An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Seymour: Aileen Adams, thanks for joining us here at the OVC Oral History Project..., I want to start out just by asking you to say and spell your name for the record.
Adams: It's Aileen Adams. Aileen is spelled A-I-L-E-E-N, Adams A-D-A-M-S.
Seymour: Great. Aileen, why or how did you first get involved with the crime victims' movement?
Adams: I actually first became involved in as a consumer advocate. I was a prosecutor in the City of Los Angeles. And the first cases I prosecuted in the Consumer Protection Section of the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office were criminal prosecutions against nursing homes. As a result of those prosecutions and talking to literally hundreds and hundreds of victims who'd been abused in nursing homes, I drafted the first Nursing Home Patients' Bill of Rights and got that passed through the California legislature. So actually I began with white collar crime victims with focusing on their needs and their need for new rights. Later I joined the Rape Treatment Center as a volunteer. The Rape Treat Center provides comprehensive services to sexual assault victims and it was one of the first victim service programs in the state. I think they opened in the middle '70s. The first program was in 1973 in consum, in the protection of victims for the State of California. So they were one of the first and I met my first violent crime victim at the Rape Treatment Center, a sexual assault victim who changed my life forever.
She's the reason I'm sitting here today, actually. And it's amazing how one person can have that kind of impact on your life. Her name was Emma. She was a UCLA graduate student. She had taken a bus from downtown Los Angeles, where she worked, to her campus at UCLA. And the bus driver locked her on the bus. She was the last person on the bus. He locked the doors, came toward her in a very menacing way and she went into a state of frozen fright or shock and was incapable of resisting his attack. Later, when he was finished attacking her, raping her, he let her off the bus and she came and reported the crime to the Rape Treatment Center about a week or two later. Her case could not be prosecuted because in the words of the District Attorney, she had not "resisted the crime." California law at the time required victim resistance. It was one of only twelve states that did. And the bus company refused to fire the bus driver because the DA couldn't prosecute the case. So to make a very long story short, we became her advocate. We took the victim resistance provision out of the California Rape Law. It was the first time a pro-victim law had really passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which was very offender-oriented, the Democrats especially and I'm a Democrat so I guess I can say this.
We had trouble getting pro-victim legislation through in those early years and that, this was now 1980. But I got a friend of mine, actually, to carry the Bill, who was a Democrat on the Committee. He got the Bill through and that started sort of a wave of pro-victim legislation in the state. But it's because of Emma that I became passionately involved in the crime victims' movement. And to this day I am profoundly grateful to her.
Seymour: When you first got involved in victim services -- and again, Aileen, talk about any time between the '70s and now, what was the field like, what were victim services like and, if you can, a little bit about the context of the era.
Adams: Well, when I first got involved I would have to describe it as a vast wasteland. There were virtually no victim services. California had a victim compensation program. We, I think founded the first in about 1965. So there was victim compensation, but it was very bureaucratic and hard to come by. There were no victims' rights laws. And the profession, the people who worked in the profession from police officers to prosecutors to social workers to judges, everybody in the profession lacked training on victims' issues. There were no victim sensitivity classes. Nobody had ever heard of victim impact statement. There was, I would have to say, a total lack of education. And that's what we confronted at the Rape Treatment Center, where we saw thousands of victims every year. So we were learning their stories, seeing how the system shut them out literally. They were on the outside looking in, in most cases. And our mission at the Rape Treatment Center was to turn the system around and we did it in every way you can imagine.
We really had a holistic approach. We went to the police in chi the chief... chief of police and provided training in the police academy for the first time, bringing victims themselves into the academy, which was an important step forward. We went to television producers and got them to integrate victims' issues into their shows, for example. The first show to have a rape victim was actually Archie Bunker, Norman Lear. And he was very sensitized to the issue and Edith, there was an attempted rape against Edith, which brought up a lot of the issues surrounding sexual assault. We went into the schools and provided lots of training, not only for teachers, but also for students. And we really worked to change the laws. What we learned from our victims, we translated into public policy. It was a holistic approach and it really helped to change the system.
