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

Irvin Waller
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Irvin Waller
Interviewee:Irvin Waller;
Ottawa, Canada
Date of Interview:January 12, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Irvin Waller

Professor of Criminology, University of Ottawa


Irvin Waller lives in Canada where is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa and advises governments across the world on how to reduce crime and protect victims. He won awards for getting the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

In the 1970s, Irvin Waller was a professor and researcher at the University of Toronto in Canada. He decided to do a project exploring why people were sent to prison as well as what the general public, including victims of crime, wanted from the justice system and the impact of crime on their lives. His work brought him to a NATO funded meeting in Bellagio, Italy attended by 50 people from around the world who were interested in victims' issues. Waller credits that meeting with bringing together a network of individuals involved with victims' issues that continued to grow over the years. At a victims' conference in Philadelphia in the late 1970s, Waller was asked to join the National Organization for Victim Assistance Board of Directors. In 1982, at the Tokyo Victimology Conference, he persuaded Leroy Lamborn to collaborate with him to create an International Charter on Victims' Rights. This began an international movement of non-governmental agencies rallying around victims' issues

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Waller feels that the Presidential Commissions that followed the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the Katzenbach Commission that created the first systematic way of measuring the cost and extent of crime, were the beginnings of the victims' movement. He credits the Katzenbach Commission, along with the creation of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) in the late 1960s, for infusing large amounts of money into reforming and recreating law enforcement and prisons. At that time, LEAA also began funding programs that encouraged victims to participate in the courtroom process. However, the system continued to see victims as a tool for the prosecution.

"They weren't really victim interested, they were justice interested."

The LEAA programs also uncovered that victims were not just physically and economically affected by the crimes committed against them, but also psychologically traumatized. Waller remembers:

"They have suffered and they suffer again when they cooperate with the system and they have an interest in this system. They're not just there to enable the state, the prosecutor, to get a conviction, they also have some interest in whether there is a conviction or not. They have some interest in their own safety if the person's gonna be released. Um, they have an interest in getting their property back or getting reparation. Um, all of those things were... were being discovered."

Greatest Challenge

Waller believes that the movement's greatest challenge has come from the law enforcement and justice systems, which are both "incredibly entrenched bureaucracies." Walller believes that often law enforcement, for example, sees their mission as "getting your man" and enforcing the law. The real challenge to the movement lies in getting law enforcement to see themselves as first-aid to victims. Also, the justice system, at the same time, is focused on justice for the criminal and changing that focus to include justice for the victim will continue to be a struggle.


Waller identifies the major failure of the international victims' movement as failing to make the movement mainstream.

Greatest Accomplishment

Irvin Waller believes that the UN Declaration is the most important accomplishment in the field because it affects the whole world. He believes that the Declaration has also had a ripple effect on the United States by clearly stating that victims have rights. He also points to another product of the UN Declaration, the International Criminal Court, as well as a manual that can be used for training in both the United States and abroad.

"So, I hope you're going to get a constitutional amendment here, but, until you do, the UN document gets used in this country by people as one argument for bringing victims in from the cold, from bringing a system of blind justice."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Waller advises those new to the movement to do their jobs, but also to get involved at the policy level. He stresses that there needs to be system change to mainstream the rights and interests of victims.

Vision for the Future

Waller would like to see the movement focus its efforts on two basic challenges. The first challenge he sees as supporting and protecting victims, and the second is to reduce victimization. He also believes that the second basic challenge is reducing crime. He feels that this needs to be more of a priority of the victims' movement.