An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Jane Nady Sigmon: Second
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Jane Nady Sigmon: Second
Interviewee:Jane Nady Sigmon;
Washington, DC
Date of Interview:January 13, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Jane Nady Sigmon

Victim Services Specialist, Bureau of Consular Affairs

U.S. Department of State




Biography

Jane Nady Sigmon served as the Director of the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect prior to becoming the first Director of the Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice in 1987.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Through her work at the Department of Health and Human Services that addressed child abuse and neglect, Jane Nady Sigmon "had a wonderful formative experience professionally, working on an interdisciplinary team that dealt with children's issues." When making a speech on behalf of the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, she was approached by Assistant Attorney General Ricky Bell, who told her of a new office at the U.S. Department of Justice in need of a Director. In 1987, she became the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Sigmon describes her role in implementing the Crime Victims Fund that was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1984. When she asked how much money was anticipated to be available through the Fund, "no one had any idea." As Sigmon explains: "...The foundation was there, and then it was time to give it shape and to really develop its mission and implement it."

She recalls that much of her efforts were devoted to getting the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) organized, establishing divisions, making critical decisions about VOCA grant funding, and perhaps most significantly, ensuring that the position of Director of OVC was a Senate-confirmed position (which it became in 1988).

Sigmon recalls the field being "a little fractious and a little bit contentious." There were few national organizations that were speaking for victims, and the overall lack of funding for victim assistance "created conflicts that shouldn't be."

Greatest Challenge

Sigmon recalls numerous cases involving the victimization of children in Indian Country. When she first visited the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, she says "it really was the beginning of my understanding of how great the needs were." Sigmon is credited today with initiating Federal efforts that provided greatly needed funding for victims in Indian Country, as well as beginning the annual training conference for professionals and volunteers who serve Native American victims of crime.

Successful Strategies

Sigmon feels that establishing OVC and defining its role in providing leadership within the Executive branch was a significant success. Other successes during her tenure at OVC include utilizing the voice of victims and strong support from professionals in the field to pass Federal legislation such as the Campus Security Act and the Victims of Child Abuse Act.

Failures

Sigmon describes her epiphany in the 1980s that "the Federal criminal justice system......was pretty far behind local criminal justice systems." She recalls that despite the passage of the Federal Victim/Witness Protection Act of 1982, "we were not anywhere near full implementation of those guidelines for victim/witness assistance."

Greatest Accomplishments

According to Sigmon, the passage of the Victims of Crime Act as amended, which established OVC under law, has been the field's greatest accomplishment. She also cites "improving victims' treatment across the board" and "keeping a level of visibility of the issue" as significant.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

In the 1990s, Sigmon was Executive Director of the Victims' Assistance Legal Organization which, with support from OVC, developed the National Victim Assistance Academy (NVAA). Although the NVAA has been successful in providing research-based education to hundreds of victim service providers and allied professionals, Sigmon believes that the field must "make training more commonly available...to people in the field to answer their diverse training needs."

"It was really quite an effort to pull together a curriculum for the NVAA that would train so many diverse perspectives in assisting victims, and gather together the information base that everyone would need."

She believes three critical things are needed to ensure the successful future of the victim assistance field. First, professionals in the field need

"to understand where we've come from... I don't think you can appreciate today's challenges in providing assistance to victims of crime without understanding what the antecedents were, what the roots were....".
Next, she advises victim advocates to "get connected. Get connected locally, and find other people who share your values (and) the vision you have for how victims can be assisted and they kind of treatment they should have and deserve" from a wide range of professionals.

Finally, Sigmon emphasizes:

"Try not to get discouraged because there are more roadblocks than there are open pathways in assisting victims, and you have to be in it for the long haul."

Vision for the Future

Sigmon's vision for the future is derived from her current position as Victim Services Specialist for the State Department. Noting that 60 million Americans travel overseas each year, she says, "Many of them are going to be victims of crime; many of them are going to come to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance...so what we need to do is be prepared." Sigmon envisions a future where we understand the "traumatic impact of crime, and how much worse it is when a person isn't close to home and their built-in network of support and services."

Greatest Fear

Sigmon fears that "advocacy of some people on the part of certain types of crimes of certain types of crime will lead to fragmentation and really losing ground." Through her experience at the State Department, she has witnesses tremendous needs of a wide range of victims, from carjackings and serious assaults, to hate crimes and kidnapings and hostage-takings. Her greatest fear is that

"some victims get treated differently and get more services or compensation than other victims...and the danger of fragmentation in the field (is that) we would be less united."
"...You have to be in it for the long haul....."