Seymour: And, you've mentioned the rape treatment center, can you just tell us a little bit about, Gail Abarbanel?
Adams: Yes, Gail is a pioneer in our field. She has devoted her life to crime victims. She founded the Rape Treatment Center in the middle '70s. As I mentioned it has provided comprehensive, 24-hour treatment and legal counseling for victims since that time. It's one of the most comprehensive programs in the country. And they have a lot of specialized programs. For example, they have a whole campus rape program with literature to pass out to students and advertisements that they put in newspapers. They've had a huge national impact as well as, of course, a local impact in Los Angeles. And again it's the holistic approach, figuring out everything you can do for a victim to make the system better. One of the most important things that we initiated in Santa Monica was a Children's Advocacy Center. I think it was the third in the nation. The first one was founded in Huntsville, Alabama, by Bud Cramer, who's now in Congress. And again we learned from our victims. We saw Maria, who I will never forget, who was four years old, who had had three pelvic examinations. We saw John, who was 12-years-old, who'd been sodomized by a neighbor, who had gone through fourteen separate interviews by doctors, by social workers, by a whole series of police officers, by prosecutors in a variety of unfriendly settings.
And we learned from our victims. Finally, his family said, "We can't take it anymore. You know, this is revictimizing our child. We want to go after this guy. We don't want him to do it to others in the neighborhood, but we can't tolerate this system." And I think, you know, you asked me, "What was the system like?" More often than not the system, in those years, which were the '70s, '80s into the '90s, somewhat, revictimized victims. So what we tried to do was to look at the system through the eyes of our victims. We set up the first Children's Advocacy Center. We designed it around kids. You walk in the door and it's not like walking into an institutionalized police station. You walk into a child-friendly environment where everything's at their height, where there are teddy bears and fish and things to climb on. It's a very warm and welcoming environment. And we put together for the first time in Los Angeles, everybody who deals with child victims. We have doctors. We have nurses. We have social workers. We have prosecutors. We have police officers, everybody but the judge is there at Stuart House, at this Children's Advocacy Center.
And we found that as a result of viewing the system through the eyes of kids, that we could create a system that was much more child-friendly and really enabled children to be more comfortable and to talk about what happened to them and to be interviewed once instead of 12 times. It's the kind of the system we need everywhere in this country. I mean then as I said there were three of us. Now there are over three hundred Children's Advocacy Centers. It makes sense, but that was one of our big challenges in those days. How do you get people who have never been trained to work together, like police officers and prosecutors, to become partners, to become part of the team that works together for the best interests of children? Nobody was trained to do that. We lost a lot of people in the initial two or three years because they were used to kind of the old mentality. The police didn't get along with the prosecutors who didn't get along with the social workers. But finally we found people who appreciate what it meant to be partners, to work in partnership. And that center, I'm happy to say, has flourished ever since. But that was one of the obstacles, really training people to work in a new way in a collaborative effort instead of almost as enemies.
Seymour: What do you think was the the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues have faced, Aileen, over the years in effecting change for victims...and there may be more than one.
Adams: Well, the greatest was the lack of education, the lack of listening to crime victims themselves by professionals in the system who are supposed to be helping victims. We saw it everywhere with every profession. And there were certain stereotypes I think that built up in these professions. I remember early on every time I would talk to a DA they would tell me the same thing. "I don't want to talk to the victim. This is a one-on-one case," they would say. "We can't prosecute a one-on-one case." And I would always say, "Well, most sexual assaults are a one-on-one case. You know, what do you expect?" You've gotta talk to the victim, listen to what he or she has to say, evaluate her credibility. Evaluate what happened what before and after. But that was a big hurdle to climb. Even getting them to open the door to listen to victims, to interact with them personally, was a huge hurdle initially.
