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

John Stein
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from John Stein
Interviewee:John Stein;
Washington, DC
Date of Interview:January 12, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

John Stein

Deputy Director, National Organization for Victim Assistance


In 1978, Mr. Stein was elected to the NOVA Board, was selected as its Vice President the following year, and received its Founders Award in 1980.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Stein's interest in victim issues began when he was serving as a consultant to criminal justice agencies and, in particular, prosecutors. He was among the first to raise the issue of crime victims and their concerns in the context of law enforcement response. Stein's growing interest lead him to other pioneers who developed some of the nation's first victim assistance programs. They established NOVA, one of the nation's first comprehensive national victim organizations, in 1975, and Stein became a member of its Board of Directors. There he met Marlene Young, his future wife, and soon after became the organization's Deputy Director. Stein was also one of the architects and champions of the Victims of Crime Act that, in 1984, established the Crime Victims Fund and the Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Stein suggests that there has been a long standing debate about when the victims' movement actually began. His personal perception was that there was a trend of crime victims becoming more actively involved in their own cases, at the same time that criminal justice professionals, criminologists, sociologists and others began taking an interest in victim-related issues.

"So it was premature [before the 1980s] where mostly professionals or staff or supporters who are not ourselves victims or survivors of crime, but we may be becoming a real quote 'Victims' Movement.' Marlene argued that, in fact, a lot of the people who were in the field were survivors of crime. They just weren't self-proclaimed survivors. She also argued that starting around 1980, the survivors of crime began to form their own organizations. Candy Lightner started MADD in 1980, and Charlotte Hullinger started Parents of Murdered Children (in 1978)."
"It was wonderful to live through that transition from a bunch of a few idealistic or kooky people to be able to look around and say 'my God, this is part of a larger movement, a larger vision'."

Organizations dedicated to victim services began to appear. Stein actually conducted a survey of new victim programs in 1976-1977. By then, he indicated, "... there were a couple dozen, maybe more... several in prosecutor-based victim service programs that had just gotten started."

The President's Task Force on Victims of Crime Final Report that was published in 1982 was a critical landmark for both the victims' rights movement and NOVA. It provided an important impetus for the work of organization's Executive Director, Marlene Young. According to Stein:

"....she just rolled up her sleeves and kept pulling all of these all-nighters to produce papers for all these hearings and (for) the Chair.....and established the reputation that NOVA, I think it still holds on to being the professional voice in the field as well as a visionary in the field."

Greatest Accomplishment

Stein cites the passage of VOCA as a tremendous accomplishment. He indicated that funding through the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) -- a Federally funded, state administrated assistance program that provided funding to early victim assistance programs -- began to dry up by 1979.

"LEAA was the engine of financial support for the first victim/witness programs and prosecutors' offices and for some of the rape crisis and domestic violence programs. When it became... ..defunded, I saw, as all of us did, the potential of the termination of the victims' field."

This provided the motivation for several leading victim assistance policy advocates to begin thinking about other ways to provide substantial and sustainable funding streams to the growing field. It was then that the idea of creating a Federal Fund designated specifically for crime victim assistance was first suggested.

"This was Lois' invention, Lois Herrington... she and her colleagues. There is no question that Marlene, NOVA and others had urged the Task Force to talk about Federal funding of victims' rights, victim services, victim compensation, but it was their invention to say 'let's find the money out of Federal criminal fines', all of them. No one had ever thought of that before, and no one's done it since but they did that. And since there were no stakeholders in those fines at the time, Congress went along with it.
"She was the first Assistant Attorney General to hold that office where she created administratively the Office for Victims of Crime, which a few years later was recognized legislatively in an Amendment to VOCA. And her first job... in taking on that Assistant Attorney General thing was get OVC up and running and get this VOCA idea shaped into bill language. My memory is that the original bill that she... put together with Dave Tevelin... and other lawyers on the staff, put maybe half the bucks into helping Federal victims of crime or maybe half the bucks into helping victim compensation. It took some while, which NOVA and I personally noted judiciously. (We) collectively massaged the bill to come up with a formula whereby compensation would have a claim to half the bucks but a sub-formula would mean that they would actually have far fewer and what they didn't need to use would go back over to the victims' assistance side...".
" it was fun to be part of a process in which people thought real hard and carefully about how to shape a piece of public policy that were not interest groups, that were clamoring to, you know, get this or get that. We were working pretty much together, working with a pretty bright Counsel of the Crimes of Sub-Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

Shortly thereafter, the VOCA bill was introduced by Representative Peter Rodino and passed with a few amendments. While Stein describes a few "hiccups" in how it has been implemented, he notes:

"But all that being said, the fact is it remains a huge engine of change and tens of thousands, if not millions of victims, but I appreciate it. I mean it went from a $68 million fund to what is now about a half-billion-dollar fund; it could be around $500 or $600 million bucks."
"[The VOCA Fund] transformed what was a field of green eye shades..... people resistant to helping with financial aid to victims to one where they're looking for ways to be helpful...unquestionably it doubled, tripled, quadrupled the number of victim service programs in the country."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Stein cites the need for a credentialing process, specifically those for victim service professionals who provide crisis response services. He indicates that expanding credentialing to broader victim service arenas is critical for the expansion of professionalism in the field, and explains that this is the reason NOVA has taken such an active leadership role in developing standards and educational process (the "NOVA Model") that will enable system, state or even nationwide credentialing. Stein believes that one result will be greater credibility and respect for victim service professionals and their work.

"That's where I want to see the victim profession in the future. As recognized professional... whose views are respected... as legitimate as the next guy, next judge, the next prosecutor, the next whoever."

Stein's advice to new professionals is to "take a couple of days off and listen to all these tapes (those being developed as part of the OVC Oral History Project)." As he explains:

"...we are scared. We who were there at the beginning, we're scared that the fervor and the excitement that started all of this will get lost on the... .new we've agreed that their training programs need to give them...some of the historical stuff....from the people who did the historical stuff."

Stein's clear implication is that the next generation of victim advocates needs to draw from the fact that they are part of a historically rich tradition, born of commitment and fueled by the passions of its founders.