An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Steve Siegel
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Steve Siegel
Interviewee:Steve Siegel;
Denver, CO
Date of Interview:August 20, 2002
Location:Nashville, TN

Steve Siegel

Director of Program Development, Denver District Attorney's Office




Biography

Steve Siegel began his career in the First Judicial District Attorney's Office in Colorado in 1976, where he was the Director of the Felony Adult Diversion Program and Family Violence Project. He has been the Director of Program Development for the Office of the District Attorney in Denver, Colorado since 1983, where he has helped implement the "Victim Services" 2000 program concept.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Steve Siegel first became an activist in college protesting the Vietnam War. From his participation in that movement, Siegel learned that the type of social change he wanted to advocate would need to be "more people-centered." After graduating in the early 1970s, Siegel moved to Denver, Colorado and began working in the District Attorney's Office with young offenders. While doing so, he also came in contact with their victims. In 1976, he became involved in a diversion program for young adults, came into close contact with victims and started to "see the plight of victims back in the early '70s." He used his experience to create the first prosecutor- and community-based victim services joint effort to assist victims of domestic violence. In 1983, Norm Early became the District Attorney in Denver, and together, their contributions to the emerging victims' rights movement expanded.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Siegel credits the beginning years of the movement to a few individuals who were working on an individual basis to make a difference. He notes that these efforts were not systematic or coordinated, but revolved around the idea that "...we all had responsibilities to a central person, the crime victim, and that our mission should revolve around that (which) was far from being developed at that point." He remembers that the few existing organizations were offshoots of the women's movement, mostly safe houses and rape crisis programs. Siegel's program in Jefferson County, Colorado began in 1979, and he notes that the movement really "...took off in the early '80s with crime victim compensation and the first (victims') bill of rights and the first funding mechanism." Siegel recalls:

"We had work to do and we had attitudes to change and we had systems to change and we had procedures to change and all those kinds of things. But, really, in those days I was coming out of a pretty frantic period of time in social change.

And written protocols and those kinds of things were the antithesis of the way we thought. And so to realize that I would spend a good portion of my career developing things that I thought were the opposite of what my generation thought were important, (structure and accountability and those kinds of things), we were a movement of passion then. And that's what drove us."

Greatest Challenge

Siegel believes the greatest challenge that both he and his colleagues faced was "bringing it all together." He continues to describe the problems both in the past and present of bringing people together to identify challenges and existing resources. Siegel identifies a trend that the more excited the victim assistance field becomes with its successes, the more the field starts to see a glaring weakness - that "...we were still not reaching parts of the community who needed to be reached."

Successful Strategies

Siegel reflects that the atmosphere in Colorado in the early 1980s was open to change. There were thoughtful legislatures, and an environment in which people wanted to hear about victims' issues and concerns. He and his colleagues learned early on that when the opportunities to be heard were available, it was incredibly important to be honest, regardless of whether those listening would like what was being said.

"I can tell you two words: honesty and communication. That's all you need to know. It really washes down to a very simple, simple, simple approach."

Failures

Siegel shares:

"You know, it's not 'were' there any failures?: it's 'are' there any failures.? We have failures every day. We have women and children that we're not protecting. We have an inability to really gather up the way, the wherewithal to bring the prevention movement and the victim services intervention movement to a nexus."

Greatest Accomplishment

Siegel believes that there is no one greatest accomplishment, but rather many accomplishments that have come together. He believes whether the accomplishments are legislative or volunteerism or a community reaching consensus, all of those aspects come together "...to make a difference and do it in a way that lasts more than the way you handled this one case."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Siegel believes that to further the growth and professionalism of the field, those in the victim assistance field who are "established" need to step aside and allow the younger generation some access. He stresses the importance of realizing that the strategies that worked 10 or 15 years ago may not work for the "new wave of crimes" that are currently prevailing. He believes that the newcomers to the field will play a critical role in "revitalizing" the field to both remain on the cutting-edge in the present and carry the victim assistance field into the future.

Siegel reflects that it is a lot more difficult to get into the victim assistance field today than when he first began. He credits this to the fact that his generation "..could just show up and find our way in. And in today's world it is a highly competitive field." He believes that accreditation is important for that very reason. He advises newcomers that becoming more professional and raising the bar will be important strategies for the future success of the field.

Vision for the Future

Siegel shares:

"I'm not too old to say that I still have a vision of peace. But if we don't get that, then I have a vision that we somehow can bring the world of modern technology to the world of old-fashioned caring for people. And that we do that in a way that makes sense not for the service providers but for the victims, and makes sense for those folks who still don't trust us enough to come forward."

Greatest Fear

Siegel's greatest fear for the future of the field is that people will allow turfism and individuals to get in the way of the work that needs to be done. He believes that this stems from "...a somewhat blind commitment to that which you do, and not really understanding that which what everybody else does in order to make the whole thing come together."