Seymour: Have we crossed that hurdle totally successfully?
Adams: No. This will be a hurdle we will always I think be trying to cross. But we're much better off than we were in those days. We're much, much better off. I mean you go to any major police academy today, they have victims in there talking, giving victim impact statements. They have advocates from the field talking to the police officers. There's a much greater appreciation in victims' issues than ever before. You know, in the early '80s, I was a prosecutor. I became a police reserve officer. I went through the police academy. I went through prosecutorial training. I don't even remember the word "victim" being mentioned once in all those weeks of training. That would never happen today, never. There's been a sea change.
Seymour: My next question I'm going to ask is a two-parter. So bear with me while I try to figure out.... I want to ask you about the secrets and tactics and strategies that you've employed in your career that were successful. But I want you devide it, if you will, into the before being OVC Director and when you were OVC Director. What...(clears throat)...excuse me. What were some of the things that really worked for you.
Adams: Well, there were a variety of things. First and foremost it was getting the doors open to the voices of victims, whether it was here in Sacramento getting legislators to listen to their stories, or the head of a police department or sheriff that was our most powerful weapon was really convincing the leaders in our field that providing services, to listen to crime victims themselves. Another weapon we had were the laws. And we had the information because we were interacting with the victims at the Rape Treatment Center, thousands of them. So we had probably more knowledge about what victims needed than perhaps most other people in the state. And we used those examples of things that happened in their lives to transform the law. We took those examples and we would make videotapes of victims often, take it to the police academy and the victims themselves to the police academy and that was of tremendous help. And then the other thing honestly that I found very helpful was I just happened to know many of the political leaders who were, you know, the DA. We had a pretty good relationship with the police chief and the sheriff. I knew a lot of legislators personally and that kind of personal interaction really enabled me to be more persuasive, I think.
And I would recommend that to anyone, you know. Get to know the people in the field who are making the decisions, not only professionally, but also personally. That can make a big difference. That can help move the ball forward, I think. We also used, one thing that was very powerful when we were setting up Stuart House, was we had a film that had actually been done in Huntsville that presented the child-abuse system through the eyes of a child. So you saw this little person, this five year-old boy walking into a police station. You saw the fear on that child's face. And then you saw him walking into a Children's Advocacy Center with a whole different demeanor. Film, especially short films, because when you're meeting with these leaders, they won't take lot of time, but a short, powerful film is a very powerful weapon and was extremely helpful. When I became OVC Director, the Federal system, I would have to say, with all of the providers, the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys and everybody who worked in the Federal system were more or less at the place where I had con, encountered the state system in the '70s and '80s.
In other words, they were more than a decade behind the times. They had not had the training. They had not had the consciousness raising. They were not sensitive to crime victims and one of our greatest challenges and this was in1994 was, when I became OVC Director, was again really to integrate the voices of crime victims into that system, into the Federal criminal justice system. And that took everything we had at OVC. It took the Oklahoma City bombing. And it took an attorney general who was passionate, passionate about crime victims' issues. Janet Reno was what I call "victim centered." She'd been in the field. She'd interacted with victims. She really cared about how we responded to victims in the Federal system. And because of her leadership and the activism at OVC, you know, with funding to provide all kinds of trainings for the FBI and the U.S. attorneys, that made a difference. But nothing made as much of a difference I think as the Oklahoma City bombing because for the first time in the Federal system, victims' issues were on the front page and we were confronted with mass victimization.
