice Solutions.

Initial Involvement in the Victims' Movement

Anne Seymour was 26-years-old and working in the California State Legislature when she joined the National Office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as an Assistant to MADD's Co-founder and Executive Director Candy Lightner. A few days after she arrived in Dallas to begin her job, she flew to Washington D.C. to help organize the "Save Our Students" (SOS) campaign, which became the prelude to the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 five weeks later. The Act's rapid passage was an enormous accomplishment for MADD and one that had been achieved quickly though an effective media blitz and victim/community outreach and organizing across the nation. The value of working with the media on behalf of victims and educating the media about victim sensitivity are themes that have stayed with Seymour throughout her 20-year career in the victim assistance field. Two years later, she co-founded the Sunny von Bulow National Victim Advocacy Center that later became the National Victim Center (NVC), which is today the National Center for Victims of Crime.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

NVC was financially stable, the media embraced its cause, and the local community of Fort Worth, TX, where it resided, supported NVC initiatives. These factors created great opportunities for the NVC staff to meet and train crime victims, service providers and allied professionals all over the country and to take on national challenges. Seymour met many victims and survivors whom had already become activists for victim causes. She worked closely with the mothers of the children victimized at the McMartin Preschool in California; Linda Barker Lowrance who founded Families and Friends of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons in Seattle, WA; Justice for Homicide Victims in Los Angeles that was co-founded by Ellen Griffin Dunne and John Gillis, among others; and other survivors who were forming grassroots organizations to address imbalances in the criminal justice system.

"We talk about grassroots today as being part of the victim assistance field; it was the foundation of the field when I joined... It was people whose kids were murdered or the women who were raped. And everyone started these organizations that I think became the life of the victim assistance field."

Some of the factors that Seymour feels dominated the field 20 years ago were (1) turf issues, resentment and fragmentation that developed among the national victim organizations, mostly over competition for funding; (2) the total absence of technology--no computers, no fax machines, and no copy machines; and (3) horrendous media insensitivity to victims and survivors.

The "Old Buffaloes" is a term that describes many of the tenacious men and women in the early days of the movement who took risks and persevered in the fight for rights and services for crime victims. Seymour tells stories of many of the Old Buffaloes through this Oral History Project, including Janice Harris Lord, Betty Jane Spencer, Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Jay Howell, Rep. Bill Van Regenmorter, Judge Lois Haight, Sharon English, Steve Derene, and Rich Anderson, among others.

Greatest Challenges

For Seymour, the field's greatest challenge has been to change societal attitudes about crime and victimization. Twenty years ago, the public and the criminal justice system openly blamed battered women who did not leave their partners. Rape victims were judged and blamed, and even child victims were blamed. "I remember a judge saying that a five-year-old child molestation victim had been 'provocative', and he gave her molester probation, " Seymour says.

According to Seymour, another challenge has been overcoming the tremendous lack of understanding about the impact of crime on victims/survivors. People didn't recognize or validate that victims have needs. Finally, the lack of public policy and the lack of a framework for public policy development 20 years ago had to be confronted.

"If there's not a law that says you have to do it, people ain't gonna do it. And even where there is a law that says you have to do it, people still don't do it in terms of the implementation of victims' rights."

Successful Strategies

Seymour believes that what her friend and colleague Bob Preston called the "smoke and mirrors" strategy has been very effective in educating state Legislatures, bringing politicians around to the victim/survivor perspective, and getting media attention. "It seemed like there were thousands of crime victims and thousands of victim advocates...but actually it was a small powerful group of people, yet we made it seem like there were a lot of people supporting us," Seymour explains with a smile.

A second effective strategy was and continues to be the "power of the personal story". The victims movement is about support for people who are hurt and whose lives are devastated. Seymour firmly believes that "giving a face to the pain of victimization" and communicating the experiences of victims/survivors to neighborhoods, schools, and communities have been powerful education tools.

Rape In America: A Report to the Nation

To many people in the victim assistance field, the publication of Rape in America in 1992 was a brilliant strategy to draw attention to crime victims' needs. According to Seymour, it was the "biggest media hit in the history of the victims' movement." She joined Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Dr. Connie Best, Dr. Ben Saunders, and Christine Edmunds in a national study funded by the Department of Health and Human Services to survey 4,000 women about their health. They found an incredible number of women surveyed had been sexually assaulted. At that time, the Uniform Crime Report said that 95,000 women were raped each year, whereas the data collected by HHS demonstrated that 683,000 women are raped a year. To make matters worse, the HHS study indicated that the majority of these women had been children and adolescents when they were assaulted.

Working at the National Victim Center and with the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, Seymour and the team took on the task of publicizing these startling data. The team's strategy was to collaborate with the Bureau of Justice Statistics to explain the difference in numbers that resulted simply from different data collection methodologies. Other strategies were to alert the media in advance of the press conference that would announce the study results; provide embargoed data to victim service providers nationwide so they could offer "local angles;" and schedule talk show engagements and interviews in advance with media from all over the country. Rape in America was covered by 70 to 80 national news media. Follow-on research about media coverage of Rape in America indicated there were more than 1.8 million media hits over a one-month period, which points to the success of the strategy.

Failures

Seymour points out that while 32,000 victims' rights laws have been passed, many are not implemented on a regular basis. Another failure she laments that continues to undermine the field is that "the people who work with victims do not come close to matching the diversity of the victims whom they serve." Another area in need of improvement is assistance to grassroots organizations to "build capacity." Many of the small organizations that began in response to a victimization do not have the infrastructure or the know-how to write grants and conduct program evaluations-- two organizational skills that are essential for them to compete for the funding they need to sustain, grow and prosper.

Greatest Accomplishments

Seymour stresses first the importance of the people in the field--the "sheer determination and will power" that the movement has had. She refers to the tenacity of the field and, in citing the numerous people who reflect these qualities, emphasizes the victims and survivors who have inspired her. In addition, she believes that the passage of the Victims of Crime Act and the founding of the Office for Victims of Crime are incredibly important.

In 1987, the American Correctional Association Task Force on Victims of Crime developed a series of recommendations to improve victim services in corrections relating to notification, restitution, protection, and the impact of crime on victims. Seymour, who was a member of the Task Force, looks back at this initiative as one of her proudest accomplishments. Within a year, the Office for Victims of Crime committed funds to develop protocols to implement the Task Force recommendations, and today 49 states have corrections-based victim service programs.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

In considering the future of the discipline, Seymour is cautionary about the move to professionalize and credential the field of victim advocacy for fear that many people do not have college degrees and the standards may be too stringent.

"As we look at certification in the field, we must not leave these people behind...because I am afraid that we're gonna lose the heart and soul of the field," she says.
Seymour also believes in quality and continual mentoring for "the next generation of leaders" so that when they take the lead, they can be as dynamic and fearless and heroic as their predecessors.

Seymour quotes her mentor Janice Harris Lord for the "best advice to the field: Don't fight!" She goes on to stress the importance of remaining positive. Regarding young advocates, she advises them to: "Be firm in your convictions. Do the right thing. Don't give up, and be there for the long haul. Finally, take care of your health and keep an eye out for the well-being of your colleagues."

Vision for the Future

Seymour quotes her friend Cheryl Ward Kaiser, a homicide family survivor from California, who said: "Victims remember two things: those who help and those who hurt." Seymour's vision "is simply that we never forget that."

"My vision is that everyone in this world, but in particular people who dedicate their lives to victims, remember that we want to be on the side of those who help."

Greatest Fear

Seymour fears that the field has not done an effective job creating the next generation of leaders. She also worries that the growing needs of crime victims may someday be greater than the field's capacity to assist them.