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

Kathryn Turman
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Kathryn Turman
Interviewee:Kathryn Turman;
Washington, DC
Date of Interview:January 13, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Kathryn Turman

Director of Victim Services for the Federal Bureau of Investigation


Kathryn Turman is the Director of Victim Services for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. She formerly served as Director of the Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice from 1998 to 2001.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Kathryn Turman first became involved in the movement after college when she began working as a social worker in a children's hospital. Her work with abused and neglected children sparked her interest in victims issues. Turman then moved to Washington DC and worked on Capital Hill for U.S. Senator John Heinz who was actively involved in victims' issues. There, she had the opportunity to be involved with some high profile crime victims' issues, including the "Central Park Jogger" as well as the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103. After the Senator died in a plane crash in 1991, Turman went to work for the U.S. Department of Justice's Missing and Exploited Children Program, which exposed her to a much broader range of child victims' issues. She then accepted a job as chief of a children's advocacy center's victim/witness assistance unit. Through her work at the children's advocacy center, she met Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. He asked if she'd come on staff to direct the victim/witness unit. In her three and a half year tenure, she grew the office from six staff to 26 full-time staff, including the first two child interview specialists in the Federal government. When Holder became Deputy Attorney General, he contacted Turman again and asked if she'd be interested in serving a 120 detail to OVC as the Acting Director. She eventually served until 2001. She is currently program director for the FBI's Office for Victim Assistance.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Turman remembers accepting an internship in the mid-1970s while she was in college working at the Austin Police Department. She reflects:

"The police department at that time had nothing. I mean it wasn't even on the radar screen in terms of what you do... there were individual police officers who went out of their way to be kind and helpful to victims and to try to get them information or to stay in contact with them. But it was very much a personal choice and style and approach."

Also, there was a much different environment when working with children. She saw how the field was slow to recognize domestic parental kidnapping and other controversial issues.

"As soon as we get one issue nailed down, there's another three others that pop up. But that's what keep the field..... dynamic."

Greatest Challenge

One of Turman's greatest challenges that she encountered throughout the course of her career was how to better serve victims of crimes that happened overseas, for example the family members of the Pan Am flight 103 victims. She believes that the victim assistance field as a whole has been challenged when trying to "... broaden the view to look at all the different professionals who come into contact with victims and try to educate them... we are all part of that net that we want to create to help victims." She also thinks that the field has been challenged to keep an open mind and not be too tied to past ways of doing things.

Successful Strategies

Throughout the course of her career, Kathryn Turman's most successful strategy has been to really read the audiences and sell them any endeavor based on their needs.

"You have to find a way to prove to them that what you have to offer, what you can teach them, and how you can help them is of benefit not just to the victims, but to them."

Greatest Accomplishment

Turman believes that the field's greatest accomplishment has been its ability to institutionalize change. She points to the value of legislation that require certain services for victims that no longer leave it up to the personal choice of someone running an agency. Turman's greatest personal accomplishment is the work that she did with the U.S. Attorney's Office in DC. She values this experience because she sees DC as a very challenging environment with a lot of crime and few resources. She is proud that the program that she helped to establish is not only still functioning, but is continuing to grow. When taken as a whole, she feels that the victim assistance field's greatest accomplishment has been moving from a "movement" to a field with institutionalized elements.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

To continue the field's growth and professionalism, Turman believes there needs to be more opportunities for training at different levels, and also that the victim assistance field must not be afraid of new issues. To move to the next level of professionalism, she believes that there needs to be less reinventing the wheel and more sharing of programs and ideas.

Turman advises those new to the field to sit down with people and avoid telling them what you are going to do. Rather, she advises to simply listen to the specifics of their situation and their needs, and then build your response to meet those needs.

"It is easier to educate people, its easier to engage them and bring them around to where you want them if you come at them with an attitude of 'I'm here to help you'."

Vision for the Future

Turman's vision for the future is that the victim assistance field will continue to grow until it is part of the landscape and not something new or controversial. She hopes for a future in which the ideals that are embodied in the field become "... just a part of the way we take care of people." She believes that for this vision to become a reality, all people in the field need to join together and realize that there is more than enough work for everyone to do.

Greatest Fear

Turman's greatest fear is that if become too territorial, or tied to the way things have always been done, it will be "the death of the field." She would like to see the field continue to be open to new people and ideas, so that we are capable of meeting new challenges.