You know, I mean with almost a 170 people killed and 20 kids orphaned and 200 kids, you know, missing a parent and 7,000 people in Oklahoma City without a place to go to work, a whole community, and really a whole nation, traumatized. There was the kind of focus on victims' issues in the Federal system that we've never had before. And there was a coming together, not only of OVC, but the U.S. Attorneys and the FBI, to really work together to make the system a model because the Attorney General demanded it. She wanted these victims to have the best out of all of us. And so we did things in response to that horrendous crime in the Federal system that had never been done before. The U.S. Attorneys for the first time provided briefings to all the victims, to all of them so that they would know the status of the investigation and later of the trial, what was going on at the trial. We coordinated victim transportation to the trial which took place in Denver, not in Oklahoma City. We provided safe havens. We provided a tel a telephonic link and a video link so that victims could see, in Oklahoma City, the trial that was taking place in Denver. Every service that we could provide, we did. And I think we helped to establish a model for the Federal system, but we also helped to establish in the mind of everyone who worked in the Federal system, a high standard for the treatment of crime victims.
Seymour: Which, I sidebar, but, I mean, today still stands as such a tribute to OVC and, there was just a vision that was there about how to deal with that. And I'm close with a number of those victims and they still just speak with reverence about your staff...
Adams: Well, the victims themselves were magnificent and really helped us through the process. They would, I mean, they are forever and always our most important guide, you know, in all of the work, whatever our capacity that we do for crime victims. And if you really listen to them, you cannot go wrong. And that's what we did, I mean, that's, you know, I was so excited to become the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime because I viewed it as an opportunity to open the doors of the Justice Department to crime victims and let in their voices. And we did that more than ever before, I think. The Victims' Right Amendment, you know, I mean there was a huge battle within the Justice Department. And I will never forget 'cause we were the point people on the Constitutional Amendment for Victims' Rights. We had to brief why we thought it was important. We were the people along with Bonnie Campbell and the Violence Against Women's Office who stood up within the Justice Department for that constitutional amendment. And I will never forget the day when the Attorney General convened every top person in the justice department. There were 50 of us seated around the table. And Bonnie and I were seated together sort of at the opposite end of the Attorney General. And she went around the room and she said, "I want to hear what all of my top advisers think of a Constitutional Amendment on victims' rights, putting in our Constitution the right to be informed, present and heard."
And they went around the room and they got to Bonnie and me and nobody had spoken for it. Everybody had spoken against it. Later, John Schmidt, who was the Associate Attorney General, also supported it. Twenty-five people before they got to us and we were impassioned in a way that none of them could be because none of the others had come from the field. None of the others had directly interacted with victims. Both Bonnie and I had spent, you know, decades listening to these stories and knowing how they were discriminated against and even if your state had a Bill of Rights, which many states did, most did at that time, many were ignored. We've seen that in studies. We know it from interacting with victims personally and to be able to sit there across from the Attorney General and to go through a lifetime of experience with crime victims and how laws were inconsistent and were unenforced and give specific examples, nobody else could do that. And at the time we didn't know, you know, which way she would go. She was listening to every voice in that room.
But what I realize now was there was only one vote in that room that mattered. It was her's. And even though there were only a handful of us advocating passionately, strongly, for the Victims' Rights Amendment, she was the final vote and she sided with us in spades. And of course then both the President and the Vice President sided with us as well. So that was, you know, that was a huge step forward. You asked before about tactics. Again, I mean when you really want something you have to go after it in every imaginable way. And so I went outside of the Justice Department. I talked to other members of the Cabinet. I talked to, you know, advisors of the President who I thought would be on our side, who cared about victims' issues. And, you know, that kind of information getting to him in a lot of different ways, plus his own experience as an Attorney General in Arkansas, really made a difference. And I think that, you know, his statement in April, I guess this was in '96, when he opened it up and he said, "You know, victims need to be at the center of the criminal justice system, not on the outside looking in." Just showed me, you know, how well he understood because that's where we've been for so long and now we were being put at the center.
Seymour: Any failures of the field? Things that we did wrong or should have done differently?
