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
















Ed Stout
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Ed Stout
Interviewee:Ed Stout;
St. Louis, MO
Date of Interview:August 19, 2002
Location:Nashville, TN

Ed Stout

Executive Director, Aid for Victims of Crime




Biography

Ed Stout has served as Executive Director of Aid for Victims of Crime in St. Louis since 1981. He says his 10 years of studying for the priesthood, his 15 years as community organizer in the War on Poverty, along with raising four children all provided excellent training to become a victim advocate and crisis intervener.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

In 1978, Ed Stout was a community organizer in low income neighborhoods in St. Louis. Because of this work, he was asked to join the Board of Directors of Aid to Victims of Crime (AVC), the nation's first victim assistance program founded by Carole Vittert in 1972. Stout reminisces about how it was originally a philosophical struggle for him because he had been active helping ex-offenders, and did not yet realize that justice for the accused and justice for the victim were not mutually exclusive.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Stout describes a movement in which there was no technology, training programs, or research, but simply a group of people who were reaching out to crime victims and asking how they could help. Stout became the Executive Director of AVC in 1982, 10 years after its founding. He recalls often being the only one in the office, and his need to balance providing direct services to victims, with the need to complete administrative tasks to keep the agency open. There was no funding for programs, and agencies were struggling.

"There was a feeling of if we don't talk to one another, we talk about one another. And I think that negative spirit was there because everybody was trying to survive. And slowly but surely we started sitting down at tables together and saying we got to work together."
"There's more victims out there than any one agency can handle, can reach out to. So, I think in St. Louis right now there is spirit that wasn't there back when the funding was -- well, there just simply wasn't any funding. Today there's not enough funding, but at least the organizations are stable."

Greatest Challenge

Stout identifies the greatest challenge as being the stigma that was attached to victimization and a lack of understanding of who victim advocates were and what they did. After realizing that this was a problem, AVC began working to educate the field and the general public about their work. Stout feels that the need for victim services was finally acknowledged in the early 1990s, and with that recognition came more respect.

Successful Strategies

Stout remembers feeling like kind of a "Lone Ranger" in the political community--that the movement was not well viewed nor well-accepted. He recalls how activists who were starting up agencies were called "do-gooders," and the movement had no political power. Stout recalls receiving an invitation to a Missouri state conference in 1984 whose purpose was to bring victim advocates together. He felt that the movement had a chance to change laws and public policy and be taken seriously by coordinating a multi-system approach at the conference. Two years later, AVC experienced its first major policy success with the passage of the Missouri Victims' Bill of Rights. Stout credits his success with realizing that his agency could not do it alone and then building a state network to pursue shared political goals. This statewide coalition was called MOVA, the Missouri Victim Assistance Network. Today MOVA is the oldest state victim services network in the country.

Failures

At the beginning of the movement, Stout recalls a real hesitancy to collaborate because of fierce competition among agencies over the few funding sources available. Although he perceives that agencies have since realized that they must cooperate to ensure their survival, he feels that this period of competition stunted the early growth of the movement.

Greatest Accomplishment

Stout realizes the pivotal role that legislation has played in the victims' rights field. Specifically, he points to the landmark passage of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984.

"If you want your issue to survive, you've got to concretize it into law."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Stout believes that the victim field is currently undergoing a "hardening of the arteries." He thinks that this is part of the natural evolution of social movements, and that the victim services field is no exception. Stout sees the field starting to emphasize rules and regulations and money, rather than the human need.

"I think the victim services movement is at a crossroads. And where it goes depend upon, first of all, crime victims pushing it, crime victims standing up and saying 'we're not through being counted.' But that also means that we who call ourselves victim advocates and victim service providers have to renew a commitment to listen to them."

Stout advises newcomers to be aware of an ongoing debate of the victims' rights movement: whether to expend energy and resources on social action (for example, changing public policy) or providing services. Currently, he perceives that the field is focused on providing direct services. Although Stout stresses that this is important and necessary, he believes it is vital to maintain a balance between working on both the micro and macro levels.

Vision for the Future

Stout jokes that he would like to establish a "retirement home for victim advocates" that would also serve as a training ground for new people coming into the field.

Greatest Fear

Stout's greatest fear is that the victim assistance field will become too institutionalized and will lose the passion that once characterized the movement. He reflects:

"...I've seen it too often and it scares me when a victim advocate or victim service agency is presented with a problem and they turn to the rule book for the answer."
"And the answer is not in the rule books. It's in people's hearts. It's in people in the community and the resources in the community and reaching out into the community and reaching out to victims and that's where the answer is. But I'm afraid we're starting to look at the rule book too much. That's what scares me."