An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Steven D. Walker
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Steven D. Walker
Interviewee:Steve Walker;
Fresno, CA
Date of Interview:February 25, 2003
Location:Sacramento, CA

Steven D. Walker, Ph.D.

Professor, California State University, Fresno




Biography

Dr. Steven D. Walker is a professor at California State University, Fresno. He created the first academic victimology programs in the United States and was one of the co-authors of the original proposal for the National Victim Assistance Academy, sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Steve Walker's first interaction with crime victims was as an American Baptist minister running drug and alcohol programs. His first formal involvement with the movement was in 1988 as a professor at California State University, Fresno (CSUF). CSUF started the nation's first victimology certificate program in 1985, and Walker took over the program in 1988. At that point, there had been 25 students who had taken the four courses offered and the program had not graduated a single student. To educate himself, Walker began going to every training program and conference that came across his desk.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Walker sensed that the field of victims' rights and services was new when he first became involved in the early 1980s. He reflects that those in the field had diverse opinions and philosophies. Walker recalls that "these two major things, that this is a new field and that the diversity of the field will be its saving grace." He remembers that to academically meet the needs created by those traits, CSUF was required to invent a series of courses that touched on every aspect of criminal justice and community-based programs. He recalls:

"There was a fear of professionalism. As I often say, we never used the 'C word' back then, the certification. We never talked about it, because, as a male, as a criminologist, as a psychologist, I had three strikes against me walking into this field, and so my biases...were to keep my mouth shut and listen and to find out what the needs were. There was suspicion of academia but there was an openness to the few of us that were around that I appreciated.

Greatest Challenge

Walker believes that for him, personally, there were two noteworthy challenges. He identifies one as the field's tenuous attitude towards academics and the other as a lack of bureaucratic support at his University. Walker remembers a time of underlying faculty resistance regarding victims' rights that reflected a fear of the liberal wing of the field of criminology that criminals' rights would be taken away.

"There was absolutely no money, and the best thing.. that I could hope for was the liaise faire attitude, but there was not ... an understanding among criminologists about how important this was."

Successful Strategies

Walker remembers going to programs in various cities talking to victim advocates and, in response to the stories he heard, he began writing an underground newspaper about how to subvert the system. The newspaper reflected the experiences of activists from the 1960s. He also credits his personal success with going out of his way to meet people in the field.

Failures

Although Walker feels that the victim assistance field is "moving right along," in his personal area of academia, he believes that the greatest failure has been the field's inability to convince academics and institutions of its importance.

Greatest Accomplishments

Walker believes that his two greatest accomplishments are the creation of the victimology major at CSUF and the National Victim Assistance Academy, for which he created the "thought paper" in the early 1990s.

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Walker identifies the need to accept and institute standards in the field to continue its growth and professionalism. He considers certification as the next key step, followed by program standards and ethical standards. He believes that with certification will come increased credibility, higher salaries, and a more pronounced role in the judicial system for those in the field.

Walker would tell newcomers that they are in an exciting field that brings together much diversity. Secondly, he would advise that newcomers need to learn about the history of the field. He believes that those new to the field need to know the effects of the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the women's movement, and the law and order movement. He also advises newcomers that the victim assistance field is a stressful one, and those working within it need to learn to take care of themselves and to network and interact with others in the field who understand the stress.

Vision for the Future

Walker's vision of the future of the field is one in which there is certification and accessible academic programs. He also would like to see the field use the Web and other technologies to foster communication among the many academic programs to facilitate their growth.

Greatest Fear

Although Walker realizes that every profession experiences expansion and contraction, he is concerned that the field will lose sight of the "big picture" and will try to "freeze frame where we are today." He reflects:

"I think that we cannot put off the professionalism of the field. I think we need to take it gradually, but my greatest fear is that now that we've talked about standards at the national level, that we will not take the next step of creating some ideal standards that people will look at, and again, I know it's gonna take some time, but my fear is that it may get lost in the middle of some other things."