Adams: I think sometimes one of the most important things about the field is that we are most powerful when we come together enmasse and I think unfortunately sometimes there are divisiveness among groups, everybody's trying to get the same funding and so forth. It's really important that we speak separately, but with one voice, not in competition, but always in coordination, even if there're different views in our field, which sometimes there are, we need to respect those differences and recognize that we really need one another. NOVA needs MADD needs the National Center for Crime Victims, you know, whatever the group is whether it's domestic violence or sexual assault, we always need to focus on our common interest because when we're divided we can never accomplish as much. And there're always huge challenges for us to face. For example, now the Crime Victim Fund has been capped. That Fund, that was one of my greatest successes by the way at the Office for Victims of Crime, I think, and I had some real knock-down, drag-out fights with the Attorney General on this issue. I just felt passionately that that fund should not be capped, that you shouldn't put an upper limit on it.
We went from about $200 million to over $500 million when I was OVC Director, but still there was not a domestic violence shelter in every community. Most disabled crime victims had nowhere to go. There were very few places that women and men of different cultures could go to have comprehensive care and treatment. We were missing so much and to cap a fund when the need is so great and has not been fulfilled, to me is a big mistake and that's a continuing fight. Because now that fund is capped, I think at about $550 million. We need to take the cap off. We need to take the cap off and recognize that even today with all of our strides, with all of our rights, with all of the great services that are out there, we are still only providing treatment for a small percentage of the crime victims in this country and that has to change. (Tape is turned over)
Seymour: Tell us about New Directions, Aileen.
Adams: This is the book that practically killed me (laughter), New Directions From The Field, Victims' Rights and Services for the Twentieth First Century, Lois Herrington, the first OVC director in many ways although she didn't exactly have that title. Back then in '82 had given the crime victims' field one of its greatest gifts. And that was a Presidential Task Force Report that documented what was wrong with the criminal justice system. And at that point, virtually everything was wrong. And they came up with many recommendations for changes, including establishing a crime victims' fund, which has funded our field from '82 until today, a revolutionary change, incredibly important. And what I wanted to do before I left OVC was to provide an update to that report because we'd come so far in those more than twenty years. We had done so much, but we still had so much farther to go. So what we did, and this took months and months of work, Chris Edmunds was very involved in this. I remember, you know, every night for six months Chris and I would be at OVC helping to write this tome which includes in it the statements of over a thousand people.
We had public hearings across the country. Over a thousand people from our field contributed to those public hearings. There are over 250 recommendations, but what we focus on primarily is not only what's wrong with the field, what we're missing, but what was right with the field. We had people who were doing great things across this country and we wanted to capture that. We wanted to capture it in one place so that any victim service provider anywhere in the country could pick up this book and if they had a question as a police officer, how can I provide better services? They could open this book and find out what was being done in other places that made a difference to crime victims that were "promising practices." If they were a prosecutor or a corrections official, they could pick up this book and find that corrections officials all across the country had redefined their jobs in very dramatic ways and were now focusing, not only on offenders, but on crime victims and letting victims know when the offenders were released from prison. And bringing crime victims' voices into juvenile detention centers like the CYA in California and... and jails across the country, and prisons across the country, so that offenders also could hear from crime victims and they could put a human face on crime.
People in our field had redefined the way they were doing things. Children's Advocacy Centers, you know, not just having one person and then another and then another approach a crime victim, but approaching them and providing services as a team. This was a huge step forward. We wanted to capture all of these promising practices in one place and that's what New Directions provides. It provides, I think, the best in our field. And it challenges everyone, everyone across this country, to read this book and to adapt those best practices in their own way, in their own community. You know, I look back at Stuart House, the Children's Advocacy Center, and we learned profoundly from what was done in Huntsville, Alabama, by Bud Cramer. But it was a much smaller program and we took it to... to Santa Monica, to Los Angeles, to the Los Angeles community and expanded it in lots of different ways so that now we have nurse practitioners, you know, who provide services right there, they're highly-trained nurses to sexual assault victims. That was a component that Huntsville didn't have. We wanted this book to be used by every community to see what was possible and then to build on it.
And that's why I let my husband move back to Los Angeles six months ahead of me because I was not gonna leave until I knew that this book was gonna be published. And it was very controversial within the Justice Department. Remember this is a Justice Department that yes, it had some training over three years, yes, was much more victim sensitive, but was it quite ready for a book that advocated for the Constitutional Amendment and talked about all these great programs. They weren't quite ready for that so there was an internal battle. And again working with Janet Reno -- working with the Attorney General -- we got her blessing on this document, which is presented to the field by the field and hopefully, you know, it's still a document that people are emulating and learning from.
Seymour: I know am...and I know it gets used in every single...(laughter)...You know...did you know it's being utilized for all the University courses around the country on victimology.
Adams: Well, that's great to hear. I mean that just really warms my heart. You know, I think that for all of us, you know, who have been in this field, who are old buffalos who've been in the field for decades, just as our lives were changed dramatically in ways by one or two or three crime victims who never, never know how they have impacted us, hopefully our work is impacting people, you know. And I, it just warms my heart for you to say that this is being used around the country because it means that those six months away from husband and my family, you know, were really worth it (laughter). But I think the other thing about crime victims and, you know, you've interacted with so many. You... you, I'm sure feel this, too, is that those interactions change your life forever and they change your view of the world. And now that I'm a cabinet official in California working on many issues, along with crime victims' issues, I really internalize that because the model that we built for Children's Advocacy Centers, that partnership model, that a way of approaching a problem, looking through the eyes of your customer and approaching it together, bringing everyone together, is the model that I use now in state government for everything we do.
When we build a building, I have all construction in the State of California under, made billions of dollars' worth, we don't have one department alone build that building. We bring in all the environmental departments, all the health departments, the air resources board. We have 40 different departments working together to help make sure that that building is not only architecturally attractive and cost effective, but also healthy and energy efficient. And it was that partnership model that was so successful in the victims' movement that I have taken and applied everywhere in California state government. And it works. It works in every area. It's the new way of doing things and I learned that from the victims' movement. I also learned you know, and I, there are victims who I think about all the time. You know, you may have that as well. Cheryl Bess, you know, I will never forget Cheryl Bess, who was raped at an early age. I think she was twelve years old. She was kidnapped off the street in front of her school, taken by the school janitor to the desert where, he not only sexually assaulted her, he threw acid on her and left her to die.
So her face has almost completely disintegrated. She's blind. She has no hands. Her arms are badly burned and yet she decided in the desert, "My mom cannot stand it if I die. I am going to survive." And she not only survived, but she became a powerful victim advocate. At one point she had her own radio show. We brought her to the White House. She won a victims' service award. And you can't, when you are in her presence and you hear her speak, you recognize that no matter what happens to you in life, no matter how awful it can be, and God knows with 9/11 and, you know so much that has happened in our country, that with the right attitude, you can overcome anything. And that is, to me, the great gift of the victims' movement, that there are so many, so many. I mean you see them everyday. I don't mean to get emotional here, but it is emotional. You see people who have lost their loved ones to drunk drivers, or been sexually assaulted and everyday you see these people, you know, take the worst moment in their life and become advocates, take their agony and become activists and change the world for others. And that is very, very powerful. The other person who just had such a profound impact on me was a father in East Los Angeles. And he came up to me one day after I had given a speech and told the story of how he'd lost his son to gang violence.
And he said, "You know, my son was everything to me. He was a perfect kid. He got straight A's. I studied with him every night. We would read books together. After school, he would come home. He was the star athlete at the school. He was great in every way." He said to me though, "I forgot about one thing. I forgot about all the other kids." And that was like one of those remarks in life that just always stays with you, that touches your soul. And I think that, you know, as advocates, as crime victim advocates, we really have to be careful to remember about all the other kids. That while we're advocating for victims' rights, and while we're providing services to crime victims, we have to make sure that the kids in our society who can be abused at home, who can be left out on the street, you know, who can join gangs and go in the wrong direction, we have to make sure as part of our mission that the opportunities are there for those kids. And, you know, between Cheryl Bess and this wonderful father, I mean both of them have really impacted my philosophy of life in very major ways. And I am very grateful to both of them.
Seymour: Greatest accomplishment of the field if you can think of one.
Adams: One greatest accomplishment, I would have to say the greatest accomplishment has been bringing the voices of crime victims into the training of service providers. That is our greatest accomplishment because it's their voices. It's their experiences. It's what they have gone through. When you bring that into the service providers that opens up their hearts and minds and makes them want to do things in a different way. So I would say that certainly that's one of our greatest accomplishments. Another one is the Crime Victims' Fund. Without the Crime Victims' Fund which Lois Herrington yet, I don't know where we'd be without Lois Herrington and I can't, you know, wait to see her. Every time I see her I think she thinks I'm crazy because I go up and throw my arms around her and thank her. Sometimes I don't, I... I think she doesn't even know what she's done for the field. But the Crime Victims' Fund is what made it possible, you know, through the past decades to fund victims' rights and services across the nation.
So that was a huge step forward, just huge and immeasurable. And that really enabled us to do, you know, so much. When I became OVC Director, I have to say that I felt that the seeds had been planted, that there were some great programs and we needed more. You know, the seeds needed to flower. But the seeds were there. The Crime Victims' Fund was there and our obligation was to take it to the next level, to elevate it so that, you know, it was a $185 million. We took it up to $550 million and we could have kept going I think because we really trained the U.S. Attorneys who didn't know that this money they were collecting was going to crime victims' services in their communities. They didn't know that and we took that message to them. And it excited them and we held press conferences with the U.S. Attorneys and the, you know, the victims' groups who were receiving the funding, all across the country. And there was a realization of, "Oh, my God, this makes a difference. Let's bring more money into the system."
And so that was, I think, a huge step forward that was very important, having the U.S. Attorneys understand that the fines that they were collecting went to crime victims' services in their own communities and what a difference it made. They had never been recognized for those efforts before.
Seymour: What's needed, Aileen, in our field today to continue the growth and professionalism or...or what-- is there anything missing that will keep us moving forward in a positive manner to benfit victims.
Adams: We always need more funding and we always need to remember that you can look at the victim compensation programs across the country. For example, in California we've increased our outreach to victims. And we've gone from reaching maybe three percent to maybe seven percent, which is huge. You know, we've doubled, tripled the number of victims we're reaching. But we're not reaching most victims and that's true of most programs across the country and they're particularly underserved victims. You know, there're domestic violent shelters in many places. Some don't have them, but for a victim who is blind or disabled or who speaks a different language, where do they go? And what a difference it makes when those victims have a place to go. One of the places we studied was a place in Seattle, which was founded by Marilyn Smith who was deaf, a deaf, sexual assault victim, sexually assaulted as a teenager, who had nowhere to go. No one could understand what happened to her and when she started her center, suddenly there was a proliferation of deaf victims, who for the first time had a place to go.
And I think that even today with all of our accomplishments and all of our strides, that for many victims there is no place to go. And certainly it's the case that... that there are not many what I would call "comprehensive victim service centers," like the ones in Jacksonville, Florida, and in some other places, where like a child like... like the Children Advocacy Center, the one place where you can go as a victim and get all the services you need. You can go and receive counseling. You can have your police interview and your prosecutorial interview. You can get your compensation. We still today have not reached that ideal, which some communities have, but the vast majority don't, of one place where a victim can go to receive victim-oriented services, all of them in one location. That's a goal for the future. That's where we need to head.
Seymour: I'll talk to you more tonight about that because that's a very exciting thing. Advice. What advice can you give to professionals and volunteers who have more recently joined our field. And that's one of the purposes of oral history -- is that people sort of understand the big picture. What advice would you give some of the newbies?
Adams: Well, the best advice, you know, which has been true for all of us is to really listen to crime victims because what they tell you is probably, in most cases, not only their experience, but it's happened to many, many others like them. And then draw the public policy implications so that if there's a problem -- if there's a problem with the law, if there's a problem with the DA in your community or the way the police don't hand out, you know, cards telling you where you can get services and compensation like they're supposed to -- so that if there's a problem, you can identify it and solve it. And very often that victim will become your ally in solving whatever the problem is. And very often that victim will make the system better for others and making the system better for others will be part of that victim's healing process. That's what we found time and time again, but I think that, you know, we should never just think that what we're hearing from one victim doesn't apply to others and doesn't have public policy implications. We need to listen for those problems. We need to listen to what's wrong with our system and when we hear it, we need to go out and correct it with all of our might.
Seymour: What's your vision for the future of our field?
Adams: Well, my vision for the future I think is actually quite simple. You don't need a lot of words to describe our vision for the future. What we need are consistent, comprehensive and compassionate services and rights, fundamental rights for every crime victim. That's it. That's what we need and we've come a long way. We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go to reach that goal.
Seymour: Do you have any fears about the field? Or concerns for our future?
Adams: I think one of the things that's made us so powerful in the field are the victims' organizations. You know, I was in California when Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded. You know, for the first years I was in the field, we didn't have Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We didn't have NOVA or a national, you know, victim center or any of the groups, parents, you know, homicide parent groups and so forth. We didn't have the power of those groups behind us. And honestly, it's the power of those groups. You look at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving accomplished in a short time in this nation. We went from virtually no drunk driving laws of any significance to 2,500 in a matter of a few years. They had 600 chapters all over this country. You know, that's when people began to listen and what we can never lose are the powers of those groups, the victims coming forward whether it's the Oklahoma City bombing victims or the 9/11 victims or Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the Parents of Murdered Children, we cannot lose those groups because they're the ones who are going to go to Congress and make a difference for us, who have the power maybe to get Congress to lift the cap from the Crime Victims' Fund.
It's their power and their energy. It's the movement that gives us our power and sometimes I worry that the movement is dissipating, that it's dividing, that it's not as together as it once was or as powerful as it once was. And I think as a field we need to figure out everything we can to keep these diverse groups, to have these diverse voices. We need them. We need them right now. We need them now more than ever. We are never going to have a Constitutional Amendment for Victims' Rights without them. We are never going to lift the cap from the Crime Victims' Fund without them. We will never be what we can be without the diversity and the strengths of these groups. And my greatest concern is that somehow, sometimes the groups are dividing and in some ways dissipating.
Seymour: Anything I haven't asked you, or any...or any closing comments before we go tackle Lois (laughs).
Adams: You know, I mean, I think in closing I would just say that I think for all of us and I, of course, have many friends in the crime victims' field that we have learned so much more than we have contributed; that what we've learned from crime victims are empowering to us as people. You know, I described how what I've learned from the crime victims' field, the partnerships that you can create, the culture change that's needed. I mean, we have a field where, that has gone through immense culture change in the last 10 years, where everyone virtually has redefined their job, whether they're a police officer who goes to work with a social worker to respond to a domestic violence call, you know, and he calls that social worker "partner" or a "corrections official," somebody who works in the corrections field, which only focused on offenders, reaching out to crime victims. We have had in every way an immense culture change. And I've seen how hard that is and how persistent you have to be, you know, to make that kind of change happen.
But I've also seen how possible it is and I think that that gives me courage as I work in other areas and see, you know, people who need to go through a culture change in their own area. I've seen that. It's possible to do and it's possible to do in a relatively short period of time, if you focus on your customer; you know, if you focus on victim, or whoever your customer is, first; if you see the system through their eyes and then if you bring together, if you partner with everyone who can make a difference in that customer's life; if you bring them together, you can come up with the right solution. And so that has been a very powerful lesson for me from the crime victims' field